The Matter of Mind: Reason and Experience in the Age of Descartes

By Christopher Braider

© 2011

What influence did René Descartes' concept of mind-body dualism have on early modern conceptions of the self? In The Matter of Mind, Christopher Braider challenges the presumed centrality of Descartes' groundbreaking theory to seventeenth-century French culture. He details the broad opposition to rational self-government among Descartes' contemporaries, and attributes conventional links between Descartes and the myth of the ‘modern subject’ to post-structuralist assessments.

The Matter of Mind presents studies drawn from a range of disciplines and examines the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, the drama of Pierre Corneille, and the theology of Blaise Pascal. Braider argues that if early modern thought converged on a single model, then it was the experimental picture based on everyday experience proposed by Descartes' sceptical adversary, Michel de Montaigne. Forceful and provocative, The Matter of Mind will encourage lively debate on the norms and discourses of seventeenth-century philosophy.

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Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 296 pages
  • Illustrations: 18
  • Dimensions: 6.3in x 1.1in x 9.3in
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  • PUBLISHED JAN 2012

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Quick Overview

Forceful and provocative, The Matter of Mind will encourage lively debate on the norms and discourses of seventeenth-century philosophy.

The Matter of Mind: Reason and Experience in the Age of Descartes

By Christopher Braider

© 2011

What influence did René Descartes' concept of mind-body dualism have on early modern conceptions of the self? In The Matter of Mind, Christopher Braider challenges the presumed centrality of Descartes' groundbreaking theory to seventeenth-century French culture. He details the broad opposition to rational self-government among Descartes' contemporaries, and attributes conventional links between Descartes and the myth of the ‘modern subject’ to post-structuralist assessments.

The Matter of Mind presents studies drawn from a range of disciplines and examines the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, the drama of Pierre Corneille, and the theology of Blaise Pascal. Braider argues that if early modern thought converged on a single model, then it was the experimental picture based on everyday experience proposed by Descartes' sceptical adversary, Michel de Montaigne. Forceful and provocative, The Matter of Mind will encourage lively debate on the norms and discourses of seventeenth-century philosophy.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 296 pages
  • Illustrations: 18
  • Dimensions: 6.3in x 1.1in x 9.3in
  • Reviews

    ‘All of them [readers] will most likely be impressed with the intellectual range and critical acumen displayed by Braider throughout this highly stimulating study.’
    Edward Ousselin
    French Studies, vol 66:04:2012

    ‘This book is a thought provoking contribution to early modern French studies.’


    Paul Scott
    French Review vol 88:02:2014

    ‘A major contribution to state-of-the-art research, The Matter of Mind will immediately become essential reading among specialists of French early modern literature and an important book for all those interested in early modern history, cognitive and aesthetic philosophy, and art history. Christopher Braider ambitiously covers a wide range of seventeenth-century French authors and texts, masterfully contextualizing them within the larger European landscape and exhibiting an admirable command of contemporary scholarship across a broad range of fields. Deeply engaging, forcefully argued, and insightful in its investigations, The Matter of Mind is certain to create lively responses and a salutary debate. I look forward to assigning it to my students and discussing it among colleagues.’


    Larry Norman, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago, and author of 'The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France'

    The Matter of Mind is an imposing, extremely well-researched intellectual project that aims to redirect critical attention away from the Cartesian "mind-body" split as the proscriptive norm of the Classical Age, a period whose heterogeneity belies precisely any such clear-cut impositions. Christopher Braider brings to this endeavour an impressive and compelling mastery of the critical traditions of a variety of authors and artists, offering carefully constructed, erudite readings of their texts and paintings. For once, we have a scholar of seventeenth-century thought whose knowledge and critical acumen is capable of switching mimetic registers and applying, in ways very few other scholars are capable of doing, this acumen to the field of art history.’


    Mitchell Greenberg, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University
  • Author Information

    Christopher Braider is a professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • Table of contents

    Introduction. Experience and the Matter of Mind: Dualism, Classicism, and the Myth of the Modern Subject in Seventeenth-Century France

    1. Front Matter: Placing Descarte’s Meditations
    2. A State of Mind: Embodying the Sovereign in Poussin's Judgment of Solomon
    3. The Witch from Colchis: Coreneille’s Médée, Chimène's Le Cid, and the Invention of Classical Genius
    4. Seeing is Believing: Image and Imaginaire in Molière's Sganarelle
    5. The Ghost in the Machine: Reason, Faith, and Experience in Pascalian Apologetics
    6. Des mots sans fin: Meaning and the End(s) of History in Boileau's Satire XII, “Sur l’Equivoque”

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