What Are Clear And Distinct Ideas And


What Are Clear And Distinct Ideas, And Are They Immune From The Influence Of A Malevolent Omnipotent Essay, Research Paper

Descartes, in his desire to find

out what, if anything, he can be certain about and as part of his attempt to

prove the existence of God, considers that ideas that he perceives clearly and

distinctly are ?the only things that clearly convince? him. He relies on clear

and distinct perception of ideas as part of his attempt to prove that God

exists, and that He is not malevolent. The reliance on clear and distinct

perceptions to justify this has been rightly criticised by many commentators as

being circular, and it can effectively be argued that clear and distinct ideas

may not necessarily be immune from the influence of a malevolent omnipotent

being. The notion of clear and distinct

ideas initially arises as a result of the Method of Doubt, as propositions

which are found to be irresistible. The cogito, for instance, is a

classic example: when one reflects on that statement, ?I think, I am?, to

attempt to doubt it would be to doubt one?s own existence. Mathematical truths,

for instance the assertion that twice two is four, are further examples of

ideas that can be clearly and distinctly perceived. This is described in the

Fifth Meditation when Descartes considers the properties of a triangle. When

one imagines a triangle, one clearly knows that the total of the angles inside

equals 180?, whether one ?wants to

or not?, thus he did not invent them yet they remain ?obviously true? as they

are perceived clearly and distinctly.? This, though, begs the question

of whether one is born with innate knowledge of all mathematical properties. If

one were born knowing clearly and distinctly geometrical and arithmetical

propositions, then the study of mathematics would be worthless. A common

response to this is that the innate knowledge is untapped, awaiting extraction,

but how could one distinguish between the process of learning, and the process

of accessing this hitherto unknown knowledge. Further on in this essay, Descartes?s

view that one such clear and distinct idea is that of God. In his conversation

with Burnam, he suggests that as the mind ?swamped inside the body?, one is

unaware of the innate thoughts one holds until the mind is able to distinguish

between bodily concerns and cerebral affairs. Burnam raises the question that,

whilst an infant might be able to have an innate view of God, something as

complex as the Trinity is unlikely to be comprehended by him. Descartes?s reply

is that the Trinity is a complex idea that arises from the innate clear and

distinct perception of God. This is tied to the overall nature of clear and

innate perceptions: they are the irresistible foundations from which our

understanding of the world can develop. Ideas which are intuitive are not

the sole form of clear and distinct perceptions. The conclusions from

deductions may also be as clearly and distinctly perceived as obvious truths.

Thus, if one intuits r, and it is known that if is r true than s is true, and

that if s is true that t is true, then one can clearly and distinctly perceive

t even though it is not intuitively known. Descartes suggests it is like a

chain, as when it is known that ?the last link of a chain is connected with the

first, even though we do not view in a single glance all the intermediate links

on which the connection depends; we need only to have gone through the links in

succession and to remember that from the first to the last each is joined to

the next?. This idea that one can consider

all the possible stages in reaching an affirmation that some is true and being

clearly and distinctly perceived occurs in an attempt to explain the problem of

circularity which Descartes is often accused of allowing himself to enter into.

? It must also be remember that just

because one perceives something clearly and distinctly, it may not be true.

There is still the possibility of being deceived by some malevolent being,

which is why Descartes needs to introduce the idea of God. In the fifth Meditation,

Descartes suggests that the existence of God allows him to know that all the

propositions he perceives to be clear and distinct are true, even when he is

not attending to them. This is because whilst one is concentrating on a thought

that is clear and distinct, it is, as described above, indubitable. If,

however, one takes one?s attention away from concentrating on the point in

question, one is able to doubt parts of it indirectly. There is also the view

that a benevolent God is needed to remove any lingering doubt. Descartes argues

that an atheist, despite being able to clearly and distinctly perceive

something, would be unable to have any guarantee that it was true ? the

possibility of a malevolent omnipresent being, whose sole purpose was to

deceive him is not removed. Descartes thus tries to introduce God as a clear

and distinct idea. The circularity in this is easily

shown in the second and the fourth sets of objections. The latter is cited

below, as it expresses the problem the most succinct way possible: ??he [Descartes] says that we

are sure that what we clearly and distinctly perceive is true only because God

exists. But how can we be sure that God exists only because we clearly and

distinctly perceive this. Hence, before we can be sure that God exists, we

ought to be able to be sure that whatever we perceive clearly and evidently is

true?. Descartes?s reply to both

objections is that the only reason there is for knowing that what is clearly

and distinctly perceived is true is the fact that God exists, which has clearly

and distinctly perceived, thus one can be sure of it. Once the surety of God?s

existence has been clearly and distinctly perceived, it is enough to remember

that it was perceived clearly in order for the certainty of the next

proposition to be assured. This, though, has led many of Descartes?s critics to

accuse him of relying on the absurd idea of the infallibility of memory. God is

introduced to guarantee the truthfulness of the recollection. However, there is

little evidence to support this idea. In part one of The Principles of

Philosophy, paragraph 44 directly refutes any suggestion that Descartes

believed that the memory was either infallible, or could be made fallible by

God, as he says, ? we are often mistaken in thinking that many things were formerly

perceived by us, and, when entrusted to memory, we assent to them as if they

were fully perceived, when, in fact, we never perceived them?. If this assertion that Descartes

relies on God to assure the correctness of his recollections, then a malevolent

being will seek to make one?s memory fallible. However, the assertion can only

be feasible if the perception of God itself does not rely on memory. Earlier in

the essay, Descartes?s belief that one need only look at the last link in a

chain to see it all was connected was mentioned. In the same way, it could be

argued that Descartes is relying on the enquirer to process simultaneously the

proofs for the clear and distinct certainties of God as well as those for the

proposition he was trying to perceive clearly and distinctly. This would

certainly require a lot of effort on the part of the enquirer, but appears to

be the only way in which one can avoid accusations of certainty. If Descartes did assume the

reliability of memory, it seems likely that he would not have responded to a

question from Burnham with a quip about a need for paper. Either way, this

reliance on memory does not make clear and distinct perceptions immune from the

influence of a malevolent being. Such a being would not only trick one into

thinking one?s recollections were false: if it were omnipotent, to achieve its

goal it would also convince one that God was guaranteeing the recollection. Miller has suggested that

Descartes believes that clear and distinct ideas are immune from such a threat.

This is because Descartes considers them indubitable, whether or not God

exists. Although the former belief is partly true, Descartes wonders how he

could be assured of their truth when he is not certain of God?s existence.

Descartes, however, considers that as long as the possibility that a demon

exists, he must acknowledge that there is the possibility that what is

perceived clearly and distinctly is false. Even so, this does not close the

circle, as he must also clearly and distinctly perceive the non-existence of

the demon. It may be the case, though, that

indubitably is being confused with truthfulness. Frankfurt has suggested that

just because one considers something to be without doubt, this does not mean

that it is true. Descartes is merely trying to get the sceptic to consider

those things that are clearly and distinctly perceived as the foundations of

knowledge. Once the sceptic does this, there is little opportunity for him to

doubt what he is thought. In this way, the existence or otherwise of God or the

demon are unproven. All that has been lost is the ability to speculate on this.

This view, though, seems at odds with Descartes?s desire to find certainty in

the world. Moreover, one would never have any guarantee that they are either

immune from the influence of the evil demon or under the protection of God. Yet, Descartes admits a belief in

a supreme benevolent being, God. Although Descartes would argue that it is in

the nature of a supremely perfect being to be benevolent and no deceiver, any

being with supreme omnipotent powers must surely also have the capacity to

deceive. It may just be good fortune that the God Descartes refers to is

benign. Indeed, even a benevolent God may find it advantageous to deceive us

about our clear and distinct perceptions to save us from the truth about them.

Either way, Descartes?s belief that clearly and distinctly perceiving the

existence of God is unlikely to affirm the correctness of anyone?s clear and

distinct beliefs, due to the circle.


Додати в блог або на сайт

Цей текст може містити помилки.

A Free essays | Essay
13.9кб. | download | скачати

Related works:
Why Does Descartes Consider Himself Distinct From
Is The Mind Distinct From The Body
Clear Thoughts
Clear Lake
Clear Thoughts
Clear And Present Danger
Hamlet The Theme Of Having A Clear
How Clear Is The Distinction Between Voluntary
Clear Vision In King Lear
© Усі права захищені
написати до нас