Julie – Paper #2

The existence of God is a concept that is explored in the Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene’ Descartes. In Meditation Five, he explores the notion of material things and the complexity of the perception of material things in accordance with the mind. He understands the reason behind material things, but within the boundaries of what he knows and understands. He understand the what may be outside of him may not be what is inside of him, which is shown in his mind and body argument. He uses this argument as a pathway to bring fourth his perception of God. By using essence versus existence as an explanation for his arguments he is able to navigate through the complicated premises that suggest the existence of material things and in the end, the existence of God.

Descartes’ basis of understanding is the argument of a mind-body union. The question of what exists inside the mind and what exists outside the body is a very important aspect of the argument that he is presenting. He knows that me must understand what is inside his mind before he can understand the thing outside of his mind. “Yet, before inquiring whether any such thing exist outside me, I surely ought to consider the ideas of these things, insofar as they exist in my thought, and see which ones are distinct and which ones are confused (pg. 45).” He understands that to know the existence of a concept, object or anything of that nature, he must understand the essence of that said thing outside of his mind. He needs to make the distinction between what he understands and what he find confusing. This first critical step allows him to know what exists in his mind so that he can make the connection between the mind and the body to further understand the existence of said thing.

Each said thing has its own nature. Descartes believes that although there are many things that exist in his mind as well as outside his mind, they each have certain aspects. “And although, in a sense, I think them at will, nevertheless they are not something I have fabricated; rather they have their own true and immutable natures (pg. 45).” Each thing has a nature that exists without the mind. “For example, when I imagine a triangle, even if perhaps no such figure exists outside my thought anywhere in the world and never has, the triangle still has a certain determinate nature, essence, or form which is unchangeable and eternal, which I did not fabricate, and which does not depend on my mind (pg. 49).” The essence of this thing, in this case a triangle, exists outside the mind, but it can exist inside the mind as well. This nature of the triangle is true and eternal no matter what in the world. It is not thought of in any other mind, it is just there because of its determined nature. It is a continuous thing in which the essence of it is present inside the mind and outside the mind, which in turn allows for its existence.

Descartes uses this as a smooth transition into the argument of the existence of God. He follows the same premises to try and come to a similar result. He believe that the existence of God can be proven using the same notions he has of any other thing in which its existence can be argued. “Clearly the idea of God, that is, the idea f a supremely perfect being, is one I discover to be no less within me than the idea of any figure or number (pg. 46).” He is bringing God into an argument that is used with all other things. He understands that like the essence of a triangle existing inside of his mind as well as outside of him, the existence of God can be related by using the same argument. A triangle has a constant essence and so does God.

“For although it is not necessary that I should ever happen upon any thought of God, nevertheless whenever I am of a mind to think of a being that is first and supreme, and bring forth the idea of God as it were from the storehouse of my mind, I must of necessity ascribe all perfections to him, even if I do not at the same time enumerate them all or take notice of each one individually (pg. 46).” I believe that since Descartes believes the perfections of God inside of his mind, he automatically sees God as the ultimate perfect being. The perception of God in his mind is what he knows for sure and what a constant essence within him is. This allows him to believe the perfection of God as a whole in his mind, although he may not understand the individual perfections that make up the essence of God. This is how he understands the essence of God in his mind.

Descartes believes that what he clearly understands in his mind is true and it exists, this includes the notion that God exists. “Consequently, there is a great difference between false assumptions of this sort and the true ideas that are inborn in me, the first and chief of which is the idea of God. For there are a great many ways in which I understand that this idea is not an invention that is dependent upon my though, but is an image of a true and immutable nature (pg. 47).” He knows that those notions he believes to be clear and distinct in his mind are those that are born within himself. He believes that he does not need to be dependent on what he thinks to understand the essence of God, in which leads him to believe the true existence of God. What he clearly understands is not what he thinks, but it is rather what he is born with. “But, whatever type of argument I use, it always comes down to the fact that the only things that fully convince me are those that I clearly and distinctly understand (pg. 47).”

Descartes believes that those things that he clearly and distinctly understands are not blocked by certain issues such as ignorance. He knows that he is capable of ignorance due to certain outside sources and other worldly things that may affect his perceptions of a certain thing, but if the essence and perfections of God are already instilled in his mind, there is no way that he can be ignorant of said perfections and the essence of God? He speaks of “previously made judgments (pg. 47).” He knows that he cannot focus on one perfection or one thing in his mind, so other judgments may cloud his mind, but his born perception of the existence of God would not be affected if he were ignorant. “Thus, other arguments can be brought forward that would easily make me change my opinion, were I ignorant of God. And thus I would never have true and certain knowledge about anything, but merely fickle and changeable opinions (pg. 47).”

I believe that Descartes knows that the existence of God is fact, because in his mind he knows that the essence and perfections are clear to him and they are distinct and they are natural. He believes that there are other arguments outside of his mind that may change him or mold the essence of some ideas, but that would be because of ignorance. “Be that as it may, this changes nothing; for certainly, even if I were dreaming, if anything is evident to my intellect, then it is entirely true (pg. 48).” He cannot control the judgments that occur outside of his mind, but he can control the effect of them, purely because he believes clearly and distinctly the essence of God exists within his mind and outside of it.

One thought on “Julie – Paper #2

  1. Julie,

    I think this is a solid attempt to think through these issues.

    I particularly like your point about things having natures or essences outside of the mind. It is ultimately not clear to me whether Descartes thinks material objects are “real” in a non-mathematical sense. For Aristotle, there is no skepticism about external objects because there is no skepticism that the mind can link up with an object–that the mind can take on a universal (i.e., an object’s form) and understand that object. But for Descartes there is a radical skepticism concerning this point.

    I think part of the point of the project of the Meditations is to see the world outside of the mind in a new way. That way is mathematics. I think Descartes is saying that the essence of material things is mathematical and thus the only way to know that essence is through reason. In a way, this is not so different than Plato or Aristotle. But in another way it’s very different: because knowledge does not begin in the senses for Descartes and because as a result the world somehow depends upon us. Descartes establishes the existence of God and of the external world through a consideration of his own nature. This basically leads in a direct way to Kant’s distinction between phenomena and noumena and to his idea that we constitute our experience via the categories of our mind. Somehow, we no longer depend on the world–the world depends on us. As Kant says, we give the law to nature.

    So what is really different by the end of the Meditations? In a way, everything–night falls on two thousand years of the philosophical tradition.

    Anyway, good job thinking through of these issues.

    There are minor typographical errors but overall this paper is pretty decent.


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