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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHIL 4406
Professor
svetelj
Semester
Spring

Description
In this essay, I will use excerpts from Descartes Fifth Mediation to ultimately show how his ontological argument proving the existence of God is valid but not sound. First, I will briefly describe what exactly an ontological argument is and what it entails. Second, I will strive to reconstruct the argument Descartes forms. Third, I will establish that the argument is valid. Fourth, I will that the argument is unsound by examining certain definitions Descartes uses and by questioning the concept of conceivability. Fifth, I will consider alternate responses to my previous objections to the unsoundness of the argument. With all of this evidence, I will finally conclude that the power of Descartes ontological argument on the existence of God relies solely on the assumed definitions Descartes failed to discard in the First Mediation, therefore making the argument unsound. Ontological arguments are arguments that attempt to prove the existence of God. Rather than starting with an observation about reality and then from there argue for God’s existence, as cosmological arguments do, ontological arguments begin with a fact regarding the nature of something or the nature of God, and then go on to prove His existence. They start in possibility and end in actuality or necessity. Descartes’argument begins with the possibility of God’s existing and, through using definitions and observations, ends up proving God. I will now reconstruct Descartes original argument. Descartes ontological proof of God’s existence, can be broken up into three sections. The first section proves the possibility of a necessary being existing. Descartes starts by stating, “I find within me countless ideas of certain things…even if perhaps they do not exist anywhere outside me, still cannot be said to be nothing”(45). Here, Descartes is using the Possibility Test to prove that the things we conceive in our minds have the possibility of existing. Since we can conceive of a necessary being, then it is possible that a necessary being exists. The rest of the formal argument in premise- proof form would go as follows: If I can conceive of something (an idea) then it is possible for it to exist in at least one reality (Test for Possibility). I can conceive of a necessary being (Conceivable). It is possible that a necessary being exists in at least one reality (1,2). The next division of the proof quickly proves the actual existence of a necessary being. Because of the nature of a necessary being, if it is possible that he/she exists (meaning that in one reality and under one set of circumstances he/she does exist) then that being must exist in all realities. Again, building off the previous proof, this one formalized, would look as follows: If it is possible that a necessary being exists in one reality then that being definitely exists and exists in all realities (Definition of ‘Necessity’).Anecessary being definitely exists and exists in all realities. (3,4) The last section of the argument proves God as a necessary being, therefore as existent in all realities. Descartes argues that because God is a perfect entity and “existence is perfection,” (46), it would be impossible for God to lack this property of existing. He claims that it would be “no less contradictory to think of God (that is a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking some perfection) than it is to think of a mountain without a valley”(46). Through this mountain and valley metaphor, Descartes illustrates how existence is not an accidental quality of God, but rather an essential one. If you have the idea of mountain, somewhere on either side of it there is a valley, so it follows (from the properties of God) that if you have the idea of God, along with it has to be his existence. Once Descartes establishes this, God can be considered a necessary being because it is essential that he must exist. Also, since God is perfect and necessity is a type of perfection, God further can be identified as a necessary being. From that, it follows that he must exist in all realities. Here is a summary of the last portion of the proof: God is “perfect” and therefore his existence is essential and necessary (Definition of God and Definition of Perfection). God is a necessary being (Definition of a Necessary Being). God definitely exists and exists in all realities (5, 7). I have just reconstructed Descartes argument proving God’s existence in an ontological way and now, I will deliberate over whether the argument is valid or not. In the argument, three main conclusions are made. The first conclusion, “it is possible that a necessary being exists,” is definitely valid because it follows directly from the first two premises. The second conclusion, “a necessary being definitely exists and exists in all realities,” follows from one conclusion and one premise rather than directly from premises. Similarly, the third and final conclusion of God’s existence also follows from one conclusion and one premise.Although both the second and third conclusions involve conclusions in their premises, I argue they are both valid because those conclusions follow from those premises regardless. Overall, the argument as a whole is valid. Now I must address the question of whether or not the argument is sound. There are two major objections I have towards the soundness of this argument. The first objection resides in premise two and the conceivability of a necessary being. In mediation four, Descartes made claims as to the limitations of our mind and of our intellect stating, “When I consider the faculty of understanding, I immediately recognize that in my case it is very small and quite limited”(42). If our intellect is so limited, is it even possible for us to conceive of a necessary being? I cannot wrap my mind around the image of one. I can conceive of an infinite being, that is to say a being that is infinite in every direction, but what allows me to be able to conceive of a necess
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