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essay will evaluate Descartes causal proof of the existence of God presented in
Meditation 3. First, the essay will outline the proof itself. Then, by
considering objections and subsequent responses, it will evaluate whether
Descartes has been successful in his proof for the existence of God. This essay
concludes that the objections are not overcome by Descartes and his argument

previous Meditations, Descartes established the distinction between ideas and
judgements. Ideas themselves cannot be true or false, whereas judgements can be
mistaken and Descartes proposes the most common mistake is that I judge my
ideas to resemble something in the external world. Furthermore, I know that I
have a clear and distinct idea in myself of something referred to as God – this
being is unchangeable, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient and creator of
everything that exists. Moreover, Descartes makes a distinction between two
realities and this distinction is what his causal argument rests on. There are
two realities: the formal and the objective. According to Descartes, God is the
only thing that exists with an infinite formal reality, substances have a
finite formal reality and ideas have a modal formal reality.

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proceeds in Meditation 3 to prove the existence of God. He felt that a proof
for the existence of God would verify that God is not a deceiver: this would
enable us to stop doubting what we know and understand truths about the world
without fear of deceit. Descartes claims he has a clear and distinct idea of
God which has more representative reality in it than ideas that represent
finite substances. The effect of an idea must have as much reality as the cause
because if we suppose that an idea contains something in it that was not in the
cause, then it must have got this something from nothing. However, in
Meditation 3, Descartes claims the kind of reality that is involved in
something being represented by the mind by an idea, although it may not be
perfect, certainly is not nothing thus it cannot come from nothing (Descartes,
1996). This something cannot come from an idea because they have only
representative reality; also, although one idea may have originated from
another, there cannot be an infinite regress therefore, eventually we must end
up with an idea that was caused by something. This something must be an
original thing from which copies are made which contain all the
reality/perfection that the idea contains merely representatively. Thus, I
cannot be the cause of the idea of God as the idea of God is infinite and
perfect and it is not possible these attributes originated from me as I am
neither infinite nor perfect. Further to this, I lack the adequate formal
reality as I am only a substance yet God as infinite formal reality and only a
perfect being can be the cause of such an idea. Therefore, the idea of God must
have been caused by a perfect and infinite being and the only being with
infinite formal reality is God himself thus God must exist.

first objection to the causal argument rests on the conclusion that as humans
we are imperfect and finite beings. I can conjure the idea of God by simply
thinking 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 ‘not
imperfect’ and ‘not finite’. Descartes responds saying that this negative
conception of infinity and perfection is not the idea of God – instead the idea
of God requires a positive conception of these properties and not the absence
of limits, but something for which there can be no limits. Nevertheless, this
requirement conflicts with Descartes’ claim that as finite minds, we cannot
form a clear idea of God’s infinity but also, whilst the idea of God is not
clear, Descartes claims that it is clearly and distinctly a positive idea (not
negative) – this seems very contradictory since an idea is not distinct unless
it is clearly separated from all other ideas. Descartes must insist that the
idea of God is positive as if it was negative, then it would become possible
that we are the cause of God as we are finite beings. This objection is highly
problematic because, on the one hand, Descartes must insist that the idea of
God 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 something
must have as much reality as the effect. On the other hand, because we are only
finite beings we cannot form a clear idea of God’s infinity, yet it must be
clearly and distinctly positive but how can it be distinct if it is not clearly
separated from all other ideas?

Hobbes presents an objection by way of questioning how the idea of God is
received from God Himself. We did not receive the idea through our senses as it
didn’t come to us unexpectedly like most of the ideas we get when we touch, see
and hear things do. It is also not something we invented because we cannot add
anything to or take anything away from the idea. The only remaining possibility
is 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 my
soul then there is not any idea of it because we infer through reason that
there is something in the human body that causes sensations and movements – we
refer 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 God
then this entire objection collapses. Overall, this response is inadequate.
Firstly, it leaves us with two possibilities, either that the idea of God
exists and this objection is wrong or that there is no idea of God and the
entire argument collapses. However, as Hobbes said, there is no proof for the
idea of God. Also, we did not get the idea through our senses nor did we invent
it, if we did invent it then the cause would not have as much reality as the
effect of the idea so proving the argument wrong. Therefore, the idea of God
must be innate, but how did we get this idea? Descartes fails to answer this
question adequately so arguably, we cannot accept his argument until he
provides us with a more detailed response.

third and final objection to Descartes argument is that several parties might
have contributed to my creation of God. We have ideas about things that don’t
exist, like unicorns, thus the logic that the content of the idea must have as
much 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 reality
as the effect. However, it is not clear why the cause of an idea must be as real
as the content of the idea as the content is just a representation thus
something comparable shouldn’t have to exist in reality. Descartes claims that
because God is infinite and perfect, then nothing could cause the idea of God
except for God. However, our minds could have put together certain attributes
to form the idea of God. For example, we have no evidence for the existence of
a unicorn yet we can imagine a stallion, strong and white in colour. We can imagine a horn on its head, much like a
rhino, but with the stallion’s elegance and multi-coloured
like a rainbow. We have drawn from our surroundings and empirical truths to
create a concept which we can all understand. In this same way, we could draw
on knowledge, and imagine a being all-knowing. We could draw on love and
imagine a being all-loving. By taking attributes that we have witnessed in our
world we can imagine them more perfect and put them together to form the
concept of God.

evaluating three objections to Descartes’ causal argument it becomes clear that
he has not overcome the problems within these objections. Within the first
objection he does not decide if we can either form an idea of God’s infinity or
that God might not be clearly and distinctly positive. In the second, Descartes
does not respond to the objection adequately enough and in the third, it seems
entirely possible that concepts that originated in non-godly things could have
been put together to form our idea of God. Therefore, because Descartes does
not overcome these objections then his proof for the existence of God does not

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