La Croix On Descartes Essay, Research Paper
La Croix in his essay disputes the position set forth by Harry Frankfurt in his article “Descartes on the Creation of the Eternal Truths” (The Philosophical Review, 1977), charging that Frankfurt misrepresents Descartes? view of God?s nature and power. According to La Croix, Frankfurt holds that, in claiming that God created the eternal truths and could have done the opposite with respect to establishing the law of contradiction, Descartes conceived of God?s power as extending beyond the laws of logic. For Descartes to take such a stand, according to Frankfurt, is to have his notion of God?s omnipotence be open to the charge of being incoherent. La Croix says that Descartes? view might in fact be incoherent, but it is for reasons other than entailing the possibility of what is logically impossible. This, he says, is not at all what Descartes intended, and he points to passages in eight of Descartes? letters and Replies 5 and 6 to the Objections to the Meditations to confirm his thesis.
Frankfurt goes wrong, says La Croix, in his understanding of what Descartes meant when he said that for God the negation of the law of contradiction is possible. He says the assertion can be understood in three ways (1) For God the negation of the law of contradiction is a possibility; that is, God could have chosen to actualize its negation instead of actualizing the law of contradiction. (2) God can repeal the law of contradiction and replace it with the negation of the law of contradiction. (3) God can violate the law of contradiction, that is, God can bring about logically impossible states of affairs. La Croix shows that Descartes? view cannot be construed as entailing that God can do what is logically impossible under any of the three ways of understanding the assertion. However, more importantly, from Descartes? doctrine of divine creation it follows that the negation of the law of contradiction is not a possibility, that God cannot change the law of contradiction, and that God cannot violate the law of contradiction.
La Croix explains that God does not bring about state of affairs by choosing from a list of alternatives and then choosing one of the possibilities. Rather, He creates them ex nihilo. The eternal truths, including the laws of logic, depend on God?s will in the sense that God freely creates them and determines their nature. However, when God creates these eternal truths, He also freely chooses to put into effect certain conditions upon other exercises of His will. So when God creates the laws of logic, He cannot change or violate them, for in creating them He freely chooses to subject Himself to the rules that are a consequence of them being in existence. We see here then that God creates the eternal truths but this does not entail that He can do what is logically impossible?indeed in creating them He made it so that He cannot. And so Frankfurt?s argument that Descartes is committed to God being able to do the logically possible because He creates the eternal truths is refuted.
La Croix?s position has the benefit of accommodating a view of a God who is ultimately powerful who alone has wholly independent existence. It also rids Descartes? view of the apparent difficulty presented by Frankfurt that God?s omnipotence is incoherent. On La Croix?s reading, God?s power is not unlimited, but it is significant that the limitations on His power are of His own doing. The eternal truths, including the laws of logic, do not pre-exist God, and so God is the only one on whom nothing at all depends. Further, the eternal truths are truly necessary, since they in fact cannot be otherwise, because they cannot be changed or violated.
However, there are some troubling consequences of La Croix?s view. It seems to be an extreme limitation on God?s perfection and power to be unable to alter the truths that He has created. It would mean that He at one time had the capacity to determine the character of the eternal truths but He no longer has that power. Another problem is that in creating and freely choosing to subject Himself to the laws of logic, God creates things that depend on Him for their character and existence but which He cannot control, which are both dependent and independent of Him. Further, the notion that God can create the laws of logic and then be subject to them is a strange one. La Croix obviously presents it to refute the incoherence charge brought on by the claim that God can do the logically impossible and change the laws of logic. But it is really no easier to swallow as the notion it refutes. It seems to me that in trying to attribute to Descartes a picture of a God who cannot do the logically impossible, La Croix paints a picture of a God who has His own new set of difficulties.