February 06, 2007

René Descartes: Meditation IV

Explain Descartes' claim that God is not responsible for our false beliefs. What is the justification for this claim and why does Descartes think he needs to defend it?

Thus far in Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy he has arrived at two realities: that both he and God exist, and with those two inherent conclusions Descartes begins to wrestle with the idea of false beliefs, and, more importantly, do false beliefs come from God?

He wonders that if God is infallible, and everything in him is of God, then wouldn't Descartes be perfect as well? "It is impossible for God ever to deceive me, for trickery or deception is always indicative of some imperfection." (Descartes, p. 81) Though deception or trickery are often synonymous with cleverness or power, Descartes retorts that it would also be synonymous with maliciousness or weakness, neither of which God is capable. "Accordingly, deception is incompatible with God." (p. 81)

In an attempt to explain this conundrum, Descartes introduces the idea of nothingness. Nothingness is the absence of what is correct and the extreme opposite from any perfection. Descartes sees nothingness as the root of all deception and is the extremity of evil. His idea of nothingness being the lack of perfection allows for God and nothingness to coexist as two extremes. Humans fall in the middle ground between the two. We are created by a perfect entity but are simply unable to attain an infinite amount of knowledge equal to that of God. We are lacking and, thus, have the possibility of making mistakes.

However, another issue arises with this claim: how and why would an infinitely perfect being create other beings that were not? "For if it is true that the more expert the craftsman the more perfect the work he produces, what can supreme creator of all things make that is not perfect in all respects?" (p. 82) God's will is always the best way, so is it possible that error is the best way? Thus Descartes needs to defend his idea because otherwise there is doubt as to whether God is truly the source of all his ideas and ultimately perfect. He offers two different possibilities for defense against such a thought.

First, he makes the point that since we lack the infinite understanding of God then we are not capable of understanding why our ability to err could be the best option. "I know now that my nature is very weak and limited, whereas the nature of God is immense, incomprehensible and infinite." (p. 83) Thus is it very plausible that God might understand something we do not. Secondly, Descartes defends by introducing the possibility that error is not evident when looking at the whole. It is possible that error is only on the individual level, the individual may "have the status of a part in the universal scheme of things." (p. 84) We are simply a small part of a bigger picture, and perhaps in the big picture individual error leads to universal perfection.


very interesting eh? thats modern philo post 3 of 10. i'm on a serious roll.


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