A book on ethics and philosophy of values

suivre sur twitter

Indeed, the two proofs of God's existence that he gives successively in the third and fifth Meditations are based entirely on the three debatable axiological positions that we have identified. So, as we shall see, he deduces God's existence from his value.

We could summarise the first proof as follows: in the "I", whose undoubted existence I have just shown, I find the idea of God. This idea is therefore indubitably present in my mind. How do I move from the existence of the idea to the existence of its object (i.e. from the formal reality to the material reality of the idea?); in other words, how do I prove that God really exists, and not just as an idea in my mind?

This is where Descartes uses the first axiologically dubious position we identified. This idea of God is that of a perfect being (according to the simple definition of name we have seen), so a God who is infinite, since to be infinite is to be totally, without any limitation, and being and perfection can be equated.

Descartes will then deduce the real existence of God from the infinite nature of his idea, by bringing into play the second doubtful axiological position, i.e. that which asserts that the cause is always more valuable than the effect.
Where can this idea of an infinite, i.e. perfect, God come from in me? What could be its cause? Only a being that is also infinite, and therefore perfect, can be the cause, since that which has a lesser value cannot be the cause of that which has a greater value.

So God exists, as the necessary cause of an idea whose presence in me I undoubtedly find: The more carefully I concentrate on these attributes, the less possible it seems that any of them could have originated from me alone […] It is true that my being a substance explains my having the idea of substance; but it does not explain my having the idea of an infinite substance. That must come from some substance that is itself infinite .

We can see, then, that Descartes' dubious axiology is fundamentally involved in his logical reasoning: in fact, his logic is based on his axiology, and his judgements here are mainly value judgements.

The second proof of God's existence, set out in the fifth Meditation, could be summarised as follows: The idea of God is that of a perfect being, and that which exists is more perfect than that which does not exist (or again: perfection, value and existence are the same thing), so God exists.
This famous argument has been improperly called the "ontological argument". In fact, it is an ontological-axiological argument, i.e. a logical monster: the attempt to deduce an ontological reality from an axiological position.

Kantian criticism of the ontological argument therefore probably missed its target: in trying to show, with the example of the hundred thalers, that existence was not a predicate like any other, it entered into ontological considerations which could be opposed, as Hegel did, by other ontological considerations. In fact, we should perhaps analyse this argument from the perspective in which it is authentically situated, i.e. study it as an axiologist, and not as a logician.
We can see that this reasoning is based on the first two dubious axiological positions we have identified, which assert that perfection has a value, and then that perfection and being are the same thing.

We could oppose him with the idea that what has value is nothingness, and therefore that God, as the supreme value, does not exist. Or that perfection is not the supreme value, so that we cannot deduce the existence of God from his perfection. In short, Descartes can be opposed by a plurality of axiological judgements to the contrary. We could also deny that we can deduce an ontological result from an axiological premise, since these two spheres are distinct. Finally, it may be argued that it is in any case impossible to deduce an indubitable ontological judgement from a dubious axiological position.

As we can see, Descartes' axiology underlies his conclusions. In the Cartesian approach, then, we do not find a purely logical proof of the existence of God, devoid of value judgements. On the contrary, we see that Descartes calls for a dubious axiology in order to go beyond the certainty of the cogito, which is purely logical.
What is the reason for the shift, from the second to the third Meditation, from a purely logical to an axiological perspective? The fact that Descartes does not, at least not here, attribute value to the I, even though he surreptitiously includes value in the very definition of God, as we have seen. So as long as Descartes stays with the Cogito, i.e. the demonstration of the existence of the I, he does not bring in any consideration of value. As soon as he talks about God, the notion of value comes into play, even if it is under the term "perfection".

The epoché included in the radical doubt is limited to questions of fact, that is, of existence: "Does X exist? I must doubt it" says Descartes, and this will lead him, in the course of the first Meditation, to doubt the existence of what is shown to us by our senses, our reason (such as mathematical 'realities') and even of God.
For Descartes, the question is: "Does God exist?" and not "Does God have value?" which he never doubts.
This is clear as early as the first Meditation, in which he casts doubt on the truth of mathematics by imagining that God is so powerful that he can deceive us. However, he immediately reassures himself, God is so good that he cannot do that; an evil genius, on the other hand, can. The concept of evil genius is therefore a symptom of the fact that Descartes cannot imagine a God who has no value, so he has to invent another concept that links the notions of divinity and imperfection.

Thus Descartes' entire approach will be to prove that God exists: And just as I can imagine a winged horse even though no horse has wings, so I can attach existence to God in my thought even if no God exists... and the objections that will be proposed to him (by Hobbes, for example) come from the same perspective: does this idea of God exist in us or not? To which he replied: Also, someone who denies having any idea of God, in my sense of ‘idea’, is making the most impious confession he could make.

It is the existence of things that poses the problem, not their value, which leads to venture this hypothesis: the problem of values never seems to have occurred to Descartes. In any case, Descartes' famous "hyperbolic" doubt is not radical, despite its ambition, but leaves the whole sphere of values intact. What condemns the Cartesian approach is that he will fundamentally use these dogmatic and doubtful value judgements to claim to have achieved the indubitable, after the Cogito. Descartes thus seems, in reality, to remain a prisoner of the ego. He was unable to move beyond it to demonstrate the certainty of God, and then of the world, as he had intended.

We were therefore trying to grasp the nature of the axiological epoché we are proposing, taking our inspiration from a model, that of Descartes, who was trying to think through the possibility of radical doubt. We saw that Descartes was engaged in a completely different kind of epoché, an ontological epoché, which takes judgements of reality or existence as its object, and which therefore could not inspire us. We also thought we saw that it failed, because, being secretly based on an axiology, it needed to be backed up by an axiological epoché, which we looked for in vain in Descartes.

Nevertheless, in contrast, we may have grasped an interesting idea: our search for the value of things is not the determination of their existence, i.e. we do not ask ourselves whether such and such a thing exists, but whether such and such a thing has value.

1. Metaphysical Meditations, III
2. ibid, V
3. Replies to fifth objections of Gassendi