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1. While the page number citations of Descartes’ text refer to the standard Adam and Tannery compilations, the translations are taken from the english compilation, translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch: The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume I. Cambridge University Press. ©1985.

2. I have taken certain liberties with the translation here which I hope better reflect Descartes’ intended meaning (or at least correspond more directly with a literal translation of this section of text).

3. Cottingham, Stoothoff, and Murdoch translate this: ‘quite’, which does not seem to adequately capture the implied incommensurability between simple natures.

4. By ‘trivially’, I do not mean ‘without consequence’. Rather, I mean the more mathematical notion of absolute simplicity: ‘without the necessity of further elaboration or external justification’.

5. It is possible that I am being slightly unconventional here. For I do not consider an object to which no notion of falsity applies as being the sort of thing which might be subject to any notions of truth. Truth, it seems clear, is necessarily an act of judgement, of the same categorical domain as falsity.

6. I am using the term reactive very specifically, in a form most closely analogous to its use in standard physical chemistry. Along the same metaphorical line, the actions of the intellect would function mostly as a weak catalyst, determining the prevalence of various combinations. Admittedly, in the case of Descartes, this metaphor has its limitations. Nevertheless, it should be helpful in suggesting at least one sense in which simple natures might simultaneously be considered atomic and inter-relational.

7. See especially Descartes’ fifth part on the known: AT X, 422, where he employs the example of those simple natures necessarily apprehended by and in our apprehension of a triangle, even if it is not immediately apparent that these are more clearly ‘known’ to us, or even if some such natures completely escape our ‘notice’.

PHIL-470-01, Georgetown University
Spring 1992
(© David Foss, March 20, 1992)

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