Meditations On First Philosophy
Of God: That He Exists
By invoking the Cogito in the second Meditation
Descartes was able to quell metaphysical doubts supervening on his initial
victory over skepticism (the victory based on "natural reasons").
But the Cogito has refuted the metaphysical hypothesis of a deceiving
God only temporarily - in regard to the self-certainty of our Ego. Being
rather an exception than a universal rule, the first certainty of the
Cogito could not set at rest the doubts stretching beyond the
moment of self-consciousness. For instance, it did not guarantee the
identity and the persistence of the subject through time. Descartes
has envisioned his Self as a thinking substance but that positing was
left isolated and dependent on the continuance of his self-reflection.
Hence, the passage to other potential cognitions still remains doubtful.
This is the situation where the third Meditation sets off.
Descartes starts by reiterating his resolve to keep his thoughts
detached from the senses and sensory images: "I shall disregard
my senses, I shall even efface from mind all the images of corporeal
A Thinking Self:
This mental discipline should shut off the thinker's interiority
from all external contents and thus make it accessible in an undistorted
manner: "By thus dealing only with myself …I shall try to
make myself… better known and more familiar to myself." With
the affirmation of the intellectual nature of the Self ("I
am a thing which thinks") the focus
inevitably shifts from sensory knowledge to thinking and reason.
Thinking = Mental Activity
|Thinking includes not only pure intellectual
acts (doubting, affirming, denying, knowing), but also emotions,
volitions, imaginations and even sensing. Descartes obviously regards
all mental acts as "thinking" under the pretext that they
all participate in the contents of our consciousness. That it is
so could be easily verified in the self-examination of one's mind.
I am introspectively aware "that they reside and are found
with certainty in myself" (my subjectivity).
|Modes of Thought:
||The mind (consciousness) is the substantial
container of all "thinking events" in the aforementioned
sense (from "sensations and imaginations" to judgments
and propositions). Conversely, these "modes of thought"
determine the nature of the mind as its accidents and modifications.
Viewed reflectively and objectively, these mental contents make
up the realm of direct knowledge whose evident presence translates
into the conclusion reached by the second Meditation: "I
am a thinking being."
Note: In describing
the "modes of thought" as mental contents, Descartes
has created both a new type of language and a new type of looking
at the world. Instead of speaking about people having sensations,
feelings and desires, he began to speak about these states as
if they are mental events and entities occurring within certain
mental container - my mind.
||Now Descartes wants to examine whether there are some
other propositions that would possess the same certainty and veracity
as the Cogito, the "propositions that would be relative
to the objective validity of the subjectively necessary truths".
His intention is not to provide an exhaustive list of metaphysical
truths but rather to find out which of the modifications of consciousness
along with the Cogito can serve as the foundations (principles)
of metaphysical knowledge (First Philosophy).
of First Philosophy:
||The principles of First Philosophy (Metaphysics) can
only be propositions expressing certain necessary connections
between so called simple natures (for instance, between thought
and existence, clarity/distinctness and truth, knowledge and God).
A denial of these connections is self-contradictory, not in the
sense of a logical contradiction (these notions are not identical
and their connection is therefore not analytic), but in the sense
of performing a contradictory activity. Any attempt to deny one
part of the connection affirms the connection by reinstating the
negated part in the very act of questioning it (for instance, if
I were to say, I am thinking but I do not exist, or, I am writing
this but I do not think - I would in fact confirm the opposite of
the negation: I exist, I think). The necessary positive connections
of this kind are not derived from some previous principles - they
are analytically grasped from the reflection upon our mental acts
and then only explicated.
Whenever I reflect upon my thinking nature I clearly realize
that if I am thinking I must exist. (The Cogito Principle)
The first principle states the primary self-evident truth which
guarantees the existence of a self-conscious mind. This is the
first certainty of my knowledge which does not depend on the veracity
of my sensations and imaginations. It is based solely on the fact
that I am undeniably aware of the presence of various mental acts
as modes of thought.
However irrefutable, this certainty is not cognitively productive
because it pertains only to myself and this only so long as I
am aware of myself. We need to go further and expand our knowledge
to include the things outside myself. In doing this, of course,
we have to maintain the same level of assuredness and certainty
throughout the whole process. This is possible only if we adopt
another fundamental principle of knowledge which could be easily
extracted from the fact that we clearly and distinctly intuit
the connection between our thinking and our existence as we become
aware of our thinking nature.
"Everything which we conceive very clearly and very distinctly
is wholly true." (The Subjective Veritas Principle)
This principle is as reliable as the insight that whenever I
think I must exist. If it is not possible to think and not to
exist, it is no less impossible "that something which I conceived
just as clearly and distinctly should prove false". Clear
and distinct perceptions are simply irresistible and it is psychologically
very difficult to doubt them at the same time as we are attending
them. Therefore, this principle can serve as the criterion of
reliable knowledge. Truly, the second principle appears sometimes
compromised, but this happens only when our perceptions are misjudged
or become doubtful extrinsically (with regard to something else).
For example, under the hypothesis of a total deception (the fiction
of an evil genius) we had all reasons to reject the natural certainty
of clear and distinct perceptions. But under regular conditions,
clear and distinct perceptions entail the same level of certainty
and veracity as the first principle.
Note: A full
vindication of the clare et distincte principle
is given in the fourth Meditation where the origin of possible
errors is explained along with the ultimate cause of clearness
and distinctness: if clear and distinct perceptions are real,
they cannot stem from anything which is less than an absolutely
||(a) We erroneously regard many sensory perceptions
as obvious and certain although their objects are not perceived
clearly and distinctly (for instance, "the earth, the sky,
the stars and all other things I perceive through the medium of
my senses" appear in a from that deviates from scientific conceptions).
When we nonetheless accept these perceptions as the most evident
facts, we mistake the presence of their ideas in our mind (which
is undeniable) for clear and distinct perceptions of the
objects themselves or we simply assume that external objects must
be responsible for the existence of these ideas (which is questionable).
In doing this, we only extrapolate the habit of believing in the
external existence of objects into allegedly clear and distinct
apprehension of them.
(b) Even the beliefs that are based on truly clear and distinct
perceptions, like mathematical relations, cannot be taken as absolutely
certain. Of course, they can be conceived so evidently that it is
both logically and psychologically difficult to imagine they could
be formulated otherwise. And yet they might be doubted. Why is that?
The statements of Arithmetic and Geometry can be easily understood
and convincingly explicated, but they cannot be accepted as evident
under all circumstances as long as we cannot rule out the possibility
that they appear as obvious only because an infinite power ("some
God") has decided to make us believe that they are clearly
grasped, while this may be just a divinely induced deception. The
"supreme power of God" can "bring about that I am
wrong even in those matters I perceive with the mind's eye with
the greatest possible obviousness".
||In order to establish the certainty of mathematics
once and for all along with the unimpeded applicability of the second
metaphysical principle (clear and distinct = true) we need to exorcise
the possibility of the divine deception and secure the existence
of a non-deceiving God. Having challenged the natural confidence
of common sense by virtue of the hypothetical evil demon, Descartes
now intends to save natural certainty of human mind by proving the
existence of a different (= benevolent) supernatural being. Only
in this way the natural validity of clear and distinct ideas could
be assured against skeptical doubts.
1. Immediate: To examine "whether there
is a God", and
2. Derivative: To investigate "whether
he can be a deceiver".
"As long as this is unknown, I do not see that I can ever
be certain of anything."
Note: Here, so
it seems, Descartes here addresses an objection of the theologians
from the Sorbonne who wanted to avoid any subordination of divine
omnipotence and will to the restrictions of human finite knowledge.
Descartes got around the problem by rejecting beforehand malevolent
manifestations of omnipotence. The
need to demonstrate that God is not malevolent did not emerge
in the process of revealing the certainty and the obviousness
of the first metaphysical principle. This principle states an
actual relation which must remain unshaken any deception notwithstanding.
Contrary to the situation in mathematics, the certainty of metaphysical
principles does not require a divine guarantee. In the case of
mathematical statements we do not intuit the necessary connection
as an actual relation that always must be so. Thus it makes sense
to ask whether an omnipotent God could deceive us even about the
things we perceive most clearly and distinctly.
II THEORY OF
In order to be able to accomplish (1) and (2), Descartes
needs first to elucidate the idea of God, for one cannot sensibly ask
whether God exists and whether it is compatible with his nature to do
this or that without having an idea of God.
However, if the idea of God is to be conceived as the basis of all reliable
knowledge, its status has to be clarified in the context of all other
ideas. This requires a more comprehensive inventory of our mind which
in turn accounts for a seemingly unnecessary digression on the classification
of different ideas. The Cartesian division of all contents of consciousness,
laid out pretty dogmatically and summarily, could be illustrated by
means of the following chart:
A. By Kind
B. By Origin
C. By Reality
1. Images of Objects
2. Adventitious (Acquired)
2. Finite Substances
3. Incomplete Substances
4. Accidents, Modes
Mental Modes (representing "something"
3. Fictitious (Invented)
4. Factitious (Scientific)
How is it possible to designate so different states and phenomena
with one and the single word? Obviously, by using it in a very
general way. For Descartes, "idea" is whatever the mind
"perceives", or better to say, everything that is of
mental nature. Mental phenomena can be either (1) acts or (2)
objects. When speaking about the contents of our consciousness
in the sense of (1) Descartes uses the word "idea" to
denominate any "form of thought", including sensations,
emotions, judgments and imaginations. From the point of view of
(2), "ideas" are only complete and distinct cognitive
acts that represent something. We may wish that Descartes had
reserved the term "idea" only for this latter usage,
but he has not. Instead, he speaks about ideas in three different
ways: (a) as operations of the mind (material aspect),
(b) as awareness of a thought (formal aspect) and (c) as
the subject-matter of a thought (objective aspect).
(a) Material Aspect. Every idea in the material
sense is a mental act occurring in the mind. Taken as mental acts
all our ideas are equal. Contrary to some ordinary notions, ideas
in this capacity cannot be true or false; they become true or
false only by virtue of our judgments about their content (extrinsically).
An idea is true if its object is conceived as it really exists.
Strictly speaking though, truth and falsity are characteristics
of assertions and propositions, not of ideas and concepts.
(b) Formal Aspect. When the word "idea"
denotes "the form of any thought", then it refers solely
to the aspect of consciousness of any mental act. For the self-reflecting
subject ideas are "modes of thought" (states of consciousness)
one is directly aware of. Ideas are directly related to the mind
by representing to us internal objects of thought.
(c) Objective Aspect. On the other hand, with
regard to their content and meaning, ideas are images (mental
representations) of the "things outside of myself".
"Ideas are like pictures" and "there can be no
ideas which do not seem to us to represent objects." In this
sense each and every idea is distinctly delineated from others.
However, when speaking about representations Descartes does not
mean only sensible images, but rather general objects. He does
not think that we perceive real things directly. We know them
through our own ideas produced by means of external stimulation
of our organs.
||"Through the organs of my senses" the objects
send "into me their ideas or images and impress upon me their
resemblances". Thus, when perceiving the world, we do not deal
with objects themselves but with states of our consciousness ("objective
ideas"). This additionally aggravates the critical question
of the Cartesian epistemology: How do we know that there are objects
out there? And closely related to this - how ideas represent objects?
It seems that representation is in fact presentation.
The basis for the belief that our ideas correspond to external
objects is twofold:
1. nature, that is to say, "certain inclination that
leads me to believe" that it is so;
2. direct experience of objects that are not "dependent
upon my will nor upon myself".
|Natural inclination to assume a
close resemblance between our ideas and external objects is a spontaneous
tendency, but it is rather a "blind and rash impulse"
than a reliable basis for conclusions about external objects. Descartes,
therefore, sharply contrasts "nature" in this sense with
the "light of nature" which secures the truth of the first
Direct experience is not reliable either. It is reasonable
to conclude that the origin of representative ideas lies outside
myself and that external objects like heat, cold or similar impose
on me their likeness. But even if caused by external objects, ideas/perceptions
may be very dissimilar from them (the sun I perceive out there is
very small and different from the astronomical sun and these two
ideas are so dissimilar that they cannot be both true). Our judgments
only mask this discrepancy by dogmatically affirming that ideas
correspond to external objects. Hence, judgments of external causality
and conformity should be set aside if we want to determine the objective
validity of one idea.
||There is nothing in the ideas of corporeal objects
that could not have been produced solely by myself. The ideas of
corporeal objects possess "only a few elements… which I conceive
clearly and distinctly" (primary qualities, substance, duration,
number). But even these clear and distinct ideas "might
have been derived from my ideas of myself": "since I am
myself a substance it seems that they might be contained in my nature
eminently", from which I may have projected this self-introspective
concept into an extended thing. Moreover, "the fact that they
(= these ideas) are not always in accord with my will" does
not prove that they are not produced by me (as the contents of dreams
amply show). Finally, we entertain ideas whose origin is not easy
to determine (for instance, sirens, hippogriffs, chimeras).
||In order to lay the foundation for knowledge and "expand
science" Descartes needs:
(a) to eliminate all thoughts that could produce deception, and
(b) to focus exclusively on the ideas that are representative, for
only they are capable of yielding objective validity.
In pursuing these goals he sets to examine whether there is an idea
which is in full conformity with the thing it represents, or, to
put it from the other side of the representational relation, whether
"among the things of which I possess ideas, there are some
which exist outside of myself".
III THE ARGUMENT
The most eminent idea and entity one can think of is the
idea of a supreme, all powerful being. If an idea falls short even slightly
of the object it is supposed to represent, it ceases to be the idea
of that object. Therefore, this principle can serve as the most rigorous
test of the conformity between ideas and represented objects. In order
to be able to assess whether the idea of God closely resembles the object
to which it refers, we must be certain that such a being exists. However,
before we can assess the veracity and reality of this idea we must set
certain standards that should lead our examination to the final conclusion.
What follows is an extended and a very complex argument that stretches
over several stages. Both premises and intermediary conclusions are
formulated as common notions (rules).
The Pre-containment Rule:
A cause must pre-contain the reality of its effect. "For
whence can the effect derive its reality, if not from its cause?
And how could this cause communicate reality to the effect, unless
it possessed it in itself?" This principle holds true for some
cases (conceiving a baby contains in itself having a baby), but
not for others (hitting a ball does not in itself contain a broken
The Gradation Rule:
"Considering them (ideas) as images, of which some represent
one thing and some another, it is evident that they differ greatly
among themselves. For those that represent substances are undoubtedly
something more…" This applies both to ideas and the ideas'
objects. Represented objects differ as to the degree of their (represented)
reality. As we will see, the discrepancy between "material"
equality and "objective" inequality of ideas opens a window
to accomplish the task of proving the existence of God.
The Adequacy Rule: "The
total efficient cause" possesses "at least as much reality"
as "its effect". Conversely, there cannot be more in effect
than there is in the cause. Ideas can fall short of the perfection
of the original from which they have been drawn, but they can never
contain anything greater or more perfect. This is a problematic
pre-formationist assumption, which, if applied strictly, excludes
the appearance of new properties. The only type of development would
be then generatio univoca = the generation of the same from
the same. Anyway, based on this assumption, Descartes contends that
the degree of reality one idea attaches to an object depends on
the degree of reality possessed by the object itself.
The Ex nihilo nihil Rule:
From nothing nothing can emerge. Hence, "something cannot
be derived from nothing."
Descartes is convinced that (3) and (4) are already contained in
(1) and (2). Once we make them explicit, it becomes apparent that
they entail an additional principle (5):
The Causal Rule:
Everything must have a cause. This rule, later elaborated by Leibniz,
was subsequently questioned by Hume for stating something that is
not self-evident ("something cannot exist without a cause").
Whatever the truth about this, it clearly supports the next
step in the argument:
The Objectivity Rule:
The objective reality of an idea must have a cause. "However
imperfect may be this mode of being, by which a thing exists objectively
or is represented by a concept of it in the understanding, certainly
we can nevertheless say that this mode and manner of being is not
nothing, and consequently the idea cannot derive its origin from
The Formal Rule: This
origin (cause) must be the formal reality of something.
The Quality Rule:
"In order that an idea should contain one particular objective
reality rather than another, it should no doubt obtain it from some
cause in which there is at least as much formal reality as
the idea contains objective reality." The absolute maximum
of objective reality requires as minimum at least the maximum
of formal reality in the cause (perfect equivalence). All
the more so since the lesser cannot cause the higher. "The
more perfect - that is to say, that which contains in itself more
reality - cannot be a consequence of and dependent upon the less
Modes of Existence:
Here Descartes uses the scholastic distinction between
objective, formal and eminent existence. An entity, say
a coin, can exist objectively (in my imagination),
formally (actually, in my purse) and eminently
(most really in my banking account as a part of a bigger
Reality entails Formal Reality:
The above listed principles of general causation apply universally
not only to all ideas and physical objects but hold true for relations
between conceptual realities and actual objects as well. Let us
not forget. For Descartes, the reality an idea "receives
and borrows from mind" (the "objective reality"
= the content) is not the only reality it possesses or implies.
If we have an idea of something, then there must be something
else outside the idea that is responsible for the content of the
idea. The objective reality in my ideas needs to "be present
formally or actually in the causes of these ideas". As a
matter of fact, the manner of existing formally "belongs
to the causes of these ideas" as much as objective existence
belongs to the ideas. Not only the production of an actual stone
implies the preexistence of something at least equally real as
the existing stone, but the existence of the idea of stone in
me presupposes the preexistence of something that has put that
idea in me while possessing at least the same amount of reality
as is contained in my idea of stone.
Ideas and the Archetype:
|The principle of causation ultimately implies an equation
between the idea and its object, but from the perspective of the
idea alone we can speak only about correspondence and resemblance
between the two. This means that the principle of conformity presupposes
two terms, a copy and the ideated model (archetype). The
idea of God carries positively the burden of conformity between
objective and formal validity. But the perfection of the objective
reality falls short of the perfection of formal reality for the
existence component. This is the reason why the the principle of
causation is necessary to link objective reality with existence.
On the other hand, making the idea of God a copy of an actual
archetype allows transition from an objective reality toward the
formal reality. This explains why Descartes does not stick solely
to the causation principle but revives the Platonic relation of
reflection as well. Hence, the principle of resemblance (conformity)
is not otiose. God as efficient cause and God as archetype will
be finally reconciled in the notion of perfection which links the
principle of causality with the principle of conformity into one
and a single source of existence. However, God is not posited as
the model of imitation, but as the ultimate cause, the formal reality
whose effects are visible in the resemblance of the idea of him
||Albeit some ideas may be derived from others (and
not from objects themselves), the process of derivation cannot be
extended indefinitely. The sequence of ideas proceeding from other
ideas must eventually end with an idea which is first and whose
"cause is like an archetype or source, in which is contained
formally and in actuality all the reality or perfection that is
found only objectively or by representation in the ideas".
At a certain point we thus arrive at one idea which is the cause
of all other ideas whereas its own cause is its own formal reality.
By definition, this ultimate point cannot be causally superceded
by anything else. A series of formal realities always terminate
in the formal reality of the first cause, that is to say, it is
not infinite. An infinite series of contingent beings is ruled out
by the self-evident fact that I exist. Otherwise I would not ever
have come to being. The question is not therefore whether I exist,
but how do I exist?
|Am I alone and self-sustaining being?
If the reality and perfection of some of my ideas surpass the
reality and perfection that formally exist in me, then "it
necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that
there is also some other entity that exists and is the cause of
this idea". And the other way round, "if I find no such
idea in myself, I will have no argument which can convince me
and make me certain of the existence of any entity other than
myself", especially not of any more real and perfect than
||Thus, Either solipsism (the view that only
I exist) or theism (the view that God exists). In order to
be able to resolve this dilemma Descartes needs to examine whether
he possesses at least one idea whose object is at the same time
its cause. Apart from the idea of himself ("a thinking thing")
which matches its effect fully but does not go beyond his Self,
there are five other candidates for the requested identity of existence
(a) corporeal and inanimate things
(b) animals and other animate beings
(c) other humans
Ideas b-d could have been "formed by the mixture and combination
of my other ideas", whereas (a) might have originated entirely
from myself. "Thus there remains only the idea of God, in which
we must consider if there is something which could not have come
IV THE IDEA OF GOD
From a purely logical point of view, the "what" (quid)
question (what is God?) should precede the "whether"
(quod) question (does God exist?). In metaphysical examinations
regarding God, however, it is difficult to go by this methodological
rule, because the determination of the divine essence can never
be absolutely adequate and precise, especially not if it is entirely
separated from the demonstration of its existence. On the other
hand, to be able to carry out successfully the demonstration of
existence we need at least a preliminary definition of God which
explicates our implicit understanding of his nature. It is not
just something to start with but an indispensable criterion of
identification throughout the whole process of rendering the proof
Note: In the Principles
of Philosophy Descartes openly departs from the general rule
of "true logic" maintaining instead that only by proving
the existence of God we come to know what he is (I, art. 22):
"according to the laws of true logic the proposition 'does
a thing exist' (an sit) must never be asked unless it is
first understood 'what the thing is' (quod sit)".
||(The idea) "by which I conceive a supreme God"
refers to the "eternal, infinite, immutable, omniscient, omnipotent
and the universal creator of all things that exist outside of himself".
||"By the word 'God' I mean an infinite substance,
eternal, immutable, independent, omniscient, omnipotent, and that
by which I myself and all other existent things, if it is true that
there are other existent things, have been created and produced."
||The idea of God is the idea of an infinite substance
surpassing all C 1-3 objects (see the previous chart).
||If the object of my thought is by its essence more
perfect than myself, then the idea by which I represent that object
also exceeds myself. This can be true only if the said idea is identical
with the object itself. As this could not be the case by definition,
the idea needs to be taken in conjunction with the formal cause,
which prompts the first proof for the existence of God.
Light of Nature, from
the Latin lumen naturale, a theological metaphor for the
power of natural (human) reason as opposed to supernatural, divine
reason; while the first operates according to the laws of human
logic which is instrumental in discovering self-evident truths,
the latter transcends all rational limitations. In the Principles
of Philosophy Descartes defines the light of nature as the
faculty of apprehending objects clearly and distinctly without
any recourse to religion (I, 30).
Clare et Distincte,
Latin for "clear and distinct"; in Descartes, clear
knowledge consists of directly present and evident perceptions
whose reality cannot be reasonably called into doubt even by an
attentive mind; distinct perception is one which is so precise
and sharply separated from everything else that it comprises only
those things which appear evident to the knowing subject (Principles
of Philosophy, I, 45). Clearness and distinctness usually
go hand in hand, but they are not synonymous: an idea may be clear
but not distinctive; a distinctive idea, on the other hand, has
to be clear.
the Latin substantia = that which stands underneath; while
in Ancient philosophy this term denotes the essential mode of
existence (ousia) as opposed to mere accidental beings
(onta), in Descartes it designates something capable of
independent existence and bearing different properties. In the
Principles of Philosophy Descartes defines substance
as that which exists by itself and does not need anything else
to exist (I, 51). Strictly speaking, only divine substance meets
this requirement, but Descartes applies this term to all those
created things (including his own self) that, apart from the initial
divine creation, do not need anything else for their existence.
the Latin accidens = that which accedes to; denotes
properties or attributes that can occur or disappear without destroying
the subject (or object for that matter); it is, therefore, regarded
as contingent, not necessary quality.
from the Latin causa efficiens = that which brings about
change; in the realm of creation, that which initiates generation
or keeps the process going on (propelling cause).
Idea, from the
Greek idea, eidos = look, shape, hence, the form; in Plato,
it is the substantial unity of existence and essence, which subsists
in itself and objectively grounds both the existence of sensory
beings and our knowledge of the world; in Descartes, idea is (1)
any mental act ("a way of thinking") or any mental content
which exists in the intellect; this connotation establishes our
current subjectivist usage of the word denoting any "object
of understanding when a man thinks" (Locke); (2) in the strict
sense, idea is only that state of mind which can be evaluated
as true or false (representational aspect).
Formal Reality, from
the Latin forma, formaliter = form, formally; in the language
of the Schoolmen, which Descartes often follows, something is
formal or exists formally when it exists actually (really) as
opposed to sheer "objective existence", existence only
in idea. Thus, contrary to our common usage, the true synonym
of the adverb formally is actually (really), whereas the
opposites are objectively (conceptually), eminently
(potentially) and virtually (implicitly). All these adverbs
indicate different levels of reality in accord with the Aristotelian
substantial stratification of beings; Hobbes questioned the notion
that "reality admits of degrees".
the Latin per eminentiam = by superior/higher manner; existing
not only in the fashion of formal reality, but existing in the
very principle from which the being that represents one idea derives
its reality. This superior level existence can representatively
replace the being which is perceived because its reality is higher.
from the Latin objectum = that what is lying over there;
in Scholastic philosophy that what is thrown before the mind,
what exists in the idea which represents it (for instance, a unicorn);
thus "objective" in the medieval sense would be for
us "subjective"; Descartes takes over that usage in
claiming that objective reality (what constitutes an idea) is
a representation of mind, not an entity subsisting in itself and
independently. Objective existence is not therefore opposed to
subjectivity, even though Descartes uses the word "object"
to designate formal realities of which ideas are copies.
V FIRST PROOF
OF GOD'S EXISTENCE
The first proof that God exists combines the conception
of God as an archetype with the principle of causation as articulated
by rules 1 through 8. It begins by stating that each of us has an idea
of God and then asks what is the cause of that idea in me. The cause
could be either a self-sustained being (ens a se) or a dependent
being (ens ab alio). If the latter, the question only
gets remitted further. Therefore we need to look for an infinite substance
with as much reality as my idea.
It is a fact that I possess the idea of God along
with the notion of infinity and perfection. Witness my doubt and
desire. I am deeply aware of these mental states as they constitute
my human nature. But, aside from revealing certain lack in me,
they also point to something more perfect.
"For how would it be possible for me to know that I doubt
and that I desire - that is, that I lack something and am not
all perfect - if I did not have in myself any idea of a being
more perfect than my own, by comparison with which I might recognize
the defects of my own nature?" This more perfect being is
Note: A "more
perfect being" is not the same as "the most perfect
being", but Descartes quickly turns the comparative into
a superlative - the ultimate term which transcends any comparison.
The idea of God, he says, does not exist in the mode of mere "deficiency".
||I conceive infinity as "a real idea", not
as a sheer negation of what is finite. Moreover, "I see manifestly
that there is more reality in infinite substance than in finite
substance" (this idea "contains more objective reality
than does any other" idea). But I could not have created the
idea of an infinite substance, because I am only "a finite
Note: This is
the weakest link in the whole chain of reasoning. Despite all
Cartesian ingenuity, it is hard to accept that the idea of the
most perfect being could not have come from other being than God
himself. Why we would not be able to imagine a being more perfect
than ourselves without any contradiction? In addition, how
could my idea of God be more perfect than myself if I am, according
to Descartes' own words, a substance? In the Preface to the Meditations
Descartes tries to answer the objection that from the fact that
I have an idea more perfect than myself, it does not follow that
the idea itself is more perfect, much less that that which this
idea represents exists. He recognizes that the idea of God, taken
"materially", as an act of my mind, is not more perfect
than myself, but contends that it is such "objectively",
in regard to its content.
||I can have the idea of God only if there is a being
who possesses formally all that which the idea of God possesses
objectively. Only a perfect and infinite God possesses as
much formal reality as the idea of God requires. The only thing
apt to cause the idea of God objectively is God himself.
Note: Once we
approve stage 2 stage 3 follows and the other way round.
||Therefore a perfect and infinite God is the cause.
||Therefore a perfect and infinite God exists.
The first proof unfolds on two tracks: (1) to prove God's
existence from the idea that represents God to me and (2) to prove God's
existence as I represent God to myself. The first strategy proceeds
indirectly but aims to establish universal validity of clear and distinct
knowledge. The second proceeds directly but takes one singular idea
of archetypal source. Both are connected to prove the objective validity
of our ideas and the existence of God. This goal goes against common
sense prejudice that objective validity belongs primarily to adventitious
ideas. Descartes shows, however, that if the idea of God necessarily
possesses objective validity, then God exists necessarily as soon as
there is an idea of God. A successful demonstration of the objective
validity requires the application of the principle of causality and
the principle of conformity between the idea and its content.
VI SECOND PROOF OF GOD'S EXISTENCE
The second proof is a variant of the first except that
it starts from the opposite ideas of imperfection and finitude. It begins
by stating that I exist as a finite thinking subject and then asks what
is the cause of my existence. The answer is that my existence is contingent
on a being which exists in itself and by itself (ens a se et per
se). Thus God is not any longer viewed as the cause only of one
idea and his causal power is not restricted to the contents of my consciousness.
Without resorting to the duality of principles (causality and adequacy)
it proceeds more straightforwardly by eliminating all other causes for
my dependency except God.
Descartes first discusses two possible objections to the thesis
that both the idea of God and the idea of lacking perfections
are of non-human origin.
1. What if all these perfections which I attribute to
the nature of God already subsist within myself potentially, although
not yet actualized? In that case "my potentiality of acquiring
these perfections" should be credited with the production
of the idea of God.
is something less than actuality and reality. Actuality is more
than potentiality, and that "more" needs a real cause.
"The objective existence of an idea can never be produced
by a being that is merely potential and that… is nothing, but
only a formal or actual being." If I possess these characteristics
only potentially, then I am not the creator of the idea of God.
2. Why so many people on so many occasions do not realize
that the idea of a being more perfect than their own existence
is must necessarily have been imparted to them by a being that
is actually more perfect?
Answer: Because human
attention subsides with the flow of time and we do not consider
these issues "carefully". As soon as we understand the
relationship of dependency all these misconceptions disappear.
||Whether I myself, who have this idea of God, could
exist if there had been no God? If yes, "from what source would
I have derived my existence?"
||(a) From myself
(b) From nowhere
(c) From my parents
(d) From other causes
||(a1) Will for Perfection:
First possibility (that I am "the author of my own
being") is contradicted by the fact that I experience doubts,
desires and various other deficiencies. The creator of my existence
could not suffer from these imperfections. If I were that creator,
independent of anything else outside myself, "I would lack
no perfection" simply because my will is infinite. "I
would have endowed myself with all those perfections of which I
had any notion, and thus I would be God himself."
Note: Here Descartes consciously runs a risk
of assimilating the concept of deity (the idea of God) with an anthropological
projection: what we would like to be if our powers were unlimited.
In fact, he takes God in this argument as the tacit goal of human
strivings, as that what humans aspire to be. But he does not identify
human positive idea of deity with the deity itself. Whatever human
strivings may be up to (the "extravaganza" of wanting
to be like a God), it does not define the divine nature as such.
On the contrary, the fact that we want to overcome all our limitations
proves that we are limited, though aspiring toward actually existing
infinity. By my idea of the infinite is not derived from the infinity
of my will. If it were, there would be no necessity to go outside
of my will.
(a2) Self-caused: Descartes
just wants to say that, given human strivings, our imperfections
were inexplicable unless we were not the creators of our own existence.
If I could not endow myself with all perfections, this could only
mean that they exceed my creative abilities. And the other way
round: if I was caused by myself, my godlike self-creation would
have suffered not only from current imperfections (which would
be very strange, not to speak about the contradictory nature of
an imperfect God) but would have been incomprehensible in regard
to the apparent discrepancy between my miraculous beginning and
my much less impressive finalization. If I was able to emerge
from nothingness by my own will it should have been much easier
for me (the Ego) to attain all these perfections (absolute
knowledge, power, etc.), because they are only accidents
of some substance. By creating myself I would have created
my own substance and "I would not have denied myself any
of these qualities which I see are included in the idea of God".
Note: To produce
infinite attributes is easier than to create something out of
nothing. To create a finite substance is a greater deed than to
acquire perfections I lack. The gap between nothingness and finitude
is therefore bigger than the one which yawns between finitude
and infinity. To bridge the first one needs omnipotence, to bridge
the second omnipotence is not logically required.
(a3) Finitude: Another evidence
in favor of my dependency upon a powerful creator comes from my
own finitude. The argument is based on the old Aristotelian dictum
that the more perfect precedes and conditions the less perfect.
I cannot be aware of my finitude without having the idea of the
infinite, which precedes the idea of the finite: "my notion
of the infinite is somehow prior to that of the finite, that is,
the notion of God is prior to the notion of myself". Thus,
without the awareness of the idea of infinite I would not be able
to acquire the awareness of myself as a finite being. Hence the
idea of my finitude necessarily implies the idea of an infinite
being. From this Descartes ventures the next step: If I exist
then the most perfect and infinite Being must exist as well.
||Starting from the given state of my finitude, I realize
that it is possible to possess more perfection with regard to any
of my abilities. The lack of all of these supreme qualities suggests
that I was not absolutely independent in my coming to be. If I was
not able to acquire all the perfections i lack, this means that
I was even less able to create myself. Since my existing nature
is not what I would wish it to be, I must be dependent on a being
which possesses these perfections. The totality of individual perfections
makes up the absolute supreme and infinite being. This infinite
substance must possess as much reality as in my idea in accord with
the principle of adequacy.
||(b) No Causation: The
second possibility that my existence has not sprung from any cause
at all is refuted by the necessity to recreate myself at each instant
of time. If every moment is independent from others, how can
I exist at any next moment? If I came to be without any cause (that
is, if I am an uncaused being) I would not be able to continue my
existence any further since there would be no power to create and
conserve myself every moment anew. The only creative power capable
of sustaining me through time is God.
(1) Discreteness of existence and
(2) Continuous recreation of existence.
Descartes believes that the Self exists from moment to moment
and therefore needs to be sustained in time. Thus the fact of
discontinuity along with my present existence requires and implies
a constant sequel of initial creation. This opens the question
of duration, change and movement. Change and movement have to
occur instantly (mini-creation), while duration appears to be
a sum of these moments characteristic of substances.
Note: The doctrine
of continual creation, strange as it is, follows from Descartes'
belief that time is not a continuous substance but a serious of
discrete units. This is a kind of cinematographic conception of
time according to which it consists of consecutive but separate
moments. Indivisible atoms of time represent the ultimate "simple
natures" of reality that could be expressed geometrically
(spatially) and measured. Since the present does not depend on
the preceding time, it is indispensable that I am being created
every moment anew. This necessity emerged after Descartes recognized
that the Cogito guarantees his existence only as long as
he thinks while the origin and the continuance remain entirely
unsecured. In this sense the discontinuity of time fits in the
contingent nature of created beings.
||Although human mind differentiates between big initial
creation and small instant recreations, for God, there is only eternity
beyond time. Time, therefore, depends on finite existence, but persistence
of existence in turn depends on God. God is not only the cause that
has brought me into being but also the cause in being which conserves
me at the moment.
Begetting: The third possibility, that I was created
by my parents, is obviated through the insight that they cannot
account for my continued subsistence in time. In a very ostensible
sense I owe my birth to my parents, but not my existence thereafter
My parents are, therefore, not the "ultimate cause" of
my existence but only secondary causes that are placed in between
God and myself. "They have produced certain arrangements in
the matter within which I have so far believed that the real I,
that is, my mind, is enclosed." But they have not produced
my soul ("thinking substance") and all the changes I have
been going through ever since then. Even if I have always been as
I am now, this does not exclude the idea of divine creation and
sustenance: "I would still have to recognize that it is necessary
that God is the author of my existence" and the cause that
"conserves me". The endurance of a substance through time
is being accomplished thanks to the same power that produces it.
Creation and preservation are different only in our thinking.
||Since I am not aware of any power residing in me that
would guarantee my existence through time, "I recognize evidently
that I am dependent upon some other being different from myself".
But my parents are not that being, because they are themselves dependent
on something else. They owe their own existence to an entity much
more powerful and perfect than we humans are. That being is God
(d) Less perfect causes: If
my parents could not have made me more perfect than they are themselves,
what about some other external causes? Could it be that various
perfections are caused by different causes and not by a single
No, none of these causes matches the level of perfection already
contained in the effect possessing the idea of God. Various perfections
are not caused by various causes because the infinitely perfect
is conceived as united in my idea. Thus some other less than perfect
(partial) causes may have played only an intermediary role in
my creation. But they could not have produced me entirely and
even less imparted into me the idea of all those perfections that
are joined in God. By definition they lack the totality and the
unity of these perfections precisely because they are only partial.
"And certainly the idea of this unity of all God's perfections
could not have been placed in me by any cause from which I had
not also received the ideas of the other perfections."
If my creators are thinking beings, and they must be at least
that, then they will possess the idea of God (i.e. of ultimate
perfection) as well. If that idea is self-caused, it is identical
with God himself, if not, it would point back to God.
||First, the persistence of the idea of God turns into
an undeniable quality: "This idea is very clear and distinct
and contains more objective reality than does any other, so that
there is no other which is more true from its very nature, nor which
is less open to the suspicion of error and falsity." Second,
the idea of God, my subsistence and the content of my idea of God,
are intricately connected. I can exist along with my idea of God
only if there is a being who possesses formally all that which the
idea of God possesses objectively. "We must necessarily conclude
from the mere fact that I exist and that I have an idea of a supremely
perfect Being, or God, that the existence of God is very clearly
demonstrated." All this despite the admission that by nature
I as a limited being do not and cannot comprehend the infinity along
with many other things in God. But these relations are intelligible.
Note: I cannot
comprehend God because he is entirely incommensurable with me,
but he is fully commensurable with the idea I have of him, which
makes him intelligible.
||"It would not be possible for my nature to
be what it is, possessing the idea of God, unless God really existed
- the same God, I say, the idea of whom I possess, the God who possesses
all these high perfections of which my mind can have some slight
Existential dependence points to God, God provides certainty
and clearness to the consciousness of our imperfect Self. "I
exist, therefore God exists" - this is the final form of
the Cogito. The finite thinker knows himself through the infinite
||In accord with the insight that the self-sufficiency
of God exceeds self-sufficiency of the "I", the second
proof rests on the notion of divine self-causation as the
essential characteristics of God. This is a departure from the Scholastic
view according to which God is a being without a cause. The notion
of God as self-caused will be explicitly introduced in the fifth
||"And from this (that he is all-perfect God) it
is quite evident that he cannot be a deceiver, since the light of
nature teaches us that deception must always be the result of some
deficiency." Thus the hyperbolic doubts from the first Meditation
must finally be put to rest.
Of course, as the fourth Meditation states, the ability to
deceive could be an indication of cleverness, but the will to deceive
is an evidence of malice. If my clear and distinct perceptions could
be false, then only God would be able to make them seem clear and
distinct. But he is not a deceiver.
Therefore, there is no reason why beliefs based on clear and distinct
perceptions should not be trusted; they cannot be false.
They can appear as doubtful only to someone who does not possess
knowledge of the veracity rule - but that knowledge is now fully
secured through the existence of God.
STATUS OF THE PROOFS
||The two proofs from the third Meditation are
the glue for the whole argumentative structure of the Meditations.
The thinking Self proves to be the Self having the idea of God which
unravels the ultimate cause of existence and knowledge. The successive
stages of awareness as revealed in the meditative process are therefore
presented as inferences from the basic knowledge of God's existence.
In demonstrating that God is an efficient cause of our ideas and
existence the proofs establish that we have certain knowledge of
God's nature and that our science is both possible and reliable.
The Cogito was the subjective formal condition of all representations
up to the third Meditation. It was the formal principle in
the sense of finding the positive consciousness as the precondition
for all self-knowledge. But the Cogito was not sufficient
to determine the validity and the quality of the content of our
representations. The self-consciousness of the Cogito is
crippled without the consciousness of the perfect. This is the chief
reason why now the content of one single idea becomes the material
principle of everything. In securing both the quality and the validity
of our representations the third metaphysical principle is an objective
principle of scientific knowledge. The idea of a superb perfect
being becomes also a condition of the Cogito, because the
notion of the infinite precedes the notion of the finite. The result:
I am not any longer enclosed inside myself and the need to confirm
my certainty every single moment vanishes. The certainty of God's
existence supplants the certainty of the Cogito which was
not able to assure its own certainty. As Descartes claimed at the
end of the second Meditation that the knowledge of the Self
is easier than the knowledge of material things, now he can say
that God is better known than the thinking Self (in the Preface
he has announced to prove that the knowledge of God's existence
is the easiest thing to acquire).
||The proofs explicate the connection between the knowledge
of the Self and the knowledge of God. The idea of God stands allegedly
to God in the same relation as the Self, which possesses the idea
of God stands to God. Descartes claims that the idea of the Self,
which we possess directly as an intuition, necessarily includes
the idea of God. Maybe so, but this relation is not a necessary
connection like the one between thought and existence, a mountain
and a valley, or even between movement and duration. The awareness
of God as obtained through the intuition of the Self does not possess
the same evidence and certainty as the intuition of the Self. Plus
it does not entail the existence of an actual cause. As some contemporaries
have objected during Descartes' life-time, the objective reality
is just a concept whose content remains conceptual (nominalism).
That the objective reality of the idea of God is such that it requires
formal (= actual) reality of God is exactly what needs to be demonstrated
(quod erat demonstrandum). Another assumption is that an
infinite regress is not possible and that there must be a cause
of the entire implicatory series beginning with our imperfect Self.
The idea of God is not invented by the human mind although the
proofs may create the impression that, as we proceed with demonstration,
the idea is being constructed by expanding on human imperfections.
In fact, the proofs simply develop and make its content explicit
in a way of self-discovery. The idea of God is not acquired either
through the senses or produced by human imagination. If it has
not come from without, the only remaining possibility is that
we are born with it. The persistence of the idea and my own endurance
are intricately connected, so much so that the idea of God must
be innate. It is characteristic for innate abilities that
they are not always actually present, but they can produce and
reproduce themselves allover again. It does not provide either
a necessary or a complete grasp of the divine nature; but it serves
as a starting point for self-reflection of a thinking thing.
not always explicated, innate ideas can have more objective validity
than adventitious ideas. While judgments of causation cannot establish
the validity of adventitious ideas, the judgments of objective
validity for innate ideas can establish the causal implication.
||Both proofs presuppose a kind of similarity between
the cause and the effect, a similarity which makes God traceable
in its creatures. Of all creatures man has the maximum resemblance
with the Creator for man is the only being having the idea of God.
This similarity establishes a recognizable link between being created
by God and having the idea of God. In that respect there is an analogy
between the way how craftsmen sign their products and the way how
we have been marked by our Creator. "God, in creating me, put
this idea in my nature in much the same way as an artisan imprints
his mark on his work." As artifacts bear marks of their manufacturers,
so we possess the idea of God as a trademark of God's existence
stamped into our mind. This trademark could not be extracted from
us - it is not "something different from the work itself".
And it should not be separated from the work because it helps us
grasp and retrace the path of resemblance that leads to the Creator.
By conceiving that resemblance we can explicate the idea of God
and discover the nature of our dependency. Thanks to the idea of
God I recognize both the difference and similarities.
Note: From the
conclusion that God has created me Descartes draws another conclusion
- that my creation was performed in the "image of God".
However, the quantity of perfection in an idea cannot be evaluated
by its resemblance to the object, since this resemblance is not
known a priori - it has to be established a posteriori.
Only in that way the existence of a machine design can point
to a designer.
||Both proofs represent a Cartesian combination of the
causal or a posteriori argument and the idea of God (ontological
argument). Both proceed from certain effects to cause as traditional
cosmological argument do and in both versions God appears in the
position of a predicate within the argument. But Descartes does
not make reference to any physical effects in the world taking instead
his own meditative experience as the starting point. The contents
of subjectivity are more reliable than the knowledge of external
objects. In contrast, the Thomistic proof relies on the succession
of efficient causes in the realm of sensible objects. Descartes
claims that there one cannot see why an infinite regress would not
be possible. For him, the presence of the idea of God is the cardinal
effect that requires explanation in regard to the gap that separates
its bearer and its content. And the explanation is being sought
on the following principle: There must exist the object (cause)
which the idea of God represents and it is a non-deceiving God himself
(first proof) who is responsible for the existence of the "thinking
thing" that possesses the idea of God (second proof). "One
might imagine that such a being does not exist, nevertheless one
cannot imagine that that the idea of it does not represent anything
real." This reasoning may lead to the impression that, in the
final analysis, Descartes has welded the causal argument with the
ontological one and that he argues the way ontological proof proceeds.
In the third Meditation, however, he does not start from
the necessary connections between the various predicates that are
united within the idea of God and does not subsequently isolate
one predicate whose reality should be eventually derived by means
of being entailed by that bundle logically, as is the case in the
ontological argument (cf. the fifth Meditation). Similarly
in the second argument, he claims that God is the cause of me who
possess the idea of him by pointing to the absolute perfection of
the supreme Being. But again the proof is not based on the concept
of God's nature; it springs from self-realization of the thinking
||Descartes is very often accused of simply stating
some arbitrarily chosen divine properties and then only demonstrating
that these properties apply to an infinite and perfect being. Had
he proceeded that way he would have only explicated the meaning
of the word 'God' as he understands it without really proving anything.
Fortunately, his demonstration is much more subtle. It is a kind
of double-track procedure: he explicates the content of the innate
idea of God parallel to the exposition of its existential basis
so that only at the end of the demonstration the implicit divine
properties acquire their full meaning.
||If the knowledge that God exists is the precondition
for a full vindication of the claim that clear and distinct perceptions
are true, and if this knowledge for its part presupposes the validity
of clear and distinct perceptions needed to perform the proof of
God's existence, then one can speak about a circle in the demonstration
or even a fallacy (petitio principii). This objection was
formulated already by Antoine Arnauld who has first pointed to a
potential circulus in Descartes' reasoning: in order to be
able to secure the veracity of clear and distinct perceptions by
means of a recourse to God's existence Descartes must already know
that whatever he perceives clearly and distinctly is true. Descartes'
reply was that one has to distinguish "between what we in fact
perceive clearly and what we remember having perceived clearly on
a previous occasion". This distinction seems to suggest that
God's existence and veracity are needed to back only the memory
of the past clear and distinct perceptions, not the reliability
of the present clear and distinct perceptions, which are anyway
indubitable. Thus the circle in reasoning dissipates. Another strategy
to avoid the circle is to restrict the need for the divine guarantee
only to the general rule about the truth of clear and distinct perceptions.
According to this strategy, this type of guarantee is not required
for particular clear and distinct perceptions (this is similar to
the memory-defense). However, it becomes necessary when the isolated
"flashes of cognition" get connected to build up scientific
knowledge. Then the general doubt about the validity of the clear
and distinct principle has to be overcome and the veracity of knowledge
secured. But in that context, which translates the indubitability
of particular statements into the truth of systematic knowledge,
the proof for the existence of God is not any longer based solely
on our clear and distinct perceptions. Descartes is certain of God's
existence due to adduced rational reasons and only subsequently,
in a kind of retrospective recollection, as it were, he refers to
the clarity and distinctness of his intuitions.
||Impossibility to doubt clear and distinct ideas was
grounded on our subjective (psychological) convictions. Now it gains
support from an absolutely objective source: the veracity of God's
existence guarantees the correspondence of our ideas and objects.
But this conformity in turn presupposes the veracity of our psychological
criteria. The circle cannot be avoided totally. The Cogito
remains ineluctably tied to God as long as it is to be a clear (not
obscure) abstraction of myself. The accomplishment of the ultimate
clarity must be a product of the unity of the finite intellect and
the infinite idea.
Question 1: Does Descartes contradict himself when
he says that one cannot doubt those propositions that are perceived
utterly clearly and distinctly during the time when they are perceived,
given his contention that an omnipotent God can deceive us even about
most clearly and distinctly perceived things? No, the first is a psychological
impossibility, the second an open logical possibility.
Question 2: Is it a contradiction when Descartes
affirms the existence of God based on the existence of the idea of God,
that is to say, our knowledge of God, while at the same time admitting
that the idea of God is beyond our comprehension? Descartes allows knowledge
of the infinite but always with a qualification: "insofar as the
eye of my darkened intellect permits". The infinite could be represented
and understood only as incomprehensible.
Question 3: Is the idea of God hopelessly "indefinite"
(vague) and has Descartes failed to secure mutual compatibility of different
attributes within the divine "supreme perfection"? Specifically,
how many attributes does he list and does he realize that perfection
contradicts infinity? He has never aspired to provide an exhaustive
list of attributes, particularly not one deductively ordered or reduced
to a unitary formula. If a systematic deduction of all attributes is
not possible, a fairly illuminating enumeration of mutually connected
attributes is within our reach. Rather than contradicting each other
these attributes help us understand the immanent complexity of the divine
nature. Infinity entails our inability to fully comprehend it, but perfection
remains intelligible as long as we rely on our intellectual abilities
that relate our existence analogously with God.