Monday, November 08, 2010

Wilson, Catherine. Review of David Cunning, ARGUMENT AND PERSUASION IN DESCARTES' MEDITATIONS. NDPR (October 2010).

Cunning, David.  Argument and Persuasion in Descartes' Meditations.  Oxford: OUP, 2010.

David Cunning's Argument and Persuasion in Descartes' Meditations is three very different books, Book A, Book B, and Book C, enclosed between a single cover. While Book C is the best of the three in the opinion of this reviewer, there are valuable insights and discussions in Books A and B.

Book A tries to show how the Meditations is an argument addressed to a range of different seventeenth-century readers, including Aristotelians, mechanists, atheists, and skeptics, groups characterized by their different basic beliefs and presuppositions about God, the soul, and the world, all of them erroneous. Book B is a step-by-step exposition of Descartes' Meditations with discussion and interpretation of selected passages. Book C -- the unintentional book -- has little to do with either argument or persuasion. Rather, it is a study of the unexpectedly Spinozistic cast to Descartes' thought. Descartes comes across as a philosopher for whom God can no longer be considered as a responsive personality with intentions but only as identical with the nature and necessity of things, laid down once and irrevocably for all time. Cunning argues that Descartes is committed to human free will only considered as an experience, not as liberty of indifference. This is an original and challenging interpretation, yet the evidence Cunning presents is compelling. . . .

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