Having Ideas

  • Richard A. Watson
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 250)


It is time to wrap things up, partly by recapitulating, and partly by mounting a direct attack on the most prominent contemporary ontological model of knowing by way of ideas, that of neurophysiological materialism. So here is the question: What do contemporary neuroscientists or neurophilosophers take having an idea to be? This question is a version of the seventeenth century question considered throughout this book: What is an idea? It is an ontological question that arises out of the Cartesian theory that we know things in the external material world by way of ideas in our minds, which ideas represent those external things. There are of course many classic criticisms of the way of representational ideas. For example, given that we can know external things only by way of representational ideas and can never perceive any thing directly to compare it with its idea, how do we know that an idea represents external things accurately (or at all). But such scepticism is not at issue here. For those who do assume that there are representational ideas, the question arises: What are they? We have seen that the answer in classic Cartesian dualism is that an idea is a property of a mental substance. Having an idea for a Cartesian is having a property of an active mind. What is having an idea for, say, Patricia Churchland?


Material Object Mental Property External Object Brain State Material Body 
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    These structural interpretations are defended with reference to the original texts in Richard A. Watson, “Arnauld, Malebranche, and the Ontology of Ideas,” Methodology and Science, Vol. 24 (1991), pp. 161-73. Fora diverging interpretation, see Steven M. Nadler, Arnauld and the Cartesian Philosophy of Ideas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), and Malebranche and Ideas (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Watson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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