What is Descartes' view on how humans make errors in judgement and how they can avoid doing so? What are Descartes' two reasons for believing that God is not to blame because humans make errors in judgement? I think it is in Meditation IV. Please help!
Descartes raises the question of how errors of judgement are possible in the Fourth Meditation. But the complete answer is only given in the latter part of the Sixth. So you have been looking in the wrong place!
How does the problem arise? The foundation of human knowledge and the refutation of scepticism, according to Descartes, depends upon the existence of a perfect God who is not a deceiver. It is only for this reason that we can have confidence that our perceptions correspond to an external world outside us. It is only for this reason that we can have confidence that our sense of judgement, which includes our sense of what is the best explanation of a given piece of evidence, is a reliable guide to how things really are.
But if all that is true, how is it that human beings make errors in judgement, as they undoubtedly do? Why does God allow us to be deceived? It cannot be malice or lack of power, because God is all-good and all-powerful. Surely, if he'd wanted to, he could have made our power of understanding in such a way that we always made the correct inferences. He could have made our senses in such a way that they always gave accurate information about the world outside us.
True to the style of the Meditations, Descartes starts off by considering several responses, then rejecting them as not fully satisfactory. Only God is perfect. I cannot know God's unfathomable purposes, I am only a small part of the whole picture, and so on. You can skip this. It is part of the standard fare that was served up (and still is) in response to the Problem of Evil. The first substantial part of Descartes' answer concerns the will. The second part involves a fascinating discussion of how the human senses operate.
I recently quoted a section from Descartes' discussion of will in my online notebook at The Glass House Philosopher (see the page for 13th March 2000). We exercise our will when we choose what to do, or choose what to believe. Now there is a simple way to avoid errors in judgement: Do not make any judgement unless the object of your judgement is presented so 'clearly and distinctly' that you cannot possibly be in error. This is the famous 'Method of Doubt' which Descartes has been following in his Meditations. If human beings stuck to this principle, they would never go wrong.
The problem is and this is the first part of Descartes' answer we have to make judgements every day about things which are uncertain. You give it the best shot, only sometimes your best shot misses. Weather forecasters are regularly blamed for making wrong predictions. But they are only giving it their best shot.
Now it would be easy to think that Descartes answer here is complete in itself. We exercise our wills in making a judgement, even though we can't be sure of being right, because practical circumstances force us to. But there's an obvious objection: Why hasn't God, who does not wish us to be deceived, arranged the world in such a way that we can always be certain when we make judgements? Why can't our senses convey 100 per cent reliable knowledge of everything we need to know?
Descartes answer is that if you think about what this entails, you will see that it is impossible, even for a God who is all-powerful and all-good. Descartes first point is illustrated by a child's innocent question, 'Ma, why does the sun look so small when it's really so big?' Ma's answer if she happens to be a philosopher is, 'How would the sun have to look in order to look as big as it really is?!'
If you think about how the senses of finite, space-occupying beings would have to operate in any possible world, you will see that it would be impossible for the senses to convey accurate information simply on the basis of the way things seem, without our having to use our understanding and judgement, for example, in calculating the sun's true size from astronomical observations.
Descartes second point involves a fairly detailed description of how human bodies are constructed, although it doesn't depend on contingent facts about human physiology. It would apply equally well to Martians. Our senses operate in accordance to the laws of nature. The link-ups, when they are all set up correctly, function as a reliable source of knowledge. However, the very fact that there is a chain of causes and effects in between an object and our perception which gives rise to knowledge of that object means that it is impossible, without violating the laws of nature, to avoid situations where something goes wrong in the process. For example, the very nerves which reliably tell us when we have hurt our foot, convey the false information to the amputee that he has pain in a foot which is not there.
- It would be interesting to speculate whether Descartes' original and powerful response to the problem of error could be extended to the problem of errors in moral judgement, and thus provide a basis for the solution of the Problem of Evil.
I would appreciate some help and guidance with this essay question:
'Punishment can never be administered merely as a means of promoting another good, either with regard to the Criminal himself or Civil Society, but must in all cases be imposed because the individual on whom it is inflicted has committed a crime.' Discuss
The quote is from Immanuel Kant, The Philosophy of Law: An Exposition of the Fundamental Principles of Jurisprudence as the Science of Right. At the time of writing, there is an on-line version at: Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science.
Punishment serves a number of legitimate purposes. I am not just talking about institutionalized punishment, written up in the statute books, but also punishment that a parent might mete out to a child, or a schoolteacher to a pupil. Here are the main uses:
- To deter the wrongdoer from committing a similar offence in the future.
- To deter others from committing a similar offence by making an example.
- To physically restrict the ability of the offender from repeating the offence.
- To alter the offender's behaviour patterns, so that they are less likely to offend in the future.
- To convey to the offender how strongly we feel about the wrong they have done us.
- To make up for the injustice committed by the wrongdoer by paying them back.
- To give the offender the opportunity to atone for their offence.
- To give the offender the opportunity to rejoin the moral community.
It is important to notice that Kant says that punishment should never merely be used as a means for promoting another good. He is not saying that punishment cannot also be used as such a means. There is a echo here from Kant's second formulation of the Categorical Imperative in his Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals. I should always treat other persons as 'ends in themselves' and not merely as a 'means to my end'.
Possibly, there may be other motives for punishment which could be added to the above list. One question you have to answer is which of the motives is capable of being used as an acceptable justification for the punishment meted out. Here we come to the question of philosophical theories of punishment. One book you might look at is Ted Honderich Punishment: The Supposed Justifications originally published in 1969.
Kant's view would be classified as 'retributivist'. However, retributivism encompasses a number of ideas. The central idea is that of returning the scales of justice to their rightful balance. Opponents of this view of justice see it as merely a cover for the primitive emotion of revenge.
The idea of balancing is crucial in opposing punishments which are more severe than is justified by the nature of the crime. At the time of Charles Dickens, a person could hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. I was shocked to learn that in the State of Utah there was recently a case where a prisoner faced the death penalty for aggravated assault. The biblical concept of 'an eye for an eye' has been much criticized. But at least it sets acceptable limits. By any intuitively acceptable standard of justice, it is unjust to demand a life for an eye.