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Descartes and CartesianismEssays in Honour of Desmond Clarke$
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Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.001.0001

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Cartesianism and Visual Cognition

Cartesianism and Visual Cognition

The Problems with the Optical Instrument Model

(p.112) 7 Cartesianism and Visual Cognition
Descartes and Cartesianism

Stephen Gaukroger

Oxford University Press

Throughout his writings, Desmond Clarke has shown that there is little in Descartes’ thought that is not informed by his natural-philosophical interests. But while great attention has been paid to his physical and physiological theories, his optics seemed to bear very little on his more general philosophical concerns. In fact it went to the core of epistemology for Descartes and for Cartesians. His optical instrument model of visual cognition directly gave rise to the idea that in vision what we see are representations, not what they are representations of. These representations, unlike the things they represent, are in the mind, not in the world. In this way, representationalism created separate internal and external worlds at least as effectively as mind–body dualism did. The problems are epistemological ones, but they have their source in what is an inappropriate and disastrous model of vision taken from the optics of the telescope.

Keywords:   René Descartes, optics, vision, representationalism, J. J. Gibson

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