Descartes and the creation of the eternal truths



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Texas A&M University


Descartes' philosophy concerning the relationship between God and the eternal truths has been an unresolved and problematic issue since he first declared it. For Descartes, God's power is limitless and nothing can exist independently of Him. The problem is that if that is true, things such as "God knows that he does not exist" are possible because the truth of that proposition rests on God's power. In fact, the existence of any eternal truth depends on God??????s power. Examples of such truths are: "the interior angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles," "3+4=7," and "two contraries cannot exist together." Descartes built his entire metaphysics around a certain conception of God, a conception that includes His not being a deceiver. But if it turns out that God is as limitless as Descartes thinks He is, Descartes' philosophy does not rest on as firm a foundation as he believes. In fact, it is inconsistent: we know what we clearly and distinctly perceive because God would not deceive us and his power is unlimited. But since His power is absolutely unlimited, it might be the case that God is not a deceiver and everything we know is true, but at the same time we have been misled by God and there is an actual reality we are not, and will never be, privy to. There have been a number of attempts to make Descartes?????? view consistent. I consider two of the most recent and promising lines of interpretation. The first, Universal Possibilism, holds that God??????s power is utterly limitless and He can make any proposition true, including problematic ones such as ??????I think, but I am not.?????? This theory argues that what we can and cannot conceive are merely epistemic limits rather than indicators of truth. The second, Limited Possibilism, maintains that God has power over the possibility of any proposition. Any proposition, under this view, is possibly possible; this preserves the integrity of the connection between what we conceive as true and what is actually true. The major drawback to this line of thought is that it puts an unintuitive limit on God: He can make something possible, but he can??????t then do the seemingly simple task of making that thing true. I argue that a proper understanding of Descartes' conception of the meanings of "possible," "impossible," "contingent,". "necessary" and God's nature renders his position consistent. Descartes holds that God necessarily exists, and his nature is immutable and the existence of anything else is contingent. If one interprets Descartes' God to hold limitless power over contingent propositions, but not over his nature or existence, Descartes' position is no longer inconsistent.