Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Explain and Assess Descartes Trademark Argument

Words 1634 (6 pages)
Views 544

Explain and Assess Descartes Trademark Argument Descartes Trademark Argument came about when Descartes was in the process of trying to build up the knowledge he himself can know a priori (without experience) through pure reason. When doing this be began to think about where his idea of God came from and eventually Descartes concluded that the idea of God comes from God himself and he explained this through the Trademark Argument. The argument is an a priori argument meaning before experience.

This sort of argument is the type that philosophers usually prefer because, unlike a posteriori or after experience, the evidence is not so open to interpretation because anyone could dispute the true meaning of an experience but its far more difficult to do that with pure reasoning. The origins and foundations of the Trademark Argument lie in the Causal Adequacy Principle. This states that any cause of something must have at least equal or greater properties than its effect, so in short it means that every cause must be sufficient enough to create the effect.

For example, to break a window, the cause must have enough power in the speed and weight of the object in order for the window to shatter. So in this case a fly wouldn’t cause the window to shatter just by flying into because it does not possess greater or equal properties however a flying brick will possess these properties so the window can shatter. Descartes then applied this theory with out ideas. Ideas must be caused by something, but this something must have at least as much reality as the idea themselves.

Order custom essay Explain and Assess Descartes Trademark Argument with free plagiarism report


A complex way of saying this would be “Something (A) cannot exist unless it is produced by something that contains either formally or eminently everything to be found in (A). ” To possess something formally is to possess equal properties while eminently is to possess properties greater. Let’s look at this with an example. Ideas of Angels can be made up ourselves just by using our ideas of material things and God. The idea of Angels, which is far greater than any sort of human, but not as great as God, can be thought of as a lesser version of God himself.

Descartes was sure that these ideas existed in his own mind however he could not work out if they represented anything else in the real world even if he is led to think that by his instincts. Descartes believed that his ideas had degrees of “objective reality” so what they represent can be measured in terms of perfection. These ideas can’t be more perfect or contain more reality than the things that caused them so we cant be the cause of our ideas of God because we aren’t perfect enough to be able to do it even if we are the cause of other ideas such as substance which we cant be sure exists outside our own minds.

So, if we can’t be the cause of our idea of God, who can? This can only be answered in one way for there is only one being, according to Descartes, that has at least as much perfection as God and that is God himself. So for us to have this idea of God there must have been a God to put it in us in the first place. As Descartes described it, it is “the mark of a craftsmen stamped on his work. ” This can be simplified by using a series of points to structure the argument.

  1. The cause of anything must be at least as perfect as its effect
  2. My ideas must be caused by something
  3. I am imperfect
  4. My idea of God is of a perfect being so…
  5. I cannot be the cause of my idea of God and…
  6. Only a perfect being could cause such an idea so…
  7. God (a perfect being) placed the idea within us and exists.

That is the argument in its simplest form. Over the many years since Descartes revealed his findings in his work “meditations” there have been many supporters and backers of the argument, most of whom are rationalists who as explained before, like the a priori style of the argument.

Other supporters we can assume could be major religions for example, such as Islam which would share the same view as Descartes that our idea of God is innate the implanted within us by God himself which can also be seen as a major strength of the argument. So, Descartes believes he has proved that in order for us to have the idea of God as a supremely perfect being it must be innate within us and must have been placed in us by God himself. However there are many critics to this argument which must be considered in order to assess the argument.

Firstly, many philosophers have encountered problems with the Causal Adequacy Principle. Descartes considered this principle true for many reasons, one of the main ones we think that he believed in was you cant get more out of the effect than what was already in the cause, otherwise it would be something for nothing. This however may not be true because there are examples in the world which we can see as having more in its effect than what was in the cause. One of which is can we not light a large bonfire just with the aid of one match? Also can we start an avalanche with just the sound waves from one whisper?

There are many other more scientific examples such as Chaos Theory, Quantum Physics and also Evolution. In the case of evolution, single celled organisms evolve into more complex beings just through the passage of time, once all life on earth was just single cell organisms but now there are millions of different species all more complex than what came before. Hume also criticised the causal adequacy principle by saying we cannot determine the cause of anything by looking just at the effect. Can we know what caused a window to shatter before inspecting the evidence to find the cause within?

All we know it must have been big enough with enough power behind to smash through the window but we cant even know this a priori. Hume said that we learn a posteriori that for a window to shatter it must have been caused by a large object with lots of power behind it. From this Hume seems to suggest that to know what actually caused our idea of God we much observe its cause. Hume also said that even if the principle is correct then how could Descartes assume that the principle can just be transferred from physical things to ideas without it changing?

However there are philosophers who have defended the principle stating that lots of rules have exemptions and why, if a rule does need exemptions which were not originally set out, is it immediately untrue. Things such as evolution, chaos theory and my examples of lighting a large bonfire with a single match and causing an avalanche with a whisper may just be exemptions to the rule however it still applies to many other things. Some philosophers have also criticised Descartes for defining his idea of God and an incoherent God. For example, Descartes describes God as being Omnipotent, meaning that he is all powerful.

This would seem to satisfy many peoples ideas of God however on close examination it is indeed incoherent. To illustrate this I shall use a paradox which undermines God’s power. Can God create a rock that he himself could not lift? Either way one thing he can not do for if he can create the rock then he can’t lift it but if he cant create the rock there is still something he cant do. This paradox suggests Descartes idea of God is flawed and imperfect so a perfect being can not be the only possible cause of the idea according to the causal adequacy principle.

From this we can deduce that its far more likely that Descartes himself created this imperfect idea rather than a perfect being. The final criticism I shall look as it one formed collectively by the arch-rationalists: empiricists. This group of philosophers would consider themselves to rival rationalism as they believe that the mind at birth is blank and we gain all our ideas from experience, not reason or innate ideas. Hume, one of the leading empiricists, amongst others argued that we observe qualities in other people and so recognise there are degrees of certain qualities such as knowledge, power and benevolence.

With these ideas in our head from the experiences we have had of other people, we can then extend these qualities until we arrive at infinite knowledge, power and benevolence. This way we have arrived at the idea of these things joining and making a perfect being with infinite qualities however we have arrived through it in a much less perfect way than through God. If this is correct then the origin of our idea is not innate and certainly not caused by God but just us manipulating what we have experienced to suit our needs as imaginative human beings. In conclusion there are many strengths and weaknesses to Descartes Trademark Argument.

It is a compelling argument to follow because of the way it is structured and how it sets out to explain out idea of God in an untainted way, free of what can be misleading experiences and just work it out through the power of reason however once examining the potential problems that have arisen since Descartes time it would be difficult to believe the argument is the truth, and for myself it is incredibly difficult to believe in it knowing that there is an equal and possibly more valid reason why we have an idea of God, as explained by the empiricists.

Explain and Assess Descartes Trademark Argument essay

This essay was written by a fellow student. You can use it as an example when writing your own essay or use it as a source, but you need cite it.

Get professional help and free up your time for more important courses

Starting from 3 hours delivery 450+ experts on 30 subjects
get essay help 124  experts online

Did you know that we have over 70,000 essays on 3,000 topics in our database?

Cite this page

Explore how the human body functions as one unit in harmony in order to life

Explain and Assess Descartes Trademark Argument. (2017, Mar 15). Retrieved from

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer