René Descartes: God and the Soul

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René Descartes was a French mathematician and scientist who also philosophized. His most famous philosophical statement is, “I think therefore I am.” He wrote a series of meditations in 1641. In his meditations, René Descartes focuses on two issues: God and the soul. He felt these two issues should be demonstrated through philosophy rather than from a theological standpoint. He believes that unbelievers can only be persuaded through natural reason that God exists and that the human soul will not die with the body. In his first meditation he gives reasons why we are able to doubt everything, mainly material things. His second meditation is concerning the human mind and that it is better known than the body.

Descartes first meditation seeks to find a firm foundation of knowledge that is able to hold up even with the many doubts we can encounter. He discusses the senses and the intellect as being two different sources of knowledge. He gives arguments in his first meditation for why one can doubt many beliefs they hold true. Descartes uses “cartesian doubt,” which is doubting as many beliefs as he can as a way to achieve what you absolutely know for certain.

His first argument concerns the senses and is known as the argument from illusion. He states that whatever one has come to know as true has received that truth through their senses. However, the senses can be deceptive. People can be easily tricked or fooled by their senses through illusions by distant and obscure objects. For example, a straight stick put halfway into water seems to be bent, but in reality, it is still perfectly straight. He concludes that it makes sense to doubt, or not trust, something that has deceived us, even if it is deceived someone only once. However, the senses can be reliable for close-up, bigger objects like a piece of paper in one’s hand. I believe this is one of the stronger arguments Descartes provides for why we can doubt what is really true. I agree that the senses can be very deceptive. However, they can be reliable most of the time, and when they are deceptive, we have the intellect and common sense to figure out the actual reality despite what our senses show us.

The next argument is known as the argument from madness. He explains that there are insane people who have wildly false beliefs about large and present matters. There are people who are mentally insane who believe false information even over their immediate sensory field. Next, he makes the statement that perhaps he himself is insane. Would he be able to rule out the possibility of being insane? If he were insane, he might not know something is mentally wrong with him. Therefore, all of his beliefs about his immediate sensory field would be false and would be subject to doubt. I think this argument is neither strong nor weak. If you were insane, you could think you are absolutely sane and have very false beliefs about your surroundings. It is tough to think about how you would be able to know if you were insane if you actually were.

However, I would say a lot of insane people will have an idea that something is wrong and that they are different, depending on exactly what the condition of their insanity is. If someone with a mental illness has even a little sense of reality, they would be able to know that they have a mental illness. For example, many with schizophrenia know that their hallucinations are not reality even if it feels like reality. However, someone who has a deeper level of insanity may not have any grasp on reality at all. Also, sane people can be sure that they are sane because their experiences align with others. They can see that their social behavior matches up with the societal norms. In addition, many insane people have grandeur beliefs. I know I am sane because I do not believe I am, for example, the king of France, or for another example, that I have superhuman powers that no one else has.

Another argument for doubt is known as the argument from dreaming. He explains how people often have perceptions just like the ones they have had while dreaming. When we are dreaming, we are usually not aware that we really are in a dream. We can remember and look back at our dreams to later determine how it made no sense compared to reality. However, while we are in the act of dreaming, we are not able to conclude that it is not reality. There are not any clear signs that differentiate between what is a dream and what is wakefulness. Therefore, it is possible you could be dreaming now, and all your perceptions are false. For all you know you could be dreaming at any given moment, meaning doubts are reasonably able to arise. I think this argument is fairly weak, because through my experiences, it is easy to know that you are not dreaming. I agree that it is hard to determine if you are dreaming while you are asleep, but when you are awake you know for sure that what you just dreamt was not reality. Another point is that when you are awake you are doing day-to-day tasks like working, studying, driving, etc. I know I am awake right now because I am typing this paper for philosophy, trust me I would rather be dreaming.

The next argument he provides is the “deceiving God” argument. He says that those who believe there is a God believe he is an all-powerful God. If God is an omnipotent being, then he must have the ability to deceive us. He gives the example of how he could deceive our perceptions of math. Even though simple arithmetic seems so simple to us, maybe God is deceiving us to make it seem like we know it, when we actually do not. Therefore, he concludes it is possible we are deceived by God of our knowledge of the basic structure of the world. The last argument he gives for doubting is very similar to the last argument. He proposes that instead of assuming God would deceive us, maybe there is an evil demon that deceives our perceptions of the world. This argument is his weakest argument in meditation one


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René Descartes: God and the Soul. (2020, Sep 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rene-descartes-god-and-the-soul/



What does Descartes says about the soul?
Descartes believes that the soul is distinct from the body and that it is immortal. He argues that the soul is the source of our consciousness and rational thought.
What were Descartes views on God?
Descartes believed that God is an infinite, perfect, and benevolent being. He also believed that God is the cause of all things, both good and evil.
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