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Meditation II / Meditations on First Philosophy / Meditation IV


P1. I WILL now close my eyes, I will stop my ears, I will turn away my senses from their objects, I will even efface from my consciousness all the images of corporeal things; or at least, because this can hardly be accomplished, I will consider them as empty and false; and thus, holding converse only with myself, and closely examining my nature, I will endeavor to obtain by degrees a more intimate and familiar knowledge of myself. I am a thinking (conscious) thing, that is, a being who doubts, affirms, denies, knows a few objects, and is ignorant of many, - [who loves, hates], wills, refuses, who imagines likewise, and perceives; for, as I before remarked, although the things which I perceive or imagine are perhaps nothing at all apart from me [and in themselves], I am nevertheless assured that those modes of consciousness which I call perceptions and imaginations, in as far only as they are modes of consciousness, exist in me.

P2. And in the little I have said I think I have summed up all that I really know, or at least all that up to this time I was aware I knew. Now, as I am endeavoring to extend my knowledge more widely, I will use circumspection, and consider with care whether I can still discover in myself anything further which I have not yet hitherto observed. I am certain that I am a thinking thing; but do I not therefore likewise know what is required to render me certain of a truth? In this first knowledge, doubtless, there is nothing that gives me assurance of its truth except the clear and distinct perception of what I affirm, which would not indeed be sufficient to give me the assurance that what I say is true, if it could ever happen that anything I thus clearly and distinctly perceived should prove false; and accordingly it seems to me that I may now take as a general rule, that all that is very clearly and distinctly apprehended (conceived) is true.

P3. Nevertheless I before received and admitted many things as wholly certain and manifest, which yet I afterward found to be doubtful. What, then, were those? They were the earth, the sky, the stars, and all the other objects which I was in the habit of perceiving by the senses. But what was it that I clearly [and distinctly] perceived in them? Nothing more than that the ideas and the thoughts of those objects were presented to my mind. And even now I do not deny that these ideas are found in my mind. But there was yet another thing which I affirmed, and which, from having been accustomed to believe it, I thought I clearly perceived, although, in truth, I did not perceive it at all; I mean the existence of objects external to me, from which those ideas proceeded, and to which they had a perfect resemblance; and it was here I was mistaken, or if I judged correctly, this assuredly was not to be traced to any knowledge I possessed (the force of my perception, Lat.).

P4. But when I considered any matter in arithmetic and geometry, that was very simple and easy, as, for example, that two and three added together make five, and things of this sort, did I not view them with at least sufficient clearness to warrant me in affirming their truth? Indeed, if I afterward judged that we ought to doubt of these things, it was for no other reason than because it occurred to me that a God might perhaps have given me such a nature as that I should be deceived, even respecting the matters that appeared to me the most evidently true. But as often as this preconceived opinion of the sovereign power of a God presents itself to my mind, I am constrained to admit that it is easy for him, if he wishes it, to cause me to err, even in matters where I think I possess the highest evidence; and, on the other hand, as often as I direct my attention to things which I think I apprehend with great clearness, I am so persuaded of their truth that I naturally break out into expressions such as these: Deceive me who may, no one will yet ever be able to bring it about that I am not, so long as I shall be conscious that I am, or at any future time cause it to be true that I have never been, it being now true that I am, or make two and three more or less than five, in supposing which, and other like absurdities, I discover a manifest contradiction. And in truth, as I have no ground for believing that Deity is deceitful, and as, indeed, I have not even considered the reasons by which the existence of a Deity of any kind is established, the ground of doubt that rests only on this supposition is very slight, and, so to speak, metaphysical. But, that I may be able wholly to remove it, I must inquire whether there is a God, as soon as an opportunity of doing so shall present itself; and if I find that there is a God, I must examine likewise whether he can be a deceiver; for, without the knowledge of these two truths, I do not see that I can ever be certain of anything. And that I may be enabled to examine this without interrupting the order of meditation I have proposed to myself [which is, to pass by degrees from the notions that I shall find first in my mind to those I shall afterward discover in it], it is necessary at this stage to divide all my thoughts into certain classes, and to consider in which of these classes truth and error are, strictly speaking, to be found.

P5. Of my thoughts some are, as it were, images of things, and to these alone properly belongs the name IDEA; as when I think [represent to my mind] a man, a chimera, the sky, an angel or God. Others, again, have certain other forms; as when I will, fear, affirm, or deny, I always, indeed, apprehend something as the object of my thought, but I also embrace in thought something more than the representation of the object; and of this class of thoughts some are called volitions or affections, and others judgments.

P6. Now, with respect to ideas, if these are considered only in themselves, and are not referred to any object beyond them, they cannot, properly speaking, be false; for, whether I imagine a goat or chimera, it is not less true that I imagine the one than the other. Nor need we fear that falsity may exist in the will or affections; for, although I may desire objects that are wrong, and even that never existed, it is still true that I desire them. There thus only remain our judgments, in which we must take diligent heed that we be not deceived. But the chief and most ordinary error that arises in them consists in judging that the ideas which are in us are like or conformed to the things that are external to us; for assuredly, if we but considered the ideas themselves as certain modes of our thought (consciousness), without referring them to anything beyond, they would hardly afford any occasion of error.

P7. But among these ideas, some appear to me to be innate, others adventitious, and others to be made by myself (factitious); for, as I have the power of conceiving what is called a thing, or a truth, or a thought, it seems to me that I hold this power from no other source than my own nature; but if I now hear a noise, if I see the sun, or if I feel heat, I have all along judged that these sensations proceeded from certain objects existing out of myself; and, in fine, it appears to me that sirens, hippogryphs, and the like, are inventions of my own mind. But I may even perhaps come to be of opinion that all my ideas are of the class which I call adventitious, or that they are all innate, or that they are all factitious; for I have not yet clearly discovered their true origin.

P8. What I have here principally to do is to consider, with reference to those that appear to come from certain objects without me, what grounds there are for thinking them like these objects. The first of these grounds is that it seems to me I am so taught by nature; and the second that I am conscious that those ideas are not dependent on my will, and therefore not on myself, for they are frequently presented to me against my will, as at present, whether I will or not, I feel heat; and I am thus persuaded that this sensation or idea (sensum vel ideam) of heat is produced in me by something different from myself, viz., by the heat of the fire by which I sit. And it is very reasonable to suppose that this object impresses me with its own likeness rather than any other thing.

P9. But I must consider whether these reasons are sufficiently strong and convincing. When I speak of being taught by nature in this matter, I understand by the word nature only a certain spontaneous impetus that impels me to believe in a resemblance between ideas and their objects, and not a natural light that affords a knowledge of its truth. But these two things are widely different; for what the natural light shows to be true can be in no degree doubtful, as, for example, that I am because I doubt, and other truths of the like kind; inasmuch as I possess no other faculty whereby to distinguish truth from error, which can teach me the falsity of what the natural light declares to be true, and which is equally trustworthy; but with respect to [seemingly] natural impulses, I have observed, when the question related to the choice of right or wrong in action, that they frequently led me to take the worse part; nor do I see that I have any better ground for following them in what relates to truth and error.

P10. Then, with respect to the other reason, which is that because these ideas do not depend on my will, they must arise from objects existing without me, I do not find it more convincing than the former, for just as those natural impulses, of which I have lately spoken, are found in me, notwithstanding that they are not always in harmony with my will, so likewise it may be that I possess some power not sufficiently known to myself capable of producing ideas without the aid of external objects, and, indeed, it has always hitherto appeared to me that they are formed during sleep, by some power of this nature, without the aid of aught external.

P11. And, in fine, although I should grant that they proceeded from those objects, it is not a necessary consequence that they must be like them. On the contrary, I have observed, in a number of instances, that there was a great difference between the object and its idea. Thus, for example, I find in my mind two wholly diverse ideas of the sun; the one, by which it appears to me extremely small draws its origin from the senses, and should be placed in the class of adventitious ideas; the other, by which it seems to be many times larger than the whole earth, is taken up on astronomical grounds, that is, elicited from certain notions born with me, or is framed by myself in some other manner. These two ideas cannot certainly both resemble the same sun; and reason teaches me that the one which seems to have immediately emanated from it is the most unlike.

P12. And these things sufficiently prove that hitherto it has not been from a certain and deliberate judgment, but only from a sort of blind impulse, that I believed existence of certain things different from myself, which, by the organs of sense, or by whatever other means it might be, conveyed their ideas or images into my mind [and impressed it with their likenesses].

P13. But there is still another way of inquiring whether, of the objects whose ideas are in my mind, there are any that exist out of me. If ideas are taken in so far only as they are certain modes of consciousness, I do not remark any difference or inequality among them, and all seem, in the same manner, to proceed from myself; but, considering them as images, of which one represents one thing and another a different, it is evident that a great diversity obtains among them. For, without doubt, those that represent substances are something more, and contain in themselves, so to speak, more objective reality [that is, participate by representation in higher degrees of being or perfection], than those that represent only modes or accidents; and again, the idea by which I conceive a God [sovereign], eternal, infinite, [immutable], all-knowing, all-powerful, and the creator of all things that are out of himself, this, I say, has certainly in it more objective reality than those ideas by which finite substances are represented.

P14. Now, it is manifest by the natural light that there must at least be as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in its effect; for whence can the effect draw its reality if not from its cause? And how could the cause communicate to it this reality unless it possessed it in itself? And hence it follows, not only that what is cannot be produced by what is not, but likewise that the more perfect, in other words, that which contains in itself more reality, cannot be the effect of the less perfect; and this is not only evidently true of those effects, whose reality is actual or formal, but likewise of ideas, whose reality is only considered as objective. Thus, for example, the stone that is not yet in existence, not only cannot now commence to be, unless it be produced by that which possesses in itself, formally or eminently, all that enters into its composition, [in other words, by that which contains in itself the same properties that are in the stone, or others superior to them]; and heat can only be produced in a subject that was before devoid of it, by a cause that is of an order, [degree or kind], at least as perfect as heat; and so of the others. But further, even the idea of the heat, or of the stone, cannot exist in me unless it be put there by a cause that contains, at least, as much reality as I conceive existent in the heat or in the stone for although that cause may not transmit into my idea anything of its actual or formal reality, we ought not on this account to imagine that it is less real; but we ought to consider that, [as every idea is a work of the mind], its nature is such as of itself to demand no other formal reality than that which it borrows from our consciousness, of which it is but a mode [that is, a manner or way of thinking]. But in order that an idea may contain this objective reality rather than that, it must doubtless derive it from some cause in which is found at least as much formal reality as the idea contains of objective; for, if we suppose that there is found in an idea anything which was not in its cause, it must of course derive this from nothing. But, however imperfect may be the mode of existence by which a thing is objectively [or by representation] in the understanding by its idea, we certainly cannot, for all that, allege that this mode of existence is nothing, nor, consequently, that the idea owes its origin to nothing.

P15. Nor must it be imagined that, since the reality which considered in these ideas is only objective, the same reality need not be formally (actually) in the causes of these ideas, but only objectively: for, just as the mode of existing objectively belongs to ideas by their peculiar nature, so likewise the mode of existing formally appertains to the causes of these ideas (at least to the first and principal), by their peculiar nature. And although an idea may give rise to another idea, this regress cannot, nevertheless, be infinite; we must in the end reach a first idea, the cause of which is, as it were, the archetype in which all the reality [or perfection] that is found objectively [or by representation] in these ideas is contained formally [and in act]. I am thus clearly taught by the natural light that ideas exist in me as pictures or images, which may, in truth, readily fall short of the perfection of the objects from which they are taken, but can never contain anything greater or more perfect.

P16. And in proportion to the time and care with which I examine all those matters, the conviction of their truth brightens and becomes distinct. But, to sum up, what conclusion shall I draw from it all? It is this: if the objective reality [or perfection] of any one of my ideas be such as clearly to convince me, that this same reality exists in me neither formally nor eminently, and if, as follows from this, I myself cannot be the cause of it, it is a necessary consequence that I am not alone in the world, but that there is besides myself some other being who exists as the cause of that idea; while, on the contrary, if no such idea be found in my mind, I shall have no sufficient ground of assurance of the existence of any other being besides myself, for, after a most careful search, I have, up to this moment, been unable to discover any other ground.

P17. But, among these my ideas, besides that which represents myself, respecting which there can be here no difficulty, there is one that represents a God; others that represent corporeal and inanimate things; others angels; others animals; and, finally, there are some that represent men like myself.

P18. But with respect to the ideas that represent other men, or animals, or angels, I can easily suppose that they were formed by the mingling and composition of the other ideas which I have of myself, of corporeal things, and of God, although they were, apart from myself, neither men, animals, nor angels.

P19. And with regard to the ideas of corporeal objects, I never discovered in them anything so great or excellent which I myself did not appear capable of originating; for, by considering these ideas closely and scrutinizing them individually, in the same way that I yesterday examined the idea of wax, I find that there is but little in them that is clearly and distinctly perceived. As belonging to the class of things that are clearly apprehended, I recognize the following, viz, magnitude or extension in length, breadth, and depth; figure, which results from the termination of extension; situation, which bodies of diverse figures preserve with reference to each other; and motion or the change of situation; to which may be added substance, duration, and number. But with regard to light, colors, sounds, odors, tastes, heat, cold, and the other tactile qualities, they are thought with so much obscurity and confusion, that I cannot determine even whether they are true or false; in other words, whether or not the ideas I have of these qualities are in truth the ideas of real objects. For although I before remarked that it is only in judgments that formal falsity, or falsity properly so called, can be met with, there may nevertheless be found in ideas a certain material falsity, which arises when they represent what is nothing as if it were something. Thus, for example, the ideas I have of cold and heat are so far from being clear and distinct, that I am unable from them to discover whether cold is only the privation of heat, or heat the privation of cold; or whether they are or are not real qualities: and since, ideas being as it were images there can be none that does not seem to us to represent some object, the idea which represents cold as something real and positive will not improperly be called false, if it be correct to say that cold is nothing but a privation of heat; and so in other cases.

P20. To ideas of this kind, indeed, it is not necessary that I should assign any author besides myself: for if they are false, that is, represent objects that are unreal, the natural light teaches me that they proceed from nothing; in other words, that they are in me only because something is wanting to the perfection of my nature; but if these ideas are true, yet because they exhibit to me so little reality that I cannot even distinguish the object represented from nonbeing, I do not see why I should not be the author of them.

P21. With reference to those ideas of corporeal things that are clear and distinct, there are some which, as appears to me, might have been taken from the idea I have of myself, as those of substance, duration, number, and the like. For when I think that a stone is a substance, or a thing capable of existing of itself, and that I am likewise a substance, although I conceive that I am a thinking and non-extended thing, and that the stone, on the contrary, is extended and unconscious, there being thus the greatest diversity between the two concepts, yet these two ideas seem to have this in common that they both represent substances. In the same way, when I think of myself as now existing, and recollect besides that I existed some time ago, and when I am conscious of various thoughts whose number I know, I then acquire the ideas of duration and number, which I can afterward transfer to as many objects as I please. With respect to the other qualities that go to make up the ideas of corporeal objects, viz, extension, figure, situation, and motion, it is true that they are not formally in me, since I am merely a thinking being; but because they are only certain modes of substance, and because I myself am a substance, it seems possible that they may be contained in me eminently.

P22. There only remains, therefore, the idea of God, in which I must consider whether there is anything that cannot be supposed to originate with myself. By the name God, I understand a substance infinite, [eternal, immutable], independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created. But these properties are so great and excellent, that the more attentively I consider them the less I feel persuaded that the idea I have of them owes its origin to myself alone. And thus it is absolutely necessary to conclude, from all that I have before said, that God exists.

P23. For though the idea of substance be in my mind owing to this, that I myself am a substance, I should not, however, have the idea of an infinite substance, seeing I am a finite being, unless it were given me by some substance in reality infinite.

P24. And I must not imagine that I do not apprehend the infinite by a true idea, but only by the negation of the finite, in the same way that I comprehend repose and darkness by the negation of motion and light: since, on the contrary, I clearly perceive that there is more reality in the infinite substance than in the finite, and therefore that in some way I possess the perception (notion) of the infinite before that of the finite, that is, the perception of God before that of myself, for how could I know that I doubt, desire, or that something is wanting to me, and that I am not wholly perfect, if I possessed no idea of a being more perfect than myself, by comparison of which I knew the deficiencies of my nature?

P25. And it cannot be said that this idea of God is perhaps materially false, and consequently that it may have arisen from nothing [in other words, that it may exist in me from my imperfections as I before said of the ideas of heat and cold, and the like: for, on the contrary, as this idea is very clear and distinct, and contains in itself more objective reality than any other, there can be no one of itself more true, or less open to the suspicion of falsity. The idea, I say, of a being supremely perfect, and infinite, is in the highest degree true; for although, perhaps, we may imagine that such a being does not exist, we cannot, nevertheless, suppose that his idea represents nothing real, as I have already said of the idea of cold. It is likewise clear and distinct in the highest degree, since whatever the mind clearly and distinctly conceives as real or true, and as implying any perfection, is contained entire in this idea. And this is true, nevertheless, although I do not comprehend the infinite, and although there may be in God an infinity of things that I cannot comprehend, nor perhaps even compass by thought in any way; for it is of the nature of the infinite that it should not be comprehended by the finite; and it is enough that I rightly understand this, and judge that all which I clearly perceive, and in which I know there is some perfection, and perhaps also an infinity of properties of which I am ignorant, are formally or eminently in God, in order that the idea I have of him may be come the most true, clear, and distinct of all the ideas in my mind.

P26. But perhaps I am something more than I suppose myself to be, and it may be that all those perfections which I attribute to God, in some way exist potentially in me, although they do not yet show themselves, and are not reduced to act. Indeed, I am already conscious that my knowledge is being increased [and perfected] by degrees; and I see nothing to prevent it from thus gradually increasing to infinity, nor any reason why, after such increase and perfection, I should not be able thereby to acquire all the other perfections of the Divine nature; nor, in fine, why the power I possess of acquiring those perfections, if it really now exist in me, should not be sufficient to produce the ideas of them.

P27. Yet, on looking more closely into the matter, I discover that this cannot be; for, in the first place, although it were true that my knowledge daily acquired new degrees of perfection, and although there were potentially in my nature much that was not as yet actually in it, still all these excellences make not the slightest approach to the idea I have of the Deity, in whom there is no perfection merely potentially [but all actually] existent; for it is even an unmistakable token of imperfection in my knowledge, that it is augmented by degrees. Further, although my knowledge increase more and more, nevertheless I am not, therefore, induced to think that it will ever be actually infinite, since it can never reach that point beyond which it shall be incapable of further increase. But I conceive God as actually infinite, so that nothing can be added to his perfection. And, in fine, I readily perceive that the objective being of an idea cannot be produced by a being that is merely potentially existent, which, properly speaking, is nothing, but only by a being existing formally or actually.

P28. And, truly, I see nothing in all that I have now said which it is not easy for any one, who shall carefully consider it, to discern by the natural light; but when I allow my attention in some degree to relax, the vision of my mind being obscured, and, as it were, blinded by the images of sensible objects, I do not readily remember the reason why the idea of a being more perfect than myself, must of necessity have proceeded from a being in reality more perfect. On this account I am here desirous to inquire further, whether I, who possess this idea of God, could exist supposing there were no God.

P29. And I ask, from whom could I, in that case, derive my existence? Perhaps from myself, or from my parents, or from some other causes less perfect than God; for anything more perfect, or even equal to God, cannot be thought or imagined.

P30. But if I [were independent of every other existence, and] were myself the author of my being, I should doubt of nothing, I should desire nothing, and, in fine, no perfection would be awanting to me; for I should have bestowed upon myself every perfection of which I possess the idea, and I should thus be God. And it must not be imagined that what is now wanting to me is perhaps of more difficult acquisition than that of which I am already possessed; for, on the contrary, it is quite manifest that it was a matter of much higher difficulty that I, a thinking being, should arise from nothing, than it would be for me to acquire the knowledge of many things of which I am ignorant, and which are merely the accidents of a thinking substance; and certainly, if I possessed of myself the greater perfection of which I have now spoken [in other words, if I were the author of my own existence], I would not at least have denied to myself things that may be more easily obtained [as that infinite variety of knowledge of which I am at present destitute]. I could not, indeed, have denied to myself any property which I perceive is contained in the idea of God, because there is none of these that seems to me to be more difficult to make or acquire; and if there were any that should happen to be more difficult to acquire, they would certainly appear so to me (supposing that I myself were the source of the other things I possess), because I should discover in them a limit to my power.

P31. And though I were to suppose that I always was as I now am, I should not, on this ground, escape the force of these reasonings, since it would not follow, even on this supposition, that no author of my existence needed to be sought after. For the whole time of my life may be divided into an infinity of parts, each of which is in no way dependent on any other; and, accordingly, because I was in existence a short time ago, it does not follow that I must now exist, unless in this moment some cause create me anew as it were, that is, conserve me. In truth, it is perfectly clear and evident to all who will attentively consider the nature of duration, that the conservation of a substance, in each moment of its duration, requires the same power and act that would be necessary to create it, supposing it were not yet in existence; so that it is manifestly a dictate of the natural light that conservation and creation differ merely in respect of our mode of thinking [and not in reality].

P32. All that is here required, therefore, is that I interrogate myself to discover whether I possess any power by means of which I can bring it about that I, who now am, shall exist a moment afterward: for, since I am merely a thinking thing (or since, at least, the precise question, in the meantime, is only of that part of myself), if such a power resided in me, I should, without doubt, be conscious of it; but I am conscious of no such power, and thereby I manifestly know that I am dependent upon some being different from myself.

P33. But perhaps the being upon whom I am dependent is not God, and I have been produced either by my parents, or by some causes less perfect than Deity. This cannot be: for, as I before said, it is perfectly evident that there must at least be as much reality in the cause as in its effect; and accordingly, since I am a thinking thing and possess in myself an idea of God, whatever in the end be the cause of my existence, it must of necessity be admitted that it is likewise a thinking being, and that it possesses in itself the idea and all the perfections I attribute to Deity. Then it may again be inquired whether this cause owes its origin and existence to itself, or to some other cause. For if it be self-existent, it follows, from what I have before laid down, that this cause is God; for, since it possesses the perfection of self-existence, it must likewise, without doubt, have the power of actually possessing every perfection of which it has the idea - in other words, all the perfections I conceive to belong to God. But if it owe its existence to another cause than itself, we demand again, for a similar reason, whether this second cause exists of itself or through some other, until, from stage to stage, we at length arrive at an ultimate cause, which will be God.

P34. And it is quite manifest that in this matter there can be no infinite regress of causes, seeing that the question raised respects not so much the cause which once produced me, as that by which I am at this present moment conserved.

P35. Nor can it be supposed that several causes concurred in my production, and that from one I received the idea of one of the perfections I attribute to Deity, and from another the idea of some other, and thus that all those perfections are indeed found somewhere in the universe, but do not all exist together in a single being who is God; for, on the contrary, the unity, the simplicity, or inseparability of all the properties of Deity, is one of the chief perfections I conceive him to possess; and the idea of this unity of all the perfections of Deity could certainly not be put into my mind by any cause from which I did not likewise receive the ideas of all the other perfections; for no power could enable me to embrace them in an inseparable unity, without at the same time giving me the knowledge of what they were [and of their existence in a particular mode].

P36. Finally, with regard to my parents [from whom it appears I sprung], although all that I believed respecting them be true, it does not, nevertheless, follow that I am conserved by them, or even that I was produced by them, in so far as I am a thinking being. All that, at the most, they contributed to my origin was the giving of certain dispositions (modifications) to the matter in which I have hitherto judged that I or my mind, which is what alone I now consider to be myself, is inclosed; and thus there can here be no difficulty with respect to them, and it is absolutely necessary to conclude from this alone that I am, and possess the idea of a being absolutely perfect, that is, of God, that his existence is most clearly demonstrated.

P37. There remains only the inquiry as to the way in which I received this idea from God; for I have not drawn it from the senses, nor is it even presented to me unexpectedly, as is usual with the ideas of sensible objects, when these are presented or appear to be presented to the external organs of the senses; it is not even a pure production or fiction of my mind, for it is not in my power to take from or add to it; and consequently there but remains the alternative that it is innate, in the same way as is the idea of myself.

P38. And, in truth, it is not to be wondered at that God, at my creation, implanted this idea in me, that it might serve, as it were, for the mark of the workman impressed on his work; and it is not also necessary that the mark should be something different from the work itself; but considering only that God is my creator, it is highly probable that he in some way fashioned me after his own image and likeness, and that I perceive this likeness, in which is contained the idea of God, by the same faculty by which I apprehend myself, in other words, when I make myself the object of reflection, I not only find that I am an incomplete, [imperfect] and dependent being, and one who unceasingly aspires after something better and greater than he is; but, at the same time, I am assured likewise that he upon whom I am dependent possesses in himself all the goods after which I aspire [and the ideas of which I find in my mind], and that not merely indefinitely and potentially, but infinitely and actually, and that he is thus God. And the whole force of the argument of which I have here availed myself to establish the existence of God, consists in this, that I perceive I could not possibly be of such a nature as I am, and yet have in my mind the idea of a God, if God did not in reality exist - this same God, I say, whose idea is in my mind - that is, a being who possesses all those lofty perfections, of which the mind may have some slight conception, without, however, being able fully to comprehend them, and who is wholly superior to all defect [and has nothing that marks imperfection]: whence it is sufficiently manifest that he cannot be a deceiver, since it is a dictate of the natural light that all fraud and deception spring from some defect.

P39. But before I examine this with more attention, and pass on to the consideration of other truths that may be evolved out of it, I think it proper to remain here for some time in the contemplation of God himself - that I may ponder at leisure his marvelous attributes - and behold, admire, and adore the beauty of this light so unspeakably great, as far, at least, as the strength of my mind, which is to some degree dazzled by the sight, will permit. For just as we learn by faith that the supreme felicity of another life consists in the contemplation of the Divine majesty alone, so even now we learn from experience that a like meditation, though incomparably less perfect, is the source of the highest satisfaction of which we are susceptible in this life.


De Dieu; qu'il existe.

P1. JE fermerai maintenant les yeux, je boucherai mes oreilles, je détournerai tous mes sens, j'effacerai même de ma pensée toutes les images des choses corporelles, ou du moins, parce qu'à peine cela se peut-il faire, je les réputerai comme vaines et comme fausses; et ainsi m'entretenant seulement moi-même, et considérant mon intérieur, je tâcherai de me rendre peu à peu plus connu et plus familier à moi-même. Je suis une chose qui pense, c'est-à-dire qui doute, qui affirme, qui nie, qui connaît peu de choses, qui en ignore beaucoup, qui aime, qui hait, qui veut, qui ne veut pas, qui imagine aussi, et qui sent. Car, ainsi que j'ai remarqué ci-devant, quoique les choses que je sens et que j'imagine ne soient peut-être rien du tout hors de moi et en elles-mêmes, je suis néanmoins assuré que ces façons de penser, que j'appelle sentiments et imaginations, en tant seulement qu'elles sont des façons de penser, résident et se rencontrent certainement en moi.

P2. Et dans ce peu que je viens de dire, je crois avoir rapporté tout ce que je sais véritablement, ou du moins tout ce que jusques ici j'ai remarqué que je savais. Maintenant je considérerai plus exactement si peut-être il ne se retrouve point en moi d'autres connaissances que je n'aie pas encore aperçues. Je suis certain que je suis une chose qui pense; mais ne sais-je donc pas aussi ce qui est requis pour me rendre certain de quelque chose? Dans cette première connaissance, il ne se rencontre rien qu'une claire et distincte perception de ce que je connais; laquelle de vrai ne serait pas suffisante pour m'assurer qu'elle est vraie, s'il pouvait jamais arriver qu'une chose que je concevrais ainsi clairement et distinctement se trouvât fausse. Et partant il me semble que déjà je puis établir pour règle générale, que toutes les choses que nous concevons fort clairement et fort distinctement, sont toutes vraies.

P3. Toutefois j'ai reçu et admis ci-devant plusieurs choses comme très certaines et très manifestes, lesquelles néanmoins j'ai reconnu par après être douteuses et incertaines. Quelles étaient donc ces choses-là? C'était la terre, le ciel, les astres, et toutes les autres choses que j'apercevais par l'entremise de mes sens. Or qu'est-ce que je concevais clairement et distinctement en elles? Certes rien autre chose sinon que les idées ou les pensées de ces choses se présentaient à mon esprit. Et encore à présent je ne nie pas que ces idées ne se rencontrent en moi. Mais il y avait encore une autre chose que j'assurais, et qu'à cause de l'habitude que j'avais à la croire, je pensais apercevoir très clairement, quoique véritablement je ne l'aperçusse point, à savoir qu'il y avait des choses hors de moi, d'où procédaient ces idées, et auxquelles elles étaient tout à fait semblables. Et c'était en cela que je me trompais; ou, si peut-être je jugeais selon la vérité, ce n'était aucune connaissance que j'eusse, qui fût cause de la vérité de mon jugement.

P4. Mais lorsque je considérais quelque chose de fort simple et de fort facile touchant l'arithmétique et la géométrie, par exemple que deux et trois joints ensemble produisent le nombre de cinq, et autres choses semblables, ne les concevais-je pas au moins assez clairement pour assurer qu'elles étaient vraies? Certes si j'ai jugé depuis qu'on pouvait douter de ces choses, ce n'a point été pour autre raison, que parce qu'il me venait en l'esprit, que peut-être quelque Dieu avait pu me donner une telle nature, que je me trompasse même touchant les choses qui me semblent les plus manifestes. Mais toutes les fois que cette opinion ci-devant conçue de la souveraine puissance d'un Dieu se présente à ma pensée je suis contraint d'avouer qu'il lui est facile, s'il le veut, de faire en sorte que je m'abuse, même dans les choses que je crois connaître avec une évidence très grande. Et au contraire toutes les fois que je me tourne vers les choses que je pense concevoir fort clairement, je suis tellement persuadé par elles, que de moi-même je me laisse emporter à ces paroles: Me trompe qui pourra, si est-ce qu'il ne saurait jamais faire que je ne sois rien tandis que je penserai être quelque chose; ou que quelque jour il soit vrai que je n'aie jamais été, étant vrai maintenant que je suis, ou bien que deux et trois joints ensemble fassent plus ni moins que cinq, ou choses semblables, que je vois clairement ne pouvoir être d'autre façon que je les conçois. Et certes, puisque je n'ai aucune raison de croire qu'il y ait quelque Dieu qui soit trompeur, et même que je n'aie pas encore considéré celles qui prouvent qu'il y a un Dieu, la raison de douter qui dépend seulement de cette opinion, est bien légère, et pour ainsi dire métaphysique. Mais afin de la pouvoir tout à fait ôter, je dois examiner s'il y a un Dieu, sitôt que l'occasion s'en présentera; et si je trouve qu'il y en ait un, je dois aussi examiner s'il peut être trompeur: car sans la connaissance de ces deux vérités, je ne vois pas que je puisse jamais être certain d'aucune chose. Et afin que je puisse avoir occasion d'examiner cela sans interrompre l'ordre de méditer que je me suis proposé, qui est de passer par degrés des notions que je trouverai les premières en mon esprit à celles que j'y pourrai trouver après, il faut ici que je divise toutes mes pensées en certains genres, et que je considère dans lesquels de ces genres il y a proprement de la vérité ou de l'erreur.

P5. Entre mes pensées, quelques-unes sont comme les images des choses, et c'est à celles-là seules que convient proprement le nom d'idée: comme lorsque je me représente un homme, ou une chimère, ou le ciel, ou un ange, ou Dieu même. D'autres, outre cela, ont quelques autres formes: comme, lorsque je veux, que je crains, que j'affirme ou que je nie, je conçois bien alors quelque chose comme le sujet de l'action de mon esprit, mais j'ajoute aussi quelque autre chose par cette action à l'idée que j'ai de cette chose-là; et de ce genre de pensées, les unes sont appelées volontés ou affections, et les autres jugements.

P6. Maintenant, pour ce qui concerne les idées, si on les considère seulement en elles-mêmes, et qu'on ne les rapporte point à quelque autre chose, elles ne peuvent, à proprement parler, être fausses; car soit que j'imagine une chèvre ou une chimère, il n'est pas moins vrai que j'imagine l'une que l'autre. Il ne faut pas craindre aussi qu'il se puisse rencontrer de la fausseté dans les affections ou volontés; car encore que je puisse désirer des choses mauvaises, ou même qui ne furent jamais, toutefois il n'est pas pour cela moins vrai que je les désire. Ainsi il ne reste plus que les seuls jugements, dans lesquels je dois prendre garde soigneusement de ne me point tromper. Or la principale erreur et la plus ordinaire qui s'y puisse rencontrer, consiste en ce que je juge que les idées qui sont en moi sont semblables, ou conformes à des choses qui sont hors de moi; car certainement, si je considérais seulement les idées comme de certains modes ou façons de ma pensée, sans les vouloir rapporter à quelque autre chose d'extérieur, à peine me pourraient-elles donner occasion de faillir.

P7. Or de ces idées les unes me semblent étre nées avec moi, les autres être étrangères et venir de dehors, et les autres être faites et inventées par moi-même. Car, que j'aie la faculté de concevoir ce que c'est qu'on nomme en général une chose, ou une vérité, ou une pensée, il me semble que je ne tiens point cela d'ailleurs que de ma nature propre; mais si j'ouis maintenant quelque bruit, si je vois le soleil, si je sens de la chaleur, jusqu'à cette heure j'ai jugé que ces sentiments procédaient de quelques choses qui existent hors de moi; et enfin il me semble que les sirènes, les hippogriffes et toutes les autres semblables chimères sont des fictions et inventions de mon esprit. Mais aussi peut-être me puis-je persuader que toutes ces idées sont du genre de celles que j'appelle étrangères, et qui viennent de dehors, ou bien qu'elles sont toutes nées avec moi, ou bien qu'elles ont toutes été faites par moi; car je n'ai point encore clairement découvert leur véritable origine.

P8. Et ce que j'ai principalement à faire en cet endroit, eset de considérer, touchant celles qui me semblent venir de quelques objets qui sont hors de moi, quelles sont les raisons qui m'obligent à les croire semblables à ces objets. La première de ces raisons est qu'il me semble que cela m'est enseigné par la nature; et la seconde, que j'expérimente en moi-même que ces idées ne dépendent point de ma volonté; car souvent elles se présentent à moi malgré moi, comme maintenant, soit que je le veuille, soit que je ne le veuille pas, je sens de la chaleur, et pour cette cause je me persuade que ce sentiment ou bien cette idée de la chaleur est produite en moi par une chose différente de moi, à savoir par la chaleur du feu auprès duquel je me rencontre. Et je ne vois rien qui me semble plus raisonnable, que de juger que cette chose étrangère envoie et imprime en moi sa ressemblance plutôt qu'aucune autre chose.

P9. Maintenant il faut que je voie si ces raisons sont assez fortes et convaincantes. Quand je dis qu'il me semble que cela m'est enseigné par la nature, j'entends seulement par ce mot de nature une certaine inclination qui me porte à croire cette chose, et non pas une lumière naturelle qui me fasse connaitre qu'elle est vraie. Or ces deux choses diffèrent beaucoup entre elles; car je ne saurais rien révoquer en doute de ce que la lumière naturelle me fait voir être vrai, ainsi qu'elle m'a tantôt fait voir que, de ce que je doutais, je pouvais conclure que j'étais. Et je n'ai en moi aucune autre faculté, ou puissance, pour distinguer le vrai du faux, qui me puisse enseigner que ce que cette lumière me montre comme vrai ne l'est pas, et à qui je me puisse tant fier qu'à elle. Mais, pour ce qui est des inclinations qui me semblent aussi m'être naturelles, j'ai souvent remarqué, lorsqu'il a été question de faire choix entre les vertus et les vices, qu'elles ne m'ont pas moins porté au mal qu'au bien; c'est pourquoi je n'ai pas sujet de les suivre non plus en ce qui regarde le vrai et le faux.

P10. Et pour l'autre raison, qui est que ces idées doivent venir d'ailleurs, puisqu'elles ne dépendent pas de ma volonté, je ne la trouve non plus convaincante. Car tout de même que ces inclinations, dont je parlais tout maintenant, se trouvent en moi, nonobstant qu'elles ne s'accordent pas toujours avec ma volonté, ainsi peut-être qu'il y a en moi quelque faculté ou puissance propre à produire ces idées sans l'aide d'aucunes choses extérieures, bien qu'elle ne me soit pas encore connue; comme en effet il m'a toujours semblé jusques ici que, lorsque je dors, elles se forment ainsi en moi sans l'aidé des objets qu'elles représentent.

P11. Et enfin, encore que je demeurasse d'accord qu'elles sont causées par ces objets, ce n'est pas une conséquence nécessaire qu'elles doivent leur être semblables. Au contraire, j'ai souvent remarqué, en beaucoup d'exemples, qu'il y avait une grande différence entre l'objet et son idée. Comme, par exemple, je trouve dans mon esprit deux idées du soleil toutes diverses: l'une tire son origine des sens, et doit être placée dans le genre de celles que j'ai dit ci-dessus venir de dehors, par laquelle il me paraît extrêmement petit; l'autre est prise des raisons de l'astronomie, c'est-à-diré de certaines notions nées avec moi, ou enfin est formée par moi-même de quelque sorte que ce puisse être par laquelle il me paraît plusieurs fois plus grand que toute la terre. Certes, ces deux idées que je conçois du soleil, ne peuvent pas être toutes deux semblables au même soleil; et la raison me fait croire que celle qui vient immédiatement de son apparence, est celle qui lui est le plus dissemblable.

P12. Tout cela me fait assez connaître que jusques à cette heure ce n'a point été par un jugement certain et prémédité, mais seulement par une aveugle et téméraire impulsion, que j'ai cru qu'il y avait des choses hors de moi, et différentes de mon être, qui, par les organes de mes sens, ou par quelque autre moyen que ce puisse être, envoyaient en moi leurs idées ou images, et y imprimaient leurs ressemblances.

P13. Mais il se présente encore une autre voie pour rechercher si, entre les choses dont j'ai en moi les idées, il y en a quelques-unes qui existent hors de moi. A savoir, si ces idées sont prises en tant seulement que ce sont de certaines façons de penser, je ne reconnais entre elles aucune différence ou inégalité, et toutes semblent procéder de moi d'une même sorte; mais, les considérant comme des images, dont les unes représentent une chose et les autres une autre, il est évident qu'elles sont fort différentes les unes des autres. Car, en effet celles qui me représentent des substances, sont sans doute quelque chose de plus, et contiennent en soi (pour ainsi parler) plus de réalité objective, c'est-à-dire participent par représentation à plus de degrés d'être ou de perfection, que celles qui me représentent seulement des modes ou accidents. De plus, celle par laquelle je conçois un Dieu souverain, éternel, infini, immuable, tout connaissant, tout-puissant, et Créateur universel de toutes les choses qui sont hors de lui; celle-là, dis-je, a certainement en soi plus de réalité objective, que celles par qui les substances finies me sont représentées.

P14. Maintenant, c'est une chose manifeste par la lumière naturelle, qu'il doit y avoir pour le moins autant de réalité dans la cause efficiente et totale que dans son effet: car d'où est-ce que l'effet peut tirer sa réalité sinon de sa cause? et comment cette cause la lui pourrait-elle communiquer, si elle ne l'avait en elle-même? Et de là il suit, non seulement que le néant ne saurait produire aucune chose, mais aussi que ce qui est plus parfait, c'est-à-dire qui contient en soi plus de réalité, ne peut être une suite et une dépendance du moins parfait. Et cette vérité n'est pas seulement claire et évidente dans les effets qui ont cette réalité que les philosophes appellent actuelle ou formelle, mais aussi dans les idées où l'on considère seulement la réalité qu'ils nomment objective: par exemple, la pierre qui n'a point encore été, non seulement ne peut pas maintenant commencer d'être, si elle n'est produite par une chose qui possède en soi formellement, ou éminemment, tout ce qui entre en la composition de la pierre, c'est-à-dire qui contienne en soi les mêmes choses ou d'autres plus excellentes que celles qui sont dans la pierre; et la chaleur ne peut être produite dans un sujet qui en était auparavant privé, si ce n'est par une chose qui soit d'un ordre, d'un degré ou d'un genre au moins aussi parfait que la chaleur, et ainsi des autres. Mais encore, outre cela, l'idée de la chaleur, ou de la pierre, ne peut pas être en moi, si elle n'y a été mise par quelque cause, qui contienne en soi pour le moins autant de réalité, que j'en conçois dans la chaleur ou dans la pierre. Car encore que cette cause-là ne transmette en mon idée aucune chose de sa réalité actuelle ou formelle, on ne doit pas pour cela s'imaginer que cette cause doive être moins réelle; mais on doit savoir que toute idée étant un ouvrage de l'esprit, sa nature est telle qu'elle ne demande de soi aucune autre réalité formelle, que celle qu'elle reçoit et emprunte de la pensée ou de l'esprit, dont elle est seulement un mode, c'est-à-dire une manière ou façon de penser. Or, afin qu'une idée contienne une telle réalité objec'tive plutôt qu'une autre, elle doit sans doute avoir cela de quelque cause, dans laquelle il se rencontre pour le moins autant de réalité formelle que cette idée contient de réalité objective. Car si nous supposons qu'il se trouve quelque chose dans l'idée, qui ne se rencontre pas dans sa cause, il faut donc qu'elle tienne cela du néant; mais, pour imparfaite que soit cette façon d'être, par laquelle une chose est objectivement ou par représentation dans l'entendement par son idée, certes on ne peut pas néanmoins dire que cette façon et manière-là ne soit rien, ni par conséquent que cette idée tire son origine du néant.

P15. Je ne dois pas aussi douter qu'il ne soit nécessaire que la réalité soit formellement dans les causes de mes idées, quoique la réalité que je considère dans ces idées soit seulement objective, ni penser qu'il suffit que cette réalité se rencontre objectivement dans leurs causes; car, tout ainsi que cette manière d'être objectivement appartient aux idées, de leur propre nature, de même aussi la manière ou la façon d'être formellement appartient aux causes de ces idées (à tout le moins aux premières et principales) de leur propre nature. Et encore qu'il puisse arriver qu'une idée donne la naissance à une autre idée, cela ne peut pas toutefois être à l'infini, mais il faut à la fin parvenir à une première idée, dont la cause soit comme un patron ou un original, dans lequel toute la réalité ou perfection soit contenue formellement et en effet, qui se rencontre seulement objectivement ou par représentation dans ces idées. En sorte que la lumière naturelle me fait connaître évidemment, que les idées sont en moi comme des tableaux, ou des images, qui peuvent à la vérité facilement déchoir de la perfection des choses dont elles ont été tirées, mais qui ne peuvent jamais rien contenir de plus grand ou de plus parfait.

P16. Et d'autant plus longuement et soigneusement j'examine toutes ces choses, d'autant plus clairement et distinctement je connais qu'elles sont vraies. Mais enfin que conclurai-je de tout cela? C'est à savoir que, si la réalité objective de quelqu'une de mes idées est telle, que je connaisse clairement qu'elle n'est point en moi, ni formellement, ni éminemment, et que par conséquent je ne puis pas moi-même en être la cause, il suit de là nécessairement que je ne suis pas seul dans le monde, mais qu'il y a encore quelque autre chose qui existe, et qui est la cause de cette idée; au lieu que, s'il ne se rencontre point en moi de telle idée, je n'aurai aucun argument qui me puisse convaincre et rendre certain de l'existence d'aucune autre chose que de moi-même; car je les ai tous soigneusement recherchés, et je n'en ai pu trouver aucun autre jusqu'à présent.

P17. Or entre ces idées, outre celle qui me représente à moi-même, de laquelle il ne peut y avoir ici aucune difficulté, il y en a une autre qui me représente un Dieu, d'autres des choses corporelles et inanimées, d'autres des anges, d'autres des animaux, et d'autres enfin qui me représentent des hommes semblables à moi.

P18. Mais pour ce qui regarde les idées qui me représentent d'autres hommes, ou des animaux, ou des anges, je conçois facilement qu'elles peuvent être formées par le mélange et la composition des autres idées que j'ai des choses corporelles et de Dieu, encore que hors de moi il n'y eût point d'autres hommes dans le monde, ni aucuns animaux, ni aucuns anges.

P19. Et pour ce qui regarde les idées des choses corporelles, je n'y reconnais rien de si grand ni de si excellent, qui ne me semble pouvoir venir de moi-même; car, si je les considère de plus près, et si je les examine de la même façon que j'examinais hier l'idée de la cire, je trouve qu'il ne s'y rencontre que fort peu de chose que je conçoive clairement et distinctement: à savoir, la grandeur ou bien l'extension en longueur, largeur et profondeur; la figure qui est formée par les termes et les bornes de cette extension; la situation que les corps diversement figurés gardent entre eux; et le mouvement ou le changement de cette situation; auxquelles on peut ajouter la substance, la durée, et le nombre. Quant aux autres choses, comme la lumière, les couleurs, les sons, les odeurs, les saveurs, la chaleur, le froid, et les autres qualités qui tombent sous l'attouchement, elles se rencontrent dans ma pensée avec tant d'obscurité et de confusion, que j'ignore même si elles sont véritables, ou fausses et seulement apparentes, c'est-à-dire si les idées que je conçois de ces qualités, sont en effet les idées de quelques choses réelles, ou bien si elles ne me répresentent que des êtres chimériques, qui ne peuvent exister. Car, encore que j'aie remarqué ci-devant, qu'il n'y a que dans les jugements que se puisse rencontrer la vraie et formelle fausseté, il se peut néanmoins trouver dans les idées une certaine fausseté matérielle, à savoir, lorsqu'elles représentent ce qui n'est rien comme si c'était quelque chose. Par exemple, les idées que j'ai du froid et de la chaleur sont si peu claires et si peu distinctes, que par leur moyen je ne puis pas discerner si le froid est seulement une privation de la chaleur, ou la chaleur une privation du froid, ou bien si l'une et l'autre sont des qualités réelles, ou si elles ne le sont pas; et d'autant que, les idées étant comme des images, il n'y en peut avoir aucune qui ne nous semble représenter quelque chose, s'il est vrai de dire que le froid ne soit autre chose qu'une privation de la chaleur, l'idée qui me le représente comme quelque chose de réel et de positif, ne sera pas mal à propos appelée fausse, et ainsi des autres semblables idées; auxquelles certes il n'est pas nécessaire que j'attribue d'autre auteur que moi-même.

P20. Car, si elles sont fausses, c'est-à-dire si elles représentent des choses qui ne sont point, la lumière naturelle me fait connaître qu'elles procèdent du néant, c'est-à-dire qu'elles ne sont en moi, que parce qu'il manque quelque chose à ma nature, et qu'elIe n'est pas toute parfaite. Et si ces idées sont vraies, néanmoins, parce qu'elles me font paraître si peu de réalité, que même je ne puis pas nettement discerner la chose représentée d'avec le non-être, je ne vois point de raison pourquoi elles ne puissent être produites par moimême, et que je n'en puisse être l'auteur.

P21. Quant aux idées claires et distinctes que j'ai des choses corporelles, il y en a quelques-unes qu'il semble que j'ai pu tirer de l'idée que j'ai de moi-même, comme celle que j'ai de la substance, de la durée, du nombre, et d'autres choses semblables. Car, lorsque je pense que la pierre est une substance, ou bien une chose qui de soi est capable d'exister, puis que je suis une substance, quoique je conçoive bien que je suis une chose qui pense et non étendue, et que la pierre au contraire est une chose étendue et qui ne pense point, et qu'ainsi entre ces deux conceptions il se rencontre une notable différence, toutefois elles semblent convenir en ce qu'elles représentent des substances. De même, quand je pense que je suis mainteniant, et que je me ressouviens outre cela d'avoir été autrefois, et que je conçois plusieurs diverses pensées dont je connais le nombre, alors j'acquiers en moi les idées de la durée et du nombre, lesquelles, par après, je puis transférer à toutes les autres choses que je voudrai. Pour ce qui est des autres qualités dont les idées des choses corporelles sont composées, à savoir, l'étendue, la figure, la situation, et le mouvement de lieu, il est vrai qu'elles ne sont point formellement en moi, puisque je ne suis qu'une chose qui pense; mais parce que ce sont seulement de certains modes de la substance, et comme les vêtements sous lesquels la substance corporelle nous paraît, et que je suis aussi moi-même une substance, il semble qu'elles puissent être contenues en moi éminemment.

P22. Partant il ne reste que la seule idée de Dieu, dans laquelle il faut considérer s'il y a quelque chose qui n'ait pu venir de moi-même. Par le nom de Dieu j'entends une substance infinie, éternelle, immuable, indépendante, toute connaissante, toute-puissante, et par laquelle moi-même, et toutes les autres choses qui sont (s'il est vrai qu'il y en ait qui existent) ont été créées et produites. Or ces avantages sont si grands et si éminents, que plus attentivement je les considère, et moins je me persuade que l'idée que j'en ai puisse tirer son origine de moi seul. Et par conséquent il faut nécessairement conclure de tout ce que j'ai dit auparavant, que Dieu existe.

P23. Car, encore que l'idée de la substance soit en moi, de cela même que je suis une substance, je n'aurais pas néanmoins l'idée d'une substance infinie, moi qui suis un être fini, si elle n'avait été mise en moi par quelque substance qui fût véritablement infinie.

P24. Et je ne me dois pas imaginer que je ne conçois pas l'infini par une véritable idée, mais seulement par la négation de ce qui est fini, de même que je comprends le repos et les ténèbres par la négation du mouvement et de la lumière: puisque au contraire je vois manifestement qu'il se rencontre plus de réalité dans la substance infinie que dans la substance finie, et partant que j'ai en quelque façon premièrement en moi la notion de l'infini, que du fini, c'est-à-dire de Dieu, que de moi-même. Car comment serait-il possible que je pusse connaître que je doute et que je désire, c'est-à-dire qu'il me manque quelque chose et que je ne suis pas tout parfait, si je n'avais en moi aucune idée d'un être plus parfait que le mien, par la comparaison duquel je connaîtrais les défauts de ma nature?

P25. Et l'on ne peut pas dire que peut-être cette idée de Dieu est matériellement fausse, et que par conséquent je la puis tenir du néant, c'est-à-dire qu'elle peut être en moi pour ce que j'ai du défaut, comme j'ai dit ci-devant des idées de la chaleur et du froid, et d'autres choses semblables: car, au contraire, cette idée étant fort claire et fort distincte, et contenant en soi plus de réalité objective qu'aucune autre, il n'y en a point qui soit de soi plus vraie, ni qui puisse être moins soupçonnée d'erreur et de fausseté. L'idée, dis-je, de cet être souverainement parfait et infini est entièrement vraie; car, encore que peut-être l'on puisse feindre qu'un tel être n'existe point, on ne peut pas feindre néanmoins que son idée ne me représente rien de réel, comme j'ai tantôt dit de l'idée du froid. Cette même idée est aussi fort claire et fort distincte, puisque tout ce que mon esprit conçoit clairement et distinctement de réel et de vrai, et qui contient en soi quelque perfection, est contenu et renfermé tout entier dans cette idée. Et ceci ne laisse pas d'être vrai, encore que je ne comprenne pas l'infini, ou même qu'il se rencontre en Dieu une infinité de choses que je ne puis comprendre, ni peut-être aussi atteindre aucunement par la pensée: car il est de la nature de l'infini, que ma nature, qui est finie et bornée, ne le puisse comprendre; et il suffit que je conçoive bien cela, et que je juge que toutes les choses que je conçois clairement, et dans lesquelles je sais qu'il y a quelque perfection, et peut-être aussi une infinité d'autres que j'ignore, sont en Dieu formellement ou éminemment, afin que l'idée que j'en ai soit la plus vraie, la plus claire et la plu

Summary of The Third Meditation of Descartes

At the beginning of the third mediations, Descartes has proved to himself that, for the time being the only thing he can prove with certainty, is that he exists, as the rest of his perceptions can be a deception. To prove his own existence, Descartes says that every time he doubts his own existence, he must necessarily exist as he is the doubting one. This leave him then to ponder what sort of thing he is, but he quickly resolves that he is a thinking thing, as if he is doubting, he is thinking, and if he is wondering about his own existence, he is thinking, etc. Everything he does is based on his thoughts, so he can only be certain that he is a thinking thing.

So, at the beginning of the third meditation, Descartes has proven to himself that the only thing he can be certain of is that he exists and that he is a thinking thing, but in proving this, he assumes that he would know truth, as he knows these things for certain. If things at this time seem to be perceived as clearly and distinctly true, why could not it be in his nature to only perceive them that way? Here, Descartes says that his nature is not the issue as if he has a nature, he has a self, and that is still no valid objection. By the light of nature, not by his nature, he seems to find these answers, and so he goes on to think about the nature of ideas.

If he is only in himself, since that is the only thing he can prove, then everything he has perceived must be in him, though coming from outside as he does not will it, so it must once it reaches him, become an idea. An idea can not be true of false, as only judgments can, for ideas are perfectly unique - nor can a will or desire be false, regardless of its moral implications. Judgments, however, can be false, as applying that idea to a thing can be faulty. These ideas then, Descartes asserts, must come from something, and that something must be outside the individual, since something can not come from nothing. Cause can not exist without effect, and in the realm of ideas, all ideas are effects of a cause. With this spectral understanding, Descartes then proves to himself G-d must exist, he says if he is being deceived, or not understanding truth, then truth must still exist and someone must never have been deceived. If someone does however know all of truth, they must be infinite and have always known truth, and if Descartes can slowly gain an understanding of truth, be is still finite, as he has not always had it. This person - or thing, rather - he says is G-d.

On the Incoherence of the Coherence

Following the publication of René DescartesMeditations on First Philosophy in 1641, Marin Mersenne solicited objections from noted philosophers, including Pierre Gassendi. Gassendi presented a number of radically skeptical objections to the rationalism of Descartes, including several addressing Descartes’ Third Meditation, which deals with the existence of God. The first of these objections deals with the concept of “clear and distinct” ideas, upon which Descartes relies as necessarily true.

Such ideas are the subject of Descartes’ own second paragraph, which involves a somewhat obfuscated logical argument. In it, Descartes begins with the one certainty he derived from his Second Meditation, “that I am a thinking thing.” The only source of this certainty, he now writes in his Third Meditation, is his clear and distinct perception of his own thought, so it would be undermined if any of his clear and distinct ideas were false. Because he is in fact certain, he concludes that “whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true.”

Descartes thus makes a radical inductive jump from his perception of cognition to the truth of all clear and distinct ideas. This jump is logically complicated and seems to involve a few tricks. Descartes claims that he is certain of his cognition only because of his clear and distinct perception of it, for instance, but he in fact has the arguments of his Second Meditation—in which he demonstrates exactly that—to build upon. If Descartes’ knowledge stems from the arguments of his previous meditation, it is unclear whether clarity and distinctness in fact guarantee truth, even within the broader shape of Descartes’ argument.

The manipulative bounds of this argument hinge on Descartes’ second premise, the claim that a “clear and distinct perception… wouldn’t be enough to make me certain of its truth if it could ever turn out that something that I perceived so clearly and distinctly was false.” The hidden assumption here is that Descartes could somehow tell if one of his clear and distinct perceptions were false; if any of them “could ever turn out to be” false, he somehow knows they are now and can immediately cease to trust in clarity and distinctness. Without this unfounded assumption, Descartes demonstrates only how to disqualify clear and distinct perceptions from automatic truth; he does not make a functional positive argument for the truth of such perceptions.

Gassendi presents an opposing argument that is both compelling and clever: “the only thing that we can consider as clearly and distinctly perceived and therefore infer to be true,” he writes, “is that if something appears to anyone to the the case then it appears to be the case.” He essentially denies the epistemic value of clear and distinct perceptions, accepting them as sources of knowledge only when they take the form of tautologies. As an example, Gassendi writes that the clear and distinct flavor he perceived when eating a melon changed over time, implying that not all such perceptions can be true representations of the real flavor of the melon, even though they are true representations of themselves.

Similarly, Gassendi began to question the axioms of mathematics when he read arguments against a few of the central principles of Euclidean geometry. Instead of merely shifting his trust to the new axioms he discovered, however, he reached a state of doubt with regard to “the nature of mathematical propositions,” which he extended to philosophy in his objections to Descartes. This justification for doubt is particularly important because prominent 17th century philosophers such as Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and Benedict Spinoza modeled their philosophical writings on the structure of Euclidean geometric texts, sometimes even presenting propositions argued from axioms.

This distrust of the sensation of clarity, which Gassendi traces to “the arguments of the sceptics,” seems opposed to the specific structure of Descartes’ meditation but not, perhaps, to its spirit, which begins by promoting exactly this sort of radical doubt. Descartes himself states at the beginning of the meditation that he would “regard all mental images of bodily things as empty, false and worthless,” so all Gassendi needed to argue was that this skepticism should be extended from perceptions of things to perceptions of ideas. Descartes’ one-sentence response to this argument, published as part of his responses to objections in some editions of his works, unfortunately leaves much to be desired: “Your next point, taken from the skeptics,” he writes, “is a standard move, and not a bad one, but it proves nothing.”

Despite Descartes’ low opinion of it, Gassendi’s objection seems to perceive several of the flaws in the first paragraphs of the Third Meditation. Because this meditation goes on to demonstrate the existence of God from Descartes’ professed poverty of assumptions, a search for hidden assumptions within the text is critical to a thorough understanding of Descartes’ arguments and an interrogation into their validity. Central among these assumptions are those supporting the claim that clear and distinct perceptions are always true.

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