Descartes and the Idea of Perfection
And we’re back to the ever skeptical Renee Descartes. As you all may remember , Descartes doubted the existence of the external physical world, so there’s no way he would be able to prove the existence of God by observing nature like Aquinas in the previous post. So what he does was to think about the ‘idea’ of God, which is sort of similar to the ontological argument I discussed previously. Descartes’ basic argument was to say that it’s possible to think up all the ideas we have in our heads. All, except one. The idea of a supreme and perfect being is so great that our finite and imperfect minds could not have come up with it ourselves. He then concludes that it must have been wired into us by God himself.
This argument is based on Descartes belief that what is more perfect cannot arise for something less perfect. But he’s been criticised by many for this idea. Why it’s not possible for a flawed being to come up with the idea of a perfect being, is not clear.
In any case, Descartes was trying to demonstrate that without God, any system of knowledge would not be possible because we can’t know all the things we do without Him.
Believe or not believe, that is the question.
Well according to Blaise Pascal, the answer to this is simple. Let’s imagine that there’s a 50 /50 percent chance that God exists. You’ll lose nothing (well except physical pleasures) by believing in God and following religion. BUT if you don’t believe in God, and it turns out that he does exist then you’re basically screwed. So it’s a much wiser decision to believe in God.
When I first began studying philosophy, I was quite attracted to this argument. But I remember many people found the idea of believing in God ‘just in case’ or out of fear distasteful. Which is fair enough. Pascal came up with this argument because he felt that intellectual thinking and reasoning are not enough to support religion. You need faith for that extra leap and his Wager is another element that can help push someone to believe. Actually, when you think about it, belief in God/religion involves more than one element: you can believe in God because you are convinced on an intellectual level or feel his presence spiritually and love him or for fear of punishment. Pascal’s Wager may not be convincing on its own but it does highlight one element involved in the belief in God.