Substanceby Rene Descartes
I think of:
- myself as a thing that thinks and is not extended
- the stone as a thing that is extended and does not think so that the two conceptions differ enormously
But they seem to have the classification ‘substance’ in common.
External objects come from external ideas, of which the only remaining idea is the the idea of God.
‘God’ means a substance that is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, which created myself and anything else that may exist.
I am also a substance having the idea of substance. But it does not explain my having the idea of an infinite substance since I am finite. That must come from some substance that is infinite.
One might say that this is wrong because my idea of the infinite comes from me negating the finite.
I answer that there is more reality in an infinite substance than in a finite one. Hence, my perception of the infinite, i.e. God, is prior to my perception of the finite, i.e. myself.
On the contrary, it:
- is utterly clear and distinct
- contains in itself more representative reality than any other idea
- that is, it stands for something that is grander, more powerful, more real, than any other idea stands for
- it is less open to the suspicion of falsehood than any other idea.
This idea of God is true in the highest degree. One might imagine that God does not exist. But the idea of God cannot possibly represent and unreal something .
The idea is utterly clear and distinct.
It does not matter that I do not totally grasp the infinite, or that there are countless additional attributes of God that I cannot grasp in my thought. This is because the infinite has a nature that cannot be grasped by a finite being like myself.
It is enough that I understand what is the infinite. This is enough to make my idea of God the truest, clearest and most distinct of all my ideas.
Here is a possible objection to that line of thought.
Perhaps I am greater than I understand, and will be as perfect as God eventually.
But this is wrong for the following reasons:
- My knowledge and potentialities are increasing. But these are all irrelevant to the idea of God.
The idea of God contains absolutely nothing that is potential.
- Even if my knowledge increases forever, it will never actually be infinite since it will never reach the absolute point where it can no longer increase.
God, on the other hand, is actually infinite. Nothing can be added to his perfection.
- Potential being is nothing; what it takes to cause the representative being of an idea is actual being.
If the God didn’t exist, could I exist?
The answer to this will give a new proof of God’s existence.
If God did not exist, from what would I derive my existence?
It would have to come from:
- my parents
- some other beings less perfect than God
My Existence from Myself
If I had derived my existence from myself, then I would not doubt anything at all since I would be God.
Perhaps I have always existed and I would not need a cause.
A life-span can be divided into countless parts, each completely independent of the others. My existence at one time doesn’t follow that I exist at later times, unless some cause keeps me in existence. That cause creates me afresh at each moment.
The nature of time is different in the time for bringing something into existence, and the time needed to keep a thing existing.
Thus, there is no real distinction between preservation and creation – only a conceptual one. This is exposed by the natural light.
Do I have the power to exist forever?
I do not. My continued existence depends on some being other than myself.
My Existence from My Parents
My parents do not keep me in existence. They did not even form my mind. They merely brought about an arrangement of matter that contains me.
Thus, I conclude that the mere fact that I exist and have within me an idea of God proves that God exists.
How did I receive this idea from God?
I did not get it from the senses*. It has never come to me unexpectedly, as do most of the ideas that occur when I seem to see and touch and hear things.
*Superphysics note: It comes from the intuitional sense called the feelings
I did not invent the idea of God either. I cannot take anything away from it or to add anything to it.
When an idea is sheerly invented, the inventor is free to fiddle with it. My idea of God is a natural unit that does not invite or even permit such interference.
The only remaining alternative is that my idea of God is innate in me, just as the idea of myself is innate in me.
This is likely because God created and placed this idea in me to serve as a craftsman’s mark stamped on his work
I could never exist with an innate idea of God if God did not really exist. ‘God’ means the idea of:
- the very being who is within me
- the one who has no defects and has all those perfections
It shows that he cannot possibly be a deceiver, since the natural light makes it clear that all fraud and deception depend on some defect.