Lacan on the Cartesian God


“But it is because he has done something quite different, which concerns the field, which he does not name, in which all this knowledge wanders about – all this knowledge which he had said should be placed in a radical suspension. He puts the field of this knowledge at the level of this vaster subject, the subject who is supposed to know, God. You know that Descartes could not help reintroducing the presence of God, But in what a strange way!” (Seminar XI, 224)

“It is here that the question of the eternal verities arises. In order to assure himself that he is not confronted by a deceiving God, he has to pass through the medium of a God – indeed, in his register it is a question not so much of a perfect, as of an infinite being. Does Descartes, then remain caught, as everyone up to him did, on the need to guarantee all scientific research on the fact that actual science exists somewhere, in an existing being, called God? – that is to say, on the fact that God is supposed to know?” (Seminar XI, 224-5).

Lacan goes on to explain that Descartes is able to eject his subject supposed to know because of his voluntarism. That is to say, 2 + 2 = 4 because God desires it so. This leads to the advent of modern science in which “God has nothing to do. For the characteristics of our science, and its difference with the ancient sciences, is that nobody even dares, without incurring ridicule, to wonder whether God knows anything about it, whether God leafs through modern treatises on mathematics to keep up to date” (Seminar XI, 226).

Elsewhere I’ve mused about the relationship that Lacan discusses between transference in psychotherapy and the subject supposed to know. I imagine most of my readers are aware that in the Meditations Descartes assumes his perceptions and conclusions are correct because God is an all knowing, infinite being who would not deceive him. I think one can also catch glimpses of the Cartesian God when people insist that although right now things might not make sense, ultimately God is using everything for his higher purpose. As opposed to merely embracing the contingency of life, they posit some belief in this sovereign God who ultimately has a plan underlying history. But isn’t this Cartesian God as the subject supposed to know the God that Jesus is divested of while suffering on the cross as Zizek argues? Another example where the Cartesian God rears his ugly head is when someone question the goodness of God, and the other counters the point by saying that whatever God does is good because by definition He is goodness. This is obviously the irrational, terrifying God of Job who emerges from the tornado to brag about His power. He is beyond reproach. It also opens itself up to all sorts of abuses (re: the pope’s current fiasco/infallibility claims).


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