October 19, 2007
In his fourth meditation, Descartes undergoes the huge task of giving an account of
error, or a reason why people make mistakes. Sure, it is obvious that as humans, we err in
countless ways, but explaining why this is can best be described as impossible. How could it
be possible that one person, imperfect by definition, could find (and attempt to fix) the reason
for all error or imperfection? Furthermore, who is one person to explain every error of
generations of humans? Perhaps Descartes can speak for himself, and therefore try to explain
why he himself makes mistakes. Giving his own account of error almost sounds achievable.
But to take on the account of all error, of all humans, is rather pretentious, to say the least.
I must admit that Descartes’ account of error is plausible, at first. Though very broad,
it seems to be a very logical argument, which will be demonstrated when I explain it. I also,
however, see that the reasoning is less than perfect. Therefore, I will argue that this account
of error is not good enough, and give examples supporting this argument.
Pretentious or not, the fourth meditation gives a very general account of error.
Descartes reasons that the basis of error comes from the relationship, or lack of, between
human will (or the ability to choose freely) and human understanding (or the ability to
know). He begins by making the case that will is the one perfect and infinite human quality.
He describes this will as “being inclined to do or not to do…without an awareness of being
forced towards it by external forces”. He also contends that this will is boundless. This means
that we, as humans, have the will to choose completely by ourselves, with no limits. We
choose whether to believe or not believe. We make this decision about every piece of
information, and this choice cannot be taken away or changed by some outside force. We