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  • 7/30/2019 Clear and Distinct


    Royal Institute of Philosophy

    Clearness and Distinctness in DescartesAuthor(s): Alan GewirthSource: Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 69 (Apr., 1943), pp. 17-36Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of PhilosophyStable URL: .

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  • 7/30/2019 Clear and Distinct



    I. Descartes's eneral ule hat whateversclearlynddistinctlyperceiveds true" has traditionallyeen criticized n twocloselyrelated rounds. s Leibniz, or xample, uts t,clearness nd dis-tinctnessre of no valueas criteria ftruth nlesswehavecriteriaofclearness nd distinctness;ut Descartesgivesnone. And con-sequently,hestandards f udgmentwhich he rule n fact vokesarepurelyubjectivendpsychological.heremusthencebe setupanalytic,ogical"marks"by means of which t can infalliblyndwithout rbitrarinesserecognized hetherny deasorpropositionsareorare notclear nddistinct.2In a general ense, hese riticisms adbeen aid before escarteshimself.n theFifthObjectionsassendiwrites: Whyare there omany nd so variedopinionsmongmen? Each one thinks hatheperceives learly nd distinctlyheopinionwhichhe defends. ndlest yousay thatmanyare eitherbeingpartisan r pretending,wantyouto notice hatthere re thosewho even facedeathfor hesake oftheopinionswhich heyhold,eventhough hey ee othersfacing t forthesake of the opposite pinions."Hence,Gassendiconcludes, escartes'smainconcernhouldhavebeen to "propounda methodwhich houlddirect s and teachus whenwearedeceivedand whennotdeceived n thinkinghatwe clearly nd distinctlyperceiveomething."3n thefaceofthisobjection, escartes's eplyis significant.he instance fmenwhofacedeathonbehalf f theiropinions,he writes, proves nothing . . because it can never beproved hat they clearly nd distinctly erceive hatwhichtheypertinaciouslyffirm.nd as forwhatyouthen dd, thatthecon-cernmust enot omuchwith hetruthf herule swith methodto discernwhether r notwe are deceivedwhenwe think hatweclearly erceive omething, do notdenythis;but I contend hat

    I This is the thirdin a series of articleson some basic problems n thephilosophy fDescartes. The firstwowere"Experienceand theNon-Mathe-matical n the CartesianMethod,"JournaloftheHistory f deas, II, 2 (AprilI941), p. 183ff., nd "The CartesianCircle,"The PhilosophicalReview, .,4(July I94I), p. 368 ff.2 Cf. L. Couturat, La Logique de Leibniz (Paris, 1901), pp. I96, 202-3, withtextstherecited. For a morerecentversionofthiscriticism, f. C. S. Peirce,CollectedPapers, 5. 39I.3 Vae Obj., VII, 278-9. Cf. ibid., 318. References re to the volume andpage of (Euvres de Descartes, d. Adam-Tannery.B I7

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  • 7/30/2019 Clear and Distinct


    PHILOSOPHYthisvery hing as been ccuratelyet forthyme n tsplace,wherefirst discardedllprejudices,ndthen numeratedll theprincipalideas and distinguishedhosewhichwereclear fromheobscure rconfused.'"Descartes s herereferring,fcourse, o theprocedure ollowedin the first hreeMeditations.ut before xamininghe relevantdetailsof thatprocedure,t shouldbe notedwhathe considers obe thegeneral haracterf the"proof" fclearness nddistinctnesssuch s hementionedoGassendi.Whereas eibnizdemandshat hecriterione "palpable," mechanical,"nd ackingn"eventhe eastdifficulty,"nd declares hat"there s no need for rolix iscussionsconcerningurprejudices,"2escartes tates lreadyntheDiscoursethat "there s somedifficultyn notingwell whatare the thingswhichwe conceivedistinctly,"3nd tellsGassendi hat"I do notbelievethat those who are so littleconcernedwiththeuprootingofprejudices hattheycomplain hatI have notspokenof them'simplynd in fewwords,'willreadily erceivehemethodwherebywe can distinguishhatwhich s reallyperceived learly rom hatwhichs only houghtobe clearly erceived."4hesetting orth fcriteria f clearness nddistinctness,hen,willforDescartesneces-sarilynvolve psychologicaliscipline. mong isbasic commentsconcerningormalogicand the"synthetic"method f demonstra-tion,both of whichhe opposedto his ownmethod,werethat theformerermitshe mind o "go on a holiday romheevident ndattentive onsiderationf the inferencetself,"5 nd the latter"wrests ssentfrom hereader,no matterhowunwillingnd per-tinacioushe may be."6 Both of these methods, n their formalcharacter,husrealizeLeibniz's deal,butonly,Descartesholds, tthe expenseoflosing ll heuristic alue. His ownmethod, n theother and, sdedicated ottoexhibitingheformalnterrelationsfideasandpropositionsut to researchnto ubject-mattershetruthconcerninghich s notyetknown o themind, o that henecessitywhich t achieves annotbe a merely ormal nebut mustderivefrom he mpact fthesubject-mattertself ponthemind.Hence,evenwhenthe results f the method re set down n writing,ut1 Vae Resp.,VII, 361-2. (Italicshereand in all otherquotationsaremine.)An anonymousexponent of Gassendi took up the debate at this point,"denying"that Descarteshad set forth methodfordistinguishinghereallyfrom heapparently learand distinctX*** toDescartes,July 64I; III, 402).Unfortunately,owever,his examplesof menfirmlyonvinced of the clear-ness and distinctness f theirperceptions, nd nevertheless n contradictionto one another,wereall takenfrom heological ontroversy,o thatDescarteswas able to say in rebuttalmerely hat "replyto themwould be veryeasyforonewhodistinguisheshelightof faithfrom henatural ight, nd setstheformer efore he latter" (toX***, Aug. I64I; III, 426).2 Couturat, p. cit.,p. Ioo, nn. 2 and 3; p. 203, n. 2. 3 Disc. IV, VI, 33.4 Vae Resp., VII, 379. 5 Reg. X, X, 405-6. 6 IIae Resp., VII, 156.I8

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  • 7/30/2019 Clear and Distinct


    CLEARNESS AND DISTINCTNESS IN DESCARTESexhibitinghe same procedures s were followedn the originalinvestigation,hemethod has nothingwherebyt may impelaninattentiverunwillingeader obelieve: forfthe east bit ofwhatit propounds e notattended o,thenecessity f ts conclusionssnot apparent."'Whenthisconsiderations putwithin heframe-work fa theory frepresentativeerception, here nly deascanbe directly erceived y themind, hereasonfor hepsychologicalorientationfDescartes'smethod ecomes vident.Yet ifDescartes'scriteria f clearness nd distinctness ill notbe logical n theformal,mechanical" ensedemanded yLeibniz,neither ill hey e so radically sychologicals to be divorced romall logicalconsiderations. t least there s a difference,escartesinsists, etween heevidentness f clearand distinct erceptionndthe"precipitation,"pertinacity,"nd"persuasion" fmindswhichcannot rovewhat hey ssert, r whose ssertionsary ccordingoarbitrary him.'And theaccomplishmentfthe differenceomesthrough certainprudence cquiredby habituation: only theprudentorrectly istinguishetween hatwhich s clearly nddis-tinctly erceived,nd thatwhichonlyseemsor appearsso";3 for"there are few who are accustomed o clear and distinctper-ceptions."4This differences accentuatedfromthe side of thesubject-mattertself;for f Descartes nsistsupon the ease andinfallibilityf the deductionprescribed y his method,5 e alsowarns that thedeductionmustfirst e "preparedfor" and "dis-covered," nd the orderof the deduction excogitated,"6o thatthe clearness nd distinctnessxhibited y the processwillhavehad to meetthe testspresented y thesepreliminaryperationisuponthespecific roblemnhand.

    2. But let us now examine he basis and developmentf theseconsiderations,ollowinghe Cartesianorder from he simpletothecomplex. hedirect bjectof the mind's ct ofperceptions forDescartesalwaysan idea.7 deas, however, ave a double status:on the onehand, hey re themselvesxistents,formal ssences,"modesofthought; ntheotherhand, hey resignificances,objec-tiveessences,"representativefthings ther hanthemselves.8nX IIae Resp., VII, I55-6.2 Cf. Disc. II, VI, I8. IIIae, IIae Resp.,VII, 146, 92. Reg. II, X, 363. ToRegius,24 May, I640; III, 65. To X***, Aug. I641; III, 430-I. Princ. I, 50,68.Notae in Prog., VIII (2), 352. 3 VIIae Resp.,