Sceptical Detachment or Loving Submission to the Good? Reason, Faith, and the Passions in Descartes

Faith and Philosophy 28 (1):44-53 (2011)
Abstract
The paper begins by challenging a received view of Descartes as preoccupied with scepticism and setting out entirely on his own to build up everything from scratch. In reality, his procedure in the Meditations presupposes trust in the mind’s reliable powers of rational intuition. God, the source of those powers, is never fully eclipsed by the darkness of doubt. The second section establishes some common links between the approach taken by Descartes in the Meditations and the ‘faith seeking understanding’ tradition. So far from insisting on the autonomy and independence of human inquiry, Descartes sees the meditator as finding freedom in spontaneous submission to both the natural light of reason and also the supernatural light of faith. The approach to God which lies at the heart of the Meditations in some ways resembles a direct cognitive encounter as much as a formal demonstrative proof. The paper’s final section deals with Descartes’ ‘incarnational’ theodicy of the passions. Lacking the clarity and transparency of intellectual perceptions, the passions can often lead to confusion and error. Nevertheless they are part of the (divinely bestowed) endowment of our human nature, which is not a pure intellect plugged into a machine, but a genuine psycho-physical unity. The passions can serve as valued auxiliaries of reason in the search for goodness and truth
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