• charles ferraro
    82
    That the existence of God may be rightly demonstrated from the fact that the necessity of His existence is comprehended in the conception which we have of him.
    Rene Descartes

    The (ontological) argument does not, to a modern mind, seem very convincing, but it is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.
    Bertrand Russell

    In Meditation II, Descartes presented the reader with a detailed explanation of the human Cogito Sum along with the method the reader could use to realize it. He claimed that a person attempting to doubt its own existence, even under the most extreme (hyperbolic) of scenarios (the dreaming doubt and the malicious demon doubt), would ultimately and inevitably realize, or intuit, during its doubting activity in the first person, present tense mode, that its existence was an indubitably certain existence. A simultaneous intuition or realization would occur that not existing while doubting or thinking was impossible for the thinker. Or, phrasing it positively, a simultaneous intuition or realization would occur that existing while doubting or thinking was indubitably certain for the thinker. As Descartes put it: "I am, I exist. This is certain. How often? As often as I think."

    However, Descartes did not say that his existence was necessary in itself. He said only if, and when, he doubted, only if, and when, he thought, only then, during the time of their occurrence, did he simultaneously intuit his existence to be indubitably certain. If he ceased to think for an instant of time, then Descartes claimed that he would have no ground for believing that he could have existed during that instant. As Descartes cautioned: "For it might indeed be that if I entirely ceased to think, I should thereupon altogether cease to exist."

    So then, according to Descartes, a person's thinking activity is CONTINGENT in the specific sense that it is experienced by the person as always being open to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence. In other words, the Cogito portion of the Cogito Sum is experienced by the person, in the first person, present tense mode, to be contingent thinking activity (a contingent Cogito), since it is experienced as always being open to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence. Search as one will, there is no separate or concomitant intuition available which would also assure the person, beyond all reasonable and hyperbolic doubt, that its thinking or doubting is an activity impervious to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence. And the force of this realization would apply equally to all the many different modes of the person's thinking.

    Descartes showed how the performance of a human Cogito Sum did, in fact, yield the intuition of an indubitably certain contingent personal existence (the contingent human Sum) based upon, emerging from, and restricted to the human person's simultaneous experience of the occurrence of its contingent thinking activity (the contingent human Cogito). Or, stating it more succinctly, a person's contingent thinking activity (the human Cogito), during the time that it is experienced by the person, always provides the person with a simultaneous intuition of the indubitable certainty of that person's contingent personal existence (the human Sum).

    Surprisingly, in none of his subsequent meditations did Descartes attempt to present the reader with a detailed explanation of the nature of the divine Cogito Sum which would have paralleled nicely the detailed explanation of the nature of the human Cogito Sum he offered in Meditation II. Preoccupied as he was with the urgent need to provide a divine guarantee for his clear and distinct criterion of truth, in Meditation III Descartes decided to present the reader with a series of more, or less, traditional a posteriori arguments for the existence of God and, in Meditation V, he decided to present the reader with his a priori ontological argument for the existence of God based, curiously enough, upon his clear and distinct perception criterion of truth.

    Nevertheless, had he wanted to, we suspect Descartes could have provided a detailed explanation of the nature of the divine Cogito Sum along the following lines.

    If one assumes the divinity thinks, then its thinking activity (the divine Cogito) would be NECESSARY in the specific sense that it would be experienced by the divinity as always being closed to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence and, as such, it would always provide the divinity with an intuitiion of its indubitably certain necessary personal existence (the divine Sum). In other words, he could have explained how the performance of a divine Cogito Sum would have provided an intuition of indubitably certain necessary personal existence (the divine Sum) based upon, emerging from, and restricted to the divine person's experience of the occurrence of its necessary thinking activity (the divine Cogito). The divine person's necessary thinking activity (the divine Cogito) would provide the divine person with an eternal intuition of the indubitable certainty of the divine person's necessary personal existence (the divine Sum).

    He could then have gone on to explain that IF the human person were also able to experience the occurrence of such necessary thinking activity (the divine Cogito), then the human person, too, would be able able to experience it as always being closed to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence. But that since the human person is, in fact, simply not able to experience the occurrence of necessary thinking activity (the divine Cogito) in the same way as the human person is able to experience the occurrence of contingent thinking activity (the human Cogito), the human person is, therefore, prohibited from ever having direct access to an intuition of indubitably certain necessary personal existence (the divine Sum).

    From a Cartesin-based perspective, the central issue is the possibility of having a personal experience of thinking activity that can cease to occur and can go out of existence versus the impossibility of having a personal experience of thinking activity that can never cease to occur and can never go out of existence. Human thinkling activity is contingent being because the human person experiences that, at any given moment, the human person's thinking activity can cease to occur and can go out of existence - nothing more, nothing less. The human person's, alone, is the I think contingently, I exist contingently (Cogito contingenter, Sum contingenter). By contrast, divine thinking activity is necessary being because the divine person experiences that its thinking activity can never cease to occur and can never go out of existence - nothing more, nothing less. God's, alone, is the I think necessarily, I exist necessarily (Cogito necessario, Sum necessario). It is simply impossible for a human being to have a personal experience of thinking activity that can never cease to occur and can never go out of existence (the divine Cogito).

    However, from a Cartesian-based perspective, it is precisely this impossible experience which is the indispendsable prerequisite that would enable a human being to have a performative intuition, in the first person, present tense mode, of the indubitable certainty of necessary personal existence (the divine Sum); i.e., the existence of God.

    But, unfortunately, Descartes' ontological argument lacks this indispensable experiential prerequisite. And, in response to Bertrand Russell, I submit that this is PRECISELY where the fallacy of the ontological argument lies!
  • Josh Alfred
    110
    Hello, yes well I ran into an issue when contemplating the ontological argument.

    Sure, we can each reach a conception of "the greatest of all beings." But if you drew a unicorn we could all form a conception of it as well.

    The argument would imply that all things that can be conceived exist, have an ontological basis, outside of the mind. This of course is fallacious, as intrinsic fictional things can be conceived by the mind just as extrinsic existent things can.

    "It lacks the experimental requisite." Right.

    Since Descartes lived in a time when there was governing power in religion, it was a safety protocol to turn over some material supporting the existence of the God, i.e. he came up with his own type of ontological argument.
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    I think Descartes' ontological argument still stands. His argument doesn't require us to experience God-like thoughts (Divine Cogito, divine sum). We simply infer God's existence through how we define God.

    Descartes seems to be saying existence is definitionally, or even in a more fundamental manner? connected to the notion of God. We could say existence is an essence of being God. Not much different from Anselm's original argument.
  • Fooloso4
    959
    Descartes took his motto from Ovid: He who lived well hid himself well.

    What hides behind the pious facade of a proof of God’s existence based on his perfection of God is the program for the perfection of man.

    The three things that characterize a god in Genesis are knowledge, immortality (3:22) and with a universal language man is able to do whatever it is he wills to do (11:6).

    In the Meditations Descartes says that as long as we will only what we know we will not err. With his algebraic method (universal language) of solving for any unknown variable, whatever we do not know can be known. The greater the increase of knowledge the less chance of error.The immortality of the soul/mind is “given” via Christianity (contrary to the Genesis story). So, we have all the elements that characterize a god in Genesis: knowledge, immortality, and the ability to do whatever it is we will to do. Descartes’ true concern is not with proofs of God but with overcoming God’s attempt to prevent man from becoming gods.
  • charles ferraro
    82


    Certain assumptions shared by Descartes' arguments for the existence of God, be the arguments a posteriori or a priori, are that the ideas of the infinite and the perfect are ontologically prior to the ideas of the finite and the imperfect, and that the ideas of the infinite and the perfect are innate to the human mind because they are implanted there by God. For example, for Descartes my idea that I think contingently (which is my idea of a finite and imperfect activity) presupposes an ontologically prior, innate idea of what it means to think necessarily (which is my innate idea of an infinite and perfect activity). Or, to understand that I think contingently (a finite and imperfect activity) requires that I must have some ontologically prior, innate understanding of what it means to think necessarily (an infinite and perfect activity). However as this line of reasoning relates to my central theme, I would submit, contrary to Descartes' position, that my understanding of the idea of necessary thinking activity (an infinite and perfect activity) is NOT innate to the human mind and is NOT implanted there by God.

    Neither is the idea of my contingent thinking activity (a finite and imperfect activity) obtained, as Descartes would claim, by limiting or bounding, in some way, the ontologically prior, innate idea of necessary thinking activity (an infinite and perfect activity). Instead, my idea of necessary thinking activity is a direct result of my deliberate attempt to try to remove, albeit unsuccessfully, that characteristic from the idea of my contingent thinking activity which limits and constrains it; viz., its vulnerability to the possibility of complete cessation and non-existence. This, I submit, is the genuine way in which I arrive at an understanding of the idea of necessary thinking activity (an infinite and perfect activity).


    Nevertheless, it does not necessarily follow, either from the former interpretation of Descartes or from my latter interpretation, that I can have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of necessary thinking activity (an infinite and perfect activity) in the same way as I do, in fact, have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of contingent thinking activity (a finite and imperfect activity).

    As I see it, the central issue is not a matter of the possibility of my being able to have, or not to have, an IDEA of perfect thinking activity or an IDEA of perfect being - be those ideas innate, adventitious, or factitious. Instead, the central issue is a matter of the possibility of my being able to have, or not to have, a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of that perfect thinking activity or of that perfect being.


    Or, approaching it from a slightly different direction, doubts and desires may come from an understanding that I lack something, and that I would not be aware of that lack unless I was aware of a more perfect being that has those things which I lack. However, my ability to have an IDEA of, or CONCEPTION of, or UNDERSTANDING of, or AWARENESS of a more perfect, or infinite, being that possesses all those things which I lack (inclusive of necessary thinking activity), does not mean that I am also able to have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of that being and its necessary thinking activity in precisely the same way as I am able to have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of my being and its contingent thinking activity.


    Certainly, I can postulate the existence of a being that thinks necessarily and exists necessarily, but I cannot have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of the necessary thinking activity which would simultaneously yield an intuition of the indubitably certain existence of such a necessary being. Again, I CAN PERFORM the "Cogito contingenter, Sum contingenter," but I CANNOT PERFORM the "Cogito necessario, Sum necessario."

    In conclusion, I submit that Descartes' a priori argument for the existence of God is not an experientially grounded performative argument like the one he formulated to successfully and persuasively prove the existence of the human being. His ontological argument, lacking the crucial, indispensable, experiential foundation of necessary thinking activity, is destined to fail from its very inception. It is a non-persuasive, quasi-intuitive argument espousing a so-called self-validating idea of God which is given in consciousness and which represents God as existing, but which, in fact, completely misses the mark.
  • JohnHermes
    8
    Love some of Rene Descartes works. He gets heavy into occult stuff. But was a a real practitioner of occultism or just more like a historian someone who studied only theory?
  • charles ferraro
    82


    But what does this have to do with my argument?
  • TheMadFool
    3.4k
    Certainly, I can postulate the existence of a being that thinks necessarily and exists necessarily, but I cannot have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of the necessary thinking activity which would simultaneously yield an intuition of the indubitably certain existence of such a necessary being. Again, I CAN PERFORM the "Cogito contingenter, Sum contingenter," but I CANNOT PERFORM the "Cogito necessario, Sum necessario."charles ferraro

    Agreed but does the fact that a monkey can't do the human cogito, ergo sum mean that humans don't exist? Our limitations are ours. We can't extrapolate them onto other beings, possibly superior to us in unimaginable ways.

    If I'm correct Descartes' ontological proof doesn't differ much from Anselm's ontological proof. Both have existence tied to perfection. If there's a difference, I'd like to know. Thanks.
  • Jamesk
    317
    I am not sure whether Descartes took the God continuation as seriously as we think. His achievement is the cogito. This can only be challenged by asking why a thought needs to have a thinker. If thoughts can exist without a thinker then Rene is lost, however most of us can accept the need for a thinker.

    The God argument may have merely been a means of gaining sponsorship to write his thesis. He received funding to prove God but his main interest was proving doubt.
  • charles ferraro
    82


    Since when do simians have self-consciousness?

    I suspect simians are incapable of performing a simian Cogito Sum because they don't have a Cogito that can reflect upon itself; at most, they have a pre-reflective or, better, a non-reflective Cogito which is always oriented toward objects, only. Technically, a monkey is incapable of knowing that it exists while thinking because it can't perform the Cogito Sum in the first person, present tense mode. In short, a monkey can't perform a monkey Cogito, so a monkey can't know that it exists.


    No, the fact that humans can perform a Cogito Sum based upon contingent thinking activity, but cannot perform a Cogito Sum based upon necessary thinking activity, doesn't mean that God does not exist, it means only that we can't experience that God exists.

    You are correct, both Descartes' and Anselm's ontological arguments (they are not proofs) involve the idea of perfection. In this sense, they do not differ. However, neither argument enables humans to have a DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of said perfection, which is the basic issue.
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