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Perfect Island Theory vs God’s Existence Essay

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Updated: May 2nd, 2022

At one time or another, we have likely wondered whether God exists. Such a question has not escaped the attention of philosophers over the years. In particular, as it will be seen here, Descartes developed an interesting theory to propose that God exists. As can be expected, several theories were in turn evolved to counter the argument of Descartes.

One particular theory developed to challenge the theory of Descartes, which is of interest to this paper, is the Perfect Island theory. After reviewing the Descartes ontology as well as the perfect Island theory, this paper will seek to explain why the Perfect Island theory is not convincing enough to counter Descartes’ argument that God exists.

Descartes employs a very simple and yet a very informing approach that is normally used in our everyday understanding of things to present his argument (Nolan). How do we understand things? Normally, for each and every real idea that we have in our minds, say the idea of a geometric figure such as a triangle, we can clearly and distinctly be able to assign some attributes to this real idea in our minds (Nolan).

For example, in the case of a geometric triangle, we can clearly and distinctly assign an attribute that the sum of angles in a triangle will always compose of two right angles (Nolan). If we are not able to clearly and distinctly identify an idea with some attributes, then such an idea is not real to us (Nolan). By acknowledging such an understanding, we lay a foundation for proving the existence of God (Nolan).

For sure, we do have an idea in our minds that there exists a supreme, perfect and all powerful being (Nolan). For this idea of an all powerful and perfect being in our minds, we can clearly and distinctly assign the attribute that such a being must necessarily exist (Nolan).

By talking about necessary existence, what is implied here is that since such a being is perfect and all powerful, it is only possible for the being to be perfect and all powerful if the being is independent and does not in any way depend on any other being (Nolan). It can therefore be seen that the all powerful and supreme being has always existed independently, and therefore, necessarily exists (Nolan). It is therefore true that God exists.

In summary, Descartes implies that since we do have an idea of a being that is all powerful and perfect, and since we can distinctly and clearly assign the attribute of necessarily existence to this being (arising from the fact that the being is perfect), then, God exists (Nolan). Besides, considering that as human beings, we all know that we are imperfect, the idea of perfection, which we obtain through intuition, can only arise in our minds from God-who is perfect (Nolan).

The perfect Island theory is a common theory that is accredited with countering the ontology of Descartes (Devine 255). According to the perfect Island theory, we can imagine something that is perfect and one that does not exist in our minds (like a perfect island), hence discrediting the theory of Descartes on the existence of God (Devine). In this direction, we can create an idea of a perfect island that is so great that there is no greater Island than it (Devine).

This perfect Island can then have an infinite number of beaches, trees among other properties that border perfection (Devine). Therefore, according to the perfect Island theory, since the idea of a perfect island can only be an illusion in our thinking, then, God, who is the greatest and perfect of all beings, does not exist as well (Devine).

An inadequacy that can immediately be deduced from the perfect Island argument is that, unlike God, an island or anything else apart from God, cannot be perfect (Devine 260). An island is a material thing (which is not self sustaining and can therefore hardly be perfect) and the only perfection we can think about includes things like an infinite number of trees, which does not make sense (you can always add an extra tree) (Devine 267).

On the other hand, when we think about God’s perfection, we can readily acknowledge the all powerful, all knowing God (Devine). Besides, this perfect nature of God can even be easily acknowledged by our intuition, as when we think of God as the creator (Devine). Therefore, perfection can only be ascribed to the idea of a God.

Can we in any way assign the attribute of necessarily existence to the so called perfect Island that we have imagined? It is not possible to do so since It is impossible for an island to be perfect under any given state that we can think of; and therefore for this imagined perfect island to be self sustaining and therefore exist necessarily (Devine). The perfect Island notion fails therefore to draw a parallel analogy; since God as a supreme being cannot in any way be compared to a limited and imperfect Island (Devine).

Conclusion

Descartes has presented a very familiar concept of analyzing an idea to determine its reality. Such an approach has been employed to confirm the existence of God. On the other hand, the perfect Island argument fails to present a strong argument against Descartes theory mainly because it attempts to draw comparisons between the idea of a God and the possible Idea of a perfect Island, which are difficult to conceive.

Works Cited

Devine, P. “The Perfect Island, the Devil and Existent Unicorns” American Philosophy Quarterly 12.3 (1975): 255-70. Print

Nolan, L. “Descartes’ Ontological Argument” Metaphysics Research Lab. Stanford University Press, 2001. Web.

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