Descartes on the source of error: the Fourth Meditation and the Correspondence with Elisabeth

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (6):992-1012 (2022)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes famously treats the indifference of the will (roughly, ambivalence of reasons) as the source of error, which many read as oddly suggesting that the will judges arbitrarily. In his letter to Elisabeth dated 1st September 1645, however, he expressly takes passions to be the source of error, saying that passions move the will to judge erroneously by misrepresenting the value of objects. Although these two accounts focus on different kinds of error – theoretical and practical error, respectively – I argue that Descartes is best understood as extending the second account also to the source of theoretical error. On my reading, the first account does not imply that erroneous judgements are simply arbitrary, but it leaves out an explanation why we judge at the time we do, when we could (and should) continue to inquire insofar as we have not yet gathered sufficient evidence. The second account fills in this lacuna by giving an explanation in terms of passions. I further argue that the schematic nature of the first account is due partly to the structure of the Meditations, but mainly to the fact that Descartes has not yet systematically examined the nature of passions there.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 76,391

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

The Fourth Meditation and Cartesian Circles.C. P. Ragland & Everett Fulmer - 2020 - Philosophical Annals: Special Issue on Descartes' Epistemology 68 (2):119-138.
Is the Problem of Evil a Problem for Descartes?Brett Gaul - 2004 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78:209-220.
Is the Problem of Evil a Problem for Descartes?Brett Gaul - 2004 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78:209-220.
The Role of Will in Descartes’ Account of Judgment.Lilli Alanen - 2012 - In Karen Detlefsen (ed.), Descartes' Meditations: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press. pp. 176-199.
The fourth meditation.Lex Newman - 1999 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (3):559-591.
The Fourth Meditation.Lex Newman - 1999 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 59 (3):559-591.
Descartes and the Theodicean Consequences of Human Error.Joel Thomas Tierno - 1992 - Dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo


Added to PP

16 (#669,945)

6 months
16 (#64,419)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Lianghua Zhou
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Descartes's Concept of Mind.Lilli Alanen - 2003 - Harvard University Press.
Passion and Action: The Emotions in the Seventeenth Century Philosophy. [REVIEW]Marleen Rozemond - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (3):723-726.
Never Let the Passions Be Your Guide: Descartes and the Role of the Passions.Shoshana Brassfield - 2012 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 20 (3):459-477.
The Passions of the soul and Descartes’s machine psychology.Gary Hatfield - 2007 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 38 (1):1-35.

View all 17 references / Add more references