descartes_guide4 - FOURTH MEDITATION Truth and falsity And...

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FOURTH MEDITATION Truth and falsity And now, from this contemplation of the true God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and the sciences lie hidden, I think I can see a way forward to the knowledge of other things. The previous Meditation, if successful, has established that God exists, and that he is not a deceiver. If God is not a deceiver, then he cannot have created me in such a way that I am inevitably deceived. This provokes a hard question. If God is perfect, and I am his creature, how is it that I ever make mistakes? This is the problem of error, and Descartes’ account of error is the most interesting and important aspect of this Meditation. Descartes will want to argue as follows. I am God’s creature, so I have an intellect which, when correctly used , is reliable. What this means remains to be considered. But we can see already that it provokes a second hard question. If I can know that my intellect is reliable only after establishing God’s existence, then how can I establish God’s existence in the first place? I need to trust my intellect to prove God’s existence, yet without knowledge of God’s existence I am not entitled to trust my intellect. This is the problem of the ‘Cartesian Circle’, which will be considered more closely in the discussion of Meditation V. The Problem of Error If God exists, and created me, and is not a deceiver, then how is it that I ever make mistakes? No-one could deny that we sometimes make mistakes, and Descartes never denies it. The First Meditation, recall, was premised on the fact that we sometimes make mistakes, and this fact was used to generate the global sceptical challenge. We are sometimes deceived (through perception, or dreaming): what reason to we have for thinking we are not always deceived? Even if Descartes, in the end, replies to the sceptical challenge, he is still left with the fact that we sometimes make — 36 —
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mistakes. The problem, as Descartes presents is, is similar to the traditional problem of evil: if God the Creator exists, and is good, then why is his creation partly evil? The traditional answer to this question was that God created us with a free will, and that evil is a result of the misuse of that freedom. Descartes’ solution to the problem of error Descartes’ first response to the problem is one of creaturely humility: God’s purposes are impenetrable to us, and if we were less limited in outlook, we might see that our faults ‘have a place in the universal scheme of things’. Descartes’ second, and most important, response is in his theory of judgement. Errors are mistaken judgements. When we enquire closely into the nature of judgement, we find that it involves the two faculties of the intellect and the will (56-58). Both are faculties of the self or soul whose existence is proved in the Second Meditation; and the activities of perceiving ideas, and the activities of willing , both count broadly as activities of thinking , in Descartes’ sense. The activity of the intellect is limited. ‘[All] the
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descartes_guide4 - FOURTH MEDITATION Truth and falsity And...

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