Existence of God Term Paper

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Existence of God

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is one of the most important Western philosophers of the past
few centuries. During his lifetime, Descartes was just as famous as an original physicist,
physiologist and mathematician. But it is as a highly original philosopher that he is most
frequently read today. He attempted to restart philosophy in a fresh direction. For
example, his philosophy refused to accept the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions that
had dominated philosophical thought throughout the Medieval period; it attempted to fully
integrate philosophy with the 'new' sciences; and Descartes changed the relationship
between philosophy and theology. Such new directions for philosophy made Descartes into a
revolutionary figure.

The two most widely known of Descartes' philosophical ideas are those of a method of
hyperbolic doubt, and the argument that, though he may doubt, he cannot doubt that he
exists. The first of these comprises a key aspect of Descartes' philosophical method. As
noted above, he refused to accept the authority of previous philosophers - but he also
refused to accept the obviousness of his own senses. In the search for a foundation for
philosophy, whatever could be doubted must be rejected. He resolves to trust only that
which is clearly and distinctly seen to be beyond any doubt. In this manner, Descartes
peels away the layers of beliefs and opinions that clouded his view of the truth. But,
very little remains, only the simple fact of doubting itself, and the inescapable
inference that something exists doubting, namely Descartes himself.

His next task is to reconstruct our knowledge piece by piece, such that at no stage is the
possibility of doubt allowed to creep back in. In this manner, Descartes proves that he
himself must have the basic characterisitc of thinking, and that this thinking thing
(mind) is quite distinct from his body; the existence of a God; the existence and nature
of the external world; and so on. What is important in this for Descartes is, first, that
he is showing that knowledge is genuinely possible (and thus that sceptics must be
mistaken), and, second, that, more particularly, a mathematically-based scientific
knowledge of the material world is possible.

Descartes' work was influential, although his studies in physics and the other natural
sciences much less so than his mathematical and philosophical work. Throughout the 17th
and 18th Centuries, Descartes' philosophical ghost was always present: Locke, Hume,
Leibniz and even Kant felt compelled to philosophical engage (often negatively, of course)
with this philosophical giant. For these reasons, Descartes is often called the 'father'
of modern philosophy.

This article provides an overview of Descartes' philosophical thought following the order
of his most famous and widely-studied book, the Meditations on First Philosophy.

Table of Contents (Clicking on the links below will take you to that part of this article)
• Life
• The Discourse on Method and Meditation 1
o Context of Descartes' Method; Clarity and Distinctness
o Religion, Science and Scepticism
o Hyperbolic Doubt
• Meditation 2
• Meditation 3
• Meditation 4
• Meditation 5
• Meditation 6
o Review; and the 'Probable' Argument from Imagination
o On the Distinction Between Mind and Body
o The Existence of Extended Bodies; Space
o The Relation Between Mind and Body; Innate Ideas; Interaction
o The Validity of Sense Perception

Descartes was born in a village near Tours in France in 1596. He was educated at a Jesuit
college which was firmly grounded in the scholastic tradition, and by no means adverse to
the study of either the humanities, or science. At the school he was given privileges
similar to those enjoyed by boys of noble birth, but on the grounds of his fragile health.
Descartes studied a broad range of subjects, and excelled particularly in mathematics. It
is clear he benefited greatly from this Jesuit education, yet Descartes (in common with
many intellectuals of his time) was keen to stress the separation of reason and faith.
This meant that he could be sceptical concerning the philosophical and theological
positions taken by the Church, while maintaining his Catholic faith. After taking a degree
in law from Poitier, Descartes enlisted in the Dutch and, later, the Bavarian militaries.
By 1619, under the influence of the Dutch mathematician and scientist Beeckman, Descartes
began his exceptionally fertile mathematical studies of natural phenomena. Also around
1619, Descartes may have begun the unfinished Rules for the Direction of the Mind which
was his first major philosophical treatise on the proper method for pursuing either
science or rational theology. Over the next decade, Descartes alternated spending time in
Paris with the circle of mathematicians and physicists gathered around the figure of
Father Mersenne, and travelling widely. In 1629 Descartes moved to Holland where he lived
in seclusion for 20 years, only occasionally returning to France, and changing his
residence frequently to preserve his privacy.

The scientific and technical studies of these years resulted in the three texts on optics,
meteorology and geometry, which were only published in 1637, and 'The World' which was
published posthumously. Nevertheless, Descartes was establishing quite a reputation as a
forbidable mathematician. Descartes made a number of important contributions to
mathematics and physics, among the most enduring of which was his foundation (with
Galileo) of what is now known as analytic geometry. That is, broadly speaking, the use of
geometrical analysis to solve complex algebraic problems, and vice versa. It is difficult
to overestimate the importance for the history of mathematical physics of this bringing
together of the sciences of geometry and algebra.

With the exception of parts of the Rules and a few fragments, most of Descartes' early
'metaphysical' writings are lost. It was after he moved to Amsterdam that Descartes began
working in earnest on the philosophical ideas upon which his fame now rests. The Discourse
on the Method was published in 1637, together with the three treatises mentioned above.
And in 1640, he enlarged upon the metaphysical issues therein, writing his Meditations on
First Philosophy. The full title of this work is Meditations on the First Philosophy: In
Which the Existence of God and the Distinction Between Mind and Body are Demonstrated. The
work was first published in 1641 in Latin and was translated into French in the following
year by the Duc de Luynes. The translation into French was relatively unusual and
significant, for it testified to Descartes' wishes to bring his work to a wider,
non-specialised audience, who lay outside the accepted 'authorities' on theological and
philosophical matters. Descartes was so pleased with the French translation that he made
some additions and fully endorsed it for later publication. Descartes passed a manuscript
of his Meditations onto his friend, Father Mersenne, who solicited comments from fellow
scholars, including Thomas Hobbes. The comments were returned to Descartes. These, along
with his lengthy replies - several times longer than the Meditations themselves - were
included in the second published edition of the Meditations (1642). The Principles of
Philosophy followed in 1644.

In 1649, Descartes moved to Stockholm at the request of Queen Christina of Sweden who
employed him as a philosophy tutor. Christina scheduled the lectures at 5 A.M. The early
hours and harsh climate took their toll on Descartes's already weakened condition. He died
shortly after in 1650. During his life, Descartes's fame rose to such an extent that
(despite the theological controversies centering on him) many Catholics believed he would
be a candidate for sainthood. As his body was transported from Sweden back to France,
anxious relic collectors along the path removed pieces of his body. By the time his body
reached France, it was considerably reduced in size.

Descartes' philosophy developed in the context of the key features of Renaissance and
early modern philosophy. Like the humanists, he rejected religious authority in the quest
for scientific and philosophical knowledge. Although Descartes was a devout Catholic, he
was also influenced by the Reformation's challenge to Church authority, particularly the
challenge against medieval Aristotelianism. Nevertheless, Descartes' philosophical
vocabulary is heavily determined by scholastic thought - Descartes was happy to borrow
ideas or principles where he felt they were not against clear reasoning. For Descartes,
reason was both the foundation and guide for pursuing truth. He was an active participant
in the scientific revolution in both scientific method and in particular discoveries.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Descartes reacted strongly against the Renaissance
resurgence of ancient Greek scepticism. Thus, we find in Descartes' writings a relentless
pursuit of absolute certainty.

Descartes was hugely influential on individual, and key, philosophers throughout the 17th
and 18th Centuries (Spinoza, Malbranche, Locke, Leibniz, etc.). His insistence on a
radical philosophy that dispensed, as far as possible, with authority; his insistence on
the perspective of consciousness in epistemology; his attempt to raise the standard of
philosophical argumentation to a science akin to geometry; his close integration of
philosophy and physical science; his emphasis on methodology, all were hugely important.
Even philosophers who rejected his thought spent a great deal of time and energy doing so
- Descartes could not be ignored. Though Descartes' mathematical works were unquestionably
important, the particulars of his physics were less so. And yet Descartes' general physics
- the rational justification for a universal, mathematical/ quantitative understanding of
nature - was hugely significant. However, despite all these influences, his philosophical
and scientific work never became the 'official' new philosophy, as he had hoped it would.
First, it suffered condemnation, usually on religious grounds; this began already during
Descartes' lifetime, and his work was officially 'prohibited' in 1663 by the Church in
Rome. Then, by the early 18th Century, it suffered the double blow of the rise of
empirically-minded approaches in Britain and France, together with the triumph of
Newtonian physics pretty much everywhere.

The following article will provide an overview of the majority of Descartes' philosophical
ideas. For convenience, we will follow the order and structure of his most famous and
widely-read book, the Meditations on First Philosophy. The fame and influence of this
small book makes it unavoidable as a guide to Descartes' thought. However, along the way
and where appropriate, a number of philosophical issues or alternative approaches from
other key texts will be introduced.

Back to Table of Contents
The Discourse on Method and Meditation 1
Context of Descartes' Method; Clarity and Distinctness
Descartes' philosophical method was also intended to be a method for science. His concern
with scepticism in all its forms was therefore directed not only at religious scepticism,
but at epistemological scepticism in general, according to which any attempts to know the
natural world must be doomed. We might characterise Descartes' general position in the
following way: the world created by God was intended by Him to be known, provided only
that human beings go about the activity of knowing properly. How the activity of knowing
might be properly conducted is the issue of methodology.

Descartes' first discussion of scientific method is in an unfinished work of 1628 titled
Rules for the Direction of the Mind. The first 12 of the planned 36 rules deal with the
general aspects of his proposed methodology, and are considered early versions of
principles that made their way into his later writings. In 1633 Descartes prepared for
publication a work on physics called Le Monde which defended a heliocentric view of the
universe. That same year the Catholic Church condemned Galileo's Dialogue (1632).
Descartes did not think Galileo's views were prejudicial to religion and he worried that
his own views might be censured. Thus he suspended publication of it. In 1637 Descartes
published a collection of essays titled Optics, Meteorology, and Geometry. Prefaced to
these essays was a work titled 'Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason
and Seeking Truth in the Sciences.' Most of the 'Discourse' was written before the 1633
condemnation of Galileo's Dialogue. However, he later added a concluding section that
explained that he insisted on publishing, in spite of political risks. The simple reason
was that he counted on the public to help confirm his scientific theories. In the
Discourse, Descartes offers a method of inquiry quite different from Francis Bacon's as
set out in the Novum Organum of 1620. Whereas Bacon advocated induction, Descartes insists
on a more deductive approach, focusing on the right use of reason with respect to its own

Most of the Discourse is autobiographical insofar as it traces Descartes intellectual
development and how his method assisted him in his investigations. It is important to
realise, however, that the first person 'narration' frequently found in his philosophy is
closely linked to Descartes' philosophical project: how can the individual consciousness
come to know itself, its God, its world. Descartes realized that he needed to reject much
of the teachings of his youth. This raised the question as to exactly how he should
proceed in replacing old theories with new ones. He found his answer by analogy with how
old parts of cities are replaced with the new. The more elegant cities are those which are
methodically built from scratch, not those which continually renovate old sections.

Descartes explains that he had learned a variety of methodological approaches in a variety
of disciplines. They all had limits, though. Syllogistic logic, he believes, only
communicates what we already know. Geometry and algebra are either too abstract in nature
for practical application, or too restricted to the shapes of bodies. However, he believed
that a more condensed and universal list of methodological rules was better than a lengthy
and varied list.

The first was never to accept anything as true if I did not have evident knowledge of its
truth; that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions, and to
include nothing more in my judgements than what presented itself to my mind so clearly and
distinctly that I had no occasion to doubt it.

The second, to divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible
and as may be required in order to resolve them better.

The third, to direct my thoughts in an orderly manner, by beginning with the simplest and
most easily known objects in order to ascend little by little, step by step, to knowledge
of the most complex, and by supposing some order even among objects that have no natural
order of precedence.

And the last, throughout to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive,
that I could be sure of leaving nothing out. (I, 120)

Descartes commentator S.V. Keeling argues that Descartes' method, as expressed in the
above rules, rests on three mental operations: intuition, deduction, and enumeration.
These three abilities constitute our human reason. Intuition involves directly
apprehending the simplest components (or 'simple natures') of a subject matter. Deduction
is not merely syllogistic, but a process of inferring necessary relations between simple
natures. Enumeration is a process of review which we use when deductions become so long
that we risk error due to a faulty memory.

What, however, is meant by the criteria of 'clarity' and 'distinctness' by which Descartes
describes the intuitive apprehension of simple natures and their relations? In various
works, Descartes has a number of attempts at defining these important concepts. (E.g.
Principles of Philosophy 1.45; cf also Leibniz 'Meditations on Knowledge, Truth and Ideas
(1684).) By 'clarity' is meant something like the presence of an idea or object for
attentive inspection by the mind, so that all its qualities can be observed. Descartes
often uses the analogy of viewing a material object close up and in good light. By
'distinctness', on the other hand, is meant that the relationships between the idea or
object and anything else are themselves clear, such that what truly belongs to the idea or
object can be distinguished from its relationships. The reader should also notice the
phrase 'never to accept anything as true' in Descartes' first rule. A quite radical
initial procedure of doubting (testing whether it can be accepted as true) thus forms part
of Descartes' method. This idea is pursued with the utmost ruthlessness in the

Descartes realized that he needed a provisional set of moral guidelines to carry him
through the transition from abandoning his prejudices to establishing the truth of things.
He presents four such rules: (1) obey the laws of his country and adhere to his faith in
God, (2) to be consistent in following positions, even if they seem doubtful, (3) change
his desires rather than the order of the world, (4) to choose the best occupation he could
(i.e., that of a philosopher).

Although Descartes' method had its advocates, it was also criticized by his
contemporaries, such as the mathematician Pierre de Fermat, and ultimately dismissed.
Leibniz says that Descartes' rules amount to saying 'take what you need, and do what you
should, and you will get what you want.'

Back to Table of Contents
Religion, Science and Scepticism
Descartes dedicates the Meditations to the faculty of the Sorbonne, which was the divinity
school of the University of Paris. For centuries, the Sorbonne was center of Catholic
theology. By dedicating his work to the Sorbonne faculty, Descartes' was announcing that
his philosophy was consistent, so far as he was concerned, with traditional Catholic
theology. Descartes was a devout Catholic and had no desire to offend the Church, though
he certainly hoped to make a contribution to its understanding. Descartes announces at the
opening that there are two driving issues behind the Meditations: proving the existence of
God and the immortality of the soul through natural reason. One would expect divinity
school faculty to approve of this plan. However, it is not entirely clear that these
issues (especially the latter) are his chief concern in the Meditations.

Partly, of course, Descartes is emphasising common ground in order to ease the way for
what he knows will appear to be some very radical ideas. For example, he believed that
Aristotelianism had no place in the new scientific age. Cautioned by the fate of Galileo,
Descartes proposed his new anti-Aristotelian theories diplomatically. In his Principles of
Philosophy, for example, he cautiously suggests a theory of the solar system similar to
Galileo's. He expresses his hope that his theory could 'be used in Christian teaching
without contradicting the text of Aristotle.'

Returning to the Dedication, Descartes discusses the importance that the Sorbonne faculty
themselves place on rational proofs. He also notes that he intends to follow the method of
investigation proposed in his Discourse on the Method. According to Descartes,
geometricians rarely show the falsehood of accepted truths and demonstrations. By
contrast, philosophers typically show the falsehood of contentions without venturing to
explore truth. Descartes closes the dedication pleading with the faculty of the Sorbonne
that their support and influence is necessary for the Meditations to be seen as a
successful refutation of scepticism. The refutation of scepticism being another instance
of the common ground he was trying to emphasise between himself and the Catholic

In his earlier Discourse on the Method, Descartes also discusses the existence of God and
the nature of the human soul. In the 'Preface' to the Meditations, he explains that the
earlier discussion in the Discourse was intentionally brief. The Discourse was published
in French, as opposed to Latin, and thus available to common readers. Accordingly, he
toned down the arguments in the earlier work to keep 'feeble minded' people from losing
the thread, or leaping to conclusions too quickly. The Meditations, by contrast, were
written in Latin and not originally intended for the casual reader - although, as we know,
Descartes welcomed a French translation.

Back to Table of Contents
Hyperbolic Doubt
Descartes opens his Meditations by reiterating his desire to have only true beliefs,
expressed as the first rule in the Discourse on the Method. Descartes proposes to
systematically follow a process of doubt. The doubt is not a simply common sense one,
though, as when I doubt whether black cats are harbingers of bad luck. Instead, his
doubting process is a philosophical one, and sometimes called 'hyperbolic' (or
exaggerated) doubt, in which the issue is whether a class of knowledge can be in any way
doubted. The goal of this doubting process is to arrive at a list of beliefs that are
certain and indubitably true. It thus may be viewed as a systematic doubting experiment.

Descartes does not intend to doubt the truth of every specific judgement that comes into
his head - an impossible task - but to undermine wherever possible the foundations of his
views. Descartes can do this by discussing broad classes of supposed knowledge: for
example, knowledge from the senses, or knowledge from mathematical reasoning. If we assume
that beliefs within each class will, from their nature, have similar foundations, then
doubt in any area of the class will throw the whole into doubt. The main class of
knowledge he brings under suspicion is the reliability of sensory information. The
experiment consists of articulating several reasons by which sensory information can be
brought into question. When he presents the last of these reasons, there are virtually no
items of knowledge he can have confidence in.

Much of Descartes argumentation rests on a distinction that, later in the history of
philosophy, became known as that between primary and secondary qualities. Briefly, we look
at an apple and perceive qualities of redness, sweet smell, roundness, and singularity.
Descartes recognized that the qualities of redness and sweet smell do not really belong to
the apple. Instead these qualities exist only in the mind of an observer - as a product of
the relation between the apple, my sense organs, and my mind - and are then illegitimately
imposed onto the apple as it is in itself. These have been traditionally called secondary
qualities. By contrast, the qualities of roundness and singularity belong to the apple
itself, and are not products of the relation to the observer's mind. These have been
termed primary qualities. Secondary qualities arise from (what are assumed to be) objects
of the senses, and primary qualities from objects of mathematics. The following
illustrates the connection:

Type: Objects Properties
Secondary Objects of Sense hardness, heat, light, odour, colour, taste, sound
Primary Objects of Mathematics quantity, shape, time, magnitude

An apple would be a secondary object, or object of the senses, when we consider only its
secondary qualities of redness and sweet smell. On the other hand an apple is a primary
object, or object of mathematics, when we consider only its primary qualities of shape and
singularity (quantity). In Descartes' version of this distinction, the root of the
primary/secondary distinction is the attribute of extension (or existence in space,
including motion). All primary qualities are features that necessarily (and really) belong
to extended objects. All secondary qualities, by contrast, do not necessarily (or really)
belong to extended objects and, thus, are spectator-dependent. (Please compare the
discussion beginning at Principles, part one, §48, I, 208ff.) However, it should be
pointed out that Descartes has not yet offered a complete proof that extension is the key
feature of spatial objects, and that all other properties are 'secondary'. Nor has he even
proved that there are any spatial objects at all! He will return to extension and space
towards the end of the Meditations. In any case, in view of this primary/secondary
distinction, when Descartes doubts the reliability of his senses, he must find reason to
doubt both his primary and secondary perceptions. The initial importance of this
distinction, then, is that Descartes needs two sets of arguments in order to place into
doubt the reality of both primary and secondary objects.

That which can be doubted is that which belongs to a class of 'knowledge' that has ever in
the past failed, or which it can be imagined will fail under a (not impossible)
hypothesis. Descartes begins his systematic doubting experiment by pointing out an obvious
credibility problem with our senses: optical illusions. Descartes begins doubting the
reliability of his senses by noting that we perceive distant objects to be much smaller
than they really are. In other words, in some instances, the class of sensory knowledge
has been known to break down; and for this reason, it can never be absolutely trusted.
This, though, is somewhat trivial, and does not undermine the general reliability of the
senses, since it is precisely through other sensory knowledge that we know that the object
is further away. If the class of sensory knowledge is self-correcting in this fashion, it
is perhaps not radically unreliable. Continuing his doubting experiment, Descartes
suggests the possibility that he his dreaming. Here, Descartes is proposing a hypothesis,
which is not intrinsically impossible (I am dreaming even though I believe myself to be
awake), but which calls into question the basic validity of the class of sensory
knowledge. This, though, only brings into question the existence of objects of the senses
(i.e., secondary qualities), and does not affect objects of mathematics (i.e., primary
qualities). The basic mathematical principles of space and time, Descartes says, are the
'components' from which my elaborate dreams are constructed - and as such cannot be
doubted along with the existence and secondary qualities of the particular objects, on the
basis of the dream argument.

Taking his doubts further, Descartes initially speculates that God is deceiving him about
all of the things that he believes or perceives. This would happen if God were actively
putting ideas into my head that, prima facie and in all cases, seemed to have some other
source. (The notion of deception, as Descartes is using it here is more limited that that
which he employs from Meditation 4 onwards. Please see Meditation 4 for our discussion of
commissive and omisive deceptions.) Descartes includes primary objects in this
hypothetical deception - thus, God deceives me even about the ideal objects of
mathematics. Descartes writes:

... [S]ince I sometimes believe that others go astray in cases where they think they have
the most perfect knowledge, may I not similarly go wrong every time I add two and three or
count the sides of a square, or in some even simpler matter, if that is imaginable? (II,

Suggesting that God is a deceiver causes him problems, though, because according to
traditional Christian theology, infinite goodness is one of God's necessary attributes.
Goodness and deception seem opposed. If backed into a corner, some might deny God's
existence rather than admit that he is the cause of deception. And yet, denying God,
Descartes argues, could only make him more vulnerable to deception. This takes him into a
discussion of scepticism, and he reflects on how far astray his doubts may take him, and
to what extent they are justified. Discussions of scepticism during the modern period
often drew a distinction between speculative and actional scepticism. A speculative
sceptic merely uncovers theoretical problems, and an actional sceptic continues by
recommending a course of action. With religious beliefs in particular, actional scepticism
was viewed as more dangerous as it might recommend that act as though there were no God.
However, Descartes only proposes theoretical doubt. In any event, he revises his doubt so
not to run counter to traditional Christian belief and, accordingly, proposes that a
malevolent demon or genius (and not God) deceives him. Simply considered as hypotheses,
there is no way of comparing the plausibility of the existence of an infinitely good
deity, with the existence of a malevolent demon.

With the demon hypothesis, Descartes' procedure doubt has reached its peak. Such a demon
could cause ideas to appear within Descartes' mind such that he was deceived not only
about the existence and nature of secondary qualities, but even about the existence and
nature of primary qualities. It follows that if there is to be knowledge, then either
there must be a new, as yet unmentioned ground of knowledge, or new reasons must be found
that independently remove the above doubts. In either case, there must also be a means of
testing (a 'rule of truth') whether such knowledge is indeed beyond doubt. Descartes'
philosophy now moves to explore such issues.

There are, however, a few features of Descartes' method of doubt that are worth pulling
out at this point. First, and reasonably enough one might think, Descartes never doubts
that his ideas arise in some fashion. The source might be external objects, or his own
dreams, or a hidden faculty of self-deception, his own activity of thinking, or God, or an
evil genius. (This problem of the sources of ideas corresponds with the notion of a
'class' of knowledge introduced above.) Because there are so many possible sources for my
ideas, and because there is no fool-proof way of deciding between them, Descartes is able
to doubt the veracity of most of the ideas he formerly held to be true. This question of
the origin of his ideas is key. For, in Meditation 6, Descartes will be able to solve his
initial epistemological scepticism by eliminating all but one of the sources. (Moreover,
the question of the origin of ideas also forms the basis of Descartes' proof for God's
existence in Meditation 3.)

Second, Descartes is offering a broadly representational picture of how ideas might relate
to reality. Ideas of particular objects 'represent' the world. This in turn has several
consequences. (a) Ideas are different from things in the world. (This already moves
Descartes towards a broadly realist epistemology, and thus can be interestingly contrasted
with the idealism of Berkeley.) (b) Ideas (at least of secondary qualities) do not
resemble the world: my idea or feeling of hunger (to take one of Descartes' favorite
examples) has no resemblance to whatever may be happening in my stomach, if I have a
stomach. Because of this lack of resemblance, there is no intrinsic difference between an
idea that does not correspond to a real world, and one that does. Without that intrinsic
difference, Descartes is initially unable to trace his ideas of things back to their
source. (The situation is more complicated in the case of primary qualities, however.
Although my idea of a triangle is not triangular, nevertheless Descartes suggests it does
have a relation of adequacy that ideas of secondary qualities often or always lack [see
the beginning of Meditation 5].) Issues of this type, as we shall see, lead Descartes to
worry about the notion of innate ideas. (c) Finally, representation means that there are
two different ways in which an idea can be 'false'. First, it can represent real things
falsely (as in the case of distant objects appearing smaller). Second, it can represent as
existing things that do not exist. Again, there is no intrinsic way of distinguishing
between these cases. Our inability to distinguish between these two types of falsehood is
what makes the dreaming and malevolent demon hypotheses so powerful. For, if in any case I
could so distinguish, then I would be able to eliminate some of the hypothetical sources
of my ideas. Descartes' concerns about the various modes of falseness return in his
discussion of judgement and will, beginning in Meditation 3. Metaphorically speaking, we
might say that this representational model of the relation between ideas and the world has
placed Descartes 'at a distance' from his world, and made both possible and necessary the
method of doubt.

Continues for 22 more pages >>

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