The Flight to Objectivity

Essays on Cartesianism and Culture

By Susan R. Bordo

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy, SUNY series, Feminist Philosophy
Paperback : 9780887064111, 160 pages, July 1987
Hardcover : 9780887064104, 160 pages, July 1987

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

1. The Pervasiveness of Cartesian Anxiety; or, Taking Cartesian Doubt Seriously
2. The Epistemological Insecurity of the Cartesian Era
3. The Emergence of Inwardness
4. Individuation and Locatedness: A Cultural Drama of Parturition
5. Purification and Transcendence in Descartes's Meditations
6. The Cartesian Masculinization of Thought and the Seventeenth-Century Flight From the Feminine


The Flight to Objectivity offers a new reading of Descartes' Meditations informed by cultural history, psychoanalytic and cognitive psychology, and feminist thought. It focuses not on Descartes' arguments as "timeless," culturally disembodied events, but on the psychological drama and imagery of the Meditations explored in the context of the historical instability of the seventeenth century and deep historical changes in the structure of human experience.

The study includes textual and cultural material that together comprise a gradually unfolding psychocultural reading of the Meditations. Descartes' famous doubt, and the ideal of objectivity which conquered that doubt, are considered as philosophical expressions of a cultural "drama of parturition" from the medieval universe, a process that generated new forms of experience, new cultural anxieties, and ultimately, new strategies for control and mastery of an utterly changed and alien world. Themes that figure prominently in recent literature on seventeenth-century philosophy and science—the birth of the mind as "mirror of nature," and the "masculine" nature of modern science, the "death of nature"—are explored with reference to Descartes as a pivotal figure in the birth of modernity.

Susan R. Bordo is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Le Moyne College.


"This is cultural history at its best. The topic is of greatest philosophical and cultural importance. It will be a major contribution to a feminist epistemology. " — Patrick Hill

"The book is an original and imaginative treatment of the Cartesian bequest. It is well written, intelligent, and exciting in implication. The author has an excellent grasp of the necessary texts and she has interwoven a series of creative and fascinating themes, seldom if ever pursued in Cartesian studies. This book is in the tradition of culturally interpretive works and should take its place among the most imaginative reconstructions of the Cartesian era. " — John J. McDermott, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Texas A & M University