Descartes and Augustine [Book Review]

Philosophical Review 109 (3):438-441 (2000)
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Abstract

Chances are that you have read Descartes’s Meditations and Augustine’s Confessions and De Libero Arbitrio. Chances are that you have not thought that Descartes’s masterwork depends heavily on these two or any other Augustinian texts. The question of Augustinian influence on Descartes’s Cogito is small potatoes compared to the thesis that Stephen Menn wishes to establish. Menn’s central task is to argue that Descartes’s search for clear and distinct foundational principles on which to base all scientific knowledge was decisively shaped by his discovery in Augustine of a way of acquiring wisdom contrary to the philosophical techniques of scholastic Aristotelianism. This way is essentially contemplative: its practitioner turns inward, away from the welter of images provided by the senses. If this exercise is conducted properly, its result is the disclosure of a realm of truth known with more certainty than anything one can claim to know about the corporeal world.

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