Descartes and the Curious Case of the Origin of Sensory Ideas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Descartes endorses the two prima facie inconsistent claims that sensory ideas are innate (Claim A) and caused in us by bodies (Claim B). Most scholars believe that Claims A and B can be reconciled by appealing to the notion of occasional or triggering causation. I claim that this notion does not solve the theoretical problems it is introduced to solve and it generates additional difficulties. I argue that these difficulties result from conflating two questions that need to be kept distinct while inquiring about the origin of ideas: the psychological question of the mechanisms by which we acquire ideas and the metaphysical question of how the content of these ideas is determined. I conclude by proposing a new way of reconciling Descartes's Claims A and B in light of this distinction. On my account, Descartes's very views on innateness explain why bodily states must be causes of sensory ideas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)704-723
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Descartes and the Curious Case of the Origin of Sensory Ideas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this