Hiram Caton’s studies of the Enlightenment Ten happened mainly during his
Yale and Penn State years. He promotes the common view that these thinkers
mark a watershed from the 16th century, or any other time. They advocated
scientific rationality (Hiram styles it ‘polytechnic rationality’)
comprehensively, in philosophical ‘systems’, and they fostered belief in
countless potential human benefits of its cultivation. That advocacy is
accompanied by critique of reason’s negative Other, ignorance and
superstition. The discovery and specification of scientific rationality is
the unifying concept.
Problems: Why include Newton but exclude Galileo and Kepler? Why exclude
Pierre Gassendi? What about Montaigne and Pascal, who composed humanist
essays rather than philosophical systems? Can a philosophical system be attributed to Newton? Doesn’t the mathematically gifted Pascal question the reliability of rationalism? Bacon rejected Copernicanism
owing to his suspicion of mathematics; does he deserve a seat among
Such queries are commonplace. Their pursuit helps historians clarify the
core concept…and illustrate (once again) that classifications are usually
leaky. Galileo, Kepler, and Gassendi definitely belong there, Hiram
believes, but he tells me their inclusion would make his list too long! The
skeptics Montaigne and Pascal are included because their interrogations
helped specify rationality’s nature, especially in its mode as a human
capacity always deployed in a life context.
Hiram’s principal commentaries on Bacon and Hobbes are set out in his Politics of Progress, but also see Toward a
Diagnosis of Progress.
The Origin of Subjectivity
The Problem of Descartes’ Sincerity
Doubt that Descartes was sincere in his profession of faith and in
establishing the theological anchor for philosophy have been raised since
his earliest publication, The Discourse on Method. This essay describes
friendly and hostile doubts, illuminates their historical contexts, and
devotes attention to their removal from Cartesian scholarship largely by
Etienne Gilson and other French scholars early in the 20th century. The
essay concludes with a description of the elements of Cartesian philosophy
once the scholastic metaphysics is deleted.
On the Interpretation of the Meditations
The Theological Import of Cartesian Doubt
Descartes’ Anonymous Writings: A Recapitulation , Southern Journal of
Philosophy 20 (1982), 299-311.
Two of Descartes’ publications--the French translation of the Meditations
and The Passions of the Soul--contain prefaces whose authorship has hitherto
been unidentified. Using internal and historical evidence, it is argued
that the author in both cases is Descartes himself. The Meditations preface
distances the intended sense of the work from its scholastic façade, while
the Passions preface exalts the humanitarian benefits of Descartes’
practical philosophy (‘the mastery of nature’) while berating him for
neglect in pressing for its acceptance.
Analytic history of philosophy: the case of Descartes Philosophical Forum
12 (1981), 273-294.
This article argues that Descartes’ rejection of scholasticism and espousal
of an intuitive epistemology places his philosophy at odds with the logical
methodology of analytic philosophy. It also criticizes the historical
interpretation of Descartes’ social and religious station common among
analytic philosophers. Finally, it argues that Descartes’ mimic of
scholastic reasoning in the Meditations is an elaborate parody of that
tradition which, when clearly though through, does indeed demonstrate ‘I
think’ as philosophy’s first principle.
Will and Reason in Descartes' Theory of Error
Kennington on Descartes’ Evil Genius
Doubt and Certainty in Psychobiological Perspective
Three images L-R Descartes opera Philosophica, Descartes' Memorial In Stockholm, Origin of Subjectivity Hiram Caton
Other Recent Publications
Fernand Hallyn, Descartes. Dissimulation et ironie, Genève, Droz, 2006.
Hallyn is a highly productive historian at the University of Ghent. His
extensive analysis and documentation of Descartes’ dissimulation reiterates
and extends Caton’s initiative.
, Descartes: la fable du monde
, Paris, Vrin, 1991.
The author is a historian at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences
Sociales specializing in the political, moral, intellectual, and religious
history of the 16th and 17th century. This study, together with numerous
articles on Descartes’ politics, supports Caton’s interpretation of
Descartes and his milieu.
C F Fowler, O.P. Descartes on the Human Soul: Philosophy and the Demands
of Christian Theology. Dortrecht: Kluwer, 1999.
In 1663, the Sacred Congregation of the Index issued a decree that
prohibited the printing, possession, or reading of a wide range of Descartes’
writings. This lengthy study of the conflict between Descartes and church
authorities (the Dutch Reformed church is included) confirms by use of
ecclesiastical sources the positions of Caton, Hallyn, and Cavaillé.
Daniel Garber, Descartes Embodied: Reading Cartesian Philosophy through
Cartesian Physics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
The author generates his own version of the interpretation set out in The
Origin of Subjectivity.
Dennis DesChene. Spirits and Clocks: Machine and Organism in Descartes.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.
Consistent with Garber and Caton.
Stephen Gaukroger, Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997.
This 500 page biography is the most thorough, thoughtful, and best written
Stephen Voss, ed. Essays on the Philosophy and Science of Rene Descartes. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Representative of the state of Cartesian studies at the time of publication.