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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 60, Issue 4, December 2020

Thomas Feeney
Pages 393-409

Cartesian Circles and the Analytic Method

The apparently circular arguments in Descartes’s Meditations should be read as analytic arguments, as Descartes himself suggested. This both explains and excuses the appearance of circularity. Analysis “digs out” what is already present in the meditator’s mind but not yet “expressly known” (Letter to Voetius). Once this is achieved, the meditator may take the result of analysis as an epistemic starting point independent of the original argument. That is, analytic arguments may be reversed to yield demonstrative proofs that follow an already worked-out order of ideas. The “Cartesian Circle,” for example, is circular only when Descartes’s original analytic argument is mistaken for the demonstration that it enables. This approach to Cartesian Circles is unlike the standard approach, which attempts to show that Descartes’s original arguments do work as demonstrations after all.

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