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Encyclopedia > Cogito ergo sum
Philosophy Portal
René Descartes (1596–1650)
René Descartes (15961650)

"Cogito, ergo sum" (Latin: "I think, therefore I am") or Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum (Latin: "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am") is a philosophical statement used by René Descartes, which became a foundational element of Western philosophy. "Cogito ergo sum" is a translation of Descartes' original French statement: "Je pense, donc je suis", which occurs in his Discourse on Method (1637). (See Principles of Philosophy, Part 1, article 7: "Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat.") Image File history File links Socrates. ... René Descartes. ... René Descartes. ... Events February 5 - 26 catholics crucified in Nagasaki, Japan. ... Year 1650 (MDCL) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Tuesday of the 10-day slower Julian calendar). ... For other uses, see Latin (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Philosophy (disambiguation). ... Descartes redirects here. ... For this articles equivalent regarding the East, see Eastern culture. ... For other uses, see Philosophy (disambiguation). ... The Discourse on Method is a philosophical and mathematical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. ... The illustration of movement of objects from the Principles Principles of Philosophy (Principia philosophiae) was written in Latin by René Descartes. ...

Although the idea expressed in "Cogito ergo sum" is widely attributed to Descartes, many predecessors offer similar arguments—particularly St. Augustine of Hippo in De Civitate Dei: "Si [...] fallor, sum" ("If I am mistaken, I am") (book XI, 26), who also anticipates modern refutations of the concept. St. ... The City of God, opening text, created c. ...



The phrase "Cogito ergo sum" is not used in Descartes' most important work, the Meditations on First Philosophy, but the term "the cogito" is (often confusingly) used to refer to an argument from it. Descartes felt that this phrase, which he had used in his earlier Discourse, had been misleading in its implication that he was appealing to an inference, so he changed it to "I am, I exist" (also often called "the first certainty") in order to avoid the term "cogito". The title page of the Meditations Meditations on First Philosophy (subtitled In which the existence of God and the real distinction of mind and body, are demonstrated) is a philosophical treatise written by René Descartes first published in Latin in 1641 . ... The Discourse on Method is a philosophical and mathematical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. ...

At the beginning of the second meditation, having reached what he considers to be the ultimate level of doubt — his argument from the existence of a deceiving god — Descartes examines his beliefs to see if any has survived the doubt. In his belief in his own existence he finds it: it is impossible to doubt that he exists. Even if there were a deceiving god (or an evil demon, the tool he uses to stop himself sliding back into ungrounded beliefs), his belief in his own existence would be secure, for how could he be deceived unless he existed in order to be deceived?

But I have convinced myself that 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 [or thought anything at all] then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind. (AT VII 25; CSM II 16–17)

There are three important notes to keep in mind here. First, he only claims the certainty of his own existence from the first-person point of view — he has not proved the existence of other minds at this point. This is something that has to be thought through by each of us for ourselves, as we follow the course of the meditations. Second, he is not saying that his existence is necessary; he is saying that if he's thinking, then necessarily he exists (see the instantiation principle). Third, this proposition "I am, I exist" is held true not based on a deduction (as mentioned above) nor on empirical induction, but on the clarity and self-evidence of the proposition. The instantiation principle is a concept in philosophy that states that if something has a property, then necessarily that something must exist. ...

Descartes does not use this first certainty, the cogito, as a foundation upon which to build further knowledge; rather, it is the firm ground upon which he can stand as he works to restore his beliefs. As he puts it:

Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find just one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable. (AT VII 24; CSM II 16)

According to many of Descartes' specialists, including Étienne Gilson, the goal of Descartes in establishing this first truth is to demonstrate the capacity of his criterion — the immediate clarity and distinctiveness of self-evident propositions — to establish true and justified propositions despite having adopted a method of generalized doubt. As a consequence of this demonstration, Descartes considers science and mathematics to be justified to the extent that their proposals are established on a similar immediate clarity, distinctiveness, and self-evidence that present itself to the mind. The originality of Descartes' thinking, therefore, is not so much in expressing the cogito — a feat accomplished by other predecessors, as we have seen — but on using the cogito as demonstrating the most fundamental epistemological principle, that science and mathematics are justified by relying on clarity, distinctiveness, and self-evidence. Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) was a French philosopher and historian, born in Paris. ...

Criticisms of the cogito

There have been a number of criticisms of the cogito. The first of the two under scrutiny here concerns the nature of the step from "I am thinking" to "I exist". The contention is that this is a syllogistic inference, for it appears to require the extra premise: "Whatever has the property of thinking, exists", and that extra premise must surely have been rejected at an earlier stage of the doubt. A syllogism (Greek: — conclusion, inference), usually the categorical syllogism, is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form. ... In discourse, a premise (also premiss in British usage) is a claim which is part of a reason or objection. ...

It could be argued that "Whatever has the property of thinking, exists" is self-evident, and thus not subject to the method of doubt. This is because the instantiation principle states that: "Whatever has the property F, exists", but within the method of doubt, only the property of thinking is indubitably a property of the meditator. Descartes does not make use of this defence, however; as we have already seen, he responds to the criticism by conceding that there would indeed be an extra premise needed, but denying that the cogito is a syllogism. Jaakko Hintikka offered a non-syllogistic interpretation. "I exist" is immune to Descartes' method of doubt because it is impossible to be mistaken about one's own existence. If we do not exist then we cannot be mistaken, so we might as well believe we do. The instantiation principle is a concept in philosophy that states that if something has a property, then necessarily that something must exist. ... Jaakko Hintikka in 2006. ...

Perhaps a more relevant contention is whether the 'I' to which Descartes refers is justified. In Descartes, The Project of Pure Enquiry, Bernard Williams provides a history and full evaluation of this issue. The main objection, as presented by Georg Lichtenberg, is that rather than supposing an entity that is thinking, Descartes should have said: "thinking is occurring." That is, whatever the force of the cogito, Descartes draws too much from it; the existence of a thinking thing, the reference of the "I", is more than the cogito can justify. Friedrich Nietzsche put forward a similar form of criticism, suggesting a more appropriate phrase would be "it thinks". Bernard Arthur Owen Williams (September 21, 1929 – June 10, 2003) was a British philosopher, widely cited as the most important British moral philosopher of his time. ... Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1 July 1742 – 24 February 1799) was an 18th-century German scientist, satirist and Anglophile. ... Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) (IPA: ) was a nineteenth-century German philosopher. ...

Williams provides a meticulous and exhaustive examination of this objection. He argues, first, that it is impossible to make sense of "there is thinking" without relativising it to something. However, this something cannot be Cartesian egos, because it is impossible to differentiate objectively between things just on the basis of the pure content of consciousness.

Williams' argument in detail

In addition to the preceding two arguments against the cogito, other arguments have been advanced by Bernard Williams. He claims, for example, that what we are dealing with when we talk of thought, or when we say "I am thinking", is something conceivable from a third-person perspective; namely objective "thought-events" in the former case, and an objective thinker in the latter. For other uses, see Point of view (literature). ... For other uses of objectivity, see objectivity (disambiguation). ...

The obvious problem is that, through introspection, or our experience of consciousness, we have no way of moving to conclude the existence of any third-personal fact, to conceive of which would require something above and beyond just the purely subjective contents of the mind. This "obvious" problem is not recognized as such by marked non-western philosophers (for more information see: anatta) This article is about the psychological process of introspecting. ... Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and ones environment. ... In Buddhist philosophy, anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to non-self or absence of separate self[1]. One scholar describes it as ...meaning non-selfhood, the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things. ...

Further reading

  • W.E. Abraham, "Disentangling the Cogito", Mind 83:329 (1974)
  • Z. Boufoy-Bastick, Introducing 'Applicable Knowledge' as a Challenge to the Attainment of Absolute Knowledge , Sophia Journal of Philosophy, VIII (2005), pp 39–52.
  • R. Descartes (translated by John Cottingham), Meditations on First Philosophy, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes vol. II (edited Cottingham, Stoothoff, and Murdoch; Cambridge University Press, 1984) ISBN 0-521-28808-8
  • G. Hatfield, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Descartes and the Meditations (Routledge, 2003) ISBN 0-415-11192-7
  • B. Williams, Descartes, The Project of Pure Enquiry (Penguin, 1978) OCLC 4025089

Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) was founded in 1967 and originally named the Ohio College Library Center. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Cogito ergo sum - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1790 words)
"Cogito ergo sum" is a translation of Descartes' original French statement: "Je pense, donc je suis", which occurs in his Discourse on Method (1637).
The phrase "cogito ergo sum" is not used in Descartes' most important work, the Meditations on First Philosophy, but the term "the cogito" is (often confusingly) used to refer to an argument from it.
"Cogito ergo sum" translates as "I think therefore I am" which implies that existence is the effect of the cause of thinking, which is a philosophical fallacy.
  More results at FactBites »



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