Volume 57, Issue 4, December 2017
Descartes’s “Considerable List”
A Small but Important Passage in His Philosophy
Over the past forty years or so a critique has emerged of a long-standing interpretation of Descartes on the nature of thought. The view being rejected is that Descartes departs from his Aristotelian forbears by “mentalizing” the faculties of sensation and imagination when he includes them under the general category of “thought” and thus completely excludes them from the material domain. I focus on what is arguably the central piece of textual evidence cited in this revisionist case, the eighth paragraph of Descartes’s second Meditation. This passage contains an extensive list of acts that Descartes designates as “thought”: doubting, understanding, affirming, denying, willing or assenting, withholding will or assent, imaging and sensing. I trace the history of this revisionist reading of this list through six modern interpreters of Descartes, and for both textual and philosophical reasons I conclude that this passage provides no support for their interpretation.