WORLDS OF EXPERIENCE NOTES
Cartesian Doctrine of the Isolated Mind:
Pictures the mind as an objective entity that takes its place among other
objects; a “thinking thing” that has an inside with contents & looks out on
an external world from which it is separated from
Why has this doctrine maintained such a strong hold on thinkers in this
field, despite the fact that it has been a hindrance to the development of
By holding on to the notion that each of us
is a solitary, self-contained unit, we are specifically protected from an
intolerable feeling of vulnerability to the human surround.
It shields us
from a sense of “the unbearable embeddedness of being,” that is, from an
It has been argued that the pervasive, reified image of the mind in
isolation, in all of its many guises, is a form of defense that serves to reject
human vulnerability & embeddedness
Followed a method of systematic doubt, progressively setting aside each
of his convictions that could not be established as self-evidently true, until
he finally arrived at the one that could be so established:
therefore I am”
Believed that each of us is a mind, a thinking thing, a thing that is certain
of its own existence but of nothing else; that the mind is a thing with an
inside that enters into causal interaction with other physical entities
Believed that an isolated observer turns inward in the search for something
Descartes’ mother died when he was 13 months old, whereupon his father
sent him to live with his maternal grandmother, along with his brother &
When he was 14, his grandmother died as well.
described as having had a persistent tendency toward melancholia &
paranoia, linking this disposition to the loss of his mother, home, & to the
later separation from & loss of his grandmother.
Could these tragedies in
his life have been the source of his lifelong need for something certain,
something that would be absolutely solid & secure?
philosophy, certainty & security are found in the isolated workings of his
own mind, envisioned as a rational, self-contained, self-sufficient entity
Descartes was a personal adviser, a confessor, and at times, a
psychotherapist, to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia.
She suffered from an
illness, which he thought was caused by “sadness.”
He recommended a
form of mental discipline in which the imagination is directed away from
the reasons for distress & toward the “consideration of objects which
could furnish contentment & joy,” thereby freeing her mind from all sad
Descartes had said that he inherited, from his mother, a “dry cough & a
pale color” which stayed with him until he was in his mid-20s.