What Am I?

What Am I? : Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem

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In his Meditations, Rene Descartes asks, "what am I?" His initial answer is "a man." But he soon discards it: "But what is a man? Shall I say 'a rational animal'? No: for then I should inquire what an animal is, what rationality is, and in this way one question would lead down the slope to harder ones." Instead of understanding what a man is, Descartes shifts to two new questions: "What is Mind?" and "What is Body?" These questions develop into Descartes's main philosophical preoccupation: the Mind-Body distinction. How can Mind and Body be independent entities, yet joined-essentially so-within a single human being? If Mind and Body are really distinct, are human beings merely a "construction"? On the other hand, if we respect the integrity of humans, are Mind and Body merely aspects of a human being and not subjects in and of themselves? For centuries, philosophers have considered this classic philosophical puzzle. Now, in this compact, engaging, and long-awaited work, UCLA philosopher Joseph Almog closely decodes the French philosopher's argument for distinguishing between the human mind and body while maintaining simultaneously their essential integration in a human being.
He argues that Descartes constructed a solution whereby the trio of Human Mind, Body, and Being are essentially interdependent yet remain each a genuine individual subject. Almog's reading not only steers away from the most popular interpretations of Descartes, but also represents a scholar coming to grips directly with Descartes himself. In doing so, Almog creates a work that Cartesian scholars will value, and that will also prove indispensable to philosophers of language, ontology, and the metaphysics of mind.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 160 pages
  • 139.7 x 208.3 x 15.2mm | 204.12g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0195177193
  • 9780195177190
  • 960,163

Review quote

"An important addition to scholarship on Descartes, Almog's account reaches back to and includes Arnauld, Caterus, and Gassendi as well as Saul Kripke; he treats all these commentators thoughtfully. It will be difficult, after reading this, for anyone to believe that Descartes espouses any simple or straightforward two-substance-in-one-man view. College and university libraries should not be without this books."-CHOICE "A major work in several areas of philosophy, including the history of philosophy, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. The book is well-conceived, well-written, and elegantly argued. Indeed, I know of no book since Kripke's Naming and Necessity that presents these issues as clearly or that promises as important a realignment of our intuitions on some of these issues."-Stephen White, Tufts University "A very interesting book that captures some very important and neglected elements of Descarte's thought. ...an interesting and thought-provoking attempt to spell out in contemporary terms ideas Almog finds in Descartes."-Mind
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About Joseph Almog

Joseph Almog is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of Themes from Kaplan (Oxford, 1989).
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