Nelson on Descartes's Theory of Perception and Judgment

3058 Words13 Pages
Nelson on Descartes?s Theory of Perception and Judgment

ABSTRACT: One tension in Descartes?s account of human error stems from the idea that we may be faulted for our acts of will, despite the fact that God is our omnipotent and omniscient creator. In the present essay, I describe a second tension in Descartes?s account of human error. After describing the tension, I consider Alan Nelson?s characterization of the means by which Descartes?s intended to relieve it. Although Nelson's interpretation is almost correct, I think that it obscures some of the interesting details of Descartes?s theory of perception and judgment. These details are revealed by the taxonomy of sensory responses that Descartes articulates in the Sixth Set of Replies
…show more content…
In cases of false perceptual judgment, is it not the faculty of intellect that so seductively offers up false propositions whose subject matter so clearly concerns our environs? As Descartes himself concedes, the objects of perception include the ideas of size, shape, and motion, and of other properties that are referred to objects outside of the mind.2 If the will and intellect, respectively, contribute the neustic and phrastic components of judgment, then it appears that the intellect (and hence God) is blameworthy in cases of erroneous perceptual judgment.

In his paper, Descartes?s Ontology of Thought, Alan Nelson attempts to give an interpretation of Descartes?s theory of perception and judgment that extricates Descartes from the tension associated with explaining human error.3 On Nelson?s interpretation, Descartes maintained that false perceptual judgments are ultimately the result of confused ideas, which have their origin in past determinations of the will. In turn, Nelson supposes that confused sensory ideas can subsequently come to be the customary result of the impact of external objects, and thereby result in the spontaneous dispensing of false propositions by the intellect.
Nelson?s interpretation has a lot going for it. First, it appears to relieve the apparent tension in Descartes?s account of error. Indeed, by characterizing false perceptual judgment as the result of confused ideas and tracing the source

More about Nelson on Descartes's Theory of Perception and Judgment

Open Document