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Sarah Coakley Reads Descartes

June 5th, 2010 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

And is awfully kind.

"Again, and on another point raised by the critics, the relation of soul and body in Descartes is often badly misunderstood.  There is indeed a most radical distinction between them, the distinction between the material and the immaterial, the divisible and the indivisible.  But Descartes devotes immense energies, especially in his later work, to charting their intrinsically close relation, insisting that the soul resides quite locatably in the pineal gland.  Earlier, in Meditation VI, he had underscored:  'I am not lodged in jmy body only as a pilot in a vessel, I am very closely united with it.'  And he was very aware, very bothered, that his account of how, precisely, the mind and the body interacted was possibly the weakest and most problematic link in his system."

That's about as sympathetic a reading of Descartes as you'll ever see, which is rather refreshing.

She also points to The Cloud of Unknowing as a 14th century text that foreshadows Descartes' understanding of the individual.  Modernity may not be only his fault after all.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.