Descartes’ Special Causal Principle
In his Meditations, Rene Descartes attempts to uncover certain truths about existence. In his Third Meditation, he establishes his “special causal principle” (SCP). Descartes uses this principle to explore the origin of ideas, and to prove the existence of God. I agree that there is much logic to be found in the SCP, but I disagree with Descartes method of proving God’s existence, and in this essay I will explain why. I will begin by explaining the SCP, and will then demonstrate how Descartes applies this principle to prove that God exists.
I will then present my critique of the SCP, and expose the flaws in both of Descartes proofs with regards to the principle. A conclusion will then follow.
In Descartes Second Meditation, he established that because he is a thinking being, he exists. In the Third Meditation, Descartes attempts to build upon this foundation by questioning whether or not anything exists outside of him. In order to do so, he must distinguish between those of his thoughts that come from outside, and those which only seem to. The method Descartes uses for this differentiation is the special causal principle (SCP).
At its core, the SCP is a basic cause and effect argument. Descartes begins his rationale for the SCP as follows:
Now it is manifest by the natural light that there must be at least as much reality in the efficient and total cause as in the effect of that cause.1
There are two major outcomes of this logic. Firstly, that something cannot come from nothing, and secondly that what contains more reality (or is more perfect) cannot come from something that contains less reality (or is less perfect). To illustrate this argu. .
clusion, there is undeniable logic in the SCP. Once the SCP is explained to be founded on the ability to recognize self-evident truths, it becomes a reliable principle through which to explore the existence of God. But the SCP becomes unclear and less distinct when dealing with metaphysical objects such as ideas. By extending the SCP to ideas, Descartes ventures too far away from his notions of “clarity” and “distinctness.” Had Descartes chosen not to limit himself to his own thoughts as the sole vehicles for exploring whether or not God exists, he would likely have met with much more success.
Cottingham, John ed.
Meditations on First Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. Great Britain; 1997
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