Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Essays on the Philosophy of Frederick Stoutland

Lilli Alanen
Pages 3-26

Self-Awareness and Cognitive Agency in Descartes’s Meditations

There are two main strands in the afterlife of Descartes’s famous redefinition of mind in terms of thinking likely to color one’s reading of his notion of mind or self. The one stressed most by his posterity and developed from early on in the empiricist tradition sees consciousness as its main characteristic. The other focuses on reason and rationality. This paper discusses the textual support for the first reading promoted by Ryle and his followers and aligns itself with the second arguing that it is the exercise of its rational, cognitive capacities that are essential to the Cartesian mind and not consciousness, which is merely a presupposition for its rational activity. It examines the interrelation and respective roles of awareness on the one hand, and reason on the other in Descartes’s account of mind or self. But it also suggests that the role given by Descartes to the will in judgment and his separation of will and intellect into two distinct powers may be seen as contributing to a transformation of the very notion of reason and of self as a cognitive and moral agent.