Thisessay will evaluate Descartes causal proof of the existence of God presented inMeditation 3. First, the essay will outline the proof itself. Then, byconsidering objections and subsequent responses, it will evaluate whetherDescartes has been successful in his proof for the existence of God. This essayconcludes that the objections are not overcome by Descartes and his argumentfails Inprevious Meditations, Descartes established the distinction between ideas andjudgements. Ideas themselves cannot be true or false, whereas judgements can bemistaken and Descartes proposes the most common mistake is that I judge myideas to resemble something in the external world.
Furthermore, I know that Ihave a clear and distinct idea in myself of something referred to as God – thisbeing is unchangeable, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient and creator ofeverything that exists. Moreover, Descartes makes a distinction between tworealities and this distinction is what his causal argument rests on. There aretwo realities: the formal and the objective. According to Descartes, God is theonly thing that exists with an infinite formal reality, substances have afinite formal reality and ideas have a modal formal reality.Descartesproceeds in Meditation 3 to prove the existence of God.
He felt that a prooffor the existence of God would verify that God is not a deceiver: this wouldenable us to stop doubting what we know and understand truths about the worldwithout fear of deceit. Descartes claims he has a clear and distinct idea ofGod which has more representative reality in it than ideas that representfinite substances. The effect of an idea must have as much reality as the causebecause if we suppose that an idea contains something in it that was not in thecause, then it must have got this something from nothing. However, inMeditation 3, Descartes claims the kind of reality that is involved insomething being represented by the mind by an idea, although it may not beperfect, certainly is not nothing thus it cannot come from nothing (Descartes,1996). This something cannot come from an idea because they have onlyrepresentative reality; also, although one idea may have originated fromanother, there cannot be an infinite regress therefore, eventually we must endup with an idea that was caused by something. This something must be anoriginal thing from which copies are made which contain all thereality/perfection that the idea contains merely representatively. Thus, Icannot be the cause of the idea of God as the idea of God is infinite andperfect and it is not possible these attributes originated from me as I amneither infinite nor perfect. Further to this, I lack the adequate formalreality as I am only a substance yet God as infinite formal reality and only aperfect being can be the cause of such an idea.
Therefore, the idea of God musthave been caused by a perfect and infinite being and the only being withinfinite formal reality is God himself thus God must exist. Thefirst objection to the causal argument rests on the conclusion that as humanswe are imperfect and finite beings. I can conjure the idea of God by simplythinking away my limitations. In other words, because I am the opposite of God,being finite and imperfect, perhaps I could be the cause of something ‘notimperfect’ and ‘not finite’. Descartes responds saying that this negativeconception of infinity and perfection is not the idea of God – instead the ideaof God requires a positive conception of these properties and not the absenceof limits, but something for which there can be no limits.
Nevertheless, thisrequirement conflicts with Descartes’ claim that as finite minds, we cannotform a clear idea of God’s infinity but also, whilst the idea of God is notclear, Descartes claims that it is clearly and distinctly a positive idea (notnegative) – this seems very contradictory since an idea is not distinct unlessit is clearly separated from all other ideas. Descartes must insist that theidea of God is positive as if it was negative, then it would become possiblethat we are the cause of God as we are finite beings. This objection is highlyproblematic because, on the one hand, Descartes must insist that the idea ofGod is positive as he cannot concede that we might be the cause of the idea –the whole point of his causal argument is to show that the cause of somethingmust have as much reality as the effect.
On the other hand, because we are onlyfinite beings we cannot form a clear idea of God’s infinity, yet it must beclearly and distinctly positive but how can it be distinct if it is not clearlyseparated from all other ideas?Alternatively,Hobbes presents an objection by way of questioning how the idea of God isreceived from God Himself. We did not receive the idea through our senses as itdidn’t come to us unexpectedly like most of the ideas we get when we touch, seeand hear things do. It is also not something we invented because we cannot addanything to or take anything away from the idea. The only remaining possibilityis that the idea is innate, just as the idea of myself is innate in me.Therefore, if there is not any idea of God, and it hasn’t been proved there is,then the entire argument collapses. As for the idea of myself, if ‘myself’refers to my body then the idea arises from eyesight but if it refers to mysoul then there is not any idea of it because we infer through reason thatthere is something in the human body that causes sensations and movements – werefer to this something as the soul without having any idea of it.
Descartes’response to this objection is brief, he says that if there is an idea of Godthen this entire objection collapses. Overall, this response is inadequate.Firstly, it leaves us with two possibilities, either that the idea of Godexists and this objection is wrong or that there is no idea of God and theentire argument collapses. However, as Hobbes said, there is no proof for theidea of God.
Also, we did not get the idea through our senses nor did we inventit, if we did invent it then the cause would not have as much reality as theeffect of the idea so proving the argument wrong. Therefore, the idea of Godmust be innate, but how did we get this idea? Descartes fails to answer thisquestion adequately so arguably, we cannot accept his argument until heprovides us with a more detailed response. Athird and final objection to Descartes argument is that several parties mighthave contributed to my creation of God. We have ideas about things that don’texist, like unicorns, thus the logic that the content of the idea must have asmuch reality as the thing itself would mean unicorns do exist.
Instead,Descartes requires that the cause of an idea must at least have as much realityas the effect. However, it is not clear why the cause of an idea must be as realas the content of the idea as the content is just a representation thussomething comparable shouldn’t have to exist in reality. Descartes claims thatbecause God is infinite and perfect, then nothing could cause the idea of Godexcept for God. However, our minds could have put together certain attributesto form the idea of God. For example, we have no evidence for the existence ofa unicorn yet we can imagine a stallion, strong and white in colour. We can imagine a horn on its head, much like arhino, but with the stallion’s elegance and multi-colouredlike a rainbow.
We have drawn from our surroundings and empirical truths tocreate a concept which we can all understand. In this same way, we could drawon knowledge, and imagine a being all-knowing. We could draw on love andimagine a being all-loving. By taking attributes that we have witnessed in ourworld we can imagine them more perfect and put them together to form theconcept of God.
Afterevaluating three objections to Descartes’ causal argument it becomes clear thathe has not overcome the problems within these objections. Within the firstobjection he does not decide if we can either form an idea of God’s infinity orthat God might not be clearly and distinctly positive. In the second, Descartesdoes not respond to the objection adequately enough and in the third, it seemsentirely possible that concepts that originated in non-godly things could havebeen put together to form our idea of God. Therefore, because Descartes doesnot overcome these objections then his proof for the existence of God does notsucceed.