Dialogue 42 (1):3-26 (2003)

Geoffrey Gorham
Macalester College
In his recent survey of the “dialectic of creation” in seventeenth-century philosophy, Thomas Lennon has suggested that Descartes’s assumptions about causality encourage a kind of “pantheistic emanationism”. Lennon notes that Descartes regularly invokes the principle that there is nothing in the effect which was not previously present, either formally or eminently, in the cause. Descartes also believes that God is the continuous, total, and efficient cause of everything. From these assumptions it should follow that everything that exists in the created world is previously present in God. Indeed, Descartes embraces the emanationist doctrine explicitly when, at the end of his replies to the Second Set of Objections, he arranges the arguments of the Meditations in “geometrical fashion.” The demonstration of Proposition III includes a sub-proof of the proposition that “he who preserves me has within himself, either formally or eminently, whatever is in me”. Since God preserves the entire universe, it follows that everything is in him, either formally or eminently. While far from the radical Spinozistic view that God and the world are identical, the notion that everything in creation is also in God would seem to have its own unwelcome theological consequences, at least from a Cartesian point of view. In particular, it implies that extension, and hence divisibility, are in God. But, as Descartes himself cautions, “being divisible is an imperfection” and so completely foreign to God.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0012-2173
DOI dialogue20034213
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