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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Critique of Descartes' Proof of God's Existence

Does God exist? This is a question that has been asked more than a million times. However, will we ever know the answer? There are many philosophers who tried to answer this question. Descartes is a philosopher who believes that he has proven the existence of God. First, we will review how Descartes proved the existence of God. Second, we will see if there are some problems presented in the proof.

This proof occurs in the Third Meditation. Descartes builds his whole argument upon the fact that in order for him to think therefore he must exist. His existence is an idea that is clear as well as distinct in his mind. He then deduces a rule. All the things that he sees as very distinct and very clear are all true. After which he decides to break down “thought” into several categories such as ideas, emotions, volitions and judgments. He also concludes that there is no error in an idea. The only time that an error could occur is when there is already judgment. In short, having an idea and believing in that idea are two separate things. Volitions and desires do not lead to errors. There are ideas that are innate, there are ideas that are formed outside of us and there are ideas that are made in our own mind. An example of which is a dead relative you have never met. You have not seen him in person but you have an idea of what he or she looks like. Descartes then concluded that ideas cannot be create without a cause. 

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He also distinguishes two kinds of reality namely: formal and objective. Formal is the characteristics of things. Objective is the representation of things. In addition, the more perfect ideas originate from the less perfect ones. This is known as the “Causal Principle.” Then, he states he knows he is imperfect because of the existence of doubts in his mind. Knowing a thing is more perfect than doubting it. He then realized he is capable of producing an idea of a perfect being.  (Hatfield and Descartes) Descartes then concludes that an idea like that must have a cause. However, this cause cannot be a less perfect being. This perfect being is God. According t Descartes, God’s attributes are supremely powerful, infinite, and independent and that which created everything else in the world.  (Descartes pp. 131-135) On the other hand, Descartes is a “finite” idea. This means he is limited in space and time. The perfect idea of infiniteness cannot come from the idea of finiteness and could not have come from only Descartes. As such, God necessarily exists.

There seems to be something wrong with the proof. Quality is very important since this is the basis that all clear and distinct ideas are true. In a sense, all ideas that are vague are untrue. In addition to that, the existence of God depends on how clear and distinct is our idea of God. This seems to be a circular proof. Moreover, it is not logical to use one’s imperfect judgments in order to choose which characteristics are perfect or not. How would a less perfect being know the real characteristic of a more perfect being? Another point was the use of the two kinds of realities. One can think of God as well as an imperfect being. If existence is perfection then how can the idea of an imperfect being exist? We now must have a formal reality however it is not possible. In essence, one can say that his proof was indeed something to read but he fails to clearly prove the existence of God.

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