Friday, July 7, 2017

Descartes / Meditation 3 - Short Summary

In the third mediation of René Descartes' "Mediations on the First Philosophy" (titled: " On the existence of God ") Descartes establishes the principle that anything which can be clearly and distinctly perceived by the natural light is true and uses this to establish that God exists. In meditation 2 Descartes establishes that he in fact exists (after raising some concerns in meditation 1). In meditation 3 Descartes notes that he finds himself with an idea of God in his mind and asks what is the cause of this idea? For Descartes a cause must have as least as much reality as its effect. Since Descartes or any other finite being has less finite reality than God, only God could be the cause of his idea about God (see separate summary of Descartes' proofs of God). This means for Descartes that God must exists. Descartes then wonders, by way of continuation, whether he could exist with his idea of God if God didn’t exist? He argues that he could not have brought himself into existence, for only a perfect being could do this and he recognizes that he is not perfect (that's very modest of Descartes, but let's remember that he claims to have written "Mediation on the First Philosophy" in 6 days very much like someone else who crated his world in such a time span). Descartes could have been brought into existence by his parents, but this merely forces us to ask how they came into existence. Eventually, we will need to recognize a being with a higher degree of reality. So God must exist to be the cause of our existence. As for the idea of God, we know it can’t be an invention of my mind, since my mind is limited and God is not. It could be something I have picked up from others but this too forces the question of whether they got it from. Descartes concludes meditation 3 with the assertion that we are born with the idea of God. God himself places the idea of himself in us as a craftsman puts his mark on his work.

After doubting the world in mediation 1 and then finding a basis for it (the self) in meditation 2, Descartes' mediation 3 brings god into to picture so that we may believe in a little bit more than just our own existence. In meditation 4 we will see how Descartes uses God to reassure us of a reality.

back to: A summary by chapter of Descartes' Meditations 

See also: essential summary of Rene Descartes' Meditations

Suggested reading on Renè Descartes: