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Elisabeth of Bohemia, , . Selections from her Correspondence with Descartes
1994, in Margaret Atherton (ed.) Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Hackett Publishing Company. [originally written 1643-1650]
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Added by: Alison Stone, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

From the SEP:  Elisabeth presses Descartes on the relation between the two really distinct substances of mind and body, and in particular the possibility of their causal interaction and the nature of their union. They also correspond on Descartes’s physics, on the passions and their regulation, on the nature of virtue and the greatest good, on the nature of human freedom of the will and its compatibility with divine causal determination, and on political philosophy.

Comment: This chapter could be used in a history of philosophy course covering Descartes as one week’s reading, covering Elisabeth’s questions to Descartes about mind/body interaction. Note that the selections in Atherton’s collection are adequate for a Philosophy of Mind course, but students wishing to explore the issues in more detail might benefit from reading the full text.

Complimentary Texts/Resources:

Lisa Shapiro, “Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The Union of Soul and Body and the Practice of Philosophy” – Shapiro explicates Elizabeth’s underlying view and objections and shows how to frame the issues in the correspondence as feminist issues and issues about philosophy and its culture.

Andrea Nye, “Polity and Prudence: the Ethics of Elisabeth, Princess Palatine” – Nye explores Elisabeth’s ethical views, as discovered via the correspondence.

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Elisabeth of Bohemia, , Shapiro, Lisa (ed.). The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes
2007, University of Chicago Press.
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Added by: Alison Stone, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Between the years 1643 and 1649, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes exchanged fifty-eight letters—thirty-two from Descartes and twenty-six from Elisabeth. Their correspondence contains the only known extant philosophical writings by Elisabeth, revealing her mastery of metaphysics, analytic geometry, and moral philosophy, as well as her keen interest in natural philosophy. The letters are essential reading for anyone interested in Descartes’s philosophy, in particular his account of the human being as a union of mind and body, as well as his ethics. They also provide a unique insight into the character of their authors and the way ideas develop through intellectual collaboration. Philosophers have long been familiar with Descartes’s side of the correspondence. Now Elisabeth’s letters—never before available in translation in their entirety—emerge this volume, adding much-needed context and depth both to Descartes’s ideas and the legacy of the princess. Lisa Shapiro’s annotated edition—which also includes Elisabeth’s correspondence with the Quakers William Penn and Robert Barclay—will be heralded by students of philosophy, feminist theorists, and historians of the early modern period

Comment: This book contains the complete exchange of letters between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth. It can be used as further or supplementary reading on Descartes in a history of modern philosophy course; for example, if there was a week on Elisabeth’s questions to Descartes about mind and body, this could be assigned as further reading for students wanting to go into more depth.

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McWeeny, Jennifer, , . Princess Elisabeth and the Mind-Body Problem
2011, in Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 297-300.
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Added by: Alison Stone, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

Introduction: The mind – body problem exposes the inconsistencies that arise when mind and body are conceived as ontologically distinct entities. Human experience clearly shows that our minds interact with our bodies. Philosophers who reject the identity of mind and body or mind and brain face the task of explaining these relations by illuminating the precise manner in which the mind moves the body and the body affects the mind. It is unsurprising, then, that the mind – body problem was first articulated as a response to René Descartes’ dualistic philosophy […]

Comment: A very short piece that sets out Elisabeth’s core criticisms of Descartes’ mind/body dualism. Useful bibliography included. Can be used as part of a week’s reading on Descartes, Cartesian dualism, and/or Elisabeth’s responses to Descartes.

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Phemister, Pauline, , . The Rationalists: Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz
2006, Polity.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Pauline Phemister

Publisher’s Note: Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz stand out among their seventeenth-century contemporaries as the great rationalist philosophers. Each sought to construct a philosophical system in which theological and philosophical foundations serve to explain the physical, mental and moral universe. Through a careful analysis of their work, Pauline Phemister explores the rationalists seminal contribution to the development of modern philosophy. Broad terminological agreement and a shared appreciation of the role of reason in ethics do not mask the very significant disagreements that led to three distinctive philosophical systems: Cartesian dualism, Spinozan monism and Leibnizian pluralism. The book explores the nature of, and offers reasons for, these differences. Phemister contends that Spinoza and Leibniz developed their systems in part through engagements with and amendment of Cartesian philosophy, and critically analyses the arguments and contributions of all three philosophers. The clarity of the authors discussion of their key ideas including their views on knowledge, universal languages, the nature of substance and substances, bodies, the relation of mind and body, freedom, and the role of distinct perception and reason in morals will make this book the ideal introduction to rationalist philosophy

Comment: [This is a stub entry. Please add your comments to help us expand it]

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Shapiro, Lisa, , . Descartes’s Ethics
2008, In Janet Broughton & John Carriero (eds.), A companion to Descartes. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 445-463.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Alberto Vanzo

Abstract: I begin my discussion by considering how to relate Descartes’s more general concern with the conduct of life to the metaphysics and epistemology in the foreground of his philosophical project. I then turn to the texts in which Descartes offers his developed ethical thought and present the case for Descartes as a virtue ethicist. My argument emerges from seeing that Descartes’s conception of virtue and the good owes much to Stoic ethics, a school of thought which saw a significant revival in the seventeenth century. It does, however, deviate from classical Stoicism in critical ways. Towards the end of my discussion, I return to the question of the relation between Descartes’s ethics and his metaphysics and epistemology, and I suggest that the Discourse on the Method for Rightly Conducting Reason and the Meditations on First Philosophy are invested with the virtue ethical considerations of moral education and the regulation of the passions, respectively.

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Shapiro, Lisa, , . Princess Elizabeth and Descartes: The union of soul and body and the practice of philosophy
1999, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7(3): 503-520.
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Added by: Francesca Bruno, Contributed by:

Summary: In this paper, Shapiro aims to explore Princess Elizabeth’s own philosophical position, as developed in her correspondence with Descartes. In particular, Shapiro is interested in tracing Elizabeth’s own thought about the nature of the union of soul and body. Shapiro argues that Elizabeth develops her view from her early, famous objection against Descartes’ notion of the union of soul and body given his substance dualism to her later (less known) objections to Descartes’ neo-Stoic advice to her about regulating her passions. According to Shapiro, Elizabeth defends a unique philosophical position, one that is intermediary between substance dualism and reductionist materialism. On this view, the mind is autonomous yet it depends on the (good health of the) body to function properly. Shapiro concludes her paper by reconsidering Elizabeth’s practice of philosophy in light of the lack of a systematic treatment of philosophical issue by her.

Comment:  This article is a nice introduction to Princess Elizabeth’s own philosophical thinking, although it might require some familiarity with Elizabeth-Descartes correspondence. Lisa Shapiro aims to take Elizabeth seriously as a philosopher, focusing on her view of the nature of the union of soul and body, as set forth in her correspondence with Descartes. She also reconsiders Elizabeth’s practice of philosophy: she argues that the lack of a systematic treatment of philosophical issues on Elizabeth’s part does not make her any less of a philosopher.

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Wilson, Catherine, , . Descartes’s Meditations: An Introduction
2003, Cambridge University Press.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez, Contributed by: Pauline Phemister

Abstract: This new introduction to a philosophical classic draws on the reinterpretations of Descartes’ thought of the past twenty-five years. Catherine Wilson examines the arguments of Descartes’ famous Meditations, revealing how he constructs a theory of the mind, body, nature, and God from a premise of radical uncertainty. She discusses in detail the historical context of Descartes’ writings and their relationship to early modern science, and at the same time she introduces concepts and problems that define the philosophical enterprise as it is understood today.

Comment: Following closely the text of the Meditations and meant to be read alongside them, this survey is accessible to readers with no previous background in philosophy. It is well-suited to university-level courses on Descartes, but can also be read with profit by students in other disciplines.

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