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David Bentley Hart, Rene Descartes, and my own Cartesian Intuitions

In his new book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, David Bentley Hart notes that during the medieval era almost nobody thought that “the relation of soul and body was anything like a relation between two wholly independent kinds of substance: the ghost and its machine (which for what it is worth, was not really Descartes understanding of the relation either). (p. 168)” This is interesting to me because one of the chief critiques I had heard of Descartes is that he posited that humans are primarily “thinking things” and the mind interacts with the body almost incidentally. But I had always been intrigued when I read Descartes third meditation he notes this, “For since I am nothing but a thinking thing, or at least, since I am now dealing simply and precisely with the part of me that is a thinking thing, if such a power were in me [the power to create oneself from nothing], then I would surely be aware of it. (Third Meditation paragraph 49)”

I had always wondered, and never had anybody to talk to about it, if Descartes contention that we are merely thinking things who happen to be unfortunately embodied, is actually not his position but his assumption for the sake of argument. He’s going solely from what he knows, like in his problem solving methodology. He’s saying, “If I’m merely a thinking thing (the only thing I can know for sure starting from a radically skeptical position), then here are the logical results.” Anyhow, I’m glad Hart sees this too, he’s a thinker who probably knows Descartes better than me and teaches at universities with the requisite libraries to read good books on the topic.  

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