Descartes PHI 168
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Philosophy 168 Lectures on Meditation Three G J Mattey December 4 2008 The subtitle of Meditation Three M3 is simply The Existence of God though that is not the only topic covered M3 is the crucial Meditation for the task of restoring beliefs about things other than the I a task that begins with with the proof of God39s existence in M3 and culminates in M6 with the proof of the existence of extended things In the Synopsis Descartes describes the main result of M3 as my principal argument for proving the existence of God AT VII 14 CSM II 10 He acknowledges that it may be that many obscurities remain in the proof because it is divorced from the senses and uses no analogies with bodily things This makes the main premise in his proof appear to be unsupported The main premise is a somewhat complex causal principle The remedy to this difficulty is supposed to be found in the Replies through the use of an analogy We will describe this analogy when we consider the proof and its main premise There are two key conclusions drawn in the Meditation The rst is that it is the clarity and distinctness of his perceptions that accounts for the certainty he achieved in M2 The second is to prove that God exists by arguments whose premises are sanctioned by the natural light It will tum out in M6 that the existence of God who created him and is no deceiver is the basis of his judgments about the existence of things other than the self and God The Rule of Truth The Meditation begins with a summary of the result of M2 which is that Descartes is certain that he is a thinking thing with various properties With this result in hand Descartes ventures out to see whether there may be other things within me which I have not noticed That he is a thinking thing is said to be his first item of all knowledge AT VII 35 CSM II 24 It is commonly held that it is the proposition that he exists or that he is thinking the C ogz39to which plays the role of rst principle in Descartes s metaphysics but that is not what he states at the beginning of M3 He then asks whether he does not therefore also know what is required for my being certain of anything AT VII 35 CSM II 24 That is he is not in a position to affirm that he is certain about some particular thing unless he already knows under what conditions he is certain It is crucial to understand what Descartes means when he uses the word certain In M1 he introduces the term in conjunction with the term indubitable AT VII 18 CSM II 13 AT VII 20 CSM II 14 It appears from the discussion in M1 that what is certain and indubitable is that about which there is no suspicion of being false AT VII 20 CSM II 14 or that about which a doubt may not be properly raised AT VII 21 CSM II 1415 In M2 a contrast is made with anything which admits of the slightest doub and the goal is to find just one G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 1 thing however slight that is certain and unshakeable AT VII 24 CSM II 16 So we will take it that Descartes is certain that p only if there are no doubts about the truth of p that can properly be raised This is a statement only of a necessary condition for certainty We will complete the analysis of certainty later The proposition that I am a thinking thing is certain because not only can no proper doubt be raised by myself against it but no doubt at all can be raised For in the process of raising the doubt I must be thinking There remains the question of how Descartes is able to recognize indubitable certainties as what they are The only thing he can nd in this recognition is the clarity and distinctness of his perceptions of what he is certain about After noting this Descartes goes on to claim that this would not be enough to make me certain of the truth of the matter if it could ever turn out that something which I perceived with such clarity and distinctness was false AT VII 35 CSM II 24 From this claim he sets out his rule for recognizing truth I now seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true AT VII 35 CSM II 24 This passage is arguably the most important in the whole of the Meditations because Descartes uses his newlyfound rule as the basis for many of his further claims about what is true Moreover he frequently mobilizes it as a weapon against claims to truth with which he disagrees He especially targets judgments based on senseperception which he thinks is never clear and distinct In M4 he uses the rule to explain how we can avoid error in making judgments Let us look a little more closely at how Descartes arrives at his rule of truth We must explain why the great clarity and distinctness of his perception of himself as a thinking thing would not be enough to make me certain of the truth of the matter if it could ever turn out that something which I perceived with such clarity and distinctness was false AT VII 35 CSM II 24 The reason is that if it could turn out to be false then whatever would make it false would be a proper reason for doubting that it is true in which case Descartes would not be certain about its truth The reason Descartes can lay down what seems to be a general rule that whatever he very clearly and distinctly perceives is true lies in the fact that the consequent of the conditional quoted in the last paragraph is perfectly general He has arrived at that general condition that whatever is very clearly and distinctly perceived is true through the consideration of a particular case in which he is certain that perception of himself as a thinking thing is true Since he finds nothing in that perception except its great clarity and distinctness he concludes that his certainty is based on that In the Second Replies Descartes states explicitly that it is the consideration of particular cases that leads us to make general claims It is in the nature of our minds to construct general propositions on the basis of our knowledge of particular ones AT VII 141 CSM II 100 G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 2 It will turn out to be very important to note that the general rule here must be indexed to time That is at this point in the Meditations Descartes is certain of the truth of whatever he is at present perceiving very clearly and distinctly The reason for this quali cation is that certainty has a psychological dimension We have noted that one is certain only if there is no proper basis for doubt but the converse does not hold We are uncertain sometimes when there is no proper basis for doubt but we are not aware that there is no proper basis for doubt So we can strengthen our account of certainty in the following way Cartesian Certainty I am certain that p at t if and only if case there are no doubts about the truth of p that occur to me at t or that can properly be raised One of the overall goals of the Meditations is to defeat skepticism by instilling certainty by proving that there is no proper basis for doubting a number of metaphysical propositions Thus when I am not presently perceiving something very clearly and distinctly even if I once did so doubts may creep into my mind rendering me uncertain This point is made by Descartes in the Second Replies when he claims that even if an atheist has a clear awareness that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles this act of awareness can be rendered doubtful if the atheist or someone else raises the possibility that he is being deceived in matters that are most clear to him AT VII l4l CSM II 101 Descartes is now able to recognize that his previous opinions that some things were certain and eviden were not based on the clarity and distinctness of perception but only on their merely apparent clarity and distinctness The beliefs in question were that there were things outside me which were the sources of my ideas and which resembled them in all respects AT VII 35 CSM II 25 The beliefs may be true but if they are it is not by virtue of the clarity and distinctness of their perception but rather as a matter of luck Descartes s previous beliefs included the very simple and straightforward matters in arithmetic and geometry and these seem to be different from beliefs about outside objects they are seen clearly enough for their truth to be affirmed in accordance with the general rule Yet there remain as yet two uneliminated possibilities which might instill doubt in these beliefs The first possibility is that I do not have the things themselves before my mind at a time when my preconceived belief in the supreme power of God comes to mind AT VII 36 CSM II 25 Such a God could have given me a nature such that I was deceived even in these matters This leads me to entertain some slight doubt at that time A contrasting possibility is that I have the things themselves before my mind when my preconceived belief in God s power comes to mind When I am attending to the things themselves the clarity and distinctness of my perception of them leads to conviction I spontaneously declare let whoever can do so deceive me he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I continue to think I am something AT VII 36 CSM II 25 So at this point in the Meditations the only basis for doubt is the supposition of a God and G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 3 this induces doubt only at the times when I am not attending to the things themselves This doubt is slight and metaphysical and it prevents me from being quite certain about anything else AT VII 36 CSM II 25 Removing this doubt requires the proof that God exists and that he is no deceiver For if I do not know this it seems that I can never be quite certain about anything else AT VII 36 CSM II 25 This claim is the basis of a very powerful charge against Descartes that his arguments are circular the socalled Cartesian Circle This charge will be examined in the notes to Meditation Five In the meantime we will look at a more immediate objection Introducing the possibility of deception in matters that are most clear to a person seemed to Mersenne to raise a problem which he communicated to Descartes in the Second Objections How can you establish with certainty that you are not deceived or capable of being deceived in matters which you think you know clearly and distinctly AT VII 126 CSM II 90 Human deception might have a cause of which one is wholly unaware and people who think their knowledge was as clear as the sunlight turn out to be deceived Your principle of clear and distinct knowledge thus requires a clear and distinct explanation in such a way as to rule out the possibility that anyone of sound mind may be deceived on matters which he thinks he knows clearly and distinctly AT VII 126 CSM II 90 Descartes devotes quite a bit of space to his answer to this objection Part of the response is an account of the basis on which it seems to me that all human certainty can be founded AT VII 144 CSM II 103 The passage containing the explanation is worth quoting fully As soon as we think that we correctly perceive something we are spontaneously convinced that it is true Now if this conviction is firm that it is impossible for us ever to have any reason for doubting what we are convinced of then there are no further questions for us to ask we have everything that we could reasonably want AT VII 144 CSM II 103 In particular although it is conceivable that what we are convinced of in this way may appear false to God or an angel in which case it is false absolutely speaking this should not bother us Such a fact would be inaccessible to us and we have not the slightest grounds even to suspect it In modern terminology of epistemology such a possibility would be deemed irrelevan to whether we know The kind of conviction Descartes has in mind in M3 is so firm that it is quite incapable of being destroyed and such a conviction is clearly the same as the most perfect certainty AT VII 145 CSM II 103 There could be in other words no doubts that could properly be raised This kind of certainty cannot be had where there is any obscurity the contrary of clarity or con lsion the contrary of distinctness Obscurity induces doubt and the senses always introduce obscurity Accordingly if there is any certainty to be had the only remaining alternative is that it occurs in the clear perception of the intellect and nowhere else AT VII 145 CSM II 104 Then Descartes reiterates the theme that some perceptions compel belief Now some of these perceptions are so transparently clear and at the same time so simple that we cannot ever G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 4 think of them without believing them to be true AT VII 145 CSM II 104 Two examples are given that I exist as long as I am thinking and that what is done cannot be undone For we cannot doubt them unless we think of them but we cannot think of them without at the same time believing that they are true AT VII 146 CSM II 104 From this it follows that we cannot doubt them without at the same time believing they are true that is we can never doubt them AT VII 146 CSM II 104 The only reason people go wrong when they think that they perceive something very clearly is that they have not been making use of the pure intellect Descartes retums to the alleged possibility that what is apparent to the pure intellect appears false to God or an angel The evident clarity of our perceptions does not allow us to listen to anyone who makes up this kind of story AT VII 146 CSM II 104 Ideas It remains for Descartes to prove that God exists in order to remove the slight and metaphysical doubt that he has been made in such a way as to be deceived in what he perceives very clearly and distinctly But he does not offer the proof right away Instead he cites considerations of proper order and turns to a classification of this thoughts into definite kinds in order to examine which ones can be bearers of truth or falsehood Here he classifies some of his thoughts as ideas which as it were are images of things One has an idea when one thinks of an object such as a man or a chimera or the sky or an angel or God AT VII 37 CSM II 25 They are not necessarily images of existing things nor need they be images at all as in the case of an angel or God A generic way to describe ideas is that they are those thoughts which contain a representation an image or a conceptual description of a possible object Descartes s use of idea in this way would catch on among philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Although idea was most commonly associated with Platonic forms or universals a similar usage can be found in Thomas Aquinas I call the idea or mental image that which the mind conceives within itself of the thing understood With us this is neither the thing itself nor the substance of the mind but a certain likeness conceived in the mind from the thing understood and signified by external speech whence it is called the inner word Summa Contra Genres Book IV Chapter 11 Ideas are contrasted with other thoughts in the wide sense in which Descartes is a thinking thing willing volitions fearing emotions affirming Qudgments In each case my thought includes something more than the likeness of the thing AT VII 37 CSM II 26 There is no truth or falsehood in ideas considered in themselves as they are only like images and there is no truth or falsehood in volitions and emotions The thoughts which do present the possibility of falsehood are judgments The most common error in judgment is my judging that the ideas which are in me resemble or conform to things located outside me G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation 5 AT VII 37 CSM II 26 Now that ideas have been isolated from other thoughts they are classi ed into three possible types a innate o adventitious o invented Innate ideas seem to derive simply from my own nature as when I understand what a thing or truth or thought is Innate ideas are discussed more fully in the notes to Comments on a Certain Broadsheet Adventitious ideas seem to come from objects other than myself Invented ideas may be of nonexistent things such as sirens or hippogriffs Since Descartes has not yet discovered the origins of his ideas they may indeed all belong to any one of the three types Now we return to the question of the truth or falsity of my judgments that apparently adventitious ideas I have of things outside myself resemble the things themselves I believe that there is a resemblance because I have apparently been taught by nature to believe that they do Because the ideas occur often against my will I conclude that they are likenesses of bodies that have been transmitted by the bodies themselves This was in fact the prevailing account of senseperception that bodies transmit images or species that are then grasped by the mind To say that I am taught by nature to believe in the resemblance of ideas and things means only that a spontaneous impulse leads me to believe it AT VII 38 CSM II 2627 Descartes now begins an extended argument to show that this blind impulse is the only reason he has believed that there exist things distinct from myself which transmit to me ideas or images of themselves through the sense organs or in some other way AT VII 38 CSM II 27 Moreover there is no reliable judgment that can be made to confirm this The first move is to distinguish this natural spontaneous blind impulse from something that is utterly reliable ie the natural light which reveals truths to him Among the things revealed by the natural light are from the fact that I am doubting it follows that I exist and so on AT VII 38 CSM II 27 What is revealed by the natural light cannot in any way be open to doubt The reason is that the natural light is the highest authority he has on which to base his judgments There cannot be another faculty both as trustworthy as the natural light and also capable of showing me that such things are not true AT VII 3839 CSM II 27 Descartes will appeal to the natural light at many points in the rest of the Meditations but he says little about it here For a more detailed discussion of the natural light see the notes for the Fourth Meditation By contrast natural impulses are not trustworthy When they govern behavior they often direct a person away from the good and I do not see why I should place any greater G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 6 con dence in them in other matters AT VII 39 CSM II 27 Now it must be shown that there is no way to judge reliably that our ideas resemble objects outside us Descartes considers two possible bases for judgment The first is that the ideas occur against my will But even if they do they may be the product of some other faculty not fully known to me which produces these ideas without any assistance from external thing AT VII 39 CSM II 27 This seems to be what happens in fact in dreaming The second basis for judgments is that the ideas are produced by the objects they represente But production of the ideas by their objects does not imply that the ideas resemble the objects For example we have an idea of the sun through senseperception which is a prime example of an idea which Ireckon to come from an external source AT VII 39 CSM II 27 The sun is represented by this idea as being very small Yet there is another idea derived from astronomical reasoning according to which the sun is very large It is not the case that both ideas resemble the sun and reason persuades me that the idea which seems to have emanated most directly from the sun itself has in fact no resemblance to it at all AT VII 40 CSM II 27 Proof of the Existence of God Having de ned ideas as a thoughts which as it were are images of things Descartes considers the images themselves There is a wide difference he claims between ideas which represent different things through their images This difference is to be found in the kinds of things that are represented by the image in the idea To distinguish these possible kinds of objects of ideas Descartes for the first time introduces the metaphysical notion of substances and he claims that ideas which represent them amount to something more than ideas that represent modes or accidents The reason substances are something more than modes or accidents is that modes or accidents depend entirely on substances and a substance may exist without having any particular mode or accident This kind of metaphysical priority in things is said by Descartes to be re ected in a priority in the ideas which represent the things Just as a substance is something more than its modes or accidents the idea representing a substance is something more than the idea of a mode or accident of a substance This something more is a degree of reality or perfection A substance is more real or more perfect than its modes or accidents The reality of a substance a stone a person or God or the mode or accident of a substance is called formal So there is more formal reality in the sun than there is in the shape of the sun which is one of its modes The representational content of the idea which Descartes calls the objective reality of the idea similarly is supposed to come in degrees Undoubtedly the ideas which represent substance to me amount to something more and so to speak contain within themselves more objective reality than the ideas which merely represent modes or accidents AT VII 40 CSM G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 7 11 28 In the Second Replies Descartes spells out an axiom or common notion to this effect There are various degrees of reality or being a substance has more reality than an accident or a mode and in nite substance has more reality than a nite substance Hence there is more objective reality in the idea of a substance than in the idea of an accident and there is more objective reality in the idea of an in nite substance than in the idea ofa nite substance AT VII 1656 CSM II 117 In the First Objections Caterus asks a question that might be asked by a modern student What is objective being in the intellect AT VII 92 After rejecting Caterus s account of what he was taught about objective being in the intellect Descartes states that objective being in the intellect is the way the objects of the intellect normally are in the intellect For example when we have an idea of the sun which is then an object of the intellect the sun itself exists or has objective being in the intellect In the Second Replies Descartes offers a de nition of objective reality of an idea By this I mean the being of the thing which is represented by an idea insofar as this exists in the idea In the same way we can talk of objective perfection objective intricacy and so on For whatever we perceive as being in the objects of our ideas exists objectively in the ideas themselves AT VII 161 CSM II 113114 So if the being of the sun is represented in a literal image the small size yellow color round shape etc of the sun exist objectively in the idea that represents the sun Moreover the sun itself has objective reality in the idea of it The view then is that there is a gradation of ideas according to what they represent so that if idea A represents something with more reality than what idea B represents idea A contains more objective reality than idea B contains After comparing the objective reality of ideas of substances versus ideas of modes or accidents Descartes compares ideas of kinds of substances Just as an in nite substance would have more reality than a nite substance the idea of an in nite substance has more objective reality than the idea of a nite substance The in nite substance that has objective reality in Desca1tes s intellect is God eternal in nite ltimmutablegt omniscient omnipotent and the creator of all things that exist apa1t from him AT VII 40 CSM II 28 Just as there is a metaphysical hierarchy of accident nite substance and in nite substance there is a hierarchy in objective reality of idea of accident idea of nite substance and idea of in nite substance As Gassendi rightly observes Here you move on at a great pace AT VII 285 CSM II 199 Descartes immediately lays down a generic causal principle known by the natural ligh which makes it manifest There must be at least as much ltrealitygt in the ef cient and total cause as in the effect G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation 8 ofthat cause AT VII 40 CSM II 28 The principle apparently is not selfevident because Descartes gives an argument to back it up First there is nothing but the efficient and total cause to give reality to the effect and second the efficient and total cause can give reality to its effect only if the cause already has that reality Here Descartes seems to be trading on the meaning of the terms cause and effect To be a total cause just is to be that which gives the effect whatever reality it has A partial cause would not be sufficient to give the effect all of its reality So for example my parents might be thought to be the efficient causes of my existence while the total cause would include my ancestors and whatever is responsible for their existence But there is no more reality in me than there is in all of these causes taken together In the First Replies Descartes says that the light of nature establishes that if anything exists we must always ask why it exists that is we may inquire into its efficient cause or if it does not have one we may demand why it does not have one AT VII 108 CSM II 78 Descartes then claims that there are two corollaries of the causal principle 0 Something cannot arise from nothing a What is more perfect what contains more reality cannot arise from what is less perfect what contains less reality In our running examples a substance or mode cannot come to be from nothing and a substance cannot arise from an accident and an infinite substance cannot arise from a finite substance We might try to reconstruct an argument for the first corollary as follows Suppose something could arise from nothing Then it would have some reality that is not the result of any cause In that case we have an effect which has more reality than its cause which is nothing But as David Hume pointed out in his Treatise of Human Nature this argument is question begging Book I Part III Section 3 If something did indeed arise from nothing then it has no cause rather than having nothing as a cause If it has no cause then the causal principle is irrelevant because it is not an effect of any cause It seems that contrary to the order given by Descartes the causal principle depends on the alleged corollary that something cannot arise from nothing There must be at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as there is in the effect because if there were not there would be a reality in the effect which did not come from the total cause in which case it would have to come from nothing which by supposition is impossible The second of the two corollaries of the generic causal principle seems to be merely a re statement of it only in terms of perfection in addition to degree of reality G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation 9 The key move made by Descartes at this point is to apply the causal principle and its corollaries not only to extramental reality but also to the objective reality of ideas thus producing in effect a new causal principle The cause of the objective reality of an idea must contain at least as much reality as in the objective being of the idea In order for a given idea to contain such and such objective reality it must surely derive it from some cause which contains at least as much formal reality as there is objective reality in the idea AT VII 41 CSM II 2829 This principle is not a straightforward corollary of any of the earlier principles and it does not seem to be transparently clear on the face of it so we will have to try see why it might be true There is a related principle that is quite plausible Suppose I have the idea of a stone and that this idea has a certain degree of objective reality say that of a finite substance When I conceive of the cause of this stone perhaps some geological process this cause itself has as much objective reality as the stone ie it must have at least the objective reality of a substance So I cannot conceive of the cause as being an accident of the stone or anything else such as its being hard Now consider the application of the original causal principle to the having of the idea itself to the idea as a mode of though rather than as a representation of an object The mode of thought itself has formal reality of the lowest degree So its cause must have as much formal reality as a mode has in which case it is at least a mode These two applications of the original causal principle have in common that they compare the degrees of reality of things of the same type In the first case it is the objective reality of ideas taken as images and in the second case it is the formal reality of ideas taken as modes of thought The new principle Descartes has advanced connects the degree of reality in the image with that of the formal cause of the mode of though which contains the image Thus my idea of a stone has a formal reality as a mode of thought and the stone has an objective reality as being represented by the idea The claim is that the formal reality which gives rise to the idea of the stone as a mode of my thought is at least as great as the objective reality of the stone the reality of the stone as object of my intellect Thus if the stone is a finite substance then the cause of the idea of a stone must itself have at least as much reality as a finite substance As already noted this principle is supposed to be transparently true but perhaps it becomes so only after a great deal of meditation which in fact is Descartes s typical prescription for those who fail to recognize the truths that he claims to have discovered At any rate Descartes proposes a rather compleX argument to back it up First we must note that the idea of say a stone has a formal reality as a mode of thought and the stone has an objective reality insofar as it is represented by the idea The cause of the mode of thought is said to be thought itself The nature of an idea is such that of itself it G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation 10 requires no formal reality except what it derives from my thought of which it is a mode AT VII 41 CSM II 28 The reality of thought itself is at least as great as the reality in a change in thought But we must assign a cause to the objective reality of the stone contained in the idea What kind of cause must it be It seems that there are two possibilities One is that the cause is something with formal reality and the other is that it is something with merely objective reality The second alternative is rejected And although the reality which I am considering in my ideas is merely objective reality I must not on that account suppose that the same reality need not exist formally in the causes of my ideas but that it is enough for it to be present in them objectively AT VII 4041 CSM II 28 Suppose I have the idea of a piece of sandstone It might be thought that to have an idea with the degree of reality of a finite substance all I need is another idea with the degree of reality of a finite substance say that of many grains of sand But if the cause of the objective reality of my idea of a stone is the objective reality of some other idea then a regress threatens There must be some further idea that is the cause of my idea of the grains of sand etc But there cannot be an infinite regress here eventually one must reach a primary idea the cause of which will be like an archetype which contains formally ltand in factgt all the reality ltor perfectiongt which is present only objectively ltor representativelygt in the idea AT VII 42 CSM II 29 By eliminating some other objective reality as being the ultimate cause of my idea and hence of the degree of reality of my idea Descartes is forced to turn to some formal reality to explain the objective reality of my idea The simplest way intuitively to look at the situation is that any image needs an original or archetype of which it is an image If there is a representation there must be something that is represented But even if there must be an original of which my idea is some kind of copy it remains unclear why the original must have at least as much reality as is contained in the idea which copies it There is a salient historical example of how an idea might have more objective reality than its cause has formal reality According to scholastic philosophy the ideas we have of substances are caused by the perception of the accidents of the substances For example Suarez endorses the view that the senses are not impressed with the forms of a substance but only with its accidents and therefore accidents are what first of all impinge on the intellect and hence are conceived of by the intellect before the substance Metaphysical Disputations Disputation 38 Section 2 89 Thus we have an idea of substance which is caused by something accidents with less reality than substance We will not pursue the matter further here except to say that Descartes rejected the fundamental scholastic claim that substance is known through sense perception Descartes concludes from this by means of the natural light that ideas in him are like images G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation ll that can fall short of but cannot exceed the perfection of their originals The truth of the claims made above is more clearly and distinctly recognized the longer and more carefully I examine all these points AT VII 42 CSM II 29 As noted above in the Synopsis Descartes recognizes that for the uninitiated the claims he has made are not easily comprehended He states that he can make it more comprehensible by the use of an analogy This analogy is presented in the First Replies Consider an engineer who has in his mind the idea of a machine of a highly intricate design AT VII 103 CSM II 75 We can properly inquire about the cause of his having the idea How did the engineer conceive it One possible answer is that it was wholly the product of the engineer s intellect since the intellect is the cause of its own operations What needs to be accounted for is not the brute production of an idea but rather of an idea with this particular content the intricate design The cause might be some other machine the engineer has seen and which the current idea copies to some extent It might also be an extensive knowledge of mechanics in the intellect of the person concerned It could be a very subtle intelligence which enabled him to invent the idea without any previous knowledge Whatever turns out to be the cause this cause must itself have in it all the intricacy that is found in the idea If someone possesses the idea of a machine and contained in the idea is every imaginable intricacy of design then the correct inference is plainly that this idea originally came from some cause in which every imaginable intricacy really did exist even though the intricacy now has only objective existence in the idea AT VII 105 CSM II 76 This is a puzzling analogy since it relies on a structural notion of intricacy of design It seems that design features are the result of human creativity which seems to allow for the design of structures that have never been experienced by the designer Now let us return to the thread of M3 Descartes sees a strategy for proving the existence of some other thing that is the cause of an idea whose objective reality is so great that he could not be the cause in it It will necessarily follow that I am not alone in the universe AT VII 42 CSM II 29 This is the only kind of argument he can find and if it fails he will have no argument to convince him of the existence of anything else So he surveys the ideas he has other than the idea of himself He finds among them ideas which variously represent God corporeal and inanimate things angels animals and finally other men like myself AT VII 43 CSM II 29 He then proceeds to whittle down the list so as to be left with an idea which could only be caused to exist by another being The first target is finite animate beings other men animals angels He has the materials to put them together namely ideas of himself corporeal things and God Next he moves on to corporeal things He thinks that their perfection greatness excellence G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation l2 is not so high that he could not himself have been the author of the ideas of them The recipe for so doing is to begin with what he discovered while meditating on the wax in M2 size or extension in length breadth and depth shape which is a function of the boundaries of this extension position which is a relation between various items possessing shape and motion or change of position AT VII 43 CSM II 30 All these are perceived clearly and distinctly And they will be the qualities he eventually attributes to bodies in M6 The further things he attributes to bodies are not peculiar to body substance duration number At this point Descartes excludes from the clearly and distinctly perceived constituents of bodies such sensible qualities as light colors sounds smells tastes heat and cold He confesses not to know whether they are ideas of real things or of nonthings AT VII 43 CSM II 30 At this point Descartes introduces a new notion that of material falsity which is the representation of nonthings as things This is to be distinguished from formal falsity or falsity in the strict sense which applies only to judgments An example is the ideas of heat and cold The unclarity in these ideas lies in the fact that they do not enable me to tell whether cold is merely the absence of heat or vice versa or whether both of them are real qualities or neither AT VII 44 CSM II 30 Suppose then that cold is the absence of heat Since the idea of cold represents it as something real and positive would have to be called materially false under this supposition Unclear ideas could be caused by myself If they are materially false they arise from nothing since they represent nonthings This is said to be known by the light of nature They are in me only because of a deficiency and lack of perfection in my nature AT VII 44 CSM II 30 On the other hand if they are true then they may as well originate from myself since their reality would be so extremely slight that I cannot distinguish it from a nonthing AT VII 44 CSM II 30 We are left with the clear and distinct elements in my ideas of corporeal things AT VII 44 CSM II 30 All of these could have been borrowed from himself The obvious cases are those that he shares with wouldbe corporeal things substance number and duration I and a stone both fall under the classification substance Ideas of duration and number are treated similarly I have existed for some time so I can transfer my idea of duration to other things This leaves only the other attributes of bodies extension shape etc These are not contained in myself formally in the sense that I am not for all I know anyway extended shaped etc However they are merely modes of substance and I am a substance So I can have an idea of modes Modes are less real than substances which I am so it seems possible that they are contained in me eminently AT VII 45 CSM II 31 If they are contained in me eminently then I can fashion ideas of them from myself To say that something A is contained in some other thing B eminently is to say that there is in B something C which is a higher form of A So there may be something in me that is not G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation l3 literally formally extension but is a higher form than extension The only reason Descartes has for asserting this is the fact that he is a substance and extension is a mode It is not clear from the context why one would even form a notion of eminent containment Here we must return again to scholastic philosophy We can begin with the notion of eminence of being God is the most eminent being and God s perfections are therefore contained in God eminently They are eminent perfections God must contain his perfections in a more eminent manner than that found in created beings Suarez Metaphysical Disputations Disputation 30 Section 9 912 However what is of interest here is not a comparison of perfection but a relation of containment between one being and another I may contain extension eminently according to Descartes Suarez notes that this is disputed Thomas Aquinas proposed that in God there is a creative essence which contains eminently all the perfections of what is created In this way eminent containment is understood causally But it is difficult to transpose this account to the present case since we are not God and it is not clear what kind of creative essence we might have In some sense Descartes must say that there might be in us a higher form of extension which in some way shares in the reality of corporeal extension In the later correspondence to Henry More Descartes discusses the notion of extension of power that might be attributed to God and other spiritual beings The reason is that God is said to be everywhere yet God is not an extended substance as body is The power of extension is the ability to act on extended things without being extended An analogy is given fire is in a whitehot iron without being iron AT V 270 CSM III 361362 Later he writes I said that God is extended in virtue of his power because that power manifests itself or can manifest itself in extended being AT V 403 CSM III 381 This leaves only the idea of God as one that I might not have manufactured from my own materials so to speak God is defined as earlier a substance that is infinite ltetemal immutablegt independent supremely intelligent supremely powerful and which created both myself and everything else if anything else there be that exists AT VII 45 CSM II 31 The more he considers these attributes the less possible it seems that they have originated from him So from what has been said it must be concluded that God necessarily exists AT VII 45 CSM II 31 Descartes goes on to consider and reject some alternative explanations of the presence in him of an idea of a supremely perfect being The first explanation is that because he has the formal reality of a substance he could produce the idea of God who is also a substance But while has can draw the idea of substance from himself it is not clear that he can fabricate an idea of infinite substance There would have to be an infinite substance to cause him to have this idea It might be thought that he could reach a conception of the infinite merely by negating his conception of the finite as he can get an idea of rest by negating that of motion or of G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 14 darkness by negating his idea of light Because of his clear perception that an in nite substance has more reality than a finite substance his perception of the in nite that is God is in some way prior to my perception ofthe nite that is myself AT VII 45 CSM II 3 1 It might be asked whether he really does have a perception of this ontological priority The response is that he had a conception of what is lacking due to the fact that he doubts and has desires Thus he perceived that he was not wholly perfect And he would have to have some idea of a more perfect being which enabled me to recognize my own defects by comparison AT VII 46 CSM II 3 1 But note that having an idea of a more perfect being does not seem to require an idea of a perfect being simpliciter Another way to try to undermine the claim that God eXists in order for him to have an idea of God is by considering that this idea of God is perhaps materially false and so could have come from nothing or been in him due to his imperfection It might be like the idea of cold which might really be only that of an absence of heat The problem with these ideas was that they are not clear and distinct while the idea of God is utterly clear and distinc AT VII 46 CSM II 31 Descartes reiterates that this clear and distinct idea contains in itself more objective reality than any other idea AT VII 46 CSM II 31 So no idea is less prone to material falsehood Even if one imagines that a perfect being does not exist the idea of this being cannot represent anything unreal as with the idea of cold Descartes reiterates that the idea is utterly clear and distinct and whatever has any perfection is contained in it Then he admits that he cannot grasp the in nite while at the same time asserting that he can understand it enough to say that all perfections are contained in God either formally or eminently This is enough to make the idea that I have of God the truest and most clear and distinct of all my ideas AT VII 46 CSM II 32 The next possibility Descartes must rule out is that he himself has potentially the perfections that he has attributed to God being something greater than I myself understand There are some positive reasons for thinking this is the case One is that his knowledge is increasing and it seems to have no limit Another is that with his increased knowledge he might be able to achieve the other perfections of God If he has the potentiality for these perfections this might be enough to allow him to generate the idea of such perfections AT VII 47 CSM II 32 After raising this apparent possibility Descartes goes on to deny it The rst point is that having potentialities is inconsistent with the idea of God which contains absolutely nothing that is potential AT VII 47 CSM II 32 Ironically the gradual increase of his knowledge is the surest sign of his imperfection A further consideration is that no increase in his knowledge will reach actual in nity since it will never reach the point where it is not capable of a further increase AT VII 47 CSM II 32 Yet the idea of God is that of an actual in nite so that nothing can be added to his perfection AT VII 47 CSM II 32 The nal reason that it is impossible that he be God is that only actual or formal being can only produce the objective being of an idea A potential being cannot do this because it strictly G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation 15 speaking is nothing AT VII 47 CSM II 32 Because his strong hold on these truths diminishes when he relaxes his concentration and the images of the senses creep back in and obscure his mental vision he has a hard time remembering why the idea of a being more perfect than myself must necessarily proceed from some being that is in reality more perfect AT VII 4748 CSM II 3233 So Descartes turns to a new question this one about whether his own existence which is certain is possible without the existence of God In effect Descartes is now offering a second proof which is directed at the source of himself as a being that contains the idea of God This argument is still causal in nature Descartes produces a list of the possible originators of his existence himself his parents or some other beings whose perfection is less than that of God since nothing as perfect as God can be thought of or imagined He first considers the possibility that he obtained his existence from himself If this were the case he would not be doubting wanting or lacking anything If he produced himself he would have given himself as much as it is possible to have ie all the perfections But if he could do that he would himself be God It is a much more difficult task to make himself exist from nothing than to give himself all the knowledge there is since knowledge is merely an accident of his being and accidents are inferior to substances If he had managed to do the harder thing he would not have deprived himself of knowledge since perfect knowledge seems to be no harder to get than any of the other perfections of God And if any were harder to achieve he would have noticed this limitation of his power in himself An objection to this line of reasoning is that it supposes that he created himself Another possibility is that he has always existed as I do now AT VII 48 CSM II 33 The lack ofa beginning does not solve the problem The reason is that prior existence does not guarantee future existence There must always be a cause that preserves the existence of any thing since each part of a lifespan which can be infinitely divided is independent of each other part This is supposed to follow from the nature of time There is a merely conceptual distinction between creation and preservation And this is one of the things that are evident by the natural ligh AT VII 49 CSM II 33 In the First Replies Descartes elaborates some on this argument Now I regard the divisions of time as being separate from each other so that the fact that I now exist does not imply that I shall continue to exist in a little while unless there is a cause which as it were creates me afresh at each moment oftime AT VII 109 CSM II 7879 So now the question is whether he has the power to preserve his own existence Since he is considering himself only as a thinking thing he claims that if he had this power he would undoubtedly be aware of it AT VII 49 CSM II 34 But he is not aware of such a power of selfpreservation and he therefore is aware of the dependence of his continued existence on some other thing In the First Replies Descartes explains why he emphasized preservation G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation l6 rather than causation In this way I aimed to escape the whole issue of the succession of causes AT VII 107 CSM II 77 His own intellect s existence does not depend on a chain of causes as do the objects of the senses Arguments like those of Thomas Aquinas which end in the positing of a first cause are not sound since our inability to comprehend an in nite chain of causes does not imply that there must be a first cause All that follows is that my intellect which is finite does not encompass the infinite AT VII 1067 CSM II 77 God as causa suz39 cause of itself can also be understood through preservation If God eternally preserves his own existence then he can be considered cause of himself since the notion of a cause of itself can be understood atemporally and in terms of preservation AT VII 109 CSM II 78 Descartes does not commit himself to the claim that God is the efficient cause of himself though he argues that it is possible for something to be the efficient cause of itself if the concept of efficient cause is given a suitably loose definition Descartes concludes that he must have been created by some other thing and he goes on to argue that he cannot have been produced by some other thing his parents or some being less perfect than God To establish this point he invokes the generic causal principle that there must be at least as much reality in the cause as there is in the effect He is a thinking thing that has an idea of God so he must have been produced by a thinking thing that has an idea of God Of this being he can ask whether it produces itself or is produced by some other being In the former case it is God since if has the power of existing through its own might then it undoubtedly has the power of actually possessing all the perfections of which it has an idea 7 that is all the perfections which I conceive to be in God AT VII 50 CSM II 34 On the opposite assumption that it is produced by some other being the original question can be asked and eventually the ultimate cause will be reached and this will be God AT VII 50 CSM II 34 The conclusion might be escaped if an infinite regress of causes were allowed but this is impossible The reason is that he needs to appeal to the cause that preserves him in the present moment rather than merely asking what produced him in the past Another possibility is that he was produced by a number of partial causes or that his idea of God came from various different sources the supposition here being that all the perfections are to be found somewhere in the universe but not joined together in a single being AT VII 50 CSM II 34 But this contradicts one of the key aspects of the idea of God which is his fundamental unity which is one of the most important of the perfections which I understand him to have AT VII 50 CSM II 34 If this idea ofthe unity of God came from a being it would not have come from a being which had fewer than all the perfections For no cause could have made me understand the interconnection and inseparability of the perfections without at the same time making me recognize what they were AT VII 50 CSM II 34 The final explanation of his origin is that he was caused to exist by his parents Even if he were he is not preserved in his existence by them Further he is a thinking thing and his parents are not responsible for that except that they merely placed certain dispositions in the G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descartes s Sixth Meditation l7 matter which I have always regarded as containing me or rather my mind for that is all I now take myselfto be AT VII 5051 CSM II 35 The nal conclusion is that his existence with an idea of a perfect being provides a very clear proofthat God indeed exists AT VII 51 CSM II 35 The last point to examine is how I received this idea from God AT VII 51 CSM II 35 Several alternatives are ruled out 1 The idea of God was given through the senses What we receive in this way usually comes unexpectedly as when objects really or apparently are presented to the sense organs 2 The idea of God arose in me through my own invention For I am plainly unable either to take away anything from it or to add anything to it which I ought to be able to do to what I invent This leaves the only possibility that it is innate in me just as the idea ofmyself is innate in me AT VII 51 CSM II 35 Descartes claims that it is no surprise that God placed the idea of himself in Descartes in the way that a craftsman places his mark on his work However he adds that the mark need not be anything distinct from the work itself AT VII 51 CSM II 35 He goes on to make a stronger connection between himself and God claiming that the mere fact that God created me is a very strong basis for believing that I am somehow made in his image and likeness AT VII 51 CSM II 34 A further consequence he draws from his having been created by God is that the faculty that allows him to perceive himself is the same one that allows him to perceive the idea of God and its likeness to him He understands that he is an incomplete and dependent being and that he aspires without limit to even better and greater things AT VII 51 CSM II 35 Moreover he finds all these things in the being upon whom he is dependent He has these things actually and infinitely and not merely potentially So this being is God He states that the whole force of the argument is that if God did not really exist it would be impossible for him to exist with the kind of nature he has and to have the idea of God within him God is the being of whom he has an idea as the possessor of all perfections which perfections he cannot grasp but only somehow reach in my thoughts AT VII 52 CSM II 35 This being contains no defects and so he cannot be a deceiver since it is manifest by the natural light that all fraud and deception depend on some defect AT VII 52 CSM II 35 This claim will be crucial to some of the central arguments in the rest of the Meditations including the claim that God guarantees the truth of all clear and distinct perceptions and that extended bodies exist Here one might note the possibility that God might deceive Descartes for his own good just was we humans often deceive for someone s benefit without thereby being defective Descartes himself admits in M4 that God might allow error for the greater good of creation though we would have no way of knowing why Similar considerations might apply to systematic deception G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation 18 Descartes ends M3 by contemplating God so far as he can Experience tells him that this is the greatest joy in life even as faith tells him that it is supreme happiness in the next life Note on citations Citations from Descartes are given rst with the volume and page from the Adam and Tannery edition of Descartes s works OEuvres which are given in the margins of the Cottingham Stoothoff and Murdoch translations The Philosophical Writings of Descartes The citation CSM with volume and page numbers are to that work The citation from Suarez is taken from Descartes Meditations Background and Source Materials edited by Ariew Cottingham and Sorell G J Mattey s Lecture Notes on Descaltes s Sixth Meditation l9
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