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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Descartes: God is, therefore I am

(Descartes Tutoring Christina)
When people talk about Descartes, they often refer to his famous phrase:  Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).  If they fancy themselves somewhat reasonable, they might pat themselves on the back for concluding that life would be nothing without reason.  They might even add that God doesn’t necessarily exist. 

Would that be true?

Not according to Descartes.  For Descartes (an alleged Catholic whom some say was responsible for converting Queen-regnant Christina of Sweden during the months that he personally tutored her), cogito ergo sum was a way of “proving” God’s existence – not just the man in the mirror’s.  In other words, Descartes didn’t exist because he was able to think.  Just the reverse…  His
thoughts arose from an intuitive perception of his own, and God’s, existence.

How so?

In his Fifth Meditation, Descartes explained what later became known as the “ontological argument” for God’s existence.  According to Wikipedia, the logic used by Descartes was this:  What I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.  I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.  ERGO…  God exists.  In Meditations 3 – 6, he sums it up this way:  The perfection of God logically requires existence in the way that a mountain logically implies a valley.

As for his own (perhaps less than perfect) existence?  In his Discourse on the Method, Descartes reasons
that doubt itself cannot exist unless there is an entity that is doing the doubting.  Therefore, when he began to doubt even his own existence, he realized that there must be a “someone” who is doubting that Descartes
exists.  That “someone” he surmised to be Descartes (since these were, after all, Descartes' thoughts).

Thus, a new phrase was born: I doubt, therefore I am.  (Good news for Apostle Thomas…)


Copyright March 31, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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