- Paperback: 328 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (16 Mar. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 041535627X
- ISBN-13: 978-0415356275
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,124,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry Paperback – 16 Mar 2005
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'His biographical digest is as succinct as his philosophical analysis is thorough.' - The Sunday Times
'Bernard Williams is arguably the greatest philosopher of his era.' - The Guardian
'Descartes - The Project of Pure Enquiry, first published in 1978 and repackaged here with a foreword by the Cartesian scholar John Cottingham, is a good deal more than just a survey of one of the landmarks in the history of philosophy. It is itself a work of substantive philosophical analysis and a reminder of just what British philosophy lost when Williams died in 2003.' - New Humanist
'[Bernard Williams] brought philosophical reflection to an opulent array of subjects, with more imagination and with greater cultural and historical understanding than anyone else of his time' Thomas Nagel, London Review of Books
'Bernard Williams has a greater force of thought, deployed over a wider horizon, than anyone else I have ever listened to.' John Dunn - The Times Higher Education Supplement
About the Author
Bernard Williams died in 2003. He taught at the Universities of London, Cambridge, Oxford and the University of California at Berkeley, and was one of the leading philosophers of his generation. He wrote many influential books including Problems of the Self and Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. His last work was Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (2002).
Top Customer Reviews
However, I find it strange to see this recommended as an introduction, since its exposition of the arguments is really quite subtle. At times Williams engages in involved debates with other figures in the Descartes literature, and I doubt the beginner wants to read a critique of Hintikka's construal of the cogito argument. When I was reading Descartes as an undergraduate I found John Cottingham's excellent "The Rationalists" helpful as an entry level study.
Although Williams' style of writing is, as another reviewer pointed out, rambling the book is organised in a clear thematic way. It starts with Descartes' method of doubting all the beliefs he has inherited from tradition, then later chapters cover the arguments for God's existence, for the mind's independence from the body, and so on. The discussion is usually meandering and subtle, with Williams pondering questions like how appropriate picking bad apples out of a barrel is as a metaphor for methodological doubt.
The book is so rated by philosophers not for its learned readings, however, but for its own ideas. Without giving too much away the argument goes that a broadly Cartesian view of knowledge might be necessary for intellectual investigation to make sense at all. Williams puts it vividly at one point by saying that in Descartes we need the guarantee of what the world looks like to God as an anchor for our investigations.
Lastly, I should say that this is difficult reading, as you'd probably expect from a book concerned with such abstract and conceptual themes. Despite this, as a student I found it refreshing to see a commentator so clearly in love with the texts showing how resourceful and subtle they remain, when the thinker's reception is usually an impatient bashing.
Williams does not dismiss Descartes's "project" or his various arguments out of hand. He makes the best case for them before identifying Descartes's errors and dismembering some of his amazingly sloppy arguments. He depends not on the arguments of other 20th century philosophers to make his points but on his own ingenious perceptions. At the time he was writing, it would have been easy to to write a book ending up with a scorecard "Wittgenstein 10: Descartes 0" but Williams does not need to draw on others in that way.
Williams puts his finger on Descartes's two main problems:
(a) Having doubted the existence of the perceived world (including other people!), Descartes cannot locate a secure argument to justify belief in the physical world; he becomes a prisoner of his consciousness.
(b) His conceptual analysis produced a mathematical matrix for the description of the physical world, including some laws of nature, but Descartes was never able to demonstrate that observed phenomena in nature actually obeyed his laws. He set out a cosmological programme for the new science but it was at such a high level of generality as to be inapplicable to his own observations.
Any serious undergraduate should tussle with the complexities of this excellent book.
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