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Descartes’ Argument for the Existence of God Essay

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2020

Rene Descartes is a renowned philosopher and mathematician of French descent. Descartes’ ontological argument is an a priori argument to prove God’s existence. The argument is based on the analysis of God’s essence rather than on empirical evidence (Oppy 22).

In Rene Descartes’ view, all human beings have an inherent conception of a perfect entity. Descartes argues that we cannot envisage a perfect entity if the entity does not exist. Moreover, since human beings are imperfect, the idea of a perfect being does not originate from us and must have been placed in us by an already existing perfect being.

Descartes postulates that God must exist because existence is perfection and God is utterly perfect. To prove God’s existence, Descartes begins by describing God a ‘supremely perfect being’ (Oppy 21). In Descartes’ postulation, God is omnipotent, omnipresent and independent, and is the perfect being that can be conceived.

Descartes argues that since an existence is more real than nonexistence, and because God is exceedingly perfect, it is only logical that God exists (Oppy 23). This argument implies that if God does not exist, then he is not supremely perfect. Consequently, by His very nature of supreme perfection, God must exist.

In his exemplification of the ontological argument, Rene Descartes equates God’s nature to a triangle, whose essence comprises the interior angles that make up one hundred and eighty degrees. We, therefore, cannot envisage God without imagining existence.

I do not believe that Descartes’ ontological argument succeeds in proving the existence of God. As appealing as the ontological argument appears, Descartes commits a major logical fallacy by assuming that the existential verb is similar to other properties, and can be possessed or not possessed. However, existence is a trait different from any other trait. Something either exists or does not exist.

Descartes’ ontological argument also fails to prove God’s existence since it makes the assumption that anything conceived in the human mind has to be existent in reality. For instance, it implies that if a person has an idea of a perfect island unlike any other, then the island must exist.

If one accepts Hume’s account of the degree to which we have the knowledge of causation, is science possible? Explain your view fully

Regarding the idea of causality, David Hume starts by asserting that all human beings possess an idea of causality (Beebee 46). What interests him is the nature of the idea of causality and how people arrive at this idea. According to Hume, the idea of causality begins from single impressions. These impressions offer no basis for causality as they are complete in themselves. According to Hume, multiple impressions of empirical events cannot be extrapolated to predict new events.

Hume argues that just because two events (such as X and Y) occur together does not imply that one causes the other. Hume concedes that when X and Y constantly appear together, the appearance often generates an impression of causality. According to Hume, the only truth is that so far, we have been able to perceive X each time we have perceived Y. Hume seems to distinguish between correlation and causation, and implies that cause-effect relationships are creations of the mind.

Hume’s argument gets interesting when he postulates that regardless of the number of times we witness a succession of events (such as a ball moving in a certain way when struck), we cannot predict the succession of events (Moore and Bruder 133). This argument by Hume attacks the core of scientific experimentation where certain steps are intended to generate specific results.

In science, experiments are repeated to establish causality and inferences of causality are made depending on the rate at which X and Y occur together. Hume, on the other hand, believes that causation is a figment of human imagination. He implies that when the human mind gets accustomed to witnessing two events appear in sequence, it starts to anticipate a particular event to precede another. For a follower of Hume’s principle of causation, scientific experimentation and theorization is impossible.

What is the distinction between a hypothetical imperative and a categorical imperative? How is this relevant to Kantian moral theory?

Imperatives are directives that guide us on what we should or should not do (Rescher 23). Immanuel Kant differentiates between categorical and hypothetical imperatives.

Hypothetical imperatives inform us of the course of action we should take if we intend to achieve a particular goal. For instance, if one wants to stay out of jail, he should not steal. Unlike hypothetical imperatives, categorical imperatives instruct us on what should be done regardless of personal desires. For example, we should not steal whether we desire to stay out of jail or not.

By differentiating between categorical and hypothetical imperatives, Immanuel Kant positions categorical imperatives as the foundations of moral actions (Moore and Bruder 137). Kant postulates that categorical imperatives approach morality from the perspective of one’s duty within the setting of goodwill. Kant’s imperatives are simply formulas of reasoning that determine the will of individual action.

Kant argues that the categorical imperative is the basic principle of moral duty (West 223). The categorical imperative is called an imperative because it commands people to exercise their will in certain ways and to choose certain courses of action over others.

It is categorical since it applies to people unconditionally, without considering the consequences or ends. The categorical imperative is particularly significant to Kant’s moral philosophy since Kant advocates for people to be treated as ends in themselves rather than as a means to an end.

Kant distinguishes the hypothetical imperative from the ‘moral ought’ (categorical imperative) by introducing the concept of ends (Moore and Bruder 135). The hypothetical imperative requires actors to exercise their rational will in a conditional form that considers the consequence of the actions.

The hypothetical imperative only applies to actors who intend to achieve certain ends by their actions. For instance, if you want a good job you need to go to school. This comparison implies that the only reason the actor has for going to school is to get a good job. In Kant’s view, the hypothetical imperative involves more than just desiring an end. It requires the actor to exercise practical rationalization and dedication to accomplish that end.

The Kantian morality is grounded in the categorical imperative. For an action to be perceived as having been motivated by good will, the actor ought to act according to a maxim that can be made a universal law.

Outline the forms of utilitarianism developed by Bentham and Mill. What are the principle differences between them? Which do you believe is the most defensible, and why?

Utilitarianism is a moral principle in philosophy propagated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (Bailey 103). It is primarily concerned with establishing the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure to the largest number of people. Bentham’s ethical theory makes sense when viewed in the context of his political theorization in which he tries to establish a sensible methodology for legal and legislative decisions.

Bentham advocates for a scientific method founded on the concept of utility in dealing with legal and moral problems. Bentham introduces a calculus for measuring pain and pleasure using intensity, certainty, nearness, duration, fecundity, and purity. His utilitarianism also considers the extent of pain or pleasure expected from an action.

Mill’s utilitarianism focuses on the quality of happiness rather than the quantity of pleasure (West 23). Compared to Mill’s theory, Bentham’s pleasure calculus seems unreasonable, since the qualities of pleasure are not quantifiable. In response to this weakness, Mill’s utilitarianism proposes a greatest happiness principle where an action is good if it produces the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people.

Mill distinguishes between higher and lower pleasures. To avoid creating a swinish philosophy, Mill advocates for people to embrace higher pleasures such as music, poetry and art. Lower pleasures include sex and food. Mill proposes experienced judges to help in distinguishing between different kinds of pleasures.

Mill’s utilitarianism is more defensible than Bentham’s since Mill advocates for goals and virtues besides pleasure (West 34). Bentham fails to address the problem of infringement of minority rights that might bring about maximization of the pleasures of the majority.

A problem that can arise from the maximization of pleasures includes lynching. Mill responds to this loophole by advocating for rights and justice. He asserts that happiness can only be ensured by establishing laws and rules that advance general happiness and guarantee individual rights.

Works Cited

Bailey, Andrew. First Philosophy: Values and Society: Fundamental Problems and Readings in Philosophy, New York: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.

Beebee, Helen. Hume on Causation, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Moore, Brooke and Kenneth Bruder. Philosophy: The power of ideas. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

Oppy, Graham. Ontological Arguments and Belief in God, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Rescher, Nicholas. Kant and the Reach of Reason: Studies in Kant’s Theory of Rational Systematization, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

West, Henry. An Introduction to Mill’s Utilitarian Ethics, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

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