The Cartesian Circle

            Ultimately, I believe the Cartesian which Descartes sets up in his argument for God’s existence ruins Descartes ultimate goal in the meditations.  Descartes ultimate goal in the meditations is to argue for God’s existence using a series of claims, which cannot be doubted.  He aims to establish that which we can know with certainty.  God is a means to this end.  Descartes claims these truths, which cannot be doubted, to be clear and distinct perceptions.  It is the very idea of clear and distinct perceptions that create a problem for Descartes argument.  Because there is doubt in Descartes proof for God’s existence the overall goal of Descartes Meditations is obscured; we now have doubt for the existence for God.  Ultimately, Descartes creates skepticism through his argument for God’s existence and his evil demon doubt, doubting all of the previous arguments and work he has given fourth in the meditations reliant on the proof of God’s existence. 

            Descartes basic proof for God’s existence is as follows:  Descartes sets up the meditations by doubting all that which he doesn’t know for absolute certain is true.  Descartes creates the Evil Doubt, by doubting all in which he does not know.  Descartes goal was to create the Evil Demon Doubt only to rule it out, and to prove God’s existence. The evil demon doubt states that there is a possibility that evil demons are deceiving us.  Descartes also presents with another form of doubt in the Dream Doubt doubted all that is presented by our senses, explaining by the unconscious happenings of a dream. Descartes needs to prove God’s existence and the idea that there is a greater being to disprove the Evil Demon Doubt. 

Descartes introduces the evil demon doubt in the first meditation by saying, “I will suppose not a supremely good god, the source of truth, but rather an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving me. I will regard the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds and all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams” (Descartes, 62).   We see that only the existence of God a supremely powerful being could disprove this theory.  In order to disprove this doubt Descartes uses the idea of clear and distinct perceptions, which leads us into the argument for God’s existence, this is in essence what creates the circularity of the argument.  This idea of clear and distinct perceptions allows him to prove the very existence of God, but also makes his arguments in the meditations false.  He proves the proof of Gods existence saying that he knows God exists.  He doubts all that he does not immediately know is certain through the senses, such as the existence material objects, because we cannot undoubtedly prove their existence, we only can prove clear and distinct perceptions.  He argues for God’s existence by then setting fourth the following premises.  Something cannot come from nothing, that is saying that you cannot have an object just appear from nothing.  Descartes then states the cause of this idea must have at least as much reality as the idea itself.  We then have an idea of God, a being with an infinite objective reality.  Only ideas can have an objective reality as Descartes had set forth prior in his premises.  Because the idea of God has infinite objective reality then the cause of this idea itself must have infinite formal reality.  Because I do not have infinite formal reality, Descartes concludes that I cannot be the cause of this idea.  The only being capable of causing this idea is one with infinite formal reality, God.  Descartes supports this claim by stating, “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.” (77).  God then from these premises must have caused this idea in our heads, concluding that he too exists.  Descartes then says because God exists and he has an infinite formal and objective reality, that he is a perfect being; he is omnibenevolent.  So God is good and not a deceiver.  Because God is omnibenevolent, Descartes states that God is not capable of deceiving us, and he would not allow us to be deceived, without giving us a way to correct our errors.  This is not a convincing argument because Descartes means of explaining this theory is reliant upon the idea of clear and distinct perceptions.  We must take a leap of faith here in a way, if we want to believe these statements about God as true, despite what we believe religiously. 

            Ultimately this proof in proving the existence of God is faulty because we rely on the idea of clear and distinct perceptions and that they truly are trustworthy.  We do not know that clear and distinct perceptions in fact exist because we cannot prove that they exist until we first prove that God exists.  The problem is that Descartes never doubts the existence of clear and distinct perceptions; things, which are undoubtedly, clear because, he uses the idea of them to propel his argument for the very existence of God.  This creates a the Cartesian Circle because Descartes uses something which he does not truly know to be correct to prove the very existence of God and clear and distinct perceptions of him.  Again, this creates skepticism in Descartes work because it opens up for the possibility that there truly are evil demons deceiving us; Descartes does not accurately support his argument for God’s existence, because we cannot extensively rely on the idea of clear and distinct perceptions to prove this. 

            The underlying objection to this argument for God’s existence is that it is not truly reliable.  There is doubt in the fieldwork leading up to the very idea that God is omnibenevolent and exists.  Because we cannot prove with absolute certainty that God exists without a doubt we cannot entirely disprove the idea that an evil demon is deceiving us.  An evil demon is capable of reaching infinite formal reality and it is capable of putting the very idea of God in our heads, through deception.  The evil demon achieves infinite formal reality through deceptions.  We can be deceived by something other than God because God is omnibenevolent and undeceiving but that premise relies on the very validity of clear and distinct perceptions, which destroy this argument.  We have no way to undoubtedly prove that we are not in fact being deceived by an evil demon, which is allowing us to see what it pleases.  Without the validity of clear and distinct perceptions in Descartes argument we can not accurately know anything, because we could very well be deceived.  In doubting Descartes argument for God’s existence, we in essence are forced to doubt the completion of his arguments in the meditations, because they all depend on the idea that clear and distinct perceptions are real and we know that without a doubt. 

            Another argument would be that we could be dreaming and not know that anything for sure is certain.  This proves that Descartes Dream Doubt is hypothetically true, and his proof for God’s existence is faulted, making it impossible to trust clear and distinct perceptions.  If we do not know that which we see is certain, clear and distinct then we cannot know that we in fact aren’t dreaming.  This then implies that we are not necessarily anything but thinking things, being deceived by our own dreams.  If we are dreaming then we cannot accurately know whether there is an omnibenevolent God or any God for that matter because we cannot tell what is reality and what is not.  This argument too, depends on the idea that clear and distinct perceptions are undoubtedly real and reliable.  This dream affects Descartes proof of God, because it is in essence saying that we do not know anything is for certain and if we do not know that which is certain, then we cannot undoubtedly prove God’s existence. 

            Ultimately, all of Descartes work in the meditation can be exasperated, because it cannot be logically supported as is.  We cannot prove that there is a God without first proving that clear and distinct perceptions are real and undoubtedly true.  These perceptions create a loophole in Descartes argument allowing the Dream Doubt and Evil Demon Doubt to be proven true. 

            Descartes has a serious problem with the current development of his arguments for God’s existence ultimately because it creates skepticism.  Because this argument creates question, Descartes would try to offend his position in claiming that The Cartesian Circle does not ruin his project in the Meditations.  Descartes may propose the idea that in order to understand something we must first take some things for granted.  Kevin and I discussed this idea during office hours.

            KEVIN-“How do you know if I drop this cup that it would fall, how would you explain it?”

            ME-“I would explain it using the laws of gravity and Newton’s principles.”

            KEVIN-“What is gravity?”

            KEVIN-“How do you know its real?”


This right here shows that we must take some things as givens. We know in fact that gravity exists and is real because it is a proven scientific fact.  But we could keep questioning it and keep asking questions but the same would still be true because we know for certain.  We have to take a leap of faith and rely on what we have presented before us in order to advance by any means within an argument.  That being said, we know in fact that we exist (because we are living, breathing, thinking things with a mental capacity) and that gravity exists etc. but we must too take a leap of faith and say that clear and distinct perceptions exist because if not the case then we would not exist, and neither would God.  We must take clear and distinct perceptions for granted and advance in our argument for God’s existence because if not there is no argument, and that which we do know cannot be proven. 

            Another response Descartes may have to this is that he knows for a fact that clear and distinct perceptions are reliable. I use the very basis to say that clear and distinct perceptions prove the existence of God.  If we know that clear and distinct perceptions are in fact reliable then we can know with certainty that God does truly exist, as Descartes as set forth in the Cartesian Circle.  If we know for certainty that clear and distinct perceptions are reliable, we can then say that we are in fact not being deceived by Evil Demons and that there is in fact an omnibenevolent God.  If clear and distinct perceptions are reliable we are then able to believe with certainty in Descartes arguments for God’s existence, because his argument is no longer circular. 

            Though these may be two of Descartes responses to these objections, I believe he still fails in undoubtedly proving that God does exist.  Saying that we must take a leap of faith or that we know something for a fact isn’t quite reliable.  It goes with the saying “seeing is believing,” in order for myself to be convinced otherwise, I would need some circumstantial evidence.  I believe that God exists and that’s something internal within me that I don’t think I could explain to any other person.  I believe he exists, but Descartes fails in proving his existence through his utilization of clear and distinct perceptions and he fails to present convincing arguments in his defense of these clear and distinct perceptions.

            The very basis of the mediations was to doubt everything in which we did not know for certain.  We cannot know for certain that there are clear and distinct perceptions, so we must doubt that.  Because there is doubt about the idea of clear and distinct perceptions, Descartes overall goal in the mediations is obscured and we cannot undoubtedly prove that God exists and is omnibenevolent.  We can only say as Descartes has previously laid out for us that we may be dreaming therefor not being able to distinguish that which is real and that which is not or that we are being deceived by a higher being, evil demons.  Descartes if anything lays out the groundwork to prove that God exists and provides arguments against his existence, ultimately being more stable than his argument in the favor of God’s existence. 


Works Cited

Descartes, René, and Donald A. Cress. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First         

Philosophy. Indianapolis [u.a.: Hackett Publ, 1998. Print.