Descartes' Ontological Argument

The argument in its simplicity is srtiking, almost nothing appears to be resolved in favour of God's existence.

"But if the mere fact that I can produce from my thought the idea of something entails that everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it, is not this a possible basis for another argument to prove the existence of God? Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number. And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature."

In effect, Descartes is affirming the consistency of God's necessary existence. That God can be perceived as necessarily existent and consistently so with a set of perfections as properties that do not conflict with the "essence" of God. (Whether of His character or His existence itself.)

One could affirm this statement in a suitable fashion. The following is a mathematical impossibility but something which I am sure Descartes could conceive of God adequately to prove his point.

We know that squaring the circle using only compass and straight edge is impossible in a finite number of steps: (Because the square root of pi is not a constructable number.) Yet, God as perfect could immediately with a pencil first draw (in freehand) a perfect figure of a square as well as a perfect figure of a circle with the same area.

Then, we may entail some sense of perfection to God consistently upon His existent self as surely as we would imagine such a circle, although we are unable to physically perform just that perfectly to the square. Perfection then belongs rather to the principle of its existence, as opposed to the quality becoming perfected. Perfection then, requires some sense of necessary being in order to justify what may be perfect, rather than perfection as an attainable principle available to the contingently existent.

So, Descartes in conceiving God as perfect also conceives that the essence is of God existent and perfection is not found in the quality, but in the essence that it exists. (As it logically follows that existence does nothing to refine or deprive perfection of its quality.)

Descartes, considered God as infinite and all other sets of uncountable infinities as merely indefinite - as unable to be perceived in the same way (as God is infinite and more perfect.) So, the circle (constructable in an infinite set of steps only) is "indefinite", yet God "infinite".

Continue To Next Page

Return To Section Start

Return To Previous Page