Somewhere Atop the Ivory Tower 4


“The Rationalist God”

(Rene Descartes is holding a summit to discuss the implications of God for the modern world. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz challenges him, when other philosophers throw them for a loop.)

Descartes: Listen up, my fellow rationalists. A new world is upon us. One where we can no longer accept what we are told at face value. The empiricists have already taken precedence to wipe away clean of everything they thought they knew, starting from scratch. Like a blank, clean, slate.

Locke: That’s tabula rasa–

Descartes: God damn it, who invited this heathen to the summit?

Leibniz: Never mind him. He’s allowed to listen, and we are obliged to keep him here.

Locke: Thank you.

Leibniz: Besides, it’s not like the empiricists can really challenge anything we have to say. They simply know nothing of how we rationalists do anything anyway.

Descartes: Uhm… Leibniz

Leibniz: Our ideas are higher than theirs. They cannot touch us.

Descartes: He can still hear you…

Leibniz: After all, rationalism is the best of all possible schools of thought.

Locke: Oh. In that case, what do you “rationalists” really think of God? That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? (audience mumbles)

Descartes: Yes, yes, now shut up! (silence) Leibniz, since you’re one to gab, why don’t you remind everyone here what God is?

Leibniz: Of course, Monsieur. God is an omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent being who upholds the infinitude across all time and space. His infinite wisdom ensures that your infinite properties are all contained inside of you, as you are, past, present, and future.

Descartes: Right–

Leibniz: And must I stress, God can do anything. ANYTHING!

Locke: Okay, but if God is omnipotent, can He create an object so heavy, that not even He can lift it?

Descartes and Leibniz: Well that’s simple, (Descartes only) Yes. (Leibniz only) Maybe. (Both men stare at each other awkwardly, as the audience continues to murmur.)

Descartes: Leibniz we went over this. Anything is possible with an omnipotent God. But because He is good and would not deceive us, He would choose in all of his omniscience not to create an object that not even He could lift.

Leibniz: Nonsense! God probably has created an object that not even He could lift in another possible world. But that world fell to illogical chaos, so He destroyed it.

Descartes: How dare you! God wouldn’t do such a thing because He is infinitely wise. Why would He do something that even fallible humans can see would be stupid?

Leibniz: Aye, but where did His infinite wisdom come from? Surely He’s had a couple of test worlds that He has created before He arrived at our perfect world, the best of all possible worlds.

Spinoza: You’re both wrong! The answer is clearly Not at all! (Locke grimaces as he slowly exits the hall)

Descartes: How can you say such a thing about our omniscient, omnipotent, all good God?

Leibniz: Well, that “all good” part is pretty questionable–

Descartes: Only to you.

Spinoza: Look, you guys said it yourself. God ensures that all of infinitude is upheld, even within the parts that make up our finite, material bodies. And why is that? Because God is not a transcendent being in the skies above. That wouldn’t make any sense.

Descartes: Pardon–

Spinoza: So God couldn’t make an object that not even He could lift because everything in this world is a part of Him.

Leibniz: What–

Spinoza: God is literally the only substance that can possibly exist! Right here in this world!

(dead silence)

Descartes: Senhor, are you suggesting that we are all Gods?

Spinoza: Not exactly. Rather, it’s more like all of the infinitesimally small particles that come together to make everything in this world belong to the entire being that is God. After all, only God can last for an infinite time, and those particles that contain all of these universal properties are just as infinite.

Descartes: Oh no.

Leibniz: How could you.

Spinoza: What did I do?

Descartes: Those kind of thoughts are going to ruin God for the modern world! No wonder the empiricists have already moved to making God an arbitrary figure in the universe, because of an imminent God like yours!

Spinoza: Oh come on, lots of civilizations believe in an imminent divine! What do you think your Son of God is?

Descartes: Christ is exceptional! It is through His imminence that God is also good!

Leibniz: Keep telling yourself that. Christ only exists in the best possible world because God wouldn’t even have wanted to live in any others.

Spinoza: Do you guys even hear yourselves? It is exactly this kind of emphasis on an omnipotent, transcendent God that has caused a rift in how we as philosophers relate to the people outside of this tower!

Descartes: I’d rather not hear any more of this heresy. Only a being abstract from this finite world could ever hold such an idea as great as infinitude. It is the only way that I could grasp such an idea as “infinity” without ever truly experiencing it.

Leibniz: Not… really… It is through a transcendent God that everything else in the world can hold an infinite amount of properties. That infinitude had to have been borne beyond anything finite.

Spinoza: (sigh) Perhaps someone else can sort out this whole “God” mess for the modern world. But who could that be?

Kant: (aside) Well I have an idea.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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Somewhere Atop the Ivory Tower 2


“Two Hands”

(Descartes had sent out an inquiry, regarding a thought experiment he had about knowledge of the external world. Three philosophers have responded to him during office hours.)

Moore: Mr. Descartes, about your inquiry.

Descartes: The one about the two hands, no?

Moore: Yes, about that. I don’t see the problem. (Descartes glares at him, confused) Look, here’s my hand. And here’s my other hand. They’re apart from each other. This is all the proof I need for the external world to exist!

Descartes: Aye, but HOW do I know that the world exists?

Moore: Because I can see them? Duh.

Descartes: (rubs his temples out of frustration) Don’t bore me with such common claims, without any evidence as to why. Go join the trash below. (Exit Moore. Enter Berkeley.) Ah, old friend. Have you got an answer to my inquiry?

Berkeley: Why of course. See my hands? I know they’re here because I can see them. But once I fall asleep or lose consciousness, I no longer am aware that they exist.

Descartes: Yeah. I know.

Berkeley: So that means that in those moments where I am not aware of them, my two hands don’t exist!

Descartes: Wha– how did you… then how do you explain how your two hands happen to be there once you wake up?

Berkeley: Why that’s simple. Because God can still see them. That means I can be confident that my hands will still be there, even when I’m not conscious of them. After all, a higher being is always watching them.

Descartes: Uh huh… so what would happen if at some point God stops looking, even for a split second?

Berkeley: Look. You’re a man of faith too, right?

Descartes: Well, sure.

Berkeley: Then you would know that it would be impossible for God to stop His gaze upon everything at once. He is omnipotent, after all.

Descartes: Okay, but how do you know that? Wouldn’t saying that something is impossible for God mean that He is no longer omnipotent?

Berkeley: Well…

Descartes: So in the case that God stops looking at your hands, and no one else is around to notice them, how do you know that they’re still there?

Berkeley: Look, they’re not there unless they can be seen, okay? Geez, someone like you should know that God is above any of our concerns!

Descartes: Mr. Berkeley, with all due respect. I believe in God, and I believe that God is good, and above all, omnipotent. But to say that He is incapable of doing something, including something as simple as breaking His gaze on your hands is rather insulting to your vision of God.

Berkeley: You’re just a man of little faith then!

Descartes: . . . . If you’re not going to take this inquiry seriously, get out. (Exit Berkeley. Enter Lehrer) Now who are you?

Lehrer: Oh come on, you didn’t bother asking G E Moore who he is, but you have to ask of me?

Descartes: Who?

Lehrer: Eh, never mind. About those two hands… you see these? I don’t even know that they’re there.

Descartes: . . . Come again?

Lehrer: Yeah. How do I even know that they exist? I’ve never had proof that anything I see is in fact there. I don’t even know that you’re talking to me, or that we’re somehow atop some kind of tower.

Descartes: Are you serious?

Lehrer: Hell, how do I even know that I don’t know any of this? Maybe a demon put all these thoughts in my head, to trick me into navigating an illusion of a universe.

Descartes: But surely you have acted as if you knew that your two hands existed. Only crazy people think that their hands don’t exist even when they can clearly see them.

Lehrer: Yes, but maybe that’s what the demons want you to believe. Isn’t that right?

Descartes: Hmm… (Descartes scribbles a few notes on a piece of paper and hands it to Lehrer) here are the key points to my first and second meditations. Read them again, and study them well.

Lehrer: Okay, but–

Descartes: And if you’re really that committed to skepticism, go ahead and walk off the top ledge of this tower. There is a special place in Philosopher’s Hell, just for you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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Problems Posed by Descartes — The Cogito


Hello, my fellow readers!

This is the first official post to a weekly blog series I’m doing on philosophical editorials. I don’t have a title for the series yet, but once I do, each post will be tagged as such! In case you weren’t aware, I love philosophy, and I have a BA in the discipline. My friends might tell you that I went through the program like a grad student, to the extent that I had bounced around ideas with them for their compositions and theses. I guess…

To kick off this series, I have chosen to critique one of the most recognizable names in philosophy: Rene Descartes. Why him? Because if you’re ever planning to teach philosophy to your kids (which studies show is a smart choice), Descartes is about as basic as you can get for elementary school students to understand (which I admittedly just made up). And apparently, I took one of those online quiz things recently, revealing that I think most like Descartes, for some reason.

Today we will be discussing one of the most common topics that you will find in just about any Introduction to Philosophy course: Descartes’  Cogito. This argument can be found in the first 2 sections of his Meditations on First Philosophy, so if you want to follow along, click here.

DISCLAIMER: this is a blog post, and is therefore not meant for academic purposes. Things will be paraphrased or simply me talking out of my ass about ideas posed in philosophy that merely sound “smart.” Cite at your own risk.

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