The Cartesian theme of the divine deception in the Cursus Conimbricensium

Ilaria Coluccia

Università del Salento

My paper addresses the question of the divine deception in the Cursus Conimbricensium, the commentaries to Aristotle’s works studied by Descartes at the time of his education at La Flèche (1605-1614). In the second half of the XXth century, scholars shown that the Cartesian figures of the deceiving god and the evil demon, and more generally, the theme of the divine deception of the first meditation, should not have to be considered just as "methodological devices" (H. Gouhier), in so far as their origins were rooted in a specific late medieval theological tradition. Tullio Gregory, in his “Dio ingannatore e Genio maligno. Note in margine alle ‘Meditationes’ di Descartes,” Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, 53 (1974), 477-516 and “La tromperie divine,” Studi Medioevali, 23 (1982), 517-527, identified the origins of the problem of the divine deception in the nominalistic tradition, in particular in authors such as Gregory of Rimini, Gabriel Biel, Peter Auriol, Peter of Ailly. Gregory’s researches gave a new light to the studies concerning the connection between Descartes and the mediaeval thought, allowing to include in it the Occamistic tradition (which was completely absent in Etienne Gilson’s Index scholastico-cartésien (Paris: Vrin, 1913), within the scholastic corpus of authors constituting the background of Descartes’ philosophy. However, up to the present, there has been no attempt (with the partial exception of N. J. Wells and E. Scribano, who insisted on the importance of Suárez) to trace the theme of the divine deception in works surely read by Descartes. This is the purpose of my paper, where I will argue the presence of the theme of the divine deception in the Cursus Conimbricensium. In particular, I will show the presence of two theses in the commentaries on the De Anima and on the Physica: 1) The knowledge of the non-existent, caused by apparitiones due to immutatio in the sense organs, and therefore, out of the standard cognitive process, and 2) God as the cause of deceptio and error. Both theories are at length discussed within the wider context concerning the potentia dei absoluta. The knowledge of the non-existent is connected to the miraculous apparitions (already proved by Thomas Aquinas) explained by the direct action of God on the sense organs. The possibility of the knowledge of the non-existent becomes for the Conimbricenses one of the many possible causes of deceptiones in the knowledge of the external world. The second thesis, according to which God is the cause of deceptio and error, is firmly rejected by the Conimbricenses (as well as by the majority of medieval theologians) since the voluntas fallendi is absent in God. However, the importance and the space devoted in their commentaries to these two theses, are much more relevant than the position actually adopted by the Conimbricenses. The Cursus Conimbricensis attests the diffusion of the late mediaeval theme of the divine deception in one of the main channels of the not only theological, but also philosophical institutionalized culture of the XVII° century.