Descartes employs what is known as an ontological argument to prove the existence of God. Saint Anselm who lived during the 11th century first formulated this type of argument. Since then it has proved popular with many philosophers including Rene` Descartes. Even though ontological arguments have lost popularity with modern philosophers there has been some recent attempts to revive them. Descartes formulation is regarded as being one of the best because it is straight forward and relatively easy to follow. It is also useful when trying to understand Descartes to keep in mind that he talks about two types of existence. There is the normal everyday existence we experience and a special type of existence which he calls, necessary existence. Necessary existence is something our mind can impose on normal existence.
Descartes argument can be presented quite simply as:
(1) Clear and distinct ideas equates necessary existence.
(2) Gods perfection equates clear and distinct ideas.
(3) Therefore, God’s perfection equates necessary existence.
What does Descartes mean when he talks about clear and distinct ideas? Clear and distinct suggest there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that cannot be denied nor contradicted. Let us think about the two most essential properties of a triangle. Firstly, to be a triangle it must have three sides. Secondly, all the angles of a triangle must add up to 180 degs. These two essential properties of a triangle must always be found together if we want to claim that triangles exist. One without the other is of no value when it comes to triangles. For Descartes this is an example of a clear and distinct idea. It is also an example of necessary existence.
In exactly the same way God has two...
... middle of paper ...
... entail existence. Saying God exists is exactly the same as saying trees exist. We are none the wiser in regards to the features of God or the features of a tree.
Descartes would no doubt agree with Kant that there is no conceptual difference between something that actually exists and imagining the same thing as existing. The idea of a supreme being is the same whether we are thinking of God as something in our minds or something that exists totally independently. However, I am sure Descartes would want to add that there are two grades of existence. Kant has only addressed the existence we are all familiar with. He is assuming that this is the only existence we can know. Descartes would want to say that Kant has not done justice to the idea of necessary existence. It seems that Descartes ontological argument hinges on this point.
D. Macintosh 6/2/10
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