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Descartes’ Proofs for God’s Existence PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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www.prshockley.org. Descartes’ Proofs for God’s Existence. In sum, 3 Arguments for God’s Existence are used by Descartes in Meditations :. 1 . The argument for the existence of God from the fact that I have an idea of Him (1 st proof in Meditation 3).

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Descartes’ Proofs for God’s Existence

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Descartes’ Proofs for God’s Existence

In sum, 3 Arguments for God’s Existence are used by Descartes in Meditations:

1.The argument for the existence of God from the fact that I have an idea of Him (1st proof in Meditation 3).

2.The argument from my own existence. Here it is argued that a cause more perfect than myself must be assumed to explain my coming into being and my continued existence (2nd proof in Meditation 3).

3.The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence (3rd proof in Meditation 5).


  • Descartes’ Methodic doubt (Meditation 1) leads him down into the depths of skepticism by abstaining from any belief that is not entirely certain and indubitable. After he doubts sense perceptions, whether he is awake or dreaming (dream argument), and whether we can be sure of any belief in view of Evil Genie argument, withholding assent from (doubt) dubious, uncertain opinions, he finds him assenting to the one and only truth that cannot be doubted: he is thinking (Meditation 2). From there he offers an argument for God’s existence (Meditation 3).

  • The Third Meditation is difficult to understand because he uses scholastic terms:

    • Great Chain of Being,

    • Heirloom Theory of Causality;

    • Technical terms like Formal Reality, Objective reality, and Eminent.

B.Setting the Context for Proof: I’m a thinking thing.

  • At beginning of Third Meditation, using Methodic Doubt, he systematically examined all his beliefs and withheld any assent to any claim that can be doubted.

  • He came to the conclusion that the one thing that he can’t doubt is that the fact even though the evil genie may be seeking to deceive him, he could not deceive Descartes into thinking that he did not exist. Since Descartes is thinking, he knows that he is a thinking thing.

C.Setting the Context for Proof: Criterion of Certainty.

2.After asserting that he is able to lay down a general rule that whatever he perceives is very clearly and distinctly true, he immediately acknowledges, “Yet I previously accepted as wholly certain and evident many things which I afterwards realized were doubtful. What were these? The earth, sky, stars, and everything else that I apprehended and with the senses. But what was it it about then that I perceived clearly? Just that the ideas, or thoughts, of such things appeared before my mind. Yet even now I am not denying that these ideas occur within me. But there was something else which I used to assert, and which through habitual belief I thought I perceived clearly, although I I did not in fact do so. This was that there were things outside me which were the sources of my ideas and which resembled them in all respects. Here was my mistake; or at any rate, if my judgement was true, it was not thanks to the strengths of my perception [M 35].

a. What Descartes is claiming is that what he in fact saw were the IDEAS of such things. Before he had presumptuously assumed that they were things (e.g., earth, sky, stars) in the external world which caused such ideas.

D.Setting the Context for Proof: I even doubt more simple & straightforward ideas:

1. “But what about when I was considering something very simple and straightforward ideas in arithmetic or geometry, for example that two and three added together make five, and so on? Did I not see at least these things clearly enough to affirm their truth?”

  • Yet, while he can barely bring himself to withhold assent to mathematics, any more than his own existence, there is still a lingering doubt. He writes:

    Yet when I turn to the things themselves which I think I perceive very clearly, I am so convinced by them that I spontaneously declare: let whoever can do so deceive me, he will never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I continue to think I am something; or make it true at some future time that I have never existed, since it is now true that I exist; or bring it about that two and three added together are more or less than five, or anything of this kind in which I see a manifest contradiction.

D.Setting the Context for Proof: I even doubt more simple & straightforward ideas:

  • So, Descartes doubts simple and straightforward math-but ever so slight…one that he calls “metaphysical”), Descartes presses on. He immediately states:

    But in order to remove even this slight reason for doubt, as soon as the opportunity arises I must examine whether there is a God, and if, if there is, whether he can be a deceiver. For if I do not know this, it seems that I can ever be quite certain about anything else.

D.Setting the Context for Proof: I even doubt more simple & straightforward ideas:

4.If Descartes can prove that God exists and that he is not the Evil Genie, then he will have eliminated the deceiver argument.

5. But can he do that if the thing only he knows with “Cartesian” certainty that he is a thinking thing and that clear and distinct ideas are before his mind?

II. Proof for God’s Existence: M.37:

A.Descartes begins by classifying the kinds of ideas he has in his mind in order to determine which ones are the bearers of truth and falsity. Some of them are pictorial (e.g., a man, chimera, sky, angel, or God). Other thoughts are his volitions, emotions, and judgments.

B.Descartes then proceeds to classify his ideas (which may be defined as modes or ways of thinking) by their origins: Innate (placed in mind by God), adventitious (ideas caused by something outside of me) and fabricated (mere inventions of the mind) [at end of M. 37].

These are the likely sources of all ideas.

II. Proof for God’s Existence: M.37:

  • Descartes moves to consider ideas that are derived from things outside of him. He considers what reason he has to think there are ideas that resemble things:

    1.Nature seems to have taught him [M. 38].

    2.Many ideas appear hit his mind independent of his own will; thus, they do not simply depend upon him. For example, he feels the heat of a fire whether he wishes to or not.

    3.Even those these ideas did come from somewhere other than himself, it does not follow that they must resemble those things. In fact, there is often a great disparity between an object and an idea (e.g., idea of the sun which I find within me and the astronomical idea that the sun is larger than the earth). Thus, “both these ideas cannot resemble the sun which exists outside me; and reason persuades me that the idea which seems to have emanated most directly from the sun itself has in fact no resemblance to it all”).

    Descartes then asserts:

    “All these considerations are enough to establish that it is not reliable judgement but merely some blind impulse that has made me believe up till now that there exist things distinct from myself which transmit to me ideas or images of themselves through the sense organs or in some other way” [. 40].

II.Proof for God’s Existence: The Ordering of ideas:

  • In order to establish the causes of his ideas, he advocates the scholastic idea: The Great Chain of Being, using two concepts:

    1.Objective reality: How x actually appears to us;

    2.Formal reality: What x actually is.

    E.Formal reality: Descartes argues that some things have more power, or more “being,” than others. For example, a bug is more powerful than a rock; a person is more powerful than a dog; God is more powerful than anything else, especially since He is infinitely powerful. So, the more powerful or real a thing is, the more perfect it is.

II.Proof for God’s Existence: The Ordering of ideas:

1. The most perfect things are mental substances since they have within a principle of activity: They can think and bring about changes in other things. In contrast, material things are inherently inert-something must move them because they cannot act on their own.

2. Therefore, an ordering is established to the degree of formal reality each possesses.

II. Proof of God’s Existence: The ordering of ideas:

  • Objective reality: As X appears to us:

    1.The object reality of an idea is the reality it has in virtue of what is represents, its object.

    2. The objective reality of an idea corresponds to the formal reality of the object it represents. For example, the formal reality of a person is greater than the formal reality of a rock. In the same way, the objective reality of the idea of a human is greater than the objective reality of the idea of a rock.

II. Proof of God’s Existence: The ordering of ideas:

  • The idea of God Has the Most Objective Reality:

    1.The idea that this most real is God. Since the idea represents an infinite substance that is infinitely powerful, good, wisdom, etc., a thing with formal reality-the idea itself must have infinite objective reality.

    2.While Descartes does not know that God does exist, he is asserting that he has an idea of a being with infinite formal reality. Thus, Descartes argues that an idea with that much objective reality could only have been caused by God.

II. Proof of God’s Existence: The Ordering of ideas:

H.Descartes’ Causal Principles:

1.Descartes assumes that all of his ideas are caused. Otherwise, an idea could arise from nothing.

2.Some ideas are caused by other ideas (e.g., you have an idea of a horse and an idea of a horn, and have an idea of a unicorn).

3. Therefore, Descartes maintains that even if one idea could give rise to another, something must exist to cause the very first ideas out of which all others are composed. To be sure, he admits that he could have conjured up his idea of God’s infinite attributes through the negation of his finiteness. Nevertheless, he rejects himself as as cause of his own idea of God.

4. But could not the idea of God come from Descartes himself? While he is able to cause many of his own ideas, but there is not enough formal reality to have caused that idea in himself. In fact, the only thing with infinite formal reality is God, thus, God must exist.

II. 1st Proof of God’s Existence: Only God could have caused the idea of God:

  • Since Descartes is finite, he does not have enough formal reality to have caused the idea in himself.

    B. The only substance with infinite formal reality is God.

  • Therefore God must exist.

    “By ‘God’, I understand, a substance which is infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, and which created both myself and everything else (if else there be) that exists. All these attributes are such that, the more carefully I concentrate on them, the less possible it seems that they could have originated from me alone. So, from what has been said it must be concluded that God necessarily exists.”

God must be the source of his idea about God:

1.The Meditator could not have constructed or invented the idea of God by Himself. God himself must be the source of the idea of God that he discovered in his mind. For the idea of God is not something that has been generated in his mind ‘form nothing.’ Descartes writes:

On the contrary, it is utterly clear and distinct, and contains in itself more objective reality than any other idea; hence, there is no idea which is in itself truer… It does not mater that I do not grasp the infinite… for it is in the nature of the infinite not be grasped by a finite being like myself. It is enough that I understand the infinite.


III.2nd Proof: The Existence of God Explains Descartes’ Existence:

  • Since God’s existence is discovered, Descartes is now able to explain his own existence.

    B.Prior to discovering God’s existence, Descartes had no idea why he existed since he could find no power within himself to bring about his own existence, esp. since he is imperfect, finite, & dependent.

  • God created him with all the tools necessary to do discover that God exists:

    1.God gave him reason;

    2.God gave him clear and distinct idea of God (which he takes to be his clearest and most distinct idea);

    3.He also believes he has been made in God’s image & likeness. Thus, like God, Descartes is a rational, mental substance. Unlike God, Descartes is finite substance.

    D.Nevertheless, since Descartes has been given the faculty of reason, he is enabled to increase his own perfect through the attainment of knowledge, thereby bringing himself closer to God.

III. The Argument for God from My own Existence:

  • Thus, in this proof it is argued that a cause more perfect than Descartes must be assumed to explain his coming into being and his continued existence.

    1.My own existence could be derived from myself, my parents, a being less perfect than God, or God.

    a. My existence can not be derived from myself for I would be perfect. Yet, I’m imperfect. Moreover, I depend on God to preserve me in every moment of my existence.

    b My existence is not derived from my parents, otherwise an infinite regress would occur with no explanation. Moreover, what caused me is also a thinking thing.

    c. My existence is not derived from a being less perfect than God for there is no explanation for the idea of God as a perfect, unitary, simple being in me.

    d. Therefore, God exists.

IV.Ontological Argument for God’s Existence:

“When I concentrate more carefully, it is quite evident that existence can no more be separated from the essence of God than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle, or that the idea of a mountain can be separated from the idea of valley. Hence it is just as much of a contradiction to think of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking a perfection), as it is to think of a mountain without a valley” (VII:66).

V.Ontological Argument:

  • The idea of God as a supremely perfect being is clear and distinct:

    1.Existence cannot be distinguished from God’s essence.

    2.Existence is a perfection.

    3.God is the sum-total of perfections.

    Therefore, God enjoys the perfection of existence.

Another way of stating Ontological Argument:

  • We have as a general principle that when I consider an idea, all that I perceive clearly and distinctly as pertaining to that thing really does pertain to it.

  • I understand clearly and distinctly that necessary existence belongs to the essence of God.

    4.Therefore, existence really does belong to the essence of God.

    5.Therefore, God exists.

Descartes states:

“Thus I see plainly that the certainty and truth of all knowledge depends on my awareness of the true God… And now it is possible for me to achieve full and certain knowledge of countless matters, both concerning God himself and other things whose nature is intellectual, and also concerning the whole of that corporeal nature which is the subject-matter of pure mathematics” (VII:71).


  • God himself must be the source of the idea of God which Descartes himself discovered in his mind.

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