Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


This thesis begins with a critique of Quentin Meillassoux’s Après la finitude. Chapter One argues against Meillassoux’s injunction to abandon the “transcendental,” while putting forth a Lacanian solution to the “correlationist” problem. Chapter Two expounds the meaning of the Cartesian subject, with a Lacanian twist. Under this view, the subject is split, and this split carries the name “sexual difference.” The cogito is “split” qua sexual difference, whereby sexual difference names the structural antagonism/impossibility that exists in language and bears on all speaking subjects. The second chapter focuses primarily on explaining how sexual difference marks the cogito, by expanding on Alenka Zupančič’s “What is Sex,” and Lacan’s Seminar XX. Finally, Chapter Three discusses the Cartesian phenomenon of love, in looking at Descartes’ most obscure text, The Passions of the Soul. The third chapter serves as a “testing site” for the theses of the first two chapters, such that the experience of love makes explicit the argument that the cogito is split.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis investigates the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s reading of René Descartes’ cogito (the argument that my thought necessarily implies my being) against the backdrop of contemporary French philosophy. Why is this important, you might ask? What is striking about psychoanalytic theory is how it comes to bear on how we conceive of identity and our relation to others. For the purpose of this thesis, we will venture to understand what psychoanalysis, early modern philosophy, and “sexual difference,” share in common. The wager of this thesis is that the cogito, the figure that issues from the supposed dualism (the assertion that one’s mind and body are separate), provides insight into the contemporary cultural situation, specifically pertaining to questions of “sex” and “love.” While the cogito has been presumed responsible for a myriad of harms, from male domination to environmental catastrophe, this thesis argues that what we claim to know about the cogito is misleading. In contrast to this assumption, this will argue that there is a subversive kernel within the philosophy of Descartes.