Descartes Descartes ultimately opines that even though he is

            Descartes
is concerned with the nature of human free will and understanding this in the
context of his understanding of God. In his Meditations, Descartes concludes
that God could never trick or deceive him, but he also understands that human
beings are often prone to error. This creates something of a conundrum for
Descartes that he seeks to explain in his Fourth
Meditation. Namely, how can one
reconcile the idea of human error with the concepts of the perfections of
God?  “If everything that is in me I got
from God, and he gave me no faculty for making mistakes, it seems I am
incapable of ever erring.”1
Basically, if one believes God is this perfect non-deceiver and since the
faculty of judgment is received from this perfect God, then one would conclude it
is impossible for the faculty of judgment could ever go wrong. Likewise,
Descartes is known as one of the most pragmatic thinkers of his time. What this
means is he was always looking for good solutions to the issues that were
facing human beings. He wanted people to not only understand human error, but
to also have ways to avoid that human error in their own lives. Descartes
ultimately opines that even though he is created by God, he is not God-like
himself, and this is the basis for both his understanding of human error and
his philosophies on how to avoid it.            In
order to understand and accept human error, Descartes has to first settle the
realities of being created by God without actually being God and that he exists as an intermediate between God and
“nothingness”.(54,82)
These concepts are distinct, as Descartes wants people to understand that just
because a person is made by God does not mean that the person is God. He explains that God is the
ultimate being, infinite in knowledge and judgment, and that being created by
God puts him somewhere between a non-being and the ultimate being. This makes
it possible for human error to exist in a thing that was made by God (Fourth
Meditation, 54). Making mistakes is a merely a defect resulting from an
imperfect being in that God created him as a finite rather than an infinite
being and not a result of possessing a “deceiving” judgment faculty from God. (54,82) Understanding
these points is critical if one wants to understand the possibility of both
being the creation of God and also being something that can make errors.             Descartes
goes on to explain that whenever one views human error, one is viewing
something that is both born of judgment (faculty of knowledge that is in him,
intellect) and will (faculty of choice or freedom that is in him), two
concurrent causes (Fourth Meditation, 56). He explains that the human will or
free choice, being given as an important element by God, is infinite and
limited by no boundaries whatsoever (Ibid). God gave free will to people
specifically because he wanted them to be able to exercise the full range of
possible choices. Because free will comes from God, it is wide and expansive in
nature. Descartes writes, The scope of the will extends further than the intellect, I do not
contain the will within the same boundaries; rather, I extend it to things I do
not understand. Because the will is indifferent in regard to such matters, it
easily turns away from the good; and in this way I am deceived and I sin.2 In other words, error depends on the intellect
and will simultaneously and when the will is used within its intended limits it
is then being used correctly. However, unlike will, human judgment and
intellect is finite. It is bounded and limited by one’s perspective, and one
necessarily cannot take into account all of the different elements that a
person must take into account in order to properly make good decisions. As
Descartes explains in his work, because the intellect of a person is bounded
and the free will of a person is infinite, there are bound to be situations in
which a person makes an error because his intellect cannot calculate all that
needs to be calculated in order to make the right decision (Fourth Meditation,
58). This can be explained in some ways by the fact that people are not meant
to be God. God is the only being with
perfect intellect and fully wide perspective. If human beings are just made by
God and are not God, then they must have deficits in their perspective and
thinking. This, Descartes explains, is why people are sometimes not able to
make the right choices. They are given the full range of options by God as a
part of the plan that God has laid out, but they are not gifted the full
ability to consider the consequences and implications of those decisions
(Fourth Meditation, 59-60). If they had this full body of intellect, then
people would be like God. People cannot be God, though, so they necessarily
must find themselves in a position of deficit in this regard.            Descartes
discusses what he believes to be confused perceptions. Namely, those situations
in which situations outstrip intellect can cause people to have confusion. The
sole purpose of the intellect is merely to perceive ideas and present ideas to
the will to render judgment. However, “. . . it is an imperfection in me that I
do not use my freedom well and that I make judgments about things I do not
properly understand.”3
People are always operating with incomplete information and incomplete
understanding. It is the nature of the beast that people will have these
problems and difficulties. Descartes theorizes that these confused perceptions
lead people to make errors. They believe they are making the right choice, and
being humans that were created by God, they are making the best decision they
could with the perspective they have. However, their perspectives are so
necessarily limited that many individuals find themselves in a difficult
position in this regard. Confused perceptions can account for fallible beings
exercising poor judgment, leading to long-term human error. It is in a person’s
nature to attempt to judge things that exceed the scope of human understanding.
One may better understand Descartes in the situation where a person who is
incompetent perceives himself to be competent because he does not even know
enough to know that he is incompetent. In short, people have such limited
understanding and intellect; they do not even know that their intellect is
short. “I should never judge anything that I do not clearly and distinctly
understand.” 4
This, in turn, can lead to a person choosing to make judgments outside of their
own strike zone because they do not know enough to know their own limitations.
Descartes came to understand this as one of the fundamental problems in human
thinking, but it also came to explain to him why human error was such a major
problem in the world at large.            As
mentioned, Descartes is not just interested in pointing out the problems. He is
also quite interested in pointing out ways to avoid human error. While he
recognizes that people would have a difficult time doing anything about their
own gaps in intellect, it is his belief that people might be able to work
around this limitation with some of his guidance. He opines that the intellect
is often responsible for presenting the person’s will with some sort of
perception. Since the will is infinite it can determine what the intellect can
clearly and distinctly perceive. Thus, clear and distinct perceptions are those
that cannot be refuted by the will because they are so clearly and distinctly
perceived, according to Descartes. However a problem arises because “it is the
essence of a finite intellect not to understand many things.”5 In
other words, it is not possible for the intellect to distinctly perceive
everything. In light of the intellect’s finitude the concern is whether a
person’s inability to deny a clear and distinct perception makes it in fact a
clear and distinct perception or a misuse of a person’s will. From there, it is
the person’s job to form a judgment based upon the perception.               What Descartes recommends is for people to
hold their judgments loosely. People have to have awareness that they have a
somewhat limited perspective and that they will present perceptions even in
those cases when their intellect is not exactly clear. The solution then, is
for people to refrain from ever creating a judgment unless they know their
intellect is clear and distinct perceptions are ones that are irrefutable by
the will. “If I hold off from making a judgment when I do not perceive what is
true with sufficient clarity and distinctness, it is clear that I am acting
properly and an not committing an error” (Fourth Meditation, 59). When doubt
begins to creep in, they should not form a judgment at all. This helps prevent
the human error that comes from the will acting on perceptions that are outside
of the will’s strike zone. Descartes notes that it is often difficult or
impossible to affirm a perception that is less clear or hazy. This is a great
risk in that it brings human error into the forefront.                        Ultimately
Descartes is able to provide a basis for understanding how people who are made
by a God, who makes no mistakes, could make their own mistakes. His
understanding rests on the idea that God did not make perfect beings, and that
human intellect is not meant to be perfect. When compared to an infinite will,
a finite intellect can produce situations where people’s perceptions are not
able to capture the full situation. This can lead to human error and the only
solution for people is to make sure they are able to hold their judgments
loosely.

    Descartes
on Human ErrorPatrick
BettiPHIL-200-0412/11/2017 

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1 Descartes, Rene. “Discourse on Method and Meditations on First
Philosophy, translated by Donald Cross (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1998). Fourth Meditation 54.

2 Ibid, 58.

3 Ibid, 61.

4 Ibid, 61.

5 Ibid, 60.