Superphysics Superphysics
Part 4

Truth and falsehood

by Rene Descartes Icon
11 minutes  • 2238 words
Table of contents

Previously, I have realized that it is impossible that God would deceive me. God also has given me a faculty of judgment since God does not want to deceive me.

Does this mean that I can never go wrong in my beliefs?

I make a lot of mistakes, which cannot have come from God. <!– Well, I know by experience that I am greatly given to errors; but when I focus on God to the exclusion of everything else, I find in him no cause of error or falsity.

In looking for the cause of my errors, I am helped by this thought= as well as having a real and positive idea of God (a being who is supremely perfect), I also have what you might call a negative idea of nothingness (that which is furthest from all perfection). –> I realize that I am somewhere in between God and nothingness, or between supreme being and non-being.

Now, the positive reality that I have been given by the supreme being contains nothing that could lead me astray in my beliefs.

My mistakes, therefore, come from my nature involving nothingness or non-being. I am not the supreme being and so I make errors.

Error is not a mere negation. Pebbles and glaciers lack knowledge, but we do not say that they make mistakes.

I lack of the ability to fly or to multiply two 30-digit prime numbers in my head. These not mean that I am mistaken for not being able to do them.

Thus, error is a privation. It a lack of some knowledge that I should have. It means that I still have a problem about how it relates to God.

Why are Humans Imperfect?

The more skilled the craftsman, the more perfect is his craft. So something made by the supreme creator should be perfect. We are imperfect because of 3 reasons:

  1. I should not be surprised if I do not always understand why God acts as he does.

My nature is very weak and limited, whereas God’s nature is immense, incomprehensible and infinite. He can do countless things with reasons I cannot know.

That alone is reason to give up the physicists’ attempt to understand what is God’s purpose for making the world.

  1. God’s perfect craftsmanship is seen by looking at the universe as a whole, not at created things one by one.

A thing might seem very imperfect if it existed on its own relative to the rest of the universe.

My decision to doubt everything has left me sure of only 2 things, God and myself.

God created things other than myself, so that there may be a universal scheme of things in which I have a place. If so, then ny judgments on what is perfect or imperfect in me should be based on my role in the universe. It is not based on just my intrinsic nature.

  1. My errors are the only evidence I have that I am imperfect.
My errors depend on both:
  • (a) my intellect
  • (b) my will.

The Intellect

The intellect does not affirm or deny anything. It only presents me with ideas to judge. The intellect itself does not involve any error at all.

There may be many existing things that my intellect has no idea of. But it does not mean it cannot eventually have ideas of them eventually.

A skilled craftsman makes a perfect creation as a whole, even if its parts taken individually seem imperfect.

The Will

The will has no limits.

My will is so perfect and so great. It cannot be greater than what it already is. Why did God not make my other aspects as perfect as my will?

My faculty of understanding is finite. Memory and imagination are weak and limited. Those of God are immeasurable. It is only the will, or freedom of choice, which is somehow like God.

God’s will is incomparably greater than mine in 2 respects:

  1. It is accompanied by, and made firm and effective by, much more knowledge and power than I have
  2. It has far more objects than my will does – that is, God makes more choices and decisions than I do.

But these comparisons – having to do with the amount of knowledge that accompanies and helps the will, or with the number of states of affairs to which it is applied – do not concern the will in itself, but rather its relations to other things. When the will is considered not relationally, but strictly in itself, God’s will does not seem any greater than mine.

The will is simply one’s ability to do or not do something – to accept or reject a proposition, to pursue a goal or avoid something.

More accurately, the freedom of the will consists in the fact that when the intellect presents us with a candidate for acceptance or denial, or for pursuit or avoidance, we have no sense that we are pushed one way or the other by any external force.

I can be free without being inclined both ways. Indeed, the more strongly I incline in one direction the more free my choice is – if my inclination comes from natural knowledge (that is, from my seeing clearly that reasons of truth and goodness point that way) or from divine grace (that is, from some mental disposition that God has given me).

Freedom is never lessened. It is increased and strengthened by natural knowledge and divine grace.

When no reason inclines me in one direction rather than another, I have a feeling of indifference – that is, of its not mattering which way I go – and that is the poorest kind of freedom. What it manifests is freedom considered not as a perfection but rather as a lack of knowledge – a kind of negation. If I always saw clearly what was true and good, I should never have to spend time thinking about what to believe or do; and then I would be wholly free although I was never in a state of indifference.

So the power of willing that God has given me, being extremely broad in its scope and also perfect of its kind, is not the cause of my mistakes.

Nor is my power of understanding to blame= God gave it to me, so there can be no error in its activities; when I understand something I undoubtedly understand it correctly. Well, then, where do my mistakes come from?

Their source is the fact that my will has a wider scope than my intellect has, so that I am free to form beliefs on topics that I don’t understand. Instead of behaving as I ought to, namely by restricting my will to the territory that my understanding covers, that is, suspending judgment when I am not intellectually in control, I let my will run loose, applying it to matters that I don’t understand. In such cases there is nothing to stop the will from veering this way or that, so it easily turns away from what is true and good. That is the source of my error and sin.

Here is an example of how (1) the will’s behaviour when there is true understanding contrasts with (2) its behaviour when there isn’t.

  1. My will allows me to prove my own existence.

This was not the ‘couldn’t help’ that comes from being compelled by some external force. What happened was just this= a great light in the intellect was followed by a great inclination in the will.

I was not in a state of indifference, feeling that I could as well go one way as the other; but this lack of indifference was a measure of how spontaneous and free my belief was. It would have indicated unfreedom only if it had come from the compulsion of something external, rather than coming from within myself.

  1. I have in my mind an idea of corporeal nature; and I am not sure whether my thinking nature – which makes me what I am – is the same as this corporeal nature or different from it.

I take it that my intellect has not yet found any convincing reason for either answer; so I am indifferent with regard to this question – nothing pushes or pulls me towards one answer or the other, or indeed towards giving any answer.

The will is indifferent not only when the intellect is wholly ignorant but also when it doesn’t have clear enough knowledge at the time when the will is trying to reach a decision.

A probable conjecture may pull me one way; but when I realize that it is a mere conjecture and not a certain and indubitable reason, that in itself will push me the other way.

My experience in the last few days confirms this= the mere fact that I found all my previous beliefs to be somewhat open to doubt was enough to switch me from confidently believing them to supposing them to be wholly false.

If when I do not perceive the truth clearly and distinctly enough I simply suspend judgment, I am behaving correctly and avoiding error. It is a misuse of my free will to have an opinion in such cases if I choose the wrong side I shall be in error; and even if I choose the right side, I shall be at fault because I’ll have come to the truth by sheer chance and not through a perception of my intellect.

The latter, as the natural light shows me clearly, should be what influences my will when I affirm things.

Error is essentially a privation – a lack of something that I should have. This privation consists in my misuse of my will.

Specifically, it consists in my lack of the restraint in my will when deciding on matters that I do not clearly understand.

I cannot complain that God did not give me more power of understanding. This is because created intellects are naturally finite. They naturally lack understanding of many things.

God has never owed me anything, and so I should not feel cheated. Instead, I thank him for his great generosity to me [for giving me intellect].

I also cannot complain that God gave me a will that is larger than my intellect. The is because the will is a single unitary thing, without parts. My large will is cause to thank God further.

Finally, I must not complain that God consents to the acts of my will when I do wrong. What there is in these acts that comes from God is wholly true and good; and it is a perfection in me that I can perform them.

Falsity and error are essentially a privation. This privation isn’t something to which God consents, because it isn’t a thing at all.

Indeed, when it is considered in relation to God as its cause, it isn’t really a privation but rather a mere negation. That is, it is a mere fact about something that is not the case; it does not involve the notion that it ought to be the case.

I should restrain my will when I do not understand. But it does not mean that God should have forced such restraint on me.

God has given me the freedom to assent or not to assent in cases where he did not give me clear understanding. He is surely not to blame for that. But I am to blame for misusing that freedom by deciding on matters that I do not fully understand.

God easily could have arranged things so that, while keeping although my freedom and still being limited in what I understand, I never made a mistake.

He could do this either by giving me a clear and distinct understanding of everything that I was ever likely to think about; or by forcing me always to remember that I ought not to form opinions on matters I don’t clearly and distinctly understand.

I can see that if God had made me this way, I would – considered just in myself, as if nothing else existed – have been more perfect than I actually am.

But the universe as a whole may have some perfection that requires that some parts of it are capable of error while others are not, so that it would be a worse universe if all its parts were exactly alike in being immune from error.

I cannot complain about God giving me a lower role in his scheme of things by putting me in a class of imperfect creatures.

I can avoid error simply by withholding judgment on anything that is not clear to me. I am unable to keep focus on a single item of knowledge such as the no-judgment-when-clarity-of-perception-is-lacking rule.

Through attentive and repeated meditation, I can remember this rule as often as needed in order to avoid error.

This is where man’s greatest and most important perfection is to be found. I must be correct in my explanation of the cause of error.

If I restrain my will so that I form opinions only on what the intellect clearly and distinctly reveals, then I cannot possibly go wrong.

This is because every clear and distinct perception is something real and positive. It cannot come from nothing. It must come from God who is supremely perfect.

So the clear and distinct perception must be true.

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