Descartes’ First Failed Attempt to Prove God’s Existence
An analysis and critique of the first argument Descartes presents to prove God’s existence in the Third Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy.
This paper critically analyzes Descartes attempt at proving God exists in the Third Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy. After thoroughly explaining how the argument unfolds in the original text, the writer offers two lines of objections that undercut his proof which focus on his claim that he has a clear and distinct idea of God and the relationship Descartes claims exists between the objective reality of an idea and the formal reality of the thing represented by that idea. (It also clearly defines all of these terms.)
In the Third Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes presents his first proof of God’s existence by characterizing the nature of ideas, examining the relationship between causes and effects, and defining the relationships between ideas and the things or concepts they represent. He then applies these results to the clear and distinct idea of God he claims to have. Descartes systematically defines each of these components to build the premises for his argument in such a way that the conclusion that God exists immediately and obviously follows. As such, if one is going to deny that Descartes has irrefutably proved God’s existence, one must find fault in at least one of these premises. This will be the strategy that I will employ in this paper. After laying out the premises of Descartes’ first proof of God’s existence and the justification he employs for each one, I will argue that his argument ultimately fails because he does not sufficient justify two of the most important premises. First, I will argue that he does not – and perhaps cannot – sufficiently prove that he really has a clear and distinct idea of a perfect God. Second, I will argue that he does not properly justify his claim that there is a direct relationship between the objective reality of an idea and the formal reality of the thing that causes the idea.