(Note 1) Indeed. It is difficult to say how much
of what Descartes says in his Meditations about himself is more or less
literally true. As a matter of autobiographical detail it may interest
the reader that I myself had somewhat similar experiences when I was
20, and lived in a garret at the border of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.
Here I read philosophy, at the
time mainly Ayer and Carnap, and tried to decide what I really knew
about reality and myself. One result of this was the poem "My me" I
quoted before; another was an intense experience to the effect that I
did not know what was true or false and how I could decide it.
Unlike Descartes, who - as we
saw in the previous Meditation - in the end threw himself in God's
arms, as he no doubt was instructed to do when at La Flèche as a boy,
my conclusion was that I needed to know more logic, since I did know
that it appeared to me that my arguments to the effect that there was
nothing at all I could safely conclude at least were arguments, stated
in language, and presuming logical principles. Back.
As I remarked repeatedly, it seems obvious to me that one can have a
clear and distinct belief in what is definitely false. Back.
In short, Descartes lists some of the marks of things in space and
This is indeed a fairly striking fact if one thinks about it - that, in
Descartes' terms, one can perceive things which were already present to
my mind, although I had not as yet applied my mind to them. If one does
not oneself "perceive" this, one should recollect that one knows how to
count on and on and on; that each of the numbers one reaches thus has
specific individual and shared properties and stands in many definite
relations to specific other individual numbers; and that all of this
and much more seems to follow from a few very general assumptions that
seem quite obviously true (and are these days known as 'Peano's
Next, apart from mathematics,
something similar holds for language: If one knows a language, then
thereby one somehow knows how to represent extra-ordinarily many
distinct kinds of facts and relations. Back.
As so often, Descartes, who was a great writer, very clearly expresses
a problem and the striking facts related to it - although it must be
remembered that he describes his experiences rather than that he
But indeed, thus it appears to
one if one knows a language or mathematics (which itself is a sort of
language): That consequently one knows very many things that can be
described by or represented in such a language, and that at least part
of this knowledge arrives as it were automatically, willy-nilly, and
incontrovertibly as soon as one starts thinking about it.
As Chomsky first pointed out
clearly, this is very good evidence that human beings are born with
certain kinds of structures, which allow them to learn language and
Actually, it is NOT perfectly clear that all that is true is something,
as Descartes might have realized himself, contemplating a tautology
like "it rains or it doesn't rain". That is: There seem to be two kinds
of truths, namely those whose denials are simply false, and those whose
denials are not possibly true. And while the former clearly exclude
something (namely their denials), the latter do not exclude anything,
and therefore Descartes' conclusion that "all that is true is
something" is at least not "perfectly clear".
The latter part of the
quotation I do not really believe, since it seems that human beings
first (and more easily) come to conclude that things are e.g. green or
sweet or hard rather than e.g. are of a prime number or are of the
shape of a dodecahendron. Back.
To answer the question: No, this does not follow. Back.
The initial question of course is merely rhetorical, but personally I
find the conclusion rather incredible, since it seems obvious that
people with completely different faiths agree on mathematics. Back.
Yes, indeed. Back.
The first remark indeed seems quite appropriate, and the second remark
is needlessly confusing, since Descartes gives no reason why existence
should be related to God as is a valley related to a mountain, and with
the consequence that in either there case there is not the one without
Also, the reason he should
have raised that question is that 'existence' is a much more general
term than is 'valley'. Back.
Indeed. But Descartes much wanted to conclude there is a God, so he
reasoned as follows: Back.
The first point does not answer my remark about the difference between
terms like 'valley' and the term 'exists' and its cognates. Back.
And the second point in the end is again subjective - or at least it is
within my power to think of God without existence. Likewise, I see no
reason to conclude the existence of a supremely perfect Being from the
mere thought about it, and every reason not to, since this seems a
purely verbal and conventional conclusion that is of no help in judging
matters of fact. Back.
Actually, this is not very relevant. Back.
The first two points I have answered repeatedly, and indeed the matter
mostly reduces to my denial that 'existence is a perfection'.
The last point is quite weak in that it explicitly admits that
Descartes' argument only holds for a perfect God, and not for other
things (such as a perfect woman: apparently God in his goodness allowed
me to conveive of such a possibility, but forever denied me the
pleasure of meeting such a creature).
Also, I do not see precisely
how Descartes wanted to prove monotheism from perfection: What if it
pleased the Lord, in his incomprehensible infinite wisdom, to divide
himself so as to conform e.g. to the Ancient Greeks' conceptions of
The first remark is perfectly correct for Descartes to make, and indeed
what I reject. Also, it may be sensible to add what it is I reject: It
seems fair to agree that for me to be persuaded by something, it is
necessary I must have a clear idea about it. But having a clear idea
about something is not at all sufficient, for me, to conclude that,
therefore, it must be true. As I remarked earlier, to judge that an
idea is true I need some sort of criterion that allows me to pronounce
on the relation between what I think about what is the case, and what
really is the case. And this criterion should be oriented not to the
clarity of my ideas but to the supposed facts these ideas
That Descartes believes he could understand God better than anything
else, provided he could keep meditating upon Him, is consistent with
his earlier remarks, though I also find it a bit odd Descartes here
seems more convinced of God's existence than of his own
The last remark I again completely reject. I have given quite a few
reasons to do so, and here add another: It seems to me that one easily
creates social conflicts insisting that one personally does have some
superior insight in the plans and wishes of the Lord, and it also seems
me that if one finds that one cannot do without such a belief, at least
one should remember that one can hardly be certain and firm in one's
beliefs about something one admits to be far greater and far more
complex than one is oneself. Back.
(Note 20) The
first point I merely stressed to have Descartes' sum-up in his own
The last point founders on Chuang-Tzu's problem, that he dreamt - one
may suppose: with apparent clarity and evidence - he was a
The only thing I remark here is that I
keep having doubts about Descartes' sincerity, since I find it very
difficult to convince myself that a supremely intelligent man, as
Descartes no doubt was, even when thoroughly brainwashed by his Jesuit
instructors while a boy, would, when trying to think as clear and as
validly as he can, accept these conclusions. Back.