Beliefs and the Existence of God

In Meditations on First Philosophy, Ren© Descartes attempts to rebuild his beliefs from the ground up, accepting only those he can be absolutely certain of. In order to decide the certainty of a belief, Descartes creates proofs through a series of questions and statements. Each belief he attempts to prove is thoroughly explained in a new Meditation. In Meditation III specifically, Descartes attempts to prove the existence of God. However, proving the existence of God does not serve solely for the renewal of his beliefs. Instead, it is to actually disprove the existence of an idea he has already shared.

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In Meditation I, Descartes introduces and explains the origins of doubt. He claims he cannot even know if what he believes he sees is actually what he sees. In order to explain why this is so, Descartes declares, Accordingly, I will suppose an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving me. (12) Here he is reasoning that a demon, or evil genius, exists whose job is to merely deceive and consequently this causes doubt in perception. Thus far, there is nothing to prove this demon is or is not real, so Descartes must recognize this idea as it possibly being true.

In Meditation III, Descartes proclaims, And certainly, because I have no reason for thinking that there is a God who is a deceiver… the basis for doubting, depending as it does merely on the above hypothesis, is very tenuous and, so to speak, metaphysical. But in order to remove even this basis for doubt, I should at the first opportunity inquire whether there is a God (20) He knows that God, being an all perfect being, would not deceive him, and he knows there cannot be a being more powerful than God to overrule this. So, in proving the existence of God, he proves that no being could deceive another; therefore, there cannot be an evil demon and his perceptions are clear.

However, in attempting to establish God’s existence, it can be said that Descartes is misguided, and his reasoning is problematic. It is understood that Descartes must prove that God exists in order to rule out the evil demon. And by ruling out the demon he ultimately assures himself that what he clearly and distinctly perceives is true because he will not be deceived by a greater being. It is also understood that Descartes already has an idea of God as he tells in Meditation Three: It is indeed an idea that is utterly clear and distinct; for whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be real and true and to involve some perfection is wholly contained in that idea. The result is that, of all the ideas that are in me, the idea that I have of God is the most true, the most clear and distinct. (26) Here, Descartes claims that he cannot doubt the existence of God, because he already has a clear and distinct perception of Him.

These two understandings are completely conflicting. In one instance he claims he cannot have clear and distinct perceptions unless he knows God exists, but in the other he claims he already knows God exists because he has a clear and distinct perception of Him. He faces what is known as the Cartesian Circle, where the opposing ideas are in a constant circle. How can it be that he already has a clear and distinct perception of something that proves he has clear and distinct perceptions? This fault leads the reader to believe Descartes’ argument and proof is largely misguided and cannot be trusted.

Through first examination, it appears Descartes’ reasoning for proving the existence of God is sound. In his case, it is logical to want to disprove the existence of a demon that causes another to doubt. However, when given a closer look, it is clear Descartes’ ideas and reasons given in proving the existence of God contradict one another giving a sense of unreliability to his work.

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Beliefs and The Existence of God. (2019, Oct 30). Retrieved September 29, 2022 , from

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