The Third Meditation on Objective Being: Representation and Intentional Content

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  • Introduction: My topic here is Descartes’ Third Meditation – but not the causal principles and proofs that have probably been the target of more philosophical irk than anything else in Descartes. Rather, I am concerned with the language in which they are couched, where Descartes speaks of an “objective” component, feature, or mode of ideas, a bit of medieval shoptalk he uses to distinguish among ideas insofar as they represent different things. Taking ideas objectively (rather than “materially”) differentiates them according to what the “Preface to the Reader” identifies as the “thing[s] represented by” operations of the intellect (AT 7: 8). The Third Meditation then refers to the degree of perfection of what the idea is of or about as its “objective reality,” in contrast to the reality that is “actual or formal” [actualis sive formalis; AT 7: 41–2], which properly belongs to causes. In these slightly oblique ways, Descartes uses the notion of objectivity to introduce issues of mental content and its representation in ideas. But I will argue that the Third Meditation takes only a first step towards accounting for the representational content of Cartesian ideas: it asks how it is possible for our ideas to have (stable) content, and finds the condition of possibility in the content of the particular idea of God. If I am right, the content of Cartesian ideas is to be understood in a less internalist way than is typical.

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    This material has been published in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes’s Meditations edited by D. Cunning. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © 2014 Cambridge University Press.
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    • Schmitter, A.M. (2014). The Third Meditation on Objective Being: Representation and Intentional Content. In D. Cunning (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes’s Meditations (pp. 149-167). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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