(Note 1) The first
point, as stated, is impossible. Descartes has gotten rid from his
imaginations and sensations, mainly on the ground that they may be
false, but he has not at all gotten rid of language. Back.
The second point could comfort only people with an inclination to
Descartes forgets (conveniently) that his own understanding of a
perfect God may be imperfect, and he may e.g. have missed that God in
his perfect goodness found it logically necessary that such beings as
humans must have some false ideas, e.g. for the same sort of reasons as
He may have found it logically necessary that beings that perceive in
certain ways will thereby have to have certain illusions and systematic
What I could say about this paragraph I have said repeatedly before.
Concerning the stressed point one may well ask: Why did God not take
care people are less prone to err? Back.
Indeed, as I remarked above. Descartes' answer follows: Back.
(Note 6) But
this again is a mistake, and Descartes attempts to have his cake and
eat it, i.e. on the one hand it pleases him to assume he is certain he
made by a perfect God, while on the other hand it pleases him to assume
he is certain his own capacities are far from perfect. The correct
inference from that is not the one Descartes makes, but the one I made
above: That if one is pleased to believe in an infinite and perfect
God, one should hold that one assumes something one does not
I'll take up the points in the order offered.
Descartes does not speak as a
psychologist when he says only his errors make him imperfect. Most
ordinary people judge others by their external appearance or social
The second point, that errors are due only to not properly using one's
knowledge or one's free will is interesting for several reasons, among
which is that Descartes does assume people have knowledge and have free
The third point, that the Lord may have created men after his own image
yet without his gifts, I have made myself repeatedly, and it seems to
me Descartes does not face all possibilities involved in this point. Back.
The fourth point, that Descartes attributes to himself an extremely
small and very limited faculty of comprehension can only be taken as a
profession of humility that cannot be taken serious: Even if Descartes
sincerely believed that compared to the God he believed in his
faculties are negligible, the real point of writing and publishing his
Meditations was that he believed also to have made philosophical
discoveries no other man had made. Back.
The fifth point again is interesting, for Descartes claims in fact his
capacity of free will does not essentially differ of the divine free
will. Descartes' reason is that free will is the capacity of choosing
from given alternatives that alternative that suits one's purposes
best, while the difference between men and God is not in the extent or
power of their free wills but in the the extent of their knowledge and
their power to make things. Back.
The fifth point is strengthened in the sixth, which also is curious in
that Descartes explicitly says that we act so that we are unconscious
that any outside force constrains us in doing so which seems to create
the possibility that even while human beings believe they act freely
from their own initiative, in fact they don't. This is curious, because
in the previous point Descartes derives his similarity to God mostly
from his having a free will.
Incidentally, Descartes is
quite right in stressing that the freedom of the will does not consist
in being indifferent between alternatives, but in being able to choose
that alternative one prefers, while being able also to
choose the other.
The sixth point amplifies that
indifference is not the essence of free will. ack.
This paragraph applies what has been said before, but is again somewhat
curious for a believer in an omnipotent benevolent divinity: If
Descartes is right about the discrepancy between what he really
understands and the larger part of what he judges without really
understanding, then why has the Lord engineered it that way? (Of
course, if there is no omnipotent benevolent divinity that made
Descartes, then Descartes' remarks are quite apt: indeed many mistakes
of men do derive from their making judgements they should not have made
because they lack the requisite knowledge or state of mind.) Back.
This I suppose to be sincere. The problem is that precisely the same
holds for any sincere fanatic: The mere belief that something is
clearly and evidently so is no guarantee whatsoever that it is so.
(Indeed, by my own lights if one has no better reason for a belief than
it seems clear and evident to one, I conclude one lacks cogent
for the belief.)
This is one of the fundamental
mistakes of Descartes, and it should be clearly stated what is the
- To infer that a belief
something is true indeed is true in fact one needs explicit criterions
to compare beliefs with what these beliefs are about.
Here enters a further point
that is very problematic for Descartes' position: Normally (with
certain provisos I need not enter into) people accept other people's
testimony that so and so did or did not occur as someone says, and the
more people do independently support such a claim, the more likely it
is supposed to be that what is said indeed represents what is so. For
someone who insists only his very own conscious deliberations can be
grounds to judge evidence this is difficult to grant. Back.
This I take to be rhetorics i.e. I don't believe Descartes was really
Indeed. But this is another fundamental Cartesian mistake: It is far
more plausible to assume that in many cases human beings cannot
rationally conclude with certainty but can rationally
probability, than it is to assume that those cases human
conclude with certainty must be false.
That second alternative seems
to amount to the assumption that any probabilistically qualified
proposition thereby is false or invalid.
Such an assumption seems both false,
in that one may safely assume one is sometimes right and sometimes
wrong about those judgements one makes that one holds to be merely
probably true, and very unwise, in that by such an assumption
one discards a method of reasoning (namely with probabilities) that
seems to be very helpful and in some respects more subtle and more
precise than merely bi-valent logic, since it allows the making of
distinctions that cannot be made in bi-valent logic.
Indeed, as far as I am
concerned such a decision to hold false what one cannot prove to be
true seems much like sawing of one's legs in order to run faster, on
the ground that with the legs one has one cannot run as fast as one
would like. Back.
Descartes himself doubted "the light of nature" above. And he seems to
have been not clearly aware that in very many circumstances human
beings simply have to make decisions on the basis of information they
know to be incomplete, imprecize, imperfect etc.
Also, it should be remarked
that one reason human beings (and animals) seem to have a free will is
to be able to make decisions here and now to protect their bodies from
harm and damage. Back.
Again, there seems to me to be a considerable difference between (i)
not complaining Nature has not equipped one better than one has been
equipped in fact and (ii) not complaining the Lord has not given one a
nicer face and smarter brain. (For people pray to the Lord to have
their desires gratified.)
Also, unless one uncovers
rather precize reasons that show why and how one's understanding is
limited, it seems rather useless to insist one has a finite
understanding that is not capable of understanding many things.
Indeed, it seems to me that a
sort of methodological presumption that is the basis of science is that
- until proven otherwise
human beings can eventually come to understand anything at least in
schematic outline if not in full detail, if they try hard enough and
Unfortunately for human
individuals, the true understanding they seek may eventuate long
they have died, even if their efforts and those of many others did
contribute to that understanding. Also, it seems a fair guess that the
knowledge human beings have as a group or species is normally such that
each individual knows something about a domain others don't know, and
no individual knows all that is known collectively to all. (Thus, there
is more knowledge in physics, mathematics, biology etc. than any
physicist, mathematician, biologist etc. knows.) Back.
As I said above, the freedom of the will does not consist in being
indifferent between alternatives, but in being able to choose that
alternative one prefers, while being able to also to choose the other.
The difficulty here is
especially to explain the last part: That one may, when acting
deliberately, choose to act on any alternative one discerns, including
those one does not prefer. Back.
I suppose these are the sort of deliberations that come fairly
naturally to a sincere and intelligent Catholic. But I don't understand
them, since I cannot comprehend why a perfect omnipotent and benevolent
God would not desire to see his creatures as perfect as he can make
The latter part indeed describes how people do lead themselves: By
making deliberate judgements about courses of action, and following
these judgments later, in appropriate circumstances.
In the former part Descartes
again seems to miss that very often people must act and decide on
incomplete imperfect information, and cannot afford not to make a
judgement until they have more information. Back.
The stressed part indeed is what Descartes concluded. I think I have
given very good reasons not to assume what Descartes concluded:
- it is
often unwise not to form probabilistically qualified judgements when
one cannot make judgments qualified as true or false;
- clear and
distinct ideas are not at all necessarily or evidently true; and
there is a God, it seems wiser to assume He is beyond human
comprehension rather than built firm castles in the air on one's
supposed understanding of His perfect infinite intellect. Back.