Spinoza vs Descartes on God

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Abstract and Referential Ontology: Descartes Versus Spinoza on the Existence of God.

The concept of God is central to the development of Cartesian and Spinozan philosophy. Although both philosophers employ an ontological argument for the existence and necessity of God the specific nature of God differs greatly with each account. While Descartes suggests a Judeo-Christian concept of God, Spinoza argues a more monistic deity similar to that of the Hindu tradition. The most significant difference however, lies within the basis and structure of each argument itself. Considered from an analytical standpoint through the lens of Gotlobb Frege, Descartes' proof of God possesses both sense and reference and is therefore capable of expressing the truth. Spinoza's argument however, employs sense alone, thus rendering it neither true nor false but quite literally meaningless. A detailed analysis of Descartes' Meditations of First Philosophy in conjunction with Spinoza's Ethics will help elucidate these claims. Before an analysis of Cartesian and Spinozan theology can occur, an understanding of each theory must first take place. The Cartesian proof of God is outlined in Meditation Three of the Meditations. Within this work Descartes suggests a causal argument for the existence of a supreme being. This argument can be broken down as follows: 1.Everything has a cause

2.We have an idea of the infinite
3.An idea of an infinite could not be caused by a finite thing 4.God is infinite
5.Only an infinite God is adequate to cause this idea
6.God exists
An argument such as this implies a specific understanding of Causation. According to Descartes, everything from object to idea must have a determinate cause. That is, finite existence is not self-generating but rather the product of something else. The cause in question depends upon the degree of formal and objective reality it possesses. Formal reality refers to existence within this world. For example, a tree has formal reality as an empirical object just as an idea has formal reality as a mode of thought. Objective reality refers to existence as represented via ideas. That is, an idea of a tree possesses both formal reality as a mode of thought and objective reality as a representation of a specific tree. According to Descartes, a cause must possess “at least as much formal reality as [its effect] contains objective reality.” (Descartes 16) For example, the idea of a tree must be caused by something of more formal existence within this world than objective existence via its representation. Therefore, the idea of tree must be caused by a specific tree rather than the idea of a specific shrub. Descartes applies this reasoning to the idea of God in the argument above. Regardless of whether or not we think God actually exists we cannot deny that an idea of God is indeed within our mind. If we have an idea of God then this idea must not only have a cause but a cause with more formal reality than objective reality of the idea itself. That is, that which the idea of God is referencing must be more substantial than the finite idea of the mind. The only cause more formally real than finite existence is infinite existence. Since the only conceivable infinite existence is that of God, Descartes' concludes that “...In creating me, [God] placed this idea within me to be like the mark of the workman imprinted on his work.” (Descartes 19) Therefore, God must necessarily exist as the infinite cause of our finite idea of Him. Once Descartes has argued the existence of God via causation he proceeds to prove God's existence via essence: 1.The concept of God is one that is infinite and perfect

2.To not exist would be an imperfection
3.Therefore God exists
The general form of this argument is a testament to Descartes' understanding of an attribute. Of attributes there are only two, an Attribute and an Omni-Generic Attribute. An attribute refers to that which is necessary to the essence of a specific...
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