ABSTRACT: One tension in Descartes?s account of human error stems from the idea that we may be faulted for our acts of will, despite the fact that God is our omnipotent and omniscient creator. In the present essay, I describe a second tension in Descartes?s account of human error. After describing the tension, I consider Alan Nelson?s characterization of the means by which Descartes?s intended to relieve it. Although Nelson's interpretation is almost correct, I think that it obscures some of the interesting details of Descartes?s theory of perception and judgment. These details are revealed by the taxonomy of sensory responses that Descartes articulates in the Sixth Set of Replies to the Meditations.
In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes is confronted with the problem of reconciling his conclusion that God exists and is no deceiver with apparent instances of human error. Described generally, Descartes attempts to square his assertions regarding God, with the fact that humans are subject to error, by claiming that any error made by a human being originates in a free act of will for which God should not be attributed fault.
There is, of course, enormous tension between Descartes?s claim that human beings may be faulted for their acts of will, and his claim that God is our omnipotent and omniscient creator. In what respect is it appropriate to regard us as culpable for our acts, assuming that God is antecedently the author of these acts through his creation of the Universe? This is a difficult question to answer. However, even if we set this question aside (as I will), we find that considerable tension remains in Descartes?s account of the etiology of perceptual error. ...
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...escartes, Volume II, pp. 295.
21 The same sort of confusion is also described in the last sentence of both principle 70 and 71, in Book One of the Principles.
22 In fact, the categories of the objects of confusion mentioned in principle 46 (perceptions and judgments) are precisely the constituents of the second and third categories of sensory response described in the Sixth Set of Replies.
23 The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume I, pp. 208.
Descartes, Ren�: 1985, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Vol. 1,2, and 3), Cambridge University Press, New York.
Hare, R.M.: 1952, The Language of Morals, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Locke, John: 1975, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Nelson, Alan: 1997, ?Descartes?s Ontology of Thought?, Topoi 16, 163-178.
DESCARTES?S THEORY OF PERCEPTION AND JUDGMENT 11
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