Most of Descartes
relies on the existence of God
. His whole conception of truth
, and the faculties of the human mind
is no exception. The basis of this idea also relies on the idea that God
is no deceiver. The idea is also key to Descartes’ proof of the existence of the corporeal world
Descartes’ attempted proof that God is not a deceiver can be summarised as follows:
1) All fraud and deception depend on some deficit.
2) The ability to deceive may be regarded among men as a sign of intelligence, but the will to deceive is undoubtedly a sign of malice, weakness, or imperfection.
3) God is the possessor of all perfections, as He is a supremely perfect being.
4) It is, then, a contradiction for a true God to be a deceiver, as this would limit the perfection of that which has unbounded perfection.
5) Ergo: God is not a deceiver.
Descartes then can formulate the following syllogism:
1) God gave me my faculties of reason, perception, judgement, and so on. (Descartes believes this since he reasons elsewhere in his philosophy that God created him).
2) God is no deceiver.
3) Ergo: those faculties cannot be deceptive.
But there are problems with this. This implies that we never make errors, yet we know that we do. Descartes even admits this as part of his method of doubt. Descartes seems to be saying something like the following with this argument:
1) My faculty of judgement is received from God.
2) God is perfect.
3) Ergo: my judgement is sometimes mistaken.
This does not follow, but there might be a way to explain that Descartes can sometimes be mistaken. This is based on his idea of the metaphysical order of things:
1) I am intermediate between God and nothing. (Descartes knows that he is something from his cogito argument – “I think, I am").
2) If (1) is true, then my judgement is intermediate and not infinite.
3) Since my judgement is not infinite, it is subject to error.
4) Ergo: error is not something real – it is just a deficit.
But Descartes does not accept this is an answer to the problem because here the cause of his errors does not come from God, but from nothingness. This violates the causal adequacy principle. Perhaps an explanation can be obtained from the “universal” scheme of things:
1) I should not consider each thing in isolation, but should try and look at the whole universe – i.e. I need to obtain an “absolute conception of reality”.
2) I should not consider my finite judgement on its own, but within the context of the rest of the universe.
3) Perhaps I have a place in the universal scheme of things.
This is vague though really. What it might assert is that finite judgement would not originate from nothing, but is part of everything. This would not violate the causal adequacy principle. Descartes can now go on to consider the faculties of the mind:
1) None of the faculties given to me by God are faulty – they are just finite.
2) So long as ideas are clear and distinct, they are free from error. (Clear and distinct ideas are part of the Cartesian conception of what something needs to be to be knowable).
3) Error results from making judgements.
4) Judgements involve the faculties of understanding (to comprehend what is being judged), and the will (to actually make the judgement).
5) Judgements are not “positive perfection” - they are not the stuff of perfection since a judgement is not made on certain knowledge. They are a ruling based on what we think we know. So, judgements lack perfection.
6) Error is the absence of knowledge.
7) Ergo: error lies in the operation of the will, not the will itself.
From this reasoning, Descartes can provide an answer as to why he has limited faculties:
1) My faculty of will is not restricted as such, but it is not sufficiently extensive or perfect. (I think that Descartes is saying that he can will whatever he likes, but he will not always be able to carry out that willing).
2) My faculty of understanding is finite.
3) My will, or freedom of choice, extends beyond the boundaries of the understanding.
4) Thus, I can choose to assent to that of which I have less than a clear and distinct perception.
5) Ergo: my mistaken judgement is the result of the concurrence of my faculty of understanding and my faculty of will.
So, Descartes can will to judge anything he likes, but his understanding limits his ability to do so accurately. There are points to contest here though such as how is Descartes sure that his understanding is limited? If God is supremely powerful, then why didn’t He give us infinite understanding and unrestricted will? He is omnipotent, so surely he can do this. He is also omniscient, so He must know that he can do it too. However, it is impossible for God to make us infinite because it is logically impossible to have two infinite beings. If there are two infinite beings, then it would mean that there is some distinction between them. Such a distinction would mean boundaries between them. An infinite being is unbounded, so there cannot be more than one of them.
So why do we have an unrestricted will? Descartes says that the will, by its very nature, cannot be restricted or destroyed. This seems odd to have an infinite will when we have just seen that God cannot make us infinite. However, it is not infinite in its application, just infinite in nature. Descartes now can show that we are free beings:
1) The nature of the will is to go beyond the limits of understanding.
2) To be a rational being is to be an autonomous being.
3) If will were limited, we would be like mechanical automata and our behaviour would be undeserving of praise or blame. We praise or blame the creator of an automaton, not the automaton itself. We do not praise God for a person’s action, we praise the person.
4) We do not act in accordance to laws – we act in recognition of laws.
5) Ergo: we are not automata – we are free thinking beings.
There are problems with this argument. An objection by Hobbes challenged the assumption that we have a will. He believed we are just governed by laws just as everything else in the universe is. He challenges Descartes own words. Descartes said; “if an idea is clear and distinct, I cannot but believe it to be true”. Where is the freedom there? There is none.
As with many of Descartes’ arguments, they are good insofar as they are logically valid. However, they tend not to satisfy. This is no different.