Time and narrative in Descartes’s Meditations

  • Michael Campbell

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, regarded by many as his masterpiece, has been the subject of significant philosophical debate since its publication in 1641. Yet the Meditations is remarkable not only for its philosophical ideas but also for the style in which it was written. Two of the most notable stylistic elements of the Meditations are the use of temporal markers—a significant departure from analogous philosophical treatises of the same period—and the fact that the text is written in such a way as to invite readers to subsume themselves into the role of the narrator, so as to experience its arguments for themselves. Many commentators have hinted at the importance of the narrator. But there has been little attempt at a sustained engagement. The function of the text as a series of days of meditation has also been insufficiently explored. In order to further investigate the roles of time and narrative within the Meditations, this thesis uses various reading methods provided by narrative theory, with particular focus on Monika Fludernik’s experiential model of narrative. Fludernik’s model allows for a clearer articulation of the role readers play in enacting meaning, and the way in which readers will in a sense “author” a text on their own terms. Reading the Meditations as an experiential narrative also illuminates significant issues to do with Descartes’s distinction between geometric and discursive argument, his conception of time, the specific expression of the Cogito in the Meditations, and the “reorientation” at the heart of the text—which I am calling a sort of conversion. The conversion at the heart of the Meditations will be explored in parallel with Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, two texts which—like the Meditations—can be thought of as experiential narratives designed to bring about some kind of conversion. I argue that such an experiential reading, drawing on the roles of time and narrative in the text, offers to enrich our understanding of the Meditations.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Magee (Supervisor) & Adam Dickerson (Supervisor)

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