La Croix on Descartes
La Croix in his essay disputes the position set forth by Harry Frankfurt in his article "Descartes on the Creation of the Eternal Truths" (The Philosophical Review, 1977), charging that Frankfurt misrepresents Descartes’ view of God’s nature and power. According to La Croix, Frankfurt holds that, in claiming that God created the eternal truths and could have done the opposite with respect to establishing the law of contradiction, Descartes conceived of God’s power as extending beyond the laws of logic. For Descartes to take such a stand, according to Frankfurt, is to have his notion of God’s omnipotence be open to the charge of being incoherent. La Croix says that Descartes’ view might in fact be incoherent, but it is for reasons other than entailing the possibility of what is logically impossible. This, he says, is not at all what Descartes intended, and he points to passages in eight of Descartes’ letters and Replies 5 and 6 to the Objections to the Meditations to confirm his thesis.
Frankfurt goes wrong, says La Croix, in his understanding of what Descartes meant when he said that for God the negation of the law of contradiction is possible. He says the assertion can be understood in three ways (1) For God the negation of the law of contradiction is a possibility; that is, God could have chosen to actualize its negation instead of actualizing the law of contradiction. (2) God can repeal the law of contradiction and replace it with the negation of the law of contradiction. (3) God can violate the law of contradiction, that is, God can bring about logically impossible states of affairs. La Croix shows that Descartes’ view cannot be construed as entailing that God can do what is logically impossible under any of the three ways of understanding the assertion. However, more importantly, from Descartes’ doctrine of divine creation it follows that the negation of the law of contradiction is not a possibility, that God cannot change the law of contradiction, and that God cannot violate the law of contradiction.
La Croix explains that God does not bring about state of affairs by choosing from a list of alternatives and then choosing one of the possibilities. Rather, He creates them ex nihilo. The eternal truths, including the laws of logic, depend on God’s will in the sense that God freely creates them and determines their nature....