CFS Lecture by Galen Strawson: Descartes’s mind

Galen Strawson, DPhil (Oxford 1983), is a professor at the Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of, among others, Freedom and Belief (Oxford 1986), Mental Reality (MIT Press 1994), Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics (Oxford, 2009), The Evident Connexion: Mind, Self and David Hume (Oxford, 2011), and Locke on personal identity (Princeton 2011). He taught at the University of Oxford (1979-2000), where he was a Fellow of Jesus College. He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, UK (2001–2012), and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York Graduate Center (2004-2007).
He has been on the scientific advisory board of Center for Subjectivity research since 2002.


It is generally supposed that Descartes holds the following views about the mind and ‘thought’, i.e. consciousness, conscious experience. [1] The mind is a substance; as such it has being—substantial being—independently of the thought that goes on in it. [2] Thought is the ‘principal attribute’ of mind, the property ‘which constitutes itsnature and essence’ (Descartes Principles 1.53). [3] Thought is an essential property of the mind, a property that it cannot possibly lack. [2] and [3] are correct; [1] is not. On Descartes’s view, thought constitutes the whole substantial being of the mind. The mind just is thought, thinking, conscious experience. It has no further ontological aspect.