Chapter 2 Directing the Mind: René Descartes’ Discourse

In: Spiritual Exercises and Early Modern Philosophy
Simone D’Agostino
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In the Discourse on the Method Descartes calls us to free ourselves from subjection to external and internal preceptors, to become true subjects of knowledge and of action. The Discourse is sustained by an underlying conviction: we can and, to some extent, should, change. The intricate composition of appetitive, rational, sensory, and intellectual powers, which makes up every real human being, does not constitute a fixed but a dynamic structure. By practicing adequate discipline, we can acquire new habits, emending our previous ones. Towards this goal we are guided by rules, those from method and those from morality. However, the condition of possibility to change one’s own judgements and have different attitudes towards one’s appetites is found in the fact that there is something in us that transcends our sensory limits. This self-transcendency is discovered in the provisional moral code, where we experience the properly metaphysical dimension of our freedom. Such an experience is further substantiated by the ontological independence of the mind from the body, appearing with the cogito, and is finally founded upon the existence of God, which warrants our effective knowledge of the world.

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