Descartes'sMethodandtheRoleofEternal!Truths 1! Abstract!! Descartes'sMethodandtheRoleofEternal!Truths

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      Descartes's  Method  and  the  Role  of  Eternal  Truths  

        By    

    Zachary  MacKay  Bruce        

    A  dissertation  submitted  in  partial  satisfaction  of  the    

    requirements  for  the  degree  of    

    Doctor  of  Philosophy     in    

    Philosophy    

    in  the    

    Graduate  Division    

    of  the    

    University  of  California,  Berkeley      

    Committee  in  charge:    

    Professor  Barry  Stroud,  Co-­‐Chair   Professor  Daniel  Warren,  Co-­‐Chair  

    Professor  Giovanni  Ferrari        

    Spring  2014    

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    ©  copyright  by  Zachary  MacKay  Bruce  2014    

    All  Rights  Reserved          

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    Abstract    

    Descartes's  Method  and  the  Role  of  Eternal  Truths     by    

    Zachary  MacKay  Bruce    

    Doctor  of  Philosophy  in  Philosophy    

    University  of  California,  Berkeley    

    Professor  Barry  Stroud,  Co-­‐Chair    

    Professor  Daniel  Warren,  Co-­‐Chair       I  contend  that  Descartes’s  infamous  commitment  to  God’s  free   creation  of  the  eternal  truths  plays  an  integral  role  in  Descartes’s   philosophical  program.  Descartes’s  primary  philosophical  goal  is  to   establish  a  method  capable  of  yielding  firm  and  lasting  scientific   knowledge.  It  isn’t  widely  agreed  that  Descartes  has  been  successful:   first,  his  response  to  the  threat  of  skepticism  appears  circular;  and   second,  his  account  of  God’s  free  creation  of  eternal  truths  (e.g.,   mathematical  and  logical  truths)  seems  to  lead  to  paradox.  I  argue   that  neither  criticism  of  Descartes  is  insuperable.  In  so  arguing,  I  offer   a  novel  interpretation  of  Descartes’s  project  that  rejects  two  common   refrains  of  Cartesian  scholarship.  First,  I  deny  that  Descartes  is  an  out-­‐ and-­‐out  internalist  about  knowledge  and,  in  so  doing,  demonstrate   that  Descartes’s  epistemic  program  is  not  guilty  of  circularity.  Second,   I  contend  that  Descartes’s  commitment  to  God’s  creation  of  the   eternal  truths  is  neither  an  embarrassment  for  Descartes  nor  a  stand-­‐ alone  curiosity,  but  is  central  to  Descartes’s  epistemic  program,  modal   theory,  and  scientific  method.    

    In  the  Meditations,  Descartes  uses  a  method  of  doubt  to  reveal   unshakable  foundations  upon  which  one  can  build  scientific   knowledge.  Descartes’s  anti-­‐skeptical  procedure  is  commonly  thought   to  be  vulnerable  to  the  charge  that  it  is  viciously  circular.  Descartes  is   accused  of  relying  on  a  general  epistemic  principle  (viz.,  the  “truth   rule”:  whatever  I  clearly  and  distinctly  perceive  is  true)  in  his   argument  for  the  existence  of  a  non-­‐deceptive  God,  who  in  turn   secures  this  very  principle.  In  the  first  section  of  my  dissertation,  I   explain  that  Descartes  avoids  circularity  since  he  is  able  to  achieve  

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    certainty  and  knowledge  (cognitio)  even  before  he  becomes  aware  of   the  foundations  of  this  knowledge.  By  attaining  cognitio  of  God’s   existence  and  non-­‐deceptive  nature,  Descartes  can  then  make  use  of   the  “truth  rule”  and  thereby  ascend  to  perfect  certainty  and  scientific   understanding  (scientia).  In  this  way,  Descartes  can  be  seen  to  be  an   epistemic  externalist.  While  Descartes’s  account  thereby  avoids   circularity,  it  makes  the  epistemic  advantage  of  the  Cartesian  scientist   over  the  “atheist  geometer”  (an  expert  who  does  not  believe  in  God   but  nonetheless  achieves  cognitio  by  using  God-­‐guaranteed  clear  and   distinct  perception)  look  quite  thin.  To  fully  appreciate  the  epistemic   advantage  of  the  Cartesian  scientist  –  and  thus  the  value  of  Descartes’s   epistemic  program  –  one  must  recognize  that  God  is  not  only  the   guarantor  of  one’s  cognitive  faculties,  but  also  the  metaphysical   foundation  of  scientific  truths.    

    A  second  major  objection  to  Descartes’s  anti-­‐skeptical  and   scientific  programs  focuses  on  his  infamous  Creation  Doctrine:  the   doctrine  that  God  freely  wills  and  creates  the  eternal  truths.  The   Creation  Doctrine  seems  to  lead  to  a  paradox:  Descartes’s  claim  that   God  freely  wills  necessary  truths  seems  to  entail  that  these  truths  are   both  necessary  (since  God  willed  them  to  be  necessary)  and  non-­‐ necessary  (since  God  could  have  refrained  from  willing  them).  I  argue   that  the  sense  in  which  the  eternal  truths  could  have  been  otherwise   in  no  way  threatens  our  certainty  and  knowledge  of  that  which  we   clearly  and  distinctly  perceive  to  be  necessarily  true.       In  the  final  section  of  the  dissertation,  I  further  examine   Descartes’s  Creation  Doctrine.  Descartes’s  goal  of  scientia  involves  not   merely  recognizing  what  is  true,  which  is  sufficient  for  cognitio,  but   also  having  full  understanding  of  the  foundations  of  knowledge  and   the  relationships  between  truths.  Descartes’s  scientific  method  thus   requires  intuitive  foundations  from  which  we  can  deductively  arrive   at  further  knowledge.  According  to  this  method,  by  understanding  the   way  in  which  eternal  truths  have  their  origin  in  God’s  will  and   creation,  we  gain  an  appreciation  of  the  connections  between  various   truths  and  arrive  at  a  systematic  understanding  of  the  world.   Descartes  denies  that  truths  in  various  domains  can  be  fully   understood  independent  of  a  background  of  knowledge  of  simple  and   evident  natures.  He  hopes  to  attain  a  “universal  wisdom”  and  be  able   to  deduce  effects  from  their  causes.  I  provide  a  demonstration  of  this   method  by  considering  Descartes’s  deduction  of  the  laws  of  nature   (inertia,  collision,  and  rectilinear  motion)  from  our  knowledge  of   God’s  nature  as  immutable,  the  nature  of  matter  as  extension,  and  the   fact  that  God  has  created  a  physical  world  with  variation  in  its  parts.    

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    Dedication        

    For  my  mom.    

       

  •  ii  

      Acknowledgements  

       

      I  thank  my  dissertation  advisors  Barry  Stroud  and  Daniel   Warren  for  their  advice  and  guidance  in  composing  this  dissertation.   In  addition,  I  thank  the  professors  who  introduced  me  to  the  works  of   Descartes:  John  Carriero,  Calvin  Normore,  Deborah  Brown,  Hannah   Ginsborg,  Marleen  Rozemon