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    Word made flesh: sensory ideas as meanings of bodily signs in Descartes

    Slater, Lauren Abigail Grace (2023) Word made flesh: sensory ideas as meanings of bodily signs in Descartes. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Are we bodies, souls, or both? Each of these metaphysical positions comes with its own distinctive problems. If we’re nothing more than material, mechanistic bodies, how can we explain those features of mind that seem irreducible to pure material mechanism? If we’re just souls that entertain fleeting ideas, how can we explain the structure of the external world that we seem to share with others? And if we’re compounds of souls and bodies, then how can we explain their connection? I begin this project by looking at the positions of two Early Modern philosophers – Hobbes and Berkeley – each with their very different metaphysical systems. Hobbes is a mechanist materialist, and Berkeley an idealist. I argue that both philosophers make an appeal to language in order to resolve or reinterpret their respective metaphysical problems. My first aim in this thesis is to argue that Descartes fits into this pattern of explanation. He too makes an appeal to language in order to resolve or reinterpret his own distinctive metaphysical problem: the problem of body-mind connection in the case of sensory perception. I argue the appeals of the three philosophers have something in common: they all reap the explanatory benefits of language which exist because language is something that is intimately familiar to us. Their appeals hold explanatory weight at least in part because they are appeals to the familiar. The second aim in this thesis is to show that Descartes’ appeal to language is successful in that it truly illuminates the problem of body-mind connection in sensation. Even though Descartes cannot offer a properly metaphysical explanation of the body-mind relation in sensory perception, that is, an explanation that is grounded in clear and distinct ideas (the kind of answer that might have been satisfying to Princess Elisabeth), he offers us, through the analogy with language, a genuinely useful way to understand two of the key aspects of the body-mind problem in the case of sensory perception. Descartes’ language analogy, I will argue, illuminates both the issue of body-mind causation and the issue of the representationality of sensory ideas and brain states.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2023 11:00
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 16:07


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