The Sixth Meditation And Material Falsity

1028 words - 4 pages

The Sixth Meditation and Material Falsity In the Third Meditation, Descartes' meditator says that ideas are "as it were the images of things" (CSM II 25/AT VII 37). But just a few pages later, he says that material falsity "occurs in ideas, when they represent non-things as things" (CSM II 30/AT VII 43). How can an idea be of a thing, yet represent a non-thing? This problem has worried many of Descartes' readers, including his contemporary, Antoine Arnauld, who objected that Descartes' notion of material falsity was "inconsistent with the author's own principles" (CSM II 145/AT VII 206). My paper provides a new interpretation of Cartesian material falsity which has the added benefit of explaining certain difficulties with the Sixth Meditation proof for the existence of corporeal substance. I interpret material falsity by appealing to the distinction Descartes makes between two senses of "idea" in the Preface to the Meditations, where he says that "idea" can be taken either "materially" (as an operation of thought) or "objectively" (as the thing represented by that operation) (CSM II 7/AT VII 8). I argue that for Descartes, a materially false idea contains objectively something quite different from what the idea actually presents to the thinker; the idea in the material sense does not "match" the idea in the objective sense.My discussion begins with a brief reconstruction of the Sixth Meditation proof for the existence of corporeal nature. On the face of it, this passage does not seem to have anything to do with material falsity. Yet, as I shall show, for the proof to succeed requires a certain conception of sensation, and this conception suggests a clear way in which an idea can be materially false. While the Sixth Meditation proof might not initially seem to present any special difficulties, this appearance is misleading. It seems to argue straightforwardly from the fact that we have sensations to the fact that there must be something which causes those sensations, and that the "something which causes the sensations" is extension, corporeal substance. But the proof is not really so straightforward. According to Descartes' causal principle, the objective reality of our sensations must be derived from some cause which contains at least as much formal reality as the sensation contains objective reality. As I interpret the causal principle, it demands that a cause must contain, eminently or formally, whatever specific properties are contained in the effect. (This reading is contentious, but I offer some reasons for holding it.) What this means is that the cause of our sensations (extension) must contain formally the very properties that our sensations contain objectively.But what are the properties that our sensations contain objectively? In other words, what exactly is objectively present when one has a sense-perception? I suggest that there are three possibilities: that nothing is objectively present; that the sensation itself is objectively...

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