Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Descartes and the Lowering of God

(While this 'story' surrounds some few thinkers, I recognize that there are many lost to me, and to history, which I leave out.)

   Descartes' Cogito is often read as denying the reality of objects.  This is how I think Descartes understood it as well, but, as I have written on in the past, I think that Cartesian doubt is actually a doubt of the subject, and his ability to act in relation to objects: Cartesian doubt preserves objects unchanged (theoretically), while separating us from them (practically).
   The result of Descartes' interpretation of the cogito as the list of cognitive acts (perceiving, willing, denying, &c), leaves him with a jumble of things which he rightly recognizes as containing nothing that relates them to the same being (as existing) over time.  The unity of these 'representations' is not contained in all of these acts of the mind (taken in an empirically psychological manner).  However, the continuity of his existence he takes as granted, and so can say, analytically, that there is some infinite idea/being that he depends upon for (the unity of) his existence.  This being is God.
   In relation to Descartes, Kant recognizes the pure concepts which are required when we experience representations, and which - under the unity of apperception - explain the unity of experience.  The unity of apperception plays the same role in Kant as God plays for Descartes (in the third meditation).  However, Descartes choice had a peculiar result in the history of philosophy (as we have received it) which we can, perhaps, learn from.
   As a result of God taking the position of the unity of apperception, and becoming responsible for the unity of experience, we found a way of thinking God which was immediately connected in our theoretical experience of the world (analytically).  However, Descartes begins a tradition that results in the lowering of God.
   Malebranche's Occasionalism represents a view where God works a miracle at every moment to position things correctly.  Spinoza's Monist-Deism does more or less the same in terms of making everything in nature an act of God.
   Leibniz is the first thinker (known to me) in the rationalist tradition that has been handed down, and emphasized, to truly recognized the problem here.  Leibniz demanded that God should not be considered to have caused any miracle save for the bringing into existence of the World.  This single miracle is, to Leibniz, worthy of His greatness.  If we consider, also, that the bringing into existence of everything is understood by Leibniz in terms of the triumph of Good (since this is the best of all possible worlds) it is clearer that this reflects a kind of practical attitude at the foundation of his system.  This decision of Leibniz' seemed to be incredibly important for the development of Kant's thought in relation to this same area.
   I do not write this post to plant a knife in Descartes back, nor to complain about Malebranche's or Spinoza's shortcomings.  I think that all of these thinkers were in possession of the answer to the problem I have raised here - the answer just laid dormant in their systems until a genuine concern with goodness could once again take its place at the helm of the structure of the system (and not merely the interest in first attending to it).  In order to learn from Descartes, Malebranche and Spinoza, we can uncover these practical propositions in their work (as well as bring them out more clearly in Leibniz), and so recover a great deal of clarifying thought for our own benefit (and training).

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