Descartes’ arch mission in the Meditations was to provide a theory that would help him get to the truth. Descartes’ book “Meditations on First Philosophy” consists of six meditations through which he addresses several uncertain issues in attempt to remove their uncertainties. Maybe the most essential meditation he speaks of is the third meditation in which he discusses the debatable issue of “The Existence of God”. Although the existence of God is an objective matter, Descartes’ method in proving this existence is perhaps the most efficient in removing any shadow of doubt which a person might have. This method, which will be further discussed, has its own imperfections and therefore it was fairly easy for doubters to come up with rebuttals and hence, the matter remains objective.
Descartes begins his third meditation discussing the existence of himself and regards himself as a thinking thing. In addition to that, he erases any doubts having to do with his sensory experience saying that although he knows his sensory perception and imagination may not exist outside him, however, they do exist inside him and are means of thinking. This that has been said previously does help Descartes approach the truth he seeks but is still not sufficient. Furthermore he continues by saying that a person cannot exist independently; human beings were created by an infinite substance; a being that is eternal, independent and has the highest power plus intelligence. This infinite substance is the reason for the existence of human beings and everything surrounding them, this infinite substance is God.
The existence of God to Descartes is a necessity and a crucial matter especially after he established that in order to exist as finite beings, an infinite substance must exist to create us. In
previous meditations, Descartes talked about how doubts and desires come from an interpretation that people lack certain things and that people would not notice this lack if it weren’t for the existence of a more ideal presence that has the things lacked by people. Furthermore, Descartes saw that there is no reason to doubt the existence of God since his perception and understanding of God is an infinite reality and therefore is more likely to be authentic than other conceptions.
Having inferred that God essentially exists, Descartes asks himself how he acquired the idea of God. That being said, he advised three types of ideas: Adventitious, factitious, and innate. Adventitious ideas are derived from knowledge that we encounter through life. Factitious ideas are ideas come from our creative imagination. Innate ideas come from within and so from this definition, Descartes considers God to exist as an idea which we were born with and which God himself placed in us.
Descartes’ distinct and clear perception is that God exists as perfection. In order to be labeled as a betrayer, one must have defects and faults. Furthermore, since Descartes sees God as a faultless and infinite being, then God could not be a betrayer or a deceiver. “Cogito, ergo sum” is a Latin phrase meaning “I think, therefore I am” and which Descartes quotes. He then explains that as the “cogito” is there, so should the existence of God.
Although meditation three mainly discusses the existence of God, Descartes raises the issue again in meditation five. Meditation five: “”The essence of material things, and the existence of God considered a second time”, includes three principle matters. The first topic covers “the essence of matter”. The second topic discusses the “ontological argument for God’s existence” and the third matter involves getting to the “route to perfect knowledge”.
In this meditation, Descartes distinguishes between two things; the essence and the existence. Before knowing of an existing thing, one must be aware of its essence. What he means by that is, knowing the essence of things is to find out whether these certain things could possibly exist and not be actually there. However, we will further see that this does not apply to God, and that God serves as an exception in this matter.
Descartes was strongly against Aristotle’s argument of the essence. To Aristotle, one learns the essence of a triangle by observing and examining surrounding triangular objects. While Descartes says that we acquire knowledge of the essence mainly through the intellect and after that being done will we be able to observe objects in the world resembling triangles. Adding to that, Descartes continues with his argument against Aristotle’s belief and says that since there are no perfect triangles in the “real world” then how will we be able to understand them if they do not exist? He also discusses the issue of mathematically abstract equations which we have learned but have not derived from what’s surrounding us in our world.
He then decides to turn this argument of essence to a more important issue which is proving the existence of God a second time now. However, this second proof shows to be weaker than the one he has discussed in his third meditation. The fact that he considers he should add more proof in this meditation makes us wonder, is he not sure of his first proof?
The proof he provides in the fifth meditation is a form of proof that was used amongst scholastic philosophers. We have already established that our formulated idea of God equals a perfect and infinite being. Hence, that would necessarily include existence; it would be considered ideal to exist than not to exist. According to the Descartes, the term “existence” is not just considered a characteristic of God but a crucial feature of God’s, so that means God cannot be created without associating “existence” with him.
After that proof was known to people and philosophers, Kant pointed out that it contained flaws since he does not agree with the fact that “existence” defines and object. To Kant, existence does not accommodate a certain object as much as it accommodates the world. Therefore he concludes that existence is not a property of God’s.
Although Descartes provided many explanations regarding his proofs, they still remain very objective thus raising many counter arguments presented by people and philosophers. Descartes’ claim that we have a clear and distinct idea of an infinite being is not a valid statement because we do not in any way have a clear idea of this infinite being. That being said, when we are able to think of an ideal being does not follow that this ideal being we are thinking of actually exists. Thinking of something does not validate its existence or make it actually exist.
Furthermore, even if we have an idea of God within us, it does not necessarily mean that God put that idea in us. Our ideas are not all innate, we do possess adventitious ideas which enable us to think and imagine creatively thus creating the idea of God. In order for God to be able to create himself and exist independently, he must own the attribute of timelessness, and we cannot just assume that he does own that property; hence, we cannot say that God is the reason he exists. If we allow something to be there without a cause then we would be going against our nature, and if we do allow it, then how does that stop everything else from existing without a cause?
These arguments are not denying the existence of God, they are just justifying that Descartes’ proofs and discussions are presented in a weak manner and do not successfully prove the existence of God. Descartes does present himself as an intelligent person with rational discussions, but has failed to provide much rational explanations with regards to the existence of God. Since the beginning of his meditations, Descartes did classify that his thoughts of God present God as a perfect infinite being and then he classified himself as an imperfect being. This poses a problem; how can an imperfect person decide and define which properties exist as being perfect and which do not? When he says that, it is as if he is saying that his judgments and explanations are as ideal as his idea of God.
To conclude matters, it is possible to think of God and an imperfect being. However that does not summon the things I think of to existence. Every person can have a different thought or image of God according to his/her way of thinking. That is why, the existence of God remains a debatable issue and is very much objective regardless of the different present religions.