Descartes and the impossibility of a philosophy of action

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Many readers of Descartes believe that his theory of action proposes that the mind and the body causally interact. To explain human action in Cartesian terms, it is believed, we must explain how occurrences in the mind can bring about occurrences in the body. This leads to a number of well-known difficulties. Descartes, however, never attempted to explain human action in this way. The temptation to give such an explanation on his behalf – or, worse, to imagine that he himself struggled after one – is born of a misunderstanding. If Descartes had aspired to explain human actions by means of philosophy – that is to say, of clear and distinct ideas – then he would likely have faced the problems of mind-body interaction. But there is evidence that Descartes did not harbour any such ambition, indeed that he found it irrational to do so.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDescartes and Cartesianism
EditorsStephen Gaukroger , Catherine Wilson
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780198779643
ISBN (Print)9780198779643
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2017


  • René Descartes
  • Johannes de Raey
  • Cartesianism
  • Action
  • Mind/body dualism


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