Associate Professor of Philosophy, The New School for Social Research, New York
According to Alexis de Tocqueville, Americans are both anti-philosophical and perfectly Cartesian. In fact, he says they are anti-philosophical because perfectly Cartesian: he thinks democracy in America threatens to culminate in a “tyranny of the masses” because of this Cartesian attitude. I read Cavell’s relation to Descartes as a (de facto) response to Tocqueville. His philosophical psychology provides a metaphysics of the mind that is alternative to Descartes’ cogito, hoping to demonstrate that America’s spirit is inherently anti-Cartesian. I conclude with critical comments on both Cavell’s and Tocqueville’s understanding of Descartes.