Descartes on the objective reality of materially false ideas

Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 81 (4):385–408 (2000)
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Abstract

“The Standard Interpretation” of Descartes on material falsity states that Descartes believed that materially false ideas (MFIs) lack “objective reality” [realitas objectiva]. The argument for the Standard Interpretation depends on a statement from the “Third Meditation” that MFIs are caused by nothing. This statement, in conjunction with a causal principle introduced by Descartes, seems to entail that MFIs lack objective reality. However, the Standard Interpretation is incorrect. First, I argue that, despite initial appearances, the manner in which Descartes understands the proposition that MFIs are caused by nothing does not entail that they lack objective reality. Secondly, I argue that Descartes is committed to the objective reality of MFIs because of his quasi-scholastic explanation of MFIs.

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Dan Kaufman
University of Colorado, Boulder

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