Descartes' theistic metaphysics in its scholastic context

Blake Dean Dutton, University of Pennsylvania


Descartes' relation to the scholastic tradition is poorly understood. In the dissertation I begin to redress this deficiency by studying his theism in relation to its scholastic predecessors. This is a natural starting point since it is in the theistic doctrine that we not only see Descartes' profound indebtedness to scholasticism, but find the foundations of his radically anti-Aristotelian scientific program as well. I begin with an analysis of Descartes' views on the relation of philosophy, theology and science, particularly in light of his transformation of Aquinas' doctrine and his evaluation of Galileo's scientific work. Although Descartes shared with Galileo a concern to create a space in which to do science without theological hindrance, he did this in a way which allowed him to provide his science with deep metaphysical and theistic foundations. From here I turn to an examination of the epistemological and metaphysical underpinnings of Cartesian natural theology in light of the Thomistic, Scotistic and Suarezian traditions, first by looking at Descartes' reaction to Aquinas' criticisms of the ontological argument, then by reconstructing his views on necessary existence and the divine perfections, and finally by examining his account of the essence/existence relation. I conclude the dissertation by expanding earlier discussions concerning the foundational role of the doctrine of God in Cartesian physics and examine some problems which arise when Descartes' claim to derive the laws of motion from the idea of God is seen in light of his doctrines of the divine indifference and the creation of the eternal truths. In all of this I show how the modifications which Descartes made to the scholastic doctrines allowed him to adapt the tradition of classical theism to the demands of his mechanistic science.

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Recommended Citation

Dutton, Blake Dean, "Descartes' theistic metaphysics in its scholastic context" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9413824.