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date: 23 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter proposes an interpretation of Descartes’ distinction between two methods of demonstration—analysis and synthesis. A number of interpretive difficulties arise from his Second Replies account of the distinction, itself the most detailed treatment of his writings. Prima facie, that account fails to illuminate any substantive basis for distinguishing the demonstrative method employed in the Meditations and the demonstrative method employed in the geometric exposition (coming at the end of the Second Replies); yet Descartes represents the former as a model of analytic method, and the latter as a model of synthetic method. This is just the beginning of the prima facie interpretive puzzles arising from the Second Replies account. On the interpretation this chapter defends, the core of the analysis/synthesis distinction concerns the treatment of first principles: analytic demonstrations motivate their first principles, while synthetic demonstrations merely clarify them. As argued here, this rendering of the distinction explains everything written in the Second Replies passage, including six points of contrast between analysis and synthesis. Further, the paper develops the explanatory power of the interpretation for Descartes’ various metaphysical writings. A consequence of the account is that Descartes employs analysis in each of his major works treating metaphysics—an outcome consistent with his claim that analysis is better suited to metaphysical inquiry, than is synthesis.

Keywords: analysis, demonstration, metaphysics, method, synthesis

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