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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 14, 1988/1989

Sara F. García-Gómez
Pages 283-302

God and Descartes’ Principle of Clear and Distinct Knowledge

In the present study of Descartes’ epistemological investigations, I have tried to show that his renowned principle of clarity and distinctness is not, in fact, one but two axioms. Most interpreters and critics have taken the two formulations of such a principle here considered as successive moments of it. At best, this position is insufficient, for each “version” of the principle of clarity and distinctness guarantees different kinds of cognitive content. Moreover, while the validity of one “version” is not dependent on the thesis of God’s veracity, no such thing can be asserted of the validity of the other. These two formulations of the principle of clarity and distinctness are: 1. Whatever is clearly and distinctly perceived is true; 2. whatever we perceive clearly and distinctly as belonging to the nature of something can indeed be predicated of the thing in question. The fust formula corresponds to what I have characterized as “presentative” knowledge; the second one expresses the guarantee of “representative” knowledge. This distinction is all-important for solving the question of whether Descartes’ proofs of God’s existence and veracity---both the a priori and the a posteriori proofs that we find in the Cartesian corpus-are circular. On the basis of such a distinction, it is possible to argue that at least the ontological argument---and possibly as well the proof “par les effets”---is not at all dependent on the principle of clarity and distinctness, which in turn draws its ultimate validity from God’s faithfulness. In other words, as suggested above, only the second “version” needs to be guaranteed by God’s veracity. On the other hand, the first “version” has no normative value, for it merely describes what is the case whenever a clear and distinct cognition occurs. An example of this is our knowledge of God as the most perfect being.

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