Mind, Thought and Reality
Critically examine one of Descartes' arguments for the existence of God Descartes' Meditation III 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 it 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 III. 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 III 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.1
1. René Descartes, Key Philosophical Writings, ed. Enrique Chávez-Arvizo
(Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1997), p. 148. All further references are to 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:
…in 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
Descartes feels that undertaking an investigation that proved God'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. 149) 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: '…finally it appears to me that sirens, hippogryphs, and the like, are formed out of my own mind.' (p. 150) 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...
Bibliography: Primary Text:
Descartes, René, Key Philosophical Writings, ed. Enrique Chávez-Arvizo (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1997), pp.134-162
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