Descartes and the Existence of Evil Demon
Descartes argument on the knowledge of the existence of a supreme and perfect being is based on his belief in the innate qualities of the mind. In accordance with his adopted position, the mind can create knowledge without the backing of empirical evidence. Possession of a distinct idea about anything implies its existence. Essence means existence. Therefore, the existence of an Evil Demon must meet Descartes innate, distinct, and intuitive assessments.
Descartes and the Existence of Evil Demon
Descartes ontological argument for the existence of God cannot be necessarily stretched to apply to another argument regarding the existence of an Evil Demon. This is because Descartes establishes a clear line of thought that is specific to his a priori existence of God. Central to his argument is the fact that his knowledge of God is anchored on a distinct idea on the existence of a supreme being (Marion, 2008). As such, there must be the existence of an idea first before a given claim of body of knowledge is verified. For Descartes, this distinct idea resided in his mind (Nolan, 2011). It is this idea that gave him the essence of God as a supreme being. It is an idea that could not be verified through empirical methods. The existence of an Evil Demon, in line with the thinking of Descartes, can only obtain if it is backed by a distinct idea.
There must first exist the essence of the Evil Demon that is crystallized into Descartes mind in order for him to make a claim about the existence of such a being. One of the central arguments upheld by Descartes is that essence implies existence. It would follow logically that the absence of essence effectively negates all possibilities of existence. Without the essence of the Evil Demon in distinct form it would be vacuous to assert any claim of such an existence. Therefore, this would mean that Descartes could claim the existence of God but refrain from making any assertions on whether or not some Evil Demon actually exists. Proof of such existence could be derived from other extraneous arguments, or by employing some logical claims outside the boundaries established by Descartes methods.
Descartes knowledge of God was based on the theory of innate ideas. He believed that it is possible for things to exist without their very nature of existence being verified by any empirical evidence. He did not consider it necessary to seek out for measurable of quantifiable evidence that would offer evidence for the existence of God. According to him, the mind can generate knowledge of its own through the power of intuition. The practice of intuition basically demands aligning the mind to the essence of ideas without establishing the evidence of experience or other methods that would be preferred by logicians to prove such facts. The existence of God, according to him, is a “give.”
In this sense, his claims cannot be justifiably contested because the methods of contesting them must also be based on intuition. It might be possible to strengthen the thinking adopted by Descartes on grounds that logical and empirical methods have their own limits. The mind cannot comprehend certain things that defy the methods of logic and evidence. For instance, logical and empirical cannot establish ways of measuring or quantifying claims that are necessarily based on innate ideas. If Descartes produces in his mind some distinct idea about the existence of an Evil Demon, then it would follow that such a being actually exists. Without establishing such innate ideas, it remains in the balance whether his knowledge of God automatically implies the knowledge about the existence of an Evil Demon.
All such knowledge must be based on distinct perceptions. Descartes assigned to the mind the power to perceive things that are beyond the laws of proof. He opened up another perspective of the human mind as a perceiving entity that can generate knowledge a priori. His postulations on the existence of God would therefore be understood within the context of the mind to generate knowledge and sense within the domain of existence.
According to Descartes, it is not necessary to seek for all kinds of evidence on whether God exists or not. Instead, he argued that the very essence of his existence should be considered as the final proof beyond which there should be no further efforts. Descartes thinking about the perceptive power of the mind could be understood from the point of view of its operation. The mind does not operate in a vacuum. According to Descartes, position, the mind cannot establish ideas of things that do not exist. However, there are lurking questions regarding the differences in the level of mental perceptions on the same subject. For example, it is possible for somebody else to have a distinct idea about the non-existence of God.
Descartes did not provide explicit solutions to this and other problems that were brought about by his philosophy. Such issues pose problems to the certainty of his position on the knowledge of God. The mind is not homogenous. Different people manifest different inclinations in their minds. Therefore, it could be argued that the position about the existence of God as advanced by Descartes is essentially subjective. Some people may contest Descartes position by arguing that the knowledge of God must be necessarily universal.
However this position might be defended on the grounds that the very existence of God does not lend itself to humanity in an objective form. Just the same way, the existence of an Evil Demon may attract different forms of mental perceptions from different people in different places and times. That is why it becomes difficult to situate the idea of God or an Evil Demon within any specific paradigm. It is partly because of this reason that the idea fails to lend itself to conclusive positions among philosophers.
Descartes gave the examples of geometry where some ideas just exist because of the innate and distinct impacts that they create on the mind. Their truth-values are universal and cannot be contested. Such ideas do not require empirical methods to test the levels of validity or their truth-values. Descartes argues that if it is possible for such knowledge to exist without empirical methods, then it follows that the knowledge of God could equally lend itself to such explanations.
In conclusion, it might be argued that Descartes would not furnish the possibility of the existence of an Evil Demon unless the idea of such a being is generated in his mind. Although he had formed a definite innate idea about the existence of a Supreme Being, this idea did not imply the existence of another being of opposite qualities to the Supreme Being. Logical arguments cannot fill into the gap left by Descartes because the whole position was based on a distinct idea. To this extent, it might follow that some of the ideas regarding the possible existence of an Evil Being must be based on innate ideas and distinct ideas about the same.
Marion, J. (2008). On the Ego and on God: Further Cartesian Questions. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008
Nolan, L. (2011). Descartes’ Ontological Argument. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/descartes-ontological/>.
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