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Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” – Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

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Top Link Bar Home Currently selected. Quick Launch Libraries Surveys Lists. This was quite a relief. Descartes didn't stop there. He believed that some things were necessary for him to think. For example, God. And as God is omnipotent and benevolent, he would not have us deceived at least, not completely. So, he says, we can trust such things as logical and mathematical truths, and probably our eyes and ears.

But perhaps we still cannot trust our senses. After all, we are still working in the realm of the mind at this point, not matter. And after all, the mind is different than the body, isn't it? This is popularly translated " I think therefore I am ", however some philosophers think that's an oversimplification.

Their nitpick rests on the fact that it is unreasonable for Descartes to conclude the existence of the entity having the properties of Rene Descartes based just on thought. Instead, they suggest two more faithful translation s in order of unorthodoxy ; followed by an expanded translation :.

It should be noted that both these interpretations can fit into a wider range of metaphysics than the popular translation. In particular, neither of them lead to the concept of a soul as strongly. Materialism , Spinoza 's monism , and Berkeley 's idealism to name a few should find this argument useful.

Early modern

Jean-Paul Sartre , in his prologue to Being and Nothingness has a little to say about cogito ergo sum , or simply 'the cogito' as it is known in the trade , arguing along roughly the following lines: since the being of the phenomena is distinct from the phenomenon of being Sartre spends some time establishing this then the phenomenon of the self is not identical to the self experiencing that phenomenon - in Descartes' terms we could perhaps say: 'but the I that thinks is not the I it thinks it is.

However, the phrase doesn't appear in his writings at all. In his Meditations on First Philosophy Descartes, writing in Latin, makes the claim " sum res cogitans " I am a thinking being. And in his Discourse on Method , he states in French " Je pense donc je suis ", which means "I am thinking therefore I am". However the famous phrase itself was never issued from Descartes' pen.

Nevertheless, philosophers have taken to calling the claim "I think therefore I am" the cogito. Linguist ic note: In French and many other languages, there is no difference between saying "I walk" and "I am walking" etc, even though there are two distinct meanings; you walk occasionally, or you are walking now. This is why the cogito is often probably wrongly rendered as " I think therefore I am ".

Human Nature in All of Its Deadly Force is Raging in the Congo

It makes a lot more sense as "I am thinking therefore I am", as will be seen later. In order to get an idea of the importance attached to this statement, it helps to understand Descartes' project.

I think, therefore I am virus

His ideas sprang up towards the end of the Renaissance in Europe. For nearly fifteen hundred years, some knowledge went unchallenged. Galen 's medical textbooks, Archemedes 's laws of motion and Aristotle 's scientific musings were taken as fact. If what you saw didn't agree with these authorities, you were probably wrong.

The Renaissance saw the end of all that. For the first time, the authority of these ancient masters was challenged. Rene Descartes was a mathematician and scientist, but wracked with doubt, doubt about everything. He saw that commonly accepted truths were torn down and replaced with new truths.

Cogito Ergo Sum

He wanted to be able to know that these new truths were any firmer than what went before. So Descartes decided to pull down the whole house and reconstruct it on firmer foundations. He developed what is called the Doubt , where he took everything he believed to be true and asked himself if he could be sure it was true. He allowed the possibility that he was dreaming, or drugged, or a brain in a vat.

In the end, he decided there was nothing he could be sure of. Well, almost nothing. Dennett was mentioned briefly in a footnote somewhere and I have subsequently read "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking". It was a breath of fresh air. Ted says "I see free will as It is the old "life force" fantasy indulged in by the likes of Mary Midgley.

You might as well read Lobsang Rampa.


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If you want to study things that are apparently non-causal, you could try quantum mechanics but that is too hard for most, certainly too hard for me. We do hear from time to time that there are quantum mechanical explanations for mind, but generally they come from people who think "I don't understand A or B, therefore B is like A". Penrose is the honourable exception, but there comes a point where a mathematical proposition must be subject to a real world test if you want to assert that it has a real world effect.

Not likely any time soon. Alex Dean. More by this author.

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