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Descartes’ Method of Doubt and God’s Existence: Part II

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In his third Meditation, Descartes seeks out to prove if anything else exists outside himself according to his newly created method of doubt. He begins this Meditation by recounting his method and applying it to the concept of God.

Descartes says that he has no reason to think that there is a God who is a deceiver at all. He takes God into doubt. He says he must first find out if a God exists, and then find out if He is a deceiver or not (50).

According to Descartes there are two kinds of thought. The first is image of things as thoughts such as an image of a man or a chimera as Descartes explains. The other thoughts he has are quite different. He says, “for example, in willing, fearing, approving, denying, though I always perceive something as the subject of the action of my mind, yet by this action I always add something else to the idea which I have of that thing” (51). He divides these other thoughts into two categories: affections and judgments.

He explains that ideas are either created by himself or produced by things outside himself. He uses the example of a fire producing the idea of heat in his mind. These ideas must be outside of his own will because they produce ideas which he himself did not produce or invent. But he doubts these ideas are necessarily derived from external sources in all circumstances. He believes there is some faculty in him to produce these ideas without any external sources. Descartes explains the idea of something could be different than the actual object itself. He uses the example of the sun in which one idea (which is derived from the senses) makes the sun out to be very small and the other is an innate idea in which the sun is much bigger than earth. He states that both of these ideas cannot be true.

The idea of God, he says, has all the perfect qualities of God being omniscient, omnipotent, eternal and so forth, and this idea “has certainly more objective reality in itself than those ideas by which finite substances are represented” (52).

“And although it may be the case that one idea gives birth to another idea, that cannot continue to be so indefinitely; for in the end we must reach an idea whose cause shall be so to speak an archetype, in which the whole reality [or perfection] which is so to speak objectively [or by representation] in these ideas is contained formally [and really]” (53). Here Descartes denies an infinite regression of ideas and says it is necessary to reach what he calls an archetype or a blueprint.

“For although the idea of a substance is within me owing to the fact that I am substance, nevertheless I should not have the idea of an infinite substance — since I am finite — if it had  not proceeded from some substance which was veritably infinite” (54).
He continues by saying “that there is manifestly more reality in infinite substance than in finite, and therefore that in some way I have in me the notion of the infinite earlier than the finite — to wit, the notion of God before that of myself” (54).

Descartes concludes at the end of his meditation that “the unity, the simplicity of the inseparability of all things which are in God is one of the principal perfections which I conceive to be in Him.” He also says, “we must of necessity conclude from the fact alone that I exist, of that the idea of a Being supremely perfect — that is of God– is in me, that the proof of God’s existence is grounded on the highest evidence” (55).

At this point in the Meditation Descartes has proved God’s existence through a reworked version of Saint Anselm’s ontological argument. And since God is perfect He cannot be a deceiver because fraud and deception proceed from some defect (57).

Descartes explains this idea of God being in him as a sort of mark of the Workman. “And one certainly ought not to find it strange that God, in creating me, place this idea within me to be like the mark of the workman imprinted on his work…”(56). Is this not an interesting idea? We have the innate mark of God in our very mind. I find this to be incredible and amazing.

Psalm 139:13-14 “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”

Isaiah 29:16 “You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, ‘He did not make me‘; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding‘?”

Works Cited

Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Longman, 2006. Print.


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