Descartes’ Argument on God’s Existence and Perfection

Over the past centuries, several philosophers have tried to argue out that God’s existence is in some way necessary. For that reason, Descartes, who was one of the philosophers held a priori argument which up to this date may be one of the most fascinating yet poorly understood aspects of his philosophical argument (Pearl, 1977). Descartes tried to prove God’s existence from simple yet powerful premises. According to his line of reasoning, it is from the clear and distinct idea of a supremely perfect being that existence gets derived from. Incongruously, the simplicity that exists in his argument has led to several misreading since Descartes himself formulates the contentions in different ways. In this paper, I will discuss the ways in which existence might be perfection and the reasons behind the general idea. I will also discuss why such perfection might prove God’s existence.

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Descartes’ Ontological Argument

Firstly, we can unpack Descartes argument as- the idea of God is held in the idea of existence. This means that God must exist. However, it does not lead to a conclusion that God does exist. Rather, it tries to end to the deduction that God cannot not exist, meaning that the existence of God is necessary (Solomon, 2005, p.55-57). According to this supposition, Descartes could only mean that existence might truly be a perfection. So, in what way might existence be perfection?

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In what way might existence be a perfection?

Existence may be a perfection in that; it is contained in the characteristics of divine nature. Nevertheless, something cannot have a characteristic unless it initially exists. It is not possible to possess a thought of a perfect being if that very being lacks the most important attribute of existence (Voss, 1993). Existence is unavoidably predicated of God since existence fits as a component of the true essence of any perfect being. Therefore, it is not possible for anyone to hold the idea of a perfect being/thing if that particular perfect being lacks the most crucial characteristic of existence.

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In basic terms, Descartes’ argument lies in the difference between two sorts of reality. The first one is formal reality and in this one, anything is considered to have a virtue of existing. Formal reality further comes in three types which include finite, mode and infinite. Here, we can argue out that God is he only existing being/thing with infinite formal reality. Other ting/substances have finite formal reality. Lastly, modes possess formal modal reality. An idea, however, has another type of reality that is exclusive to them. When one considers an idea with respect to the object it represents, then we can conclude that it as possessing objective reality. Just like formal reality, objective reality is of three types, and these mirror the three aforementioned grades of formal reality. The amount of objective reality in ideas is based on the amount of formal reality that the object represented contains.

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Following this line of thought, Descartes makes a controversial claim that everyone has an idea of God as an infinite being. According to him, we cannot fail to possess this idea because it is entirely innate. Breaking down his thoughts, we can conclude that since the idea of God is that of an infinite being, then the idea must be accompanied by infinite objective reality. If we appeal to an innate logical principle, it is true to say that something cannot come from anything. Consequently, there must be as much as reality contained in a cause as that contained in an effect. Also, there must be an equal formal reality in the specific cause of an idea to that in objective reality in the idea. The idea of God is an idea with infinite objective reality. Therefore, there must be a being with an infinite formal reality that brought about the idea. Then, we can conclude that God exists.

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Analyzing this, we can find that Descartes used distinct and clear perceptions to prove the existence of God and also used God to prove the truth of distinct and clear perceptions. In mush as it may sound circular reasoning, Descartes made sure that it would not sound unclear by pointing out that God’s existence does not in any way prove that distinct and clear perfections are true. It does not require any proof that distinct and clear perfections are true. In fact, for something to be distinct and clear, then we must be doing it and by this, we cannot doubt the truth that exists in it. In the argument, God is needed to delete the doubt that would otherwise creep in after we stopped attending to the perceptions. We can, therefore, legitimately use distinct and clear perfections to establish the existence of God.

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The whole idea of supremely perfect being is one that is found within a person, just like the idea of a shape or a number. It belongs to this nature that he always exists is no less distinct and clear than when one tries to prove that a number or a shape and some property belongs to its nature (Descartes & Moriarty2008). The truth is reached through operations of the mind. Sense data here is dismissed and considered as flawed and limited. God is described as a principle of supreme perfection which is undeniable as a mathematical truth. However, it cannot be touched, and it is just a necessary feature of comprehension that makes our judgment possible.

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To sum it all up, we can deduce that people have an idea of a supremely perfect being, existence is perfection, and therefore, a supreme being exists.


This paper briefly explains Descartes’ ontological argument (textbook, pp. 55-57), In what way might existence be a perfection? Are there good reasons to believe that existence is a perfection, and that such perfection proves God’s existence?

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