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The description and example that Descartes used about the honeycomb. “I grasp that the wax is capable of innumerable changes of this sort, even though I am incapable of running through these innumerable changes by using my imagination.” What is the meaning of this quote or understand this quote? When he talks about honeycomb what does Descarte means about this?

Meditations René Descartes Fourth Meditation

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I invented, either; for clearly I can’t take anything away from it or add anything to it. ·When an idea is sheerly invented, the inventor is free to fiddle with it—add a bit here, subtract a bit there—whereas my idea of God is a natural unit that doesn’t invite or even permit such interference·. The only remaining alternative is that my idea of God is innate in me, just as the idea of myself is innate in me.

It is no surprise that God in creating me should have placed this idea in me, to serve as a mark of the craftsman stamped on his work. The mark need not be anything distinct from the work itself. But the mere fact that God created me makes it very believable that I am somehow made in his image and likeness, and that I perceive that likeness in the same way that I perceive myself. That is, when I turn my mind’s eye upon myself, I understand that I am a thing that •is incomplete and •dependent on something else, and that •aspires without limit to ever greater and better things; but I also understand at the same time that he on whom I depend has within him all those greater things—not just indefinitely but infinitely, not just potentially but actually—and hence

that he is God. The core of the argument is this: I couldn’t exist with the nature that I have—that is, containing within me the idea of God—if God didn’t really exist. By ‘God’ I mean the very being the idea of whom is within me—the one that has no defects and has all those perfections that I can’t grasp but can somehow touch with my thought. This shows clearly that it is not possible for him to be a deceiver, since the natural light makes it clear that all fraud and deception depend on some defect.

But before examining this point more carefully and in- vestigating other truths that may be derived from it, I want to pause here and spend some time contemplating God; to reflect on his attributes and to gaze with wonder and adoration on the beauty of this immense light, so far as the eye of my darkened intellect can bear it. For just as we believe through faith that the supreme happiness of •the next life consists in contemplating the divine majesty, so experience tells us that this same contemplation, though much less perfect, provides the greatest joy we can have in •this life.

Fourth Meditation: Truth and falsity

In these past few days I have become used to keeping my mind away from the senses; and I have become strongly aware that very little is truly known about bodies, whereas much more is known about the human mind and still more about God. So now I find it easy to turn my mind away from

objects of the senses and the imagination, towards objects of the intellect alone; these are quite separate from matter, ·whereas the objects of sense and imagination are mostly made of matter·. Indeed, none of my ideas of corporeal [= ‘bodily’] things is as distinct as my idea of the human mind,

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considered purely as a thinking thing with no size or shape or other bodily characteristics. Now, when I consider the fact that I have doubts—which means that I am incomplete and dependent—that leads to my having a vivid and clear idea of a being who is independent and complete, that is, an idea of God. And from the mere fact that •I exist and have such an idea, I infer that •God exists and that every moment of my existence depends on him. This follows clearly; I am sure, indeed, that the human intellect can’t know anything that is more evident or more certain. And now that I can take into account the true God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lie hidden, I think I can see a way through to knowledge of other things in the universe.

To begin with, I see that it is impossible that God should ever deceive me. Only someone who has something wrong with him will engage in trickery or deception. That someone is able to deceive others may be a sign of his skill or power, but his wanting to deceive them is a sign of his malice or weakness; and those are not to be found in God.

Next, I know from experience that I have a faculty of judgment; and this, like everything else I have, was given to me by God. Since God doesn’t want to deceive me, I am sure that he didn’t give me a faculty of judgment that would lead me into error while I was using it correctly.

That would settle the matter, except for one difficulty: what I have just said seems to imply that I can never be in error. If everything that is in me comes from God, and he didn’t equip me with a capacity for making mistakes, doesn’t it follow that I can never go wrong in my beliefs? 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. I make mistakes, not surprisingly, because my nature involves nothingness or non-being—that is, because I am not myself the supreme being, and lack countless perfections. So error is not something real that depends on God, but is merely ·something negative, a lack·, a defect. There is, therefore, nothing positively error-producing in the faculty of judgment that God gave me. When I go wrong I do so because the faculty of true judgment that I have from God is in my case not free of all limitations, ·that is, because it partly involves nothingness·.

That is still not quite right. For error isn’t a mere negation. ·Pebbles and glaciers lack knowledge, and in them that lack is a mere negation—the absence of something that there is no reason for them to possess. I have lacks of that kind too, mere negations such my lack of the ability to fly, or to multiply two 30-digit prime numbers in my head. But my tendency to error isn’t like that·. Rather, it is a privation, that is, a lack of some knowledge that I should have, ·which means that I still have a problem about how it relates to God·. When I think hard about God, it seems impossible that he should have given me a faculty that lacks some perfection that it should have. The more skilled the craftsman, the more perfect the thing that he makes; so one would expect something made by the supreme creator to be complete and perfect in every way. It is clear, furthermore, that God could have made me in such a way that I was never mistaken; and there is no doubt that he always chooses to do what is best. Does this show that my making mistakes is better than my

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not doing so? Thinking harder about this, ·three helpful thoughts come

to me. Two concern our knowledge of God’s reasons gen- erally; the third is specifically about human error·. (1) I realize that it is no cause for surprise if I don’t always understand why God acts as he does. I may well find other things he has done whose reasons elude me; and that is no reason to doubt his existence. I am now aware that my nature is very weak and limited, whereas God’s nature is immense, incomprehensible and infinite; so of course he can do countless things whose reasons I can’t know. That alone is reason enough to give up, as totally useless, the attempt that physicists make to understand the world in terms of what things are for, ·that is, in terms of God’s purposes·. Only a very rash man would think he could discover what God’s impenetrable purposes are.

(2) In estimating whether God’s works are perfect, we should look at the universe as a whole, not at created things one by one. Something that might seem very imperfect if it existed on its own has a function in relation to the rest of the universe, and may be perfect when seen in that light. My decision to doubt everything has left me sure of the existence of only two things, God and myself; but when I think about God’s immense power I have to admit that he did or could have made many things in addition to myself, so that there may be a universal scheme of things in which I have a place. ·If that is so, then judgments about what is perfect or imperfect in me should be made on the basis not just of my intrinsic nature but also of my role or function in the universe as a whole·.

(3) My errors are the only evidence I have that I am imperfect. When I look more closely into these errors of mine, I discover that they have two co-operating causes—my faculty of knowledge and my faculty of choice or freedom of

the will. My errors, that is, depend on both (a) my intellect and (b) my will. ·Let us consider these separately·. (a) The intellect doesn’t affirm or deny anything; its role is only to present me with ideas regarding which I can make judgments; so strictly speaking it doesn’t involve any error at all. There may be many existing things of which my intellect gives me no ideas, but it isn’t strictly correct to say that I am deprived of such ideas, as it would be if my nature somehow entitled me to have them. I can give no reason why God ought to have given me more ideas than he did. Just because I understand someone to be a skilled craftsman, I don’t infer that he ought to have put into each of his works all the perfections he can give to some of them. So all I can say is that there are some ideas that I don’t have; this is a purely negative fact about me ·like the fact that I can’t fly; it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with my nature·. (b) I can’t complain that God gave me a will or freedom of choice that isn’t extensive or perfect enough, since I know by experience that will is entirely without limits. My will is so perfect and so great that I can’t conceive of its becoming even greater and more perfect; it is a striking fact that this is true of •my will and not of •any other aspect of my nature. I can easily see that my faculty of understanding is finite, to put it mildly; and I immediately conceive of a much greater •understanding—indeed, of a supremely great and infinite one; and the fact that I can form such an idea shows me that God actually has such an understanding. Similarly, if I examine •memory and •imagination and the rest, I discover that in my case these faculties are weak and limited, while in God they are immeasurable. It is only the will, or freedom of choice, which I experience as so great that I can’t make sense of the idea of its being even greater: indeed, my thought of myself as being somehow like God depends primarily upon my will. God’s will is incomparably

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greater than mine in two respects: •it is accompanied by, and made firm and effective by, much more knowledge and power than I have; and •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—indeed 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 displays 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) A while ago I asked whether anything in the world exists, and I came to realize that the fact of my raising this question shows quite clearly that I exist. I understood this so vividly that I couldn’t help judging that it was true. 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·. (2) As well as knowing that I exist, at least as a thinking thing, 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

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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 don’t perceive the truth vividly and clearly enough I simply suspend judgment, it’s clear that 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. I have said that error is essentially a privation—a lack of something that I should have—and now I know what this privation consists in. It doesn’t lie in •the will that God has given me, or even in •the mode of operation that God has built into it; rather it consists in •my misuse of my will. ·Specifically, it consists in •my lack of restraint in the exercise of my will, when I form opinions on matters that I don’t clearly understand·.

I can’t complain that God did not give me a greater power of understanding than he did: created intellects are naturally finite, and so they naturally lack understanding of many

things. God has never owed me anything, so I should thank him for his great generosity to me, rather than feeling cheated because he did not give me everything.

Nor can I reasonably complain that God gave me a will that extends more widely than my intellect. The will is a single unitary thing; its nature is such, it seems, that there could be no way of taking away parts of it. Anyway, should not the great extent of my will be a cause for further thanks to him who gave it to me?

Finally, I must not complain that God consents to the acts of will in which I go 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; and this privation has no need for help from God, because it isn’t a thing, a being. 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 ought to restrain my will when I don’t understand, but it isn’t true that God ought to have forced such restraint on me·. God has given me the freedom to assent or not 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 coming to conclusions on matters that I don’t fully understand. Of course God easily could have arranged things so that, while keeping all my freedom and still being limited in what I understand, I never made a mistake. He could do this either by •giving me a vivid and clear 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 vividly and clearly understand. I can see that if God had made me this way, I would—considered just in myself, as if nothing else

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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 be 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 am not entitled to complain about God’s giving me a lower role in his scheme of things ·by selecting me as one of the creatures that isn’t protected from error·.

What is more, even if I have no power to avoid error by •having a vivid perception of everything I have to think about, I can avoid it simply by •remembering to withhold judgment on anything that isn’t clear to me. I admit to having the weakness that I can’t keep my attention fixed on a single item of knowledge (·such as the suspend-judgment- when-clarity-is-lacking rule·); but by attentive and repeated meditation I can get myself to remember it as often as the need arises, and thus to get into the habit of avoiding error.

This is where man’s greatest and most important perfec-

tion is to be found; so today’s meditation, with its enquiry into the cause of error, has been very profitable. I must be right in my explanation of the cause of error. If I restrain my will so that I form opinions only on what the intellect vividly and clearly reveals, I cannot possibly go wrong. Here is why. Every vivid and clear perception is undoubtedly something real and positive; so it can’t come from nothing, and must come from God. He is supremely perfect; it would be downright contradictory to suppose that he is a deceiver. So the vivid and clear perception must be true. Today, then, I have learned not only how to avoid error but also how to arrive at the truth. It is beyond question that I shall reach the truth if I think hard enough about •the things that I perfectly understand, keeping them separate from •all the other matters in which my thoughts are more confused and obscure. That is what I shall be really careful to do from now on.

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