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Descartes’ Ambiguity Of Innate And Adventitious Ideas

1931 words - 8 pages

In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes illustrates that the objective reality of some of his ideas seems so great that he cannot be the cause of such ideas, thus something else also exists in the world (29). Though Descartes inquires particularly into adventitious ideas to support his claim, he does not offer the definitions of innate and adventitious ideas clearly, nor does he explain the differences of them in any detail. In this paper, I will demonstrate that the ambiguity of innate and adventitious ideas undermines Descartes’ argument. As a result, if the so-called adventitious ideas were understood as innate, one possible outcome would be that he is indeed alone in the world, and the existence of God would be meaningless. After summarizing Descartes’ major logical reasoning, I will claim that he is unclear about how we can tell spontaneous impulse and light of nature apart. Then, I will introduce alternative explanations to his argument, which would produce contradictory results. Though this is another interpretation of Descartes’ thoughts, I will argue that his ambiguity on spontaneous impulse and light of nature might diverge from his original deliberation.
The argumentation I am about to confront root from Meditation Three of the book. Descartes starts with the claim that, “I am certain that I am a thinking thing,” and that sensing and imagining are merely modes of thinking existing within him (24). Then, as he is certain about clear and distinct perceptions, he implies that “everything I very clearly and distinctly perceive is true (24).” Nevertheless, there still tends to be many things that he thinks he is certain about, but then finds them doubtful (24). After questioning himself, Descartes realizes that he used to think he clearly perceived things themselves, but it turns out that he only perceived ideas or images of things that touched his mind first (25). Consequently, Descartes considers ideas to be certain modes of his thought. He also categorizes ideas as innate, adventitious, or produced by him (26). By innate, the ideas derive from Descartes’ instinct, or, by light of nature. By adventitious, the ideas proceed from certain things outside him, like a spontaneous impulse. By produced, the ideas are exclusively invented by him. Although all three categories seem worthwhile to dig into, Descartes is only concerned with the ideas coming from things existing outside him, since he is certain that they are not affected by his will (26). Then, Descartes explains his assertion that “I have been so taught by nature” by meaning that he is driven by a spontaneous impulse but not some light of nature, since “they are two different things (26).” Although ideas are modes of thought and seem equal, adventitious ideas, which display substances, tend to have more reality than ideas representing modes only (27). Thus, Descartes concludes “something cannot come into being out of nothing, and what is more perfect cannot come into being...

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