This volume, originally published in 1990, delineates the transition Descartes effects from a prevalent medieval conception of understanding to a modern conception of it. Through the examination of the continuities and discontinuities between Descartes’ account of the understanding and that of high scholasticism, a characterization emerges of two way in which the understanding is autonomous in Descartes’ view. These two sorts of autonomy shed light on the origin of a set of related concerns that give modern philosophy its coherence, setting it apart from medieval philosophy as a distinct tradition. The first sort – the independence of the understanding of the senses – creates the modern problem of scepticism with regard to the external world. The second sort, concerning the ontological status of the mind, provides the background against which modern discussions of the mind/body problem take shape.
Part 1: The Doctrine of Abstraction and Withdrawal From the Senses 1. Introductory Remarks 2. Sensory Foundations 3. High Scholastic Teaching on Cognition 4. Sensory Foundations Reconsidered 5. The Dreaming Hypothesis 6. The Analogy with Painting 7. The Ground of the Intelligibility of the Dreaming Hypothesis 8. The Evil Genius Hypothesis 9. The Evil Genius Hypothesis and the Doctrine of the Creation of Eternal Truths 10. Cartesian Foundations Part 2: A Mind Better Known than Body 1. Introductory Remarks 2. High Scholastic Teaching on How the Soul Knows Itself 3. Beginning the Second Meditation 4. The Cogito 5. Essence 6. The Imagination’s Role in Knowledge of the Mind 7. Powers and Acts 8. The Specific Nature of the Understanding 9. Mind and Body