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The Ontological Argument as an Exercise in Cartesian Therapy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Lawrence Nolan*
California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach, CA90840-2408, USA


It is sometimes suggested that Descartes’ version of the so-called ontological ‘argument’ should be read not as a formal proof but as a seif-evident axiom, grasped by intuition. If correct, this Suggestion would enable us to answer finally one of the vexed questions of Cartesian scholarship, namely what relation holds between the ontological argument, as presented in the Fifth Meditation, and the causal argument of the Third Meditation. The ontological argument has the appearance of being an afterthought but, given the elegant and tightly ordered structure of the Meditations, this cannot be. Still, commentators have wondered why Descartes separates his theistic proofs in this way, and why the ontological argument emerges later in the ‘order of reasons.’ If the ontological ‘argument’ were intended as the report of an intuition, then these long-standing difficulties would be easily resolved. One could argue that rather than being an afterthought, it is the culmination of the meditator's efforts to achieve perfect knowledge (scientia) of God's existence.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 2005

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