Essay on The Existence of God: According to Descartes

Essay on The Existence of God: According to Descartes

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Once Descartes has "proved" his existence by way of the Cogito argument, and has determined what it is that belongs to his essence of being a thinking thing, he must move to examining questions about the world around him. However, before doing this, he thinks it better to examine the question of the existence of God. If he can prove that he was created by a perfectly benevolent creator, then his innate ideas must carry some semblance of truth, as God is not a deceiver and has placed these ideas in Descartes. Knowledge of God will allow the possibility of achieving understanding of the fundamental principles of the universe.1

Descartes offers two arguments for the existence of God. The first, considered in Meditation Three, is known as the "Trademark Argument." The second, proposed in Meditation Five, is called the "Ontological Argument." This essay will consider the former alone.

The Trademark Argument arises out of the fact claimed by Descartes that there is within each of us an idea of a supreme being, which was placed within us by the thing that created us. The purpose of this idea was to act as the mark of a tradesman placed within us. From examination of this idea, it follows, says Descartes, that God exists. His argument firstly involves the acknowledgement of such an idea within ourselves. This idea of God is one of a being who is "eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and the Creator of all things that exist apart from him." This is the first premise of the argument (of course, this has not yet shown that anything corresponding to the idea exists). Secondly, there is the "Causal Adequacy Principle." This principle implies that any object must have as its cause something that contains at least all the attributes of the object if not more. Descartes offers the example of a stone, saying that it cannot be produced by anything that doesn't contain everything to be found in the stone. Similarly, heat cannot be produced by anything that does not contain the same order of perfection as the heat. The purpose of this premise is to reinforce the axiom that nothing comes from nothing.

Descartes then proceeds to apply the Causal Adequacy Principle to ideas. He claims that, just as the cause of objects must contain at least as much reality as the object itself, the cause of an idea must contain at least as much reality, whether "formally" or "emin...

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...l between the two; the meditator in Descartes case does not rely on a series of causes as he is not yet sure that the world exists. Secondly, when inquiring about his causal origins, the emphasis is most certainly on finding the source of the idea of the perfect being that Descartes has within himself, rather than any other causal explanation for his existence.

Despite this, the fact that the second version relies on the premises and presupposed conclusions of the first version means that it retains the same weaknesses of the first version. Descartes argument for the existence of God from an innate idea in each of us is simply not convincing. In my opinion, trying to prove the existence of God is contrary to the doctrine of faith that is inherent in being a Christian. As a Christian himself, it puzzles me that Descartes chose this route to proceed with his meditations, and even returned to the subject with the Ontological Argument later in his discussions.

1) An immediate objection may be that Descartes has set himself a trap of circularity - if he can know nothing without prior knowledge of the existence of God, how can he form premises for proving that God exists?

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