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(2009) Topics in early modern philosophy of mind, Dordrecht, Springer.


rationalist or cartesian empiricist?

Sean Allen-Hermanson

pp. 57-84

My interest in this project owes to curiosity about the comparison sometimes made between the "first" and 'second" cognitive revolutions. The second revolution is the one that began in the mid-20th century and which continues today.2 It is characterized by the replacement of prevailing frameworks (e.g., Behaviourism) for exploring memory, learning, language, and thinking, by new techniques and theories inspired by the metaphor of mind as an information processor, like a computer, that solves problems by applying logical transformations to internal symbols. At risk of oversimplifying a complex history, the more recent cognitive revolution represents a shift in philosophical attitudes back towards a broadly Rationalist outlook when it comes to understanding higher mental functions, i.e., one that de-emphasizes sensory experience, training, and individual history, in favour of innate mechanisms, not dependent on sense perception, and orientated on the development of the species as a whole.3 The source of this change can be traced to similar change in approaches to the mind in the 17th and 18th centuries. Chomsky (2005) has urged continued study of this first cognitive revolution— especially the contributions of the Rationalists—in order to recover insights still useful to the second. Although I fear the sin of over-enthusiasm, I can at least agree that a re-examination of how we got where we are can sometimes lead in surprising new directions.With these varying degrees of ambition in mind, I turn to examine a littleknown philosopher from that earlier period, Robert Desgabets (1610–1678), who has idiosyncratic views on several areas of continuing interest, including the nature of representation, modality, and time. But I will restrict myself to a discussion of what he has to say about the role of sensation in the formation of ideas. Desgabets was a Cartesian and contemporary of Descartes, and commands attention for his seemingly unusual blending of Cartesianism and empiricism.4

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-2381-0_3

Full citation:

Allen-Hermanson, S. (2009)., Desgabets: rationalist or cartesian empiricist?, in J. Miller (ed.), Topics in early modern philosophy of mind, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 57-84.

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