Descartess philosophical anthropology is widely thought to mark a radical break from the preceding Aristotelean tradition. But Paul Hoffman has been arguing for the past quarter-century that, despite various differences, Descartes is actually far closer to the Aristotelean conception of the embodied human being as a hylomorphic unity than to the popular textbook Cartesian stereotype of two separate substances interacting.
Of course Descartes differs from Aristotle over the separability of soul and body but so did Aquinas. Hoffmans point is that for Descartes, as for Aquinas, separability does not imply separation; so long as soul and body are united, they make up a single substance.
Hoffman identifies still further Aristotelean legacies in Descartess thought, such as the identity of action and passion, and the existence of the cognised in the cogniser.
Hoffman was my professor back in the 80s, and he largely convinced me of his interpretation. The passages that Hoffman relies on to make his case are not exactly unknown, but they are often dismissed (even by non-Straussians) as merely attempts on Descartess part to cover his ass and appear more orthodox than he really was in order to avoid persecution. Consequently, such passages have not received as much careful analysis as they deserve; but once one does analyse them, as Hoffman does, the ass-covering interpretation becomes very difficult to take seriously.
Im happy to see that a collection of Hoffmans Descartes essays is now finally in print.
The bad news is that its pricey. The good news is that many of the essays in it are online here and here. You can also read Hoffmans own summary of his interpretation.
Opponents of Hoffman’s interpretation assume that mind and body are like an inconsistent system — parallel lines that never intersect. But Descartes imagined mind and body as an independent system — intersecting lines. The point of intersection is the human experience. In a Cartesian coordinate system, (0,0) would be the paradigm.
Paul Hoffman died the day this was posted. RIP.
Thanks for letting me know. I comment here.
lol @ Straussian jibe.
If you like Straussian jibes I got plenty more here.