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
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
Cited: Descartes, Rene. Meditations of First Philosophy. Blackmask Online, 2002. Blackmask. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <http://www.blackmask.com>. Frege, Gotlobb. "Sense and Reference."The Philosophical Review 57.3 (1948): 209-230. JSTOR. Web. 1 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/>. Spinoza, Benedict D. "The Ethics." A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works. Ed. Edwin Curley. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994. 85-265. Print. Van Voorst, Robert E. “Hinduism” Anthology of World Scriptures. 7 ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011. 21-27. Print. Van Voorst, Robert E. “Judaism” Anthology of World Scriptures. 7 ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011. 209-217. Print.