Meditation Three

Take a central claim from Meditation Three: the idea I have of God could only be caused by God. 

Try taking an experiential approach to the claim. Descartes is clear that the whole sensible world might just as well be a dream world, and so let’s assume that one’s idea of God and all other ideas are taking place in a dream. But seeing God in a dream is not the same thing as seeing something strange, unseen before, or even illogical. It is difficult to wake from a theophanic dream without taking it as significant. Even if we don’t see God, but feel like we’ve been attacked by some malevolent spirit or enlightened to see something beyond our natural powers (like a premonition of the future) it’s hard to wake up and think that it was all in your head. People thus naturally tend to think that an idea of an existence greater than yourself, especially if experienced with great vividness and clarity, arises from a source higher than yourself. 

Thus one of the simplest accounts of what Descartes is driving at in the Third Meditation is that he takes the the mode of knowing God in philosophy as relevantly equivalent to the mode of knowing God by religious experience, i.e. the encounter in thought of an absolutely simple, all-powerful, eternal being (no matter what philosophical propaedeutic one needed to see it) is the equivalent of a mystical, intuitive encounter with this being in a dream. Just as the encounter in the dream carries its own evidence so too does the philosophical articulation of what God is, even apart from any argument whether God exists.

 

 

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