There is this popular opinion that Descartes overcame his notorious doubt in the existence of the external world because of his conviction that a benevolent God exists, who wouldn’t deceive him in such a manner.

I didn’t find anything of that in the Meditations, instead Descartes is concerned about his standard of “clear and distinct perception” and if God could be a kind of “defeater” for that standard.

Is there anything in Descartes’s writings that could support the popular opinion above or is this a misinterpretation?

  • 1
    You should look not at specific passages but at the overall arc of the argument in Meditation 3. Without God nothing can be certain, this is known as the Cartesian circle.
    – Conifold
    Mar 25, 2019 at 20:48

2 Answers 2


"popular opinion" sometime is wrong.

See Descartes' Epistemology : Descartes established the "clear and distinct" criteria for truthfulness of ideas.

Descartes was not a skeptic: he adopted a "methodical doubt", i.e. assumed as a method of inquiry that every opinion that is not certain must be scrutinized.

In this way, he arrived at the well-known Cogito ergo sum conclusion : even if "there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed." (See Med, III,1)

From this, he moves on to the "idea of God"; see Med, III, 17-22:

But among these my ideas, besides that which represents myself, respecting which there can be here no difficulty, there is one that represents a God; [...]

There only remains, therefore, the idea of God, in which I must consider whether there is anything that cannot be supposed to originate with myself. By the name God, I understand a substance infinite, [eternal, immutable], independent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and by which I myself, and every other thing that exists, if any such there be, were created. But these properties are so great and excellent, that the more attentively I consider them the less I feel persuaded that the idea I have of them owes its origin to myself alone. And thus it is absolutely necessary to conclude, from all that I have before said, that God exists


The “popular opinion”, that Descartes deduces the existence of the perceived material world from the existence and benevolence of God, is indeed supported by the text. It resides in the sixth meditation.

But, since God is no deceiver, it is very manifest that He does not communicate to me these ideas immediately and by Himself, nor yet by the intervention of some creature in which their reality is not formally, but only eminently, contained. For since He has given me no faculty to recognise that this is the case, but, on the other hand, a very great inclination to believe [that they are sent to me or] that they are conveyed to me by corporeal objects, I do not see how He could be defended from the accusation of deceit if these ideas were produced by causes other than corporeal objects. Hence we must allow that corporeal things exist.

  • yeah, the point is this: a very great inclination to believe. It's the combination of inclination + God, not just simply God by itself.
    – viuser
    Mar 28, 2019 at 18:55
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    @wolf-revo-cats Yes, but that inclination, according to Descartes, is itself a gift from God. Mar 28, 2019 at 19:30

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