Upon cursory examination, one might assume that Rene Descartes is a”non-believer” in the existence of a heavenly being, a God that presidesover humans and gives us faith. However, this is simply not the case Descartes is simply trying to destroy all of the uncertainties that have comeabout by the attempted scientific explanations of such a supreme being. For ReneDescartes and all of the other believers in the world, the existence of Godprovides a convenient answer to unexplained questions, while never providinganswers to the questions about God himself. This is evidenced a great deal inthe circular argument made by Descartes in the Meditations on First Philosophy. What follows is a brief account of the third and fifth meditations, whichprovide Descartes response to the masked question, “What is God?” Can oneperceive or confirm the existence of an idea that is external to him, an ideasuch as God? In order to determine the answer we must start by understanding theways in which we can conclude an objects existence.
Descartes explains threeways in which a person might come to such a conclusion the first, throughnature; the second, through feeling a value that is independent of the will ofthe object; and the third, the objective reality of an idea, or the “cause andeffect profile. ” The third point is the one that we will primarily spend ourtime with. Descartes drills us with the idea that an object will have an effectwhen it stems from a legitimate cause, or an initial idea that precedes withequal or superior properties in ones intellect. In other words, the mindgenerates thoughts and ideas about a physical form, and develops a reality forthis form, through previous schema and beliefs.
“And although an idea may giverise to another idea, this regress cannot, nevertheless, be infinite; we must inthe end reach a first idea, the cause of which is, as it were, the archetype inwhich all the reality that is found objectively in these ideas is containedformally. ” The only problem with Descartes argument is when the existenceof God arises as a notion, for there is no sustenance or idea for the notion ofGod to originate from. Is it possible, then, to create the idea of a finitebeing from an infinite existence, outside of the physical and mental, in a stateall of its own? Descartes quickly answers that the response would be that afinite being cannot completely, if at all, comprehend the ideas that would causeGod to exist, and therefore the basis for doubt is lost in an intangible proof. Additionally, the mere fact that he believes that there is a God provides yetanother piece of proof towards His existence. This must be true, according toDescartes, with the provision that the idea and belief must have been placed inhis consciousness by an outside factor.
The final factor that convincesDescartes that there is a God is the fact of his own existence, along with thefact that he, himself, is not a God. This belief stems from the theory that if aman is independent from all other existence and ideas about forms and matter,then he has the ability to become infinite. Descartes says that if he himselfwere the “author of his own being” and independent of all existence, then hewould attain a Godly level of existence. Ultimately, it is his own dependence onanother being that proves to him that there is a God. Many people are bred intoreligion, or borne into a set of ideas about a particular infinite being.
Theinteresting problem with most types of faith in this manner is that thescripture that has been deemed to come from your god is also the proof that Godexists. This is the type of circular definition that Descartes is trying toavoid at all costs. Basically, its like using a word in its owndefinition, or the definition of an apple is an apple. The argument beginsto get a little bit ambiguous when he begins discussing the uncertainty of hisbeliefs.
He is, as he claims, as certain of the idea of the sun, the moon, theearth, even his own rational though, as he is certain of Gods existence. Themost troubling part of the entire section is the understanding of formal andobjective reality. Remember his theory that existence is perfection. Tounderstand that to have an idea is to exist is one case, but take for instancethe man whom can think, just as someone thinks of God, of a being so absolutelyimperfect, clearly and distinctly, that it does not exist.
However, according toDescartes, since it has an objective reality, it must follow that it also musthave a formal reality as well. Clearly, this is an impossibility which I haveyet to ascertain to the fullest degree. Ayn Rands The Fountainhead createswithin it a hero who is so independent that he ceases to exist within the publiceye however, he never ceases to exist, as he ends up clearly being dependanton his own belief of something greater. Whether Rand shared Descartes view onthe existence of God is uncertain, however can be applied to the entireargument.
If one is without an idea to back him up, one ceases to exist butwho created the idea of the being in the first place? And further, who createdand implanted within all beings the existence of a higher, more defined, andmore perfect being? It is through this logic that Descartes attempts, ratherunsuccessfully in my mind, to prove that the existence of God is not a rare leapof faith but rather a certainty in its own perfect, unquestionable andultimately non-comprehensible way. He was certainly arrogant, though, in histhoughts and writings, though, ascribing characteristics to a being that hehimself will never understand fully. In my mind, Descartes exceeded in manyparts of his argument, but failed to prove from a logical standpoint theexistence of a higher being. We, as humans, will take to heart his ideals, butwill continue to work on leaps of faith and the prescribed scriptures andcircular definitions of our own religions. BibliographyDescartes, Meditations on the First Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Co.