Modern Western Philosophy Descartes-Metaphysics for Competitive Exams

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Modern Western Descartes - Metaphysics: Concept of Innate Ideas (Philosophy)

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The Concept of Innate Ideas

  • According to Descartes, no amount of sense experience can give us universal knowledge for necessity the sense-experience is particular.

  • As such the universal principle is supplied by the mind to the sense-data.

  • The doctrine of innate ideas means that the mind is not totally receptive but it is also active in nature.

  • It supplies the active formative principles of knowledge.

  • Descartes mentions the dual role of Innate Ideas.

    • Since the essence of mind is consciousness or thought so there are certain ideas which belong to mind alone.

      • Specially, the inmate ideas.

      • Innate ideas are characterised by clearness and distinctness.

      • In this sense, innate ideas mean pure thoughts and abstract thoughts.

      • According to Descartes, the best idea of an innate idea is the idea of God. According to him, God is infinite, perfect, endowed with all positive qualities.

    • However, Descartes was also obliged to extend the innate to the sense ideas as well.

      • First, he could not find their place in the mental series as they seemed to be cause by something external to the mind.

      • He explains the sense experience of colour, taste, etc. is not in the objects, therefore, it belongs to the psychical existence.

      • He avers, the external stimulus serves the function of exiting the sense-organs and through the pineal gland, the soul forms sense-experience.

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The Role of God

  • According to Descartes, there is one clear and distinct innate idea present in all of us, that is the innate idea of God.

  • Descartes avers, there is one innate idea of a being who is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, source of all goodness and truth, creator of all things.

  • In short, it has in itself all the things which are tainted by no imperfections.

  • Now, Descartes avers that what can be the cause of this idea? He says, the cause must be equal to the effect.

  • So, human beings cannot be the cause of this idea for we are finite beings and limited by nature.

  • Hence, this idea must have been caused by an equally perfect cause, the infinitely perfect being, that he calls, God.

  • According to Descartes, God is that on which everything else depends, but in return, God is not dependent on anything.

  • He avers, God is the independent substance on which both, mind and matter depend.

  • In other words, the two relative substances, mind and body depend on God.

Proofs for the Existence of God

  • Descartes gives three proofs for the existence of God. They are;

    • The Causal Proof:

      • The causal proof in-order to explain the existence go God is based on two main assumptions.

      • individual consciousness or the mind knows itself to be finite in nature,

      • This conception of God is derived only from the conception of an absolutely perfect being, God.

    • The Cosmological Proof:

      • Descartes avers that what can be the cause of myself, my parents and all the other finite, limited beings?

      • This he concludes, can be proved only with the help of the idea of a perfect, infinite being who has created everything, including the finite beings in the world.

    • The Ontological Proof:

      • Saint Anselm is most famous for he advocated ontological argument for the existence of God.

      • In Proslogion, he advances ontological argument towards the existence of God.

      • It is called ontological for it shows the very essence of the Idea of the perfect God which implies His existence.

      • In other words, the non-existence of God cannot be entertained, for God’s essence implies His existence or that He exists.

      • Descartes was influenced by Anslem’s ontological proof.

      • He avers, the existence of God follows from the very idea of the perfect being.

      • He gives an analogy to prove his point, he says, “ the very idea of the equality of three angles of a triangle is equal to the two right angles, follows from the very idea of a triangle.”

      • Hence, he says, the most perfect being cannot be thought without, at the same time, thinking of Him as actually existing.


Q-1 Descartes _____ the theory of innate ideas


A. Accepts

B. Rejects

C. Sometimes A and sometimes B

D. Is sceptic of

Answer: A

Q- 2. Innate Ideas are characterised by


A. Cleaness and Distinctiveness

B. Clearness and Distinctiveness

C. Clearness and Distinctness.

D. None of these

Answer: C

3. Select the correct statement in relation to God, according to Descartes


A. God is the architect God.

B. God is the creator God

C. God is a dependent absolute substance

D. Mind and body are independent on God

Answer: B

4. Descartes gives ______ proofs for the existence of God


A. Two

B. Three

C. Four

D. None

Answer: B

5. Descartes _______ Ontological proof for the existence of God


A. Accepts.

B. Rejects

C. Modified.

D. None of these

Answer: A

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