An Issue of Descartes’s Meditations
Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy presents to us the supposition that a God must exist, as derived from the pre-existing notion of an infinite being that is presumably embedded in the human mind. Despite his initial exhibition of Cartesian skepticism, Descartes finds that there must be three ideas of existence that can be assumable by virtue of his “cogito ergo sum ideology; those being the ideas of himself (or the meditator), other people, and “God. While he makes no assertions regarding whether these ideas exist in relation to an external or material reality, he uses these seemingly inexplicable truths to undermine the existence of an “evil deceiver. And although we cannot, to its full extent, comprehend infinite ideas, Descartes argues in favor of the epistemological belief of innatism as justification to our presuppositions and knowledge of a metaphysical world.
Descartes’s initial skepticism about all ideas is applicable to all that the human mind can comprehend, apart from the mind, body, and God which seem to be provisionally put aside in their own category. His argument in favor of the human ability to perceive the abstract manifests itself in his description of how he views God, as he argues that God is “supreme, eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and Creator of all things which are outside of Himself (167). An idea such as this, he claims, could not have manifested itself in similar nature in every human being to ever live. He continually disputes the tabula rasa ideology, asserting that “if the objective reality of any one of my ideas is of such a nature as clearly to make me recognize that it is not in me either formally or eminentlythere is another being which exists, or which is the cause of this idea (239). Moreover, “had no such idea existed in me, I should have no sufficient argument to convince me of the existence of any being beyond myself (239). Descartes from this, concludes that the idea of the infinite could have only been put in him, given that the human being is a finite substance, and thus, cannot comprehend nor conjure something greater than itself.
From this idea, Descartes concludes that the idea of God is not only a descriptor for perfection, but an example of how one can find the “distinction between essence and existence (176). The essence of a triangle according to Descartes is to have three sides, however this does not immediately allow us the right to say a triangle exists, as its essence does not directly relate to its existence. God, according to Descartes, is so incomprehensible in nature that our only means to learning further about such a perfect being is by allowing him to exist per se. Descartes continually suggests that the idea of God’s essence must necessarily include His existence, arguing that “it is not within my power to think of God without existencethough it is in my power to imagine a horse either with wings or without wings (176).
Therefore, Descartes finds that an evil deceiver is an impossibility, as a God so perfect in nature could not allow such deception to exist. He reuses a subtler skepticism in his conclusions, arguing that “I know an infinitude of other properties in God, none of which I can either diminish or change as if to say that such properties can’t be comprehended and thus cannot be disproven. The existence of God thus, should be an assurance that He would not deceive humanity.