The purpose of this paper will be to examine Descartes' argument for the existence of God. First we will review Descartes' proof for the existence of God. Then we will discuss the reasons that Descartes has for proving God's existence. We will also discuss some consequences that appear as a result of God's existence. Finally we will point to some complications and problems that exist within the proof. The primary problem with most religions in the world has always been that they presuppose faith; that is one cannot be reasoned into believing in a religion, if such wasn't the case then we would have seen a huge migration to one religion or another.
In any given religion, the main proof of God's existence is the fact that the holy scriptures- whichever ones they maybe- inform us of his existence and his powers. Then again, we only believe in these scriptures because we think that they come from God. Suffice to say, this is a circular argument that cannot be used as a proof. We would all like to believe that we believe in God and our given religion because of faith. But what is faith And how can a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian all possess the same certainty about their given religions without there being any doubt in their minds as to the certainty of their religions and faith. Descartes set out to build a set of arguments designed to prove God's existence.
On those, he constructed all of his other arguments. His goal in proving God's existence was twofold; he wanted to build ground to base his arguments on, that is that he exists... etc. That goal will not be discussed in too much depth in this paper. It is his other goal, the one that he addressed in his letter to the Sorbonne that will be focused on, that is to prove beyond a doubt God's existence to all non-believers. Descartes starts by renouncing all his beliefs, so that he would not be shrouded by any misconceptions from reaching the truth.
He notices tha by doubting all of his preconceived ideas he is thinking. Descartes determines that in order for him to think, he must exist. He states that he knows that to be the case beyond any doubt, and that this is the first principle of the philosophy he is seeking. From that single observation he deduces a rule which he will base his entire argument upon.
Descartes notices that the idea of his existence is very clear and distinct in his mind; based upon this clarity, and the fact that he has just determined his own existence, he infers that the things that he sees as very clear and very distinct are all true. Descartes employs another interesting rule for his logic, or way of thinking. That objective reality cannot exist without formal reality; that is to say that an idea cannot originate without a cause. And that ideas can be less perfect than their cause but never more so. He also explains that those ideas in us that obviously do not have formal reality, such as a mermaid, are merely combinations of other formal realities- in this case a woman and a mermaid- and thus do not invalidate the rule.
Descartes also explains the difference between being an idea and being merely an opposite of an idea. He uses heat and cold as his example; whereas heat is an idea, cold is merely the lack of heat. That is a very important notion that he uses in his argument to diffuse a potentially crippling critique of his argument. Descartes, after establishing his rules, explains that he knows that he is not perfect. He knows that because he doubts, and he can clearly see that knowing is more perfect than doubting. From that he determines that within him lies this idea of a perfect being, and that he is incapable of coming to such an idea by himself.
Descartes determines that such an idea must have a formal reality, a cause. That cause, he reasons, could not have originated from a less perfect reality or being, since he has already established that ideas can be less perfect than their cause but never more perfect. He then determines that this idea could not have been composed of several ideas or causes because "composition attests to dependence and that dependence is manifestly a defect"; and since God, or the idea of God, contains within it all perfections, God was not such composed. Descartes also determines several qualities he deduces that God possesses merely by observing himself. He determines that whatever ideas he had, if they contained perfections then God would possess them, and if they were marred by any imperfections then God would not possess them. Descartes next point is that the idea of God contains within itself God's existence in much the same way that geometrical arguments contain their own proofs and properties.
He explains that although the idea of a triangle contains within itself certain properties, such as having three sides and that the sum of all angles equals one hundred and eighty degrees; there was nothing within that idea that proves the triangles' existence. By employing that logic, Descartes determines that since the idea of a God contains within itself existence, in as much as existence being a perfection, then the existence of God, or the idea of God is at least as certain as geometrical arguments. combining that with his ideas of objective reality he determines that God's existence is at least as certain as anything else's existence. God's existence, to Descartes is at least as certain as the existence of the stars, the sky, the earth, or indeed, even more than having a body. It is more ambiguous whether he believes God's existence to be more certain than his own thinking. Descartes' main reason for proving God's existence is this: whatever perfections he possesses are derived from and sustained by God.
From that he can say that his clarity and distinctness of thought derives from God such that it is indisputable that whatever he sees very clearly and distinctly is all true. That Descartes or I for that matter exist is indisputable; the fact that I am contemplating my existence proves it. What is disputable are the conclusions that can be drawn from that realization, Descartes observed a quality within that truth, that is he observed that his existence is very clear and distinct, and he used that quality as a rule; that all things clear and distinct are true. That is no more true than saying that all ideas that are vague and ambiguous to me are untrue, unconditionally.
Also, the existence of God depends on the clarity and distinctness with which we perceive the idea of God, for if it was not clear and distinct then it would not necessarily be true. But the clarity and distinctness of our thoughts depends on the existence of God. That is no less circular an argument than the one employed by the more traditional approach mentioned in the second paragraph. Also Descartes determines that he does have within him an idea of a perfect being and that he is imperfect, then he uses his imperfect judgment to observe and examine ideas within him and ascribes them or removes them from the idea of God.
In doing so he is assuming that his judgment, as to what is a perfection and what is not, is as perfect as the idea of God is. For if he did not think that his judgment was as perfect as the idea of God, he would not have used it to determine the qualities that God possesses. Moreover, Descartes declares that he has an idea of a perfect being that is not composed, and then he examines his own ideas of perfection to compose an idea of that perfect being's qualities. Another problem that I encountered in studying Descartes was his usage of the concepts of formal and objective reality.
That for me to have an idea, it would necessarily exist. That is hard to fathom, because just as we can think of a God, we can think of a being so absolutely imperfect that it does not exist, since existence is a perfection. But since it has an objective reality, according to Descartes, it must have a formal reality, clearly that is impossible. Descartes was obviously a man of great intelligence, who affected the course of progress of Western Civilization. His contributions in the fields of Philosophy, Mathematics, 318.