critque of cartesianism and anti-cartesianism

§1: Descartes and the root predicate

a careful analysis of Descartes' use of language suggests that his taxonomy of all that (allegedly) is may have the same structure as the taxonomy of reality built into humanese; but, that:

  1. his use of language (ie. the words use for the root predicate and its type indicators) is hopelessly ambiguous; but, 'existence' seems to be his root predicate.
  2. he proves (to his own satisfaction) that that there actually are ontological realities.
  3. on at least one occasion he suggests that the difference between <root predicate> types is one of degree rather than kind.

§1.1: 'real' as a candidate root predicate

I2 will start by reviewing the passage from the first meditation where Descartes is considering which opinions or beliefs might be true. with increasing levels of doubt. he first rejects evidence of the senses because they are sometimes unreliable; but, he continues, somethings are certain although derived from the senses:

how could it be denied that these hands or this whole body are mine? [CSM II, 13]

Descartes then realizes that he might be dreaming; and, therefore, imagining that he has hands, that he is sitting by the fire in his dressing gown, holding a piece of paper, and so on; but, he argues that:

Nonetheless, it must surely be admitted that the visions which come in sleep are like paintings, which must have been fashioned in the likeness of things that are real; and, hence, that at least these general kinds of things --- eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole --- are things which are not imaginary but are real and exist. [CSM II, 13]

one might, perhaps, treat 'imaginary' as meaning something like 'phenomenological' as a <root predicate> type indicator; but, a type indicator of which potential root predicate.

using the taxonomy of reality, I2 might say of something that has physical reality, a stone, that it exists. since existential reality implies reality, I2 might also say that the stone is real and exists; although, this redundancy merely makes the implicit explicit without adding any new information.

on the other hand, using the taxonomy of existence, one might also say that the stone is real and exists; meaning that the stone has physical/real existence (as opposed to phenomenological existence and immaterial existence).

Descartes continues:

Or if perhaps they [painters] manage to think up something so new that nothing remotely similar has ever been seen before --- something which is therefore completely fictitious and unreal --- at least the colors used in the composition must be real. [CSM II, 13]

Descartes is using 'unreal' for something that could, hypothetically, be depicted; and, therefore, experienced despite having no similarity to anything ever experienced before. this suggests that 'real' is used to mean what, in the taxonomy of reality, is meant by 'metaphenomenal' --- something that is real but independent of the I2's experience of it.

on the other hand, by saying that color are real, Descartes may be indicating that 'real' applies to phenomena as experiences. this conclusion is supported by Descartes reference, in the third meditation, to the objective reality of his ideas.

on balance, it would seem either that 'real' is not Descartes' root predicate; or, that he is not using 'real' in a consistent manner.

§1.2: 'existence' as a candidate root predicate

perhaps 'existence' is Descartes' root predicate. here, too, there are problems. as noted above, until he finds a way to doubt his acceptance of them, Descartes is prepared to say:

these general kinds of things -- eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole -- are things which are not imaginary but are real and exist. [CSM II, 13]

this, of course, would imply that existence means physical existence; but, there is also this:

so from what has been said it must be concluded that God neccessarily exists. [CSM II, 31]

which indicates that 'exists' also means 'non-physical' existence.

finally, there are passages which indicate that 'exists' can apply to what in the taxonomy of reality are called 'phenomenological realities':

For if we suppose that an idea contains something which was not in its cause, it must have got this from nothing; yet, the mode of being by which a thing exists objectively in the intellect by way of an idea, imperfect though it may be, is certainly not nothing; and so, it cannot come from nothing. [CSM II, 29]

further support for the claim that 'existence' is Descartes' root predicate may be found in the latin version of the Meditations. the phrase translated above as 'the mode of being' is 'modus essendi' which could also be translated as 'the mode of existing' --- as it was in the Veitch translation. thus, Descartes clearly has a concept that corresponds to the concept of a reality type in the taxonomy of reality.

however, this conclusion also highlights the main problem with Descartes' use of language. he rarely uses a qualifier with the word 'exists'; and, thus, relies on context to indicate which mode of existing is meant. at the crucial moment, which mode of 'existence' is claimed for the I?

I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind. [CSM II, 17]

a second problem is that Descartes seems to use existence and being interchangeably; for example:

. I do not escape the force of these arguments by supposing that I have always existed as I do now, as if it followed from this that there was not need to look for any author of my existence.[CSM II, 33. 'author of my existence' is from 'existentiae meae authorem']

... I3 am beginning to achieve a better knowledge of myself and the author of my being. [CSM II, 54]

however, this may be an artifact of translation, at least in part. in the first of these passages, which is from the third meditation, 'author of my existence' is from 'existentiae meae authorem'. in the second of these passages, which is from the sixth meditation, 'and the author of my being' is from 'meaeque authorem originis'. 'originis' literally means origin, start, source, beginning, ancestor according to Inter Tran. so, 'meae authorem originis' might be a figurative way of saying 'my creator'.

finally, Descartes also writes:

I realize that I am, as it were, something intermediate between God and nothingness, or between supreme being and non-being ... [CSM II, 38]

this suggests that being is like a continuous or graduated scale, something that is difficult to reconcile with a taxonomy based on types that are modes of existing.