If There Is No God: Meditations On Believing

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Descartes often ascribes omnipotens to God but in Med. To repeat from above: The demon cannot get me to believe I exist and am thinking if I do not exist and am not thinking. The demon cannot perpetrate this illusion since ex hypothesi I do not exist and what does not exist cannot be deceived or illuded. An act of a consciousness has no, in principle, such a property as ownership : all mental events - thoughts, senses, intentions etc appear without special labels indicating that they are mine, your, his no description of any mental event necessitates such an indication.

The ownership is somehow declared itself by the fact that they are all integrated together with over events in some particular my, your, his consciousness. This is we who put this label "my thought" on them and they become our thoughts. If the demon could cheat with labels - he could trick you. But no labels - no cheating.

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This means that if he could produce somehow in you an act of thought and you realize that it is your thought - OK, it would indeed be your thought, because your declaration is enough for it. Here the demon trick fails. Home Questions Tags Users Unanswered.

Descartes, Rene | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In regard to Rene Descartes' Meditations, if there existed an all powerful evil demon, why couldn't it trick you into believing you exist? Ask Question. Asked 5 years, 3 months ago. Active 1 month ago. Viewed times. If it is all powerful, why can't it trick you into thinking you exist and have thoughts? Ghozt12 Ghozt12 89 1 1 bronze badge. He agrees with the force of your upper question: If it is all powerful, why can't it trick you into thinking you exist and have thoughts?

Basically: Med. Although this is correct, I think you're skipping a crucial step here.

The Most Powerful Meditation EVER For Feeling Worthy, Whole and Complete

ChrisSunami I'm sure I'm skipping quite a few steps here, but which one do you think must be included to address the question? Descartes must first establish that his own existence is secure, even in the case of the demon, before he can make the move of rejecting the demon. Although your answer accurately portrays a later stage of the Meditations, it does not provide Descartes' answer to the main question of the OP.

I actually think Descartes's order of presentation differs from his order of argumentation.

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He leaves aside the possibility of an evil demon at the end of Med I. But the proof in Med II only works if there's no evil demon -- otherwise it's possible that it's just scrambled junk. Chris Sunami Chris Sunami 22k 1 1 gold badge 35 35 silver badges 68 68 bronze badges.

You're missing the threat of the evil demon from Med I on this interpretation. Decartes admits that if such a demon exists, it's possible that there's not even a stable entity capable of anything including holding thoughts and doubting. I don't think either the outline you provided or the original text supports your claim. Yes, the thinking being may in fact be deceived about all things including the truths of mathematics and logic and the evidence of all senses, but it cannot be deceived about the fact that it itself exists in at least the moment in which it is deceived.

Descartes’ Ontological Argument

Cogito 1 in your outline, Meditation II. On your interpretation, what does the evil demon passage mean in Med 1? It's just an introduction to the argument of Med. He introduces the concept here, but makes no attempt to address it until Med II. But chris Sunami is the premise: if you are deceived, you exist at least in that moment a logical assertion.

Could the demon tricked you into thinking that. Another question, if God was all powerful, could he create something that did not exist? In order for the demon to be logically able to carry out his malicious task, the demon must work with the structure of the Cogito: I think about [x]. The demon is not all-powerful One power the demon lacks is the ability to cause me to believe that I exist if I do not.

Descartes' language Descartes often ascribes omnipotens to God but in Med.

You've lost me completely in your second paragraph with the "your declaration is enough for it" bit. May be it is trivial that I try to explain but I could say it in another way: the demon can cheat with external things and their intrinsic properties trying to demonstrate something which is not in them. The fact that any mental event is mine is not the intrinsic property of this event. It is just a constatation - I understand that this event is a part of my current experience.

I do not find the fact that this event is mine - it is not its special property. It is enough to me to understand that it is mine in order that it becomes mine really.

Agarkar’s donkeys: a meditation on God

Therefore any cheating of the demon stops here. Sign up or log in Sign up using Google. Sign up using Facebook. Sign up using Email and Password. Post as a guest Name. Email Required, but never shown. But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade myself that I am now dreaming.

And I dream.


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Just look around! Move your body! What common characteristic is shared by all dreams, or by all waking experiences, so that I can tell them apart from one another? Let us suppose, then, that we are dreaming, and that all these particulars--namely, the opening of the eyes, the motion of the head, the forth- putting of the hands--are merely illusions; and even that we really possess neither an entire body nor hands such as we see.

Nevertheless it must be admitted at least that the objects which appear to us in sleep are, as it were, painted representations which could not have been formed unless in the likeness of realities; and, therefore, that those general objects, at all events, namely, eyes, a head, hands, and an entire body, are not simply imaginary, but really existent. For, in truth, painters themselves, even when they study to represent sirens and satyrs by forms the most fantastic and extraordinary, cannot bestow upon them natures absolutely new, but can only make a certain medley of the members of different animals; or if they chance to imagine something so novel that nothing at all similar has ever been seen before, and such as is, therefore, purely fictitious and absolutely false, it is at least certain that the colors of which this is composed are real.

And on the same principle, although these general objects, viz. Maybe we are dreaming right now. This means that I can know that hands exist, even if my experience of my hands, right now, is just a dream. To this class of objects seem to belong corporeal nature in general and its extension; the figure of extended things, their quantity or magnitude, and their number, as also the place in, and the time during, which they exist, and other things of the same sort. We will not, therefore, perhaps reason illegitimately if we conclude from this that Physics, Astronomy, Medicine, and all the other sciences that have for their end the consideration of composite objects, are indeed of a doubtful character; but that Arithmetic, Geometry, and the other sciences of the same class, which regard merely the simplest and most general objects, and scarcely inquire whether or not these are really existent, contain somewhat that is certain and indubitable: for whether I am awake or dreaming, it remains true that two and three make five, and that a square has but four sides; nor does it seem possible that truths so apparent can ever fall under a suspicion of falsity [or incertitude].

Nevertheless, the belief that there is a God who is all powerful, and who created me, such as I am, has, for a long time, obtained steady possession of my mind. How, then, do I know that he has not arranged that there should be neither earth, nor sky, nor any extended thing, nor figure, nor magnitude, nor place, providing at the same time, however, for [the rise in me of the perceptions of all these objects, and] the persuasion that these do not exist otherwise than as I perceive them? And further, as I sometimes think that others are in error respecting matters of which they believe themselves to possess a perfect knowledge, how do I know that I am not also deceived each time I add together two and three, or number the sides of a square, or form some judgment still more simple, if more simple indeed can be imagined?

But perhaps Deity has not been willing that I should be thus deceived, for he is said to be supremely good. If, however, it were repugnant to the goodness of Deity to have created me subject to constant deception, it would seem likewise to be contrary to his goodness to allow me to be occasionally deceived; and yet it is clear that this is permitted.

And as for knowing the truths of mathematics, there are a lot of people who seem absolutely certain of things that I know to be false. If we think that a good God can allow us to be wrong sometimes - and we must allow this because clearly we can be wrong sometimes — why not think that a good God can allow us to be wrong most of the time, or even all the time?

Some, indeed, might perhaps be found who would be disposed rather to deny the existence of a Being so powerful than to believe that there is nothing certain. But let us for the present refrain from opposing this opinion, and grant that all which is here said of a Deity is fabulous: nevertheless, in whatever way it be supposed that I reach the state in which I exist, whether by fate, or chance, or by an endless series of antecedents and consequents, or by any other means, it is clear since to be deceived and to err is a certain defect that the probability of my being so imperfect as to be the constant victim of deception, will be increased exactly in proportion as the power possessed by the cause, to which they assign my origin, is lessened.


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  8. To these reasonings I have assuredly nothing to reply, but am constrained at last to avow that there is nothing of all that I formerly believed to be true of which it is impossible to doubt, and that not through thoughtlessness or levity, but from cogent and maturely considered reasons; so that henceforward, if I desire to discover anything certain, I ought not the less carefully to refrain from assenting to those same opinions than to what might be shown to be manifestly false.

    What if I choose not to believe in God? So either way all of your beliefs could be wrong. So, at this point, Descartes has rejected sense experience as a source of foundational belief. This makes him a rationalist.

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    Rationalism is a school of epistemology characterized by its distrust of sense of experience and preference for pure reason as the source of justified belief. But it is not sufficient to have made these observations; care must be taken likewise to keep them in remembrance. For those old and customary opinions perpetually recur-- long and familiar usage giving them the right of occupying my mind, even almost against my will, and subduing my belief; nor will I lose the habit of deferring to them and confiding in them so long as I shall consider them to be what in truth they are, viz, opinions to some extent doubtful, as I have already shown, but still highly probable, and such as it is much more reasonable to believe than deny.

    It is for this reason I am persuaded that I shall not be doing wrong, if, taking an opposite judgment of deliberate design, I become my own deceiver, by supposing, for a time, that all those opinions are entirely false and imaginary, until at length, having thus balanced my old by my new prejudices, my judgment shall no longer be turned aside by perverted usage from the path that may conduct to the perception of truth.

    For I am assured that, meanwhile, there will arise neither peril nor error from this course, and that I cannot for the present yield too much to distrust, since the end I now seek is not action but knowledge. Second, we correctly recognize that most of the beliefs that we can doubt are, nonetheless, actually true. This is an important passage to remember when you read the rest of Descartes. Descartes will pretend that certain beliefs are false as part of a larger project of self re-education.

    He does not actually think that these beliefs are false and he is not crazy. But what if he had been crazy? What effect, if any, would that have on the philosophical validity of what he said? I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good and the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity; I will consider myself as without hands, eyes, flesh, blood, or any of the senses, and as falsely believing that I am possessed of these; I will continue resolutely fixed in this belief, and if indeed by this means it be not in my power to arrive at the knowledge of truth, I shall at least do what is in my power, viz, [ suspend my judgment ], and guard with settled purpose against giving my assent to what is false, and being imposed upon by this deceiver, whatever be his power and artifice.

    But this undertaking is arduous, and a certain indolence insensibly leads me back to my ordinary course of life; and just as the captive, who, perchance, was enjoying in his dreams an imaginary liberty, when he begins to suspect that it is but a vision, dreads awakening, and conspires with the agreeable illusions that the deception may be prolonged; so I, of my own accord, fall back into the train of my former beliefs, and fear to arouse myself from my slumber, lest the time of laborious wakefulness that would succeed this quiet rest, in place of bringing any light of day, should prove inadequate to dispel the darkness that will arise from the difficulties that have now been raised.

    This is a classic thought experiment. Of course, under the Evil Demon assumption, the Evil Demon exists, so at least you can know that, right? Well, no. Let me tell you a True but Disturbing Story. When I was a little kid — about six or seven — I was sitting on the living room floor watching T. Naturally, this prospect scared me, so I went into the kitchen where my mother was.

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