Descartes and Skepticism

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Descartes and Skepticism

Rene Descartes was a great scientist, mathematician and philosopher. He was known for his extensive work on skepticism, and in particular a piece called “Meditations on First Philosophy” (written in 1641) which is still widely used by modern philosophers. In this publication, Descartes’ aim was to demonstrate that a persons’ soul is eternal and that God exists. He explains in Meditation One that it is possible to question the existence of all things; in Meditation two he goes on to give details regarding the existence of the mind and the soul.

In the Third Meditation he gives arguments of proof of Gods’ existence; and in Meditation Four he explains the difference between truth and error. In the Fifth Meditation Descartes provides further arguments to prove the existence of God and in the Sixth and final meditation he brings it all together as he demonstrates how knowledge of the mind can be guided by God and therefore validates the knowledge we have of physical world. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010).

This essay will explain Descartes argument of the existence of God with specific reference to the Third Meditation discussed in the class handout- ‘Descartes and the problem of Skepticism’. Meditation Ш- God’s Existence In the Third Meditation, subtitled “On God’s existence,” Descartes is certain that he is a “thinking thing” (pg 142) and sets out to prove God’s Existence. There were two major standpoints noted in his argument, though they were found to be closely linked. Firstly, he tackles the idea that his own existence and thoughts must have come from somewhere or something.

He goes on to explain that the thought he has of God is one of an “eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, creator of all things” (pg 143). As a result, Descartes argues that the idea of God must therefore be far more complex than his mind alone can perceive- since his idea of God is that of an infinite, perfect being and Descartes himself is a finite being lacking enough formal reality to create such an idea on his own will. Put simply, Descartes believes that the idea of God could not have been created in his own limited mind; and he establishes that God must be the originator of his thoughts and therefore God exists.

Secondly, Descartes battles with the idea that his existence must have a cause. He discusses the various possibilities that might have caused his existence including that he might have created himself; he might have always existed; his parents created him; that he was created by something less benevolent and perfect than God; and lastly, that it was God who created him. Descartes takes on an elimination process to figure out which one of these possibilities are likely true. He discusses that he could not have created himself because as he says “I would have given myself every perfection” (pg 146).

Next he dismisses the idea that he always existed simply because as he describes that he is a dependent being that needs to be continually sustained by another. Descartes establishes that the idea of his parents being his creator only reintroduces the same problem regarding their own existence. He then thought of the possibility of a less than perfect God being his creator- but he argues that the idea of perfection that exists in his mind could not have originated from a non-perfect being.

With this established, Descartes concludes that there must be a perfect God who is the cause of his existence and his perfect idea of God. In analysis of Descartes position, the observation is made that the basis of his argument is causal reasoning. This is shown when he suggests that there must be a cause of the idea of a perfect God and that this perfect idea must come from God himself. In my own reflection, I thought that living a predominantly Christian society might be the cause of my own idea of God. I have learnt all that I know about God from my parents and by extension the society.

It therefore follows, that my parents’ idea of God might have come from their parents also, whose idea somewhere along the line came from the church- which is also made up of men who has parents. Descartes argument supports that at the end of this causal chain, there has to be a first cause, which is God. Since there is no direct of evidence proving or disproving the existence of God, the belief in his existence is widely accepted today, and the search for such a proof would always be a highly debatable and controversial topic.

While there is still disagreement over Descartes argument as to whether or not God exists, it is generally agreed that God’s existence cannot be proved through the capacity of the mind and therefore we rely on such concepts as skepticism and reasoning to guide what we choose to believe of God. References * Smith, K. (2010, September 20). Descartes’ life and works. Retrieved October 11, 2011from http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/descartes-works * Class Handout- Descartes and The Problem of Skepticism.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 November 2016

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