Friday, 28 July 2017

Descartes claim " I think, therefore I am " or "Cogito Ergo Sum"




Descartes` claims " I think, therefore I am " or "Cogito Ergo Sum". This is my criticiam of him. Sorry about the rant...... Descartes  uses the cogito to identify the unitary self as a coherent, fixed, unique essence which drives and motivates an individual`s personality. This cartesian self is a rational self, a knowing subject which is both self reflective and self perceiving and which through the claim “je pense donc je suis”{ I am thinking therefore I exist), also expressed in latin ego cogito ergo sum .This is in essence a psychological internalist statement of skepticism that methodologically forms the foundation of a rational deductive epistemology of knowledge and with the rejection of a gradual uncovering inductive ontological sense of being. In this essay I will examine Descarte s claims from the cogito and evaluate and analyse its weakness as a basis for a theory of knowledge/


In Meditation I, Descarte describes his method as comprised of three levels of doubt in which each level is more extreme than the one before it. His doubt is aimed at tearing down any presuppositions he once previously had accepted and starting over.


His first level of doubt is aimed at his senses. Since the senses have deceived him in the past, he states that it is wise to deny the truth of them and to doubt that they provide him any truth to anything outside of him. He says “All that up to the present time I have accepted most true and certain I have learned either from the senses or through the senses; but it is sometimes proved to me that these senses are deceptive, and it is wiser not to trust entirely to any thing by which we have once been deceived”

The second level is to doubt whether he is awake or dreaming. Dreams, he says, can be so powerful that one can believe that the dream world is the real world. So therefore he says that it is possible that one can be living in a dream and not know it. Descartes says that this level is still not radical enough to get to where he wants with his doubt. Even in dreams, he says, three and two make five and a square can never have more than four sides 


The final level of doubt is the most radical of them all. Descartes states that it could be possible that there is a sort of evil genius which is deceiving his thoughts into believing that three and two make five. He says this deceiver cannot be God, for God is supremely good and is the fountain of truth but that this being must be something highly powerful. He states: “…I shall consider myself as having no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, nor any senses, yet falsely believing myself to posses all these things…” 

Now using this new doubt, Descartes tries to prove what exactly is knowingly true in his Meditation II. He comes to the conclusion that he can only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he exists. Because he thinks therefore he exists. Descartes says the only thing anyone can really fully know is that he exists and everything else must be believed by some level of faith or a presupposition. The cogito is a Latin verb which means “to think.” Our real selves are comprised of our thoughts according to Descartes. He summed this up by saying “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.”

But how can I know there is not something different from those things that I have just considered, of which one cannot have the slightest doubt? Is there not some God, or some other being by whatever name we call it, who puts these reflections in my mind? That is not necessary, for is it not possible that I am capable of producing them myself? I myself, am I not at least something? But I have already denied that I had senses and body. Yet I hesitate, for what follows from that? Am I so dependent on body and sense that I cannot exist without these? But I was persuaded that there was nothing in all the world, that there was no heaven, no earth, that there were no minds nor any bodies: was I not then likewise persuaded that I did not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something [or merely because I thought of something]. But there is some deceiver or other, very powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiving me. Then without a doubt I exist if he deceives me, and let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I think that I am something. So that after having reflected well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it” 



In section 16 and 17 of Beyond Good and Evil , Nietzsche attacks the idea that particular types of knowledge provide us with immediate certainty as to their truth . The main argument he says is that of Descartes cogito that seeks to state that if we are conscious of thinking and perceiving we cannot say that we do not exist. Nietzsche argues that the cogito rests on a series of assumptions and that these are,: that there is a separate and distinct “I”; that this “I” is capable of being a cause; that the “I” is capable of causing thought; that something must cause thought and finally that it is clear as to what thinking is. Neitzche main point is that Descates has already assumed all these things not only to be possible but true. As he points out in assuming that anything is responsible for thought , “one has already gone to far” bexcause this conclusion “ already contains aninterpreatation of the event and does not belong to the event itself” BGE ( sctions 16) . So called immeadiate certainities therefore necessarily involve athought process, am act of interpreatation, which disqualifies this fropm being immeadiate. In other worlds there is no such thing as purese sense data and that nothing is given to us prior to interpretation, the act of perception is alraeady an interpreatation


The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard provided a critical response to the Cogito. Kierkegaard argues that the Cogito already pre-supposes the existence of "I", and therefore concluding with existence is logically trivial. Kierkegaard's argument can be made clearer if one extracts the premise "I think" into two further premises:

"x" thinks
I am that "x"
Therefore I think
Therefore I am


Where "x" is used as a place holder in order to disambiguate the "I" from the thinking thing.
Here, the cogito has already assumed the "I"'s existence as that which thinks. For Kierkegaard, Descartes is merely "developing the content of a concept", namely that the "I", which already exists, thinks Kierkegaard argues that the value of the cogito is not its logical argument, but its psychological appeal: a thought must have something that exists to think the thought. It is psychologically difficult to think "I do not exist". But as Kierkegaard argues, the proper logical flow of argument is that existence is already assumed or pre-supposed in order for thinking to occur, not that existence is concluded from that thinking.( Kierkegaard p76)

1. Yoeli sees Descartes` dictum as a highly equivocal philosophical statement in its “magical” yoking of thought (and thus epistemology) and existence ( and thus ontology) in what he calls a circular hermeneutics”(ref).Often in the in Latin, the first person pronoun ego” is dropped, seemingly and ironically eliminating the “I” and making an even tighter unity between thinking and existing. This theory of all things philosophical, however is based firmly in an “all pervasive, pre-Socratic, metaphysical principle” which is infinitely self-referential in its search for evidence of the self which sustains its existence.

Rene Descartes and Husserl are in a curious symmetry. Both originate in mathematics cognizant of the physics of their day – Galileo’s for Descartes, quantum theory for Husserl. Both are concerned with the question of what is certainty that undermines all previous philosophy. Descartes offers philosophy some new directions. It appears to explicate the mind, its modes of reasoning, and its relations to its objects the things out there which it reasoned about.. This subject- object distinction, and the stress on rational consciousness became a very powerful tool for enlightenment thought. Descartes thereby performs the severest of the world to yield one indubitable fact. Only the “I” which thinks the reduction is absolutely certain. Ego cogitans ( the thinking I) is a self deductive axiom that saves a residue evidence of the world from which all the rest can be inferred Descartes felt able to pursue objectivity on the ground of a secured subjectivity..

Husserl can be seen as a radical reformer of this Cartesian tradition that culmination of Phenomenology and the development of Heideggers reality of .Dasein. Heideggers argues that dasein is already in the world and is some subject that has to perform some trick in order to enter the world.


Dasein deals with the world , in the manner of performing, effecting and completing”


So the world is not something out there and external but is part of being. Because dasein is not reducible to a physical body or a separated mind.. Cartesian thought from Descartes is therefore a deformation of the nature of “being in the world” Husserl asked was the ego an existential or theoretical subject. Descartes greatest argument was in fact his greatest error. Husserl argued that the reduction of “I am” to “I think” cannot be implied. Descartes confuses his existential being in the world with his consciousness of it and that they are not the same. Inner self perception is psychic evidence of being but being is not a thing in the world

The world undoubtedly is, but an individuals` ego which thinks is not something in that world. Within the world of existing things it is impossible to find “I think”.Consciousness of something is therefore psychical in existence and mind for Descartes is a unique thing apprehensible only to introspection. A wide loophole is therefore opened to scepticism. Either the mind “thing” is an exorciisable “ghost in the machine” or it must be a legitimate subject matter of objective science. John Locke could therefore be seen in this case as the creator of an empirical psychology. To Locke the mind was a blank sheet on which sense data could be inscribed. He replaces Descartes certainty with a mere impressionable blank slate of the mind. Husserl would take this further and asks why not take the next step by reducing "I" to "res cogitans" a thinking substance?. 



A thinking substance reduced to its material constituents of sense data has at least the merit of appearing certain. But the undeniable permanency of sense data in mind further imply that sensations alone exist. What certain proof does it give that the world actually is ? Locke`s view is reversed by George Berkeley who argues that the physical world could be a figment of an individuals mental impressions. ESSE EST PERCIPI : to be is to be perceived. There is no world “outside” the idea that someone has of the perception of it. Hume continues argument by suggesting that the mind itself could too be a fiction of its own perception. It is therefore possible to trace a circle from Descartes ego certainty to Hume`s fiction of identity.



This criticism of the Cogito by Husserl led once more to a reduction that led tp Phenomenolgy and to Heideggers question what is, is? The pioneer of modern information technology, Turin devised a blindfold test to examine whether a human subject was communicating to a computer or to another human. A computer whose responses pass as a human can be said successfully to emulate intellect and therefore to Turin thinking could be replaced by an imitation explaining how neural networks in the brain become organized by training. In other words consciousness could be further reduced to a substance that performs ; meaning that artificial intelligence is our own self deception based on the unjustifeied presupposition of consciousness. Turin argued that deception is the final stage in psychological scepticism that began with Descartes res cogitans when the thinking substance becomes the thinking machine.

This arguement refutes Descartes` and shows the value of Husserl`s claim that logical laws are not inferable from psychological “matter of fact” states. If human thought is an epiphenomenon or by product of neural material- how do we know this? . How does `thought` escape from causal closure in matter? Or put more simply by contradicting Descartes and its subjective certainity it asks how does matter give rise to the idea of matter?  

No comments:

Post a comment