Legitimation of Belief by Ernest Gellner

By Ernest Gellner

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Moreover, the argument in Meditation III turns crucially on the view that the objective being of an idea must have a cause. It is clear that the version of the argument in the Discourse lacks this essential causal framework. It is possible, then, that in 1637 Descartes had yet to link his levels-of-perfection ontology together with the support of a fully worked out causal theory. Sorting out these connections in the Meditations (1640–41) will be the first move toward the epistemic stance. By the spring of 1640, Descartes has a text of the Meditations finished.

I]t is our mind that represents to us the idea of light each time the action that signifies [signifie] it touches our eye” (AT 11:4; G 4). This epistemic point about perception and sensation is used to lead his reader into an analysis of the nature of light, namely, that light is the motion of certain types of particles. This line of thinking is developed in the claim that there are three types of basic particles or basic elements (chapter 5; AT 11:24; G 17). First is the element of fire, “as the most subtle and penetrating fluid in the world” (AT 11:24; G 17).

Above we gave a general account of Descartes’s comments to Mersenne and Silhon regarding the philosophical defects and shortcomings of the Discourse. What he singles out in three letters (two in 1637 and one in 1638) is discontent with his treatment of divine existence and the nature of soul. It will be instructive to quote what he says to these scholars, since it provides some indication of where he may have arrived in his metaphysical reasoning. Awaiting the publication of the Discourse and its essays, Descartes writes to Mersenne in February 1637 to say that he intentionally did not elaborate his proof for the existence of God or his argument for the distinction of the soul from the body.

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