By: Isabella S.
“I think; therefore I am”. Who hasn’t heard this little philosophical statement before? As the years have gone by this sentence has been exceedingly popularized by pop culture to such an extent that its origin and significance have been almost all but forgotten. The author, René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist who lived from 1596 to 1650 and through his book “Mediations on First Philosophy” claims to have proven the existence of God. The reader at this point must be reasonably skeptic but the question remains: How did he do it?
First of all it is necessary to say that Descartes was a man of catholic faith, however he was also a very scientific man, who liked proof and declared to have proven the existence of God not through faith, but by logic. He begins his book by calling into question all we know and belief so that we can become free from the “senses” that blind us and can focus purely on solid intellectual truths. However he took this a step farther, he then questioned the intellectual truths. He argues that are senses are known to deceive us, such as optical illusions, makes sense right? The next reason is a bit more dramatic, the “Dreamer Argument” as it is commonly known, states that since the sensations when we dream are indistinguishable from reality, but we still agree they are not reality, how does one know if everything around is not just a dream. Lastly, he introduces the “Evil Demon Argument” to justify questioning seemingly certain things such as mathematics, he argues that for all we know some evil force is basically manipulating our thoughts in order to make wrong this seem certain.
After completely questioning all his beliefs he finds one truth, he exists, this is referred as the “cognito” stage in his argument. This is when “I think; therefore I am” comes from. Why is this of all things certain? He argues that thought is only possibly achieved through existence, so even if the world is only a evil spirit inflicted illusion at least we can be certain that we exist, because we think. Using this as a foundation he then begins to seek more knowledge, he proclaims mathematics as a self-evident truth. Why then did the cognito escape his skepticism and not math? Simply because of the act of doubting, doubting math may be a little crazy, but it is not exactly logically incoherent, doubting one’s existence is, according to him, because the capacity of doubt stems from existing.
The reader must be thinking “this still does not prove God”, very true, but we’re getting there. Now that he has established himself as a “thinking thing” he sets out to gather more self-evident truths and for a while is optimistic about achieving a system of knowledge, but he falls back into the “Evil Demon Argument”. Realizing he cannot be certain of anything if there is possibility that all our certainties are manipulations he begins to try to prove God.
God would be the cause of lasting clear perception and is by definition perfect, so would not trick our minds. He starts out seemingly simple with a somewhat Socratic sequence of statements, which are: 1)Our idea of God is that of a perfect entity; 2) It is more perfect to exist than to not exist; 3) If God is perfect and it is more perfect than not to exist, then God exists. His second argument is as follows, there are two kinds of reality, formal reality is the reality things have from existing. It is separated into three: finite (objects and organisms), infinite(God) and mode(ideas). He thus considers as an assumption that everyone considers God as infinite, which is arguable in the first place. Ideas also have objective reality when compared to the object the idea represents, the amount of objective reality coincides with the formal reality the object it represents has. He then brings out a logical idea: something cannot come from nothing. From this he concludes two things, the grand finale: 1) There must be an equal amount of reality in cause as in effect; because of this 2) There must be an equal amount of formal reality in an idea as there is objective reality in an idea. From this he reasons that since everyone has an idea of infinite objective reality, God, there must be an equal infinite formal reality that caused this idea, therefore God must exist.
That’s his theory, approximately 400 years later and modern day philosophers still discuss the value of his theory and the fallacies within it as well. It is highly controversial and probably won’t make an atheist believe in God, but it does have philosophical value, especially considering he did this line of reading through reasoning and not faith, even if there are some errors in his assumptions and/or conclusion, it is nonetheless quite a ride of a theory.