Descartes, Pascal, And The Rationalist Credo Essay, Research Paper
Descartes, Pascal, and the Rationalist CredoPascal asserts that we can know only by the heart, whereas Descartes would have us believe through his truths that we can know with certainty of Gods existence. The factors that go into their views on reason will be compared and accented within this essay. The order of the universe is knowable to Descartes. He proves these by using certain truths. To arrive at these truths Descartes doubted everything and especially could not trust authoritarian knowledge. This was known in the four “D’s” as doctrine. The other three “D’s” included the deceiving senses (empiricism), dreams (intuition), and demons (innate putting wrong ideas into our minds). Originally he doubted empirical thought because he could not even trust his senses. He used his senses only as a tool for doubting. Through doubting he felt that he could clear prejudices, which would allow him to arrive at certain truths. The goal of this destructive process was to find one clear and evident intuition that could be 100 percent certain. What he originally arrived at for a conclusion, was that everything could be doubted except doubting. However, to arrive at a truth he had to begin with a clear, evident intuition (an innate idea). This would be followed by moving from universals to particulars through deductive reasoning. He moved from the simple onto the complex incrementally, or step by step. He discovered the “I” to be the only certain truth, as his mind had to exist for him to be able to doubt. As stated earlier, Descartes truths had to begin with intuition, or an innate idea. This was the beginning of his constructive program of certainties. The first certainty was “Cogito ergo sum,” or I think therefore I am. This is the “I” or his starting point which emphasizes the importance of the individual. The second certainty is that god exists. The third certainty is that the perfect God would not deceive. So the senses that God has given us can be trusted. He ties together the innate idea and certainty of “I” with empirical sense data that must apply and be subject to Gods reason, thus giving him a mixed epistemology. As shown here, reason can know God and give us an understanding of the universe. Descartes would say we can know the world best through God. He sums this up in his statement, “Certainty and truth of all knowledge depend alone on the knowledge of the true God. Without this knowledge we cannot have a perfect knowledge of any other thing.”Pascal views the universe as knowable but in a very limited sense. As he says, we are lost between two infinites that of the microscopic and that of astronomy, or the telescopic. Pascal had a respect for reason, but reason alone does not go far enough because of its limitations. Pascal has a positive outlook on reason in that he sees thought is our glory. He views us as thinking reeds. Pascal trusts and uses reason though he sees another side to reason, there is the deception and trickery that occurs between our reason and our senses. Pascal would say that to know the universe is to know God, and this we cannot know through reason. In this case whether God exists or not, reason is absolutely useless. Pascal states this again in the Pensees, “According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.” According to Pascal, to know we must use our heart. Our heart has its reasons, which we cannot know by reason alone. In section 278 of the Pensees, Pascal writes “It is the heart which experience’s God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.” It is for this reason that Pascal would disagree that human reason could know the universe best. Knowledge of God is not available to linear logic. It is beyond reason, we are not dreaming by heart, it is only by the heart that we can really know.
The major difference between Descartes and Pascal was that Descartes thought that through reason he could prove gods existence, while Pascal saw it as not being a matter of reason. Both men saw reason as a legitimate and useful tool. However Descartes, through his process of doubting sought to prove undeniably that god existed. Through his destructive and constructive processes he came up with a logical method that would prove God’s existence with 100 percent certainty. This is another point on which Pascal would totally disagree. As Pascal’s metaphor of a wager shows we have to make a best guess and take our chances. Reason cannot prove undeniably that god exists, nor that he does not exist. Pascal’s view is that we can know only through our heart. For Pascal this is the way to know the universe best. Descartes thought that we could trust our reason because it was God given. Because Descartes recognized God, who is not a deceiver, he feels he can perceive clearly. Pascal would disagree, as he feels that important truths cannot be known by reason for the heart has reasons that reason cannot know. Pascal says the senses deceive the reason, and the reason in turn deceives them back. Pascal would say that we can know the universe best by the heart which contrasts with Descartes view that we know best through certainty. Personally I would have to agree with Pascal. There is simply a huge fault in the logic of Descart. His logic jumps to God exists without actually proving it. To say that we cannot conceive God without existence, and so we cannot exist without God is lacking any real logical basis. This leads to the Cartesian Tragedy and this destroys all further credibility to all further assumptions contained in his logical process. Pascal I can agree with a little more. He is straightforward in saying that we just have to follow our heart. He shows how proving through reason whether God exists would be difficult one way or another, which it is. I can appreciate his wager of faith. This is a truth that is undeniable, the worst that could happen to those who believe is absolutely nothing, with a good chance that there is something more waiting for us out there.