Critically examine one of Descartes’ arguments
Thought and Reality Critically examine one of Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God Descartes’ Meditation Ill provides a causal and cosmological argument that God exists. Having used the Method of Doubt in Meditations I and II in order to reject his false beliefs, Descartes assumes that the only things he knows at this point are the conclusions reached at Meditations I and II. Having also doubted Judgements in arithmetic and geometry because of the possibility of the existence of an evil demon, Descartes wishes to find out if there is a God, and if so, is this God deceitful?
If He is good, then t would follow that mathematics and simple natures could be reinstated. In order to disprove the evil demon hypothesis, Descartes examines the different degrees of reality In things in comparison to God. Descartes’ idea of God Is of an Infinite substance. The idea of infinite substances cannot be caused by a finite substance, but only by another infinite substance, such as God himself. Therefore Descartes concludes that God as an Infinite substance exists. Several criticisms can be made concerning Meditation Ill.
It Is arguable that Descartes’ causal proof does not leave room for simple religious faith. There are also other flaws in his proof of the existence of God, which will be discussed later in this essay. Descartes opens Meditation Ill by reminding himself that he is subject to a very confining perspective because the Method of Doubt is still in force: In order to try to extend my knowledge further, I shall now look around more carefully and see whether I cannot still discover In myself some other things which I have not hitherto perceived_l 1 . Ren© Descartes, Key Philosophical writings, ed.
Enrique chҐvez-Arvlzo (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1997b p. 148. All further references are o this edition and are given in the text. Descartes asserts that became certain that he Is a thinking being via a clear and distinct perception. He is convinced that all clear and distinct perceptions are true; sensory evidence, however, is not clear and distinct, therefore Descartes says he cannot trust it. Descartes doubts judgements in arithmetic and geometry because of the possibility of the existence of an evil demon. He asserts: … n order to be able altogether to remove [this opinion], I must inquire whether there Is a God as soon as the occasion presents Itself; and If I find that there Is a God, I must also inquire whether He may be a deceiver; for without a knowledge of these two truths I do not see that I can ever be certain of anything. (p. 149) Descartes reels tnat unae rtaKlng an Investigation tnat proved ‘s existence would mean that mathematics and simple natures could be reinstated. However, one might argue that if Descartes can know nothing without first knowing that God exists, how can he form premises for proving that God exists without circularity?
Descartes divides thoughts into three categories in order to sort out where truth and error occur. He says that some ideas are images, some are volitions and some are Judgements. Images, if seen as occurrences in the mind, cannot be false. Descartes illustrates this point with the example of his having a mental event irrespective of whether he is picturing a goat or a chimera: ‘Of my thoughts some are, so to speak, images of the things, and to these alone is the title ‘idea’ properly applied;’ (p. 49) He says that the same is true of volitions insofar as they are seen as mental events. It is easy to Judge ideas inaccurately if one Judges an idea as being in conformity with the external world: ‘… inally it appears to me that sirens, hippogryphs, and the like, are formed out of my own mind. ‘ (p. 1 50) Descartes thinks that ideas are of three types: innate, adventitious or factitious. However, he wonders if any of his adventitious ideas could be caused by something outside himself.
He concludes that there are different degrees of reality in things, and that ideas of infinite substance, such as God, have more reality than ideas of finite substance; therefore in Descartes’ opinion, God has more reality than a man who is only a finite substance. However, it is not at all obvious that there are degrees of reality in the ay that Descartes suggests. In the causal principle, Descartes claims that there must be at least as much reality in the cause ofa thing as in its effect. He is lead to believe this because he feels that it is a clear and distinct idea: … supreme God, eternal, infinite, [immutable], omniscient, omnipotent, and Creator of all things which are outside of Himself, has certainly more objective reality in itself than those ideas by which finite substances are represented. (P. 152) The causal principle can be criticised, however, as there is no way of verifying that God is the cause of the idea of God. In addition, the whole causal principle seems to violate the Method of Doubt which Descartes discusses in his first two meditations.
One may say that Descartes is assuming too many things, but despite this, Descartes continues his argument for God’s existence by asserting that the more independently a thing exists, the more real it is. He says that ideas cannot have more formal reality than their causes; the cause of an idea’s content must have at least as much reality as the idea: To take an example, the stone which has not yet existed not only cannot now ommence to be unless it has been produced by something which possesses within itself, either formally or eminently, all that enters into the composition of the stone… P. 153) Although ideas of corporeal things, such as angels, could be produced by Descartes because he has more formal reality than they do, Descartes is only a finite substance so ne cannot De tne cause 0T an Idea 0T InTlnlte suDstance could not be caused by Descartes who is only a finite substance. Since ideas must have at least as much formal reality as their cause, Descartes says that the idea of God can only be aused by an infinite substance. Therefore, Descartes says, ‘we must conclude that God necessarily exists. ‘ (p. 56) However, another criticism which can be made of Descartes’ causal principle is that it is not obvious that it can be applied to ideas. In order to further strengthen his argument, Descartes raises three objections to Meditation Ill and systematically knocks them down. The first objection he raises is the possibility that he may not really have an idea of God, but that he has only formed an idea of the finite and tired to imagine away its boundaries. His response o this objection is that an infinite idea has more reality than a finite idea, and that an infinite idea is logically prior to a finite idea.
The second objection that Descartes raises is that his idea of God may be like his ideas of hot and cold. For example, nothing in an object can be isolated as coldness or heat; similarly, nothing in the world corresponds to his idea of cold. Perhaps it is the same with God. The reply he makes is that he has a very clear and distinct idea of God. Finally, Descartes wonders whether he could perfect himself to become such a close approximation to God that e could suffice to produce an idea of God on his own. His reply to this last objection is that even if he could do this, he would only be potentially perfect.
God, however, is actually perfect. Descartes’ final strategy is to consider that the self has the idea of God. He tries indirectly, by eliminating various possibilities to show that God is the cause of his existence. He begins by saying that the self does not exist independently. Descartes see that he is not the author of his own being. If he were completely independent he would be God, but he is not. In addition, Descartes asserts that because he ontinues to exist, there must be some conserver or conserving cause for this; the logical cause for this is God and no conserver lesser than God will suffice.
Descartes also wonders how he obtained the idea of God, believing that it was not inherent or produced artificially, but that it is an innate idea that was planted in him by God Just as a tradesman stamps his work. However, it is questionable as to whether people really do have an idea of God. For example, babies and mentally retarded people do not seem to have an idea of God, and some people may never have an idea of God at all. Finally, Descartes ends Meditation Ill by contemplating the Divine Majesty: … t seems to me right to pause for a while in order to contemplate God Himself, to ponder at leisure His marvellous attributes, to consider, and admire, and adore, the beauty of this light so resplendent… (PP. 161-162) Descartes’ Meditation Ill does provide an examination into God’s existence, although at points his argument is flawed and incomprehensive. Often the premises are Descartes’ own assumptions, leading to unfounded conclusions. Descartes seems to make such assumptions in an attempt to validate the whole argument.
In ddition, it is arguable that Descartes’ causal proof does not leave room for simple rellglous Taltn However, aesplte tne crltlclsms tnat can De made 0T Mealta Descartes’ argument is an inspired work in which he fully explores the idea of God in his own way. Although he imposes many of his personal feelings about God, Descartes does construct an argument that is logical in its structure and that gets to the heart of the questions he initially asks.