Descartes Essay, Research Paper
At the beginning of Meditation three, Descartes has made substantial progress towards defeating skepticism. Using his methods of Doubt and Analysis he has systematically examined all his beliefs and set aside those which he could call into doubt until he reached three beliefs which he could not possibly doubt. First, that the evil genius seeking to deceive him could not deceive him into thinking that he did not exist when in fact he did exist. Second, that his essence is to be a thinking thing. Third, the essence of matter is to be flexible, changeable and extended.
The next very important step for Descartes is to establish a criterion of certainty. By examining the truths which he discovered in the course of his second meditation, he decides that all of them have in common the properties of being clear and distinct. Descartes says, ?So, I now seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true.? Descartes adds another item to the list of things which he knows clearly and distinctly—ideas.
At this point Descartes has yet to completely remove the hyperbolic doubt. How is it that Descartes can remove what seems to be an un-removeable doubt? His answer—he is going to prove that God exists and that God is not a deceiver. In other words, in order to get rid of the evil genius, Descartes must show that such a being could not exist. The only way to do this effectively, holds Descartes, is to prove that another being, namely a God who is not a deceiver, does exist. If such a God exists, then an omnipotent Evil Genius is not possible.
How is it that Descartes goes about proving that God exists? His means are limited. He knows for certain that he himself exists and that his essence is to be a thinking thing. He knows for certain that the essence of matter (if it exists) is to be flexible, changeable and extended. He also knows for certain that various ideas appear before his mind. To work with Descartes has himself as a non-extended thinking thing and his ideas.
As the first ?premise? of his proof Descartes makes a very important distinction between the various types of ideas. The first type of idea he discusses is ideas that are images of things. This type of idea, when thought of, is apprehended as an object of my thought, but there is something more embraced in the thought than merely the representation of the object. Now if these ideas are considered only in themselves, and are not referred to any object beyond them, they cannot, properly speaking, be false. This even applies to the will and affections, a second type of idea, for although I may desire objects that are wrong, it is still true that I desire them. The third type of idea is that of judgement. Descartes goal in this classification is to find in his mind which of the ideas are the proper bearers of truth and falsehood. Considered in themselves, ideas are not false nor are desires. The only place where mistakes can be made is in making judgements. As Descartes says, ?And the chief and most common mistake which is to be found here consists in my judging that the ideas which are in me resemble, or conform to, things located outside me.? Descartes further classifies his ideas by their origin: those that appear to be innate, those that appear to be adventitious, and others that appear to have been invented by me. The class of ideas which are chiefly of interest here, are those which are derived from things outside of me. What reason, Descartes asks, has he to think that such ideas do indeed exist? This question is perhaps the main hurdle that provides the impetus for Descartes to prove that God exists. The initial reasons that Descartes develops to answer this question are that nature has taught him this relation and that many ideas form in his mind independent of his will which implies that they do not depend simply upon him. Descartes quickly rules out the first part of this response. There is no necessarily true correlation between the things and my idea of the things. To elucidate this point Descartes gives the example of his two ideas of the sun. One is derived from the senses and from it has the notion that the sun is small. Another is derived from his knowledge of astronomy and from it he has the notion that the sun is many, many time larger than the earth. Even if such ideas did come from other things, it does not follow that the things must resemble the objects which caused them.
Next, Descartes discusses objective as opposed to formal reality. Formal reality can be thought of as ?real in the world? while objective reality can be thought of as ?real in the mind?. Substances have more formal reality than modes and accidents and thus give to the ideas which represent them more objective reality than modes or accidents give to the ideas that represent them. By substance Descartes means something that exists independently (of other substances). Modes and accidents in contrast to substances are properties that depend on substances for their existence. Descartes next claim, a very important one in his proof of God?s existence, is that infinite substances have more reality than finite ones. One assumption that Descartes makes which tends to get lost in his argument is that existence is a perfection. The greater amount of being that something has, the better it is. Thus an infinite substance has more being and is thus more perfect and more real than a finite substance.
Descartes next takes up the nature of representation. He is considering the possibility that though my idea has some objective reality, there is no need for the thing it represents to have the corresponding level of formal reality. His first point in rebutting this possibility is to note that ?just as the objective mode of being belongs to ideas by their very nature, so the formal mode of being belongs to the causes of ideas—or at least the first and most important ones, by their very nature. Though one idea may originate from another, Descartes is quick to point out that an infinite regress is not possible here. At some point one must come to the archetype of the idea which must possess formally all of the perfection or reality which is present in the idea objectively. So Descartes says, it is clear by the light of nature that while it is possible for an image or idea to fall short of the perfection of the things from which it is taken, it cannot contain anything greater or more perfect than its source.
At this point Descartes exploits this point in proving the existence of God. If it turns out that the objective reality of an idea is so great that he is sure that the same amount of formal or eminent reality cannot be found in him, then he himself cannot be the cause of the idea. It will then follow that one is not alone in the world, but that some other thing that is the cause of ideas exist. This ?cause of ideas? is God. Doubting once again, Descartes asks himself whether God could be some figment of his imagination that he has constructed from his worldly experience. If one properly analyzes the traits of God, infinitude, independence, omniscience, omnipotence, then it quickly becomes clear that such a being could not originate from a being whom is not all these things, i.e. Descartes.
Formally reconstructed this argument appears as such:
1. Ideas are either innate or constructed by me.
2. Formal reality is characteristic of things.
3. Some things have more formal reality than others.
4. To exist is a positive trait.
5. Greater perfection implies that some things have more existence than others.
6. Substances have a greater amount of formal reality than modes or accidents.
7. Infinite substance have more formal reality than finite substance.
8. Objective reality is the reality characteristic of ideas in virtue of the fact that
the idea represents some reality.
9. Some ideas have more objective reality than others, depending on the formal
of the things which they represent.
\10. God necessarily exists.
What, if anything, is wrong with Descartes argument. It seems that he makes several assumptions which are, to say the least, are problematic. To prove that God has formal reality Descartes assumes that he does in fact have formal reality. If so, where is God? Shall I reach out and point to and touch God?s toe. It is unclear that there is a strict connection between the formal and objective reality. Descartes speaks at great length about how it is possible that we imagine things and ?create? things in our mind. Descartes sees imagination as a recombination of prior experiences but is it not possible that we can imagine something that we have not previously experienced? I can imagine an alien creature which I have never experienced through any medium, be it literature, film or comic, that is in no way a recombination of such prior experiences. Can not God be such an imagination? Even when I do imagine God there is no strict correlation between that objective reality and any formal reality involving God. If God did exist it would seem that he would not have formal reality because, due to his infinite nature, he would transcend such a reality. God?s domain would be the objective where infinitude is a likely possibility not the formal where infinitude is a definite impossibility.