Department of Philosophy



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Portrait of Descartes by Nason, from the Agnes Etherington Art GalleryIn the current issue of Philosopher's Imprint, Elliot Paul tackles one of Descartes's most central concepts: clarity. Elliot gives an admirably straightforward, though controversial, reading of the concept. Here is the abstract for Elliot's "Cartesian Clarity":

Clear and distinct perception is the centerpiece of Descartes’s philosophy — it is the source of all certainty — but what does he mean by ‘clear’ and ‘distinct’? According to the prevailing approach, what it means for a perception to be clear is that its content has a certain objective property, like truth. I argue instead that clarity is a subjective, phenomenal quality whereby a content is presented as true to the perceiving subject. In the special case of completely clear intellectual perception, what is presented as true must be true. Further, I argue that the other perceptual qualities that Descartes identifies — obscurity, confusion, and distinctness — are all defined in terms of clarity. Of particular note is the fact that distinctness is not a positive feature to be added to clarity: a distinct perception is just a completely clear perception.