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Descartes posted 23 June 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionDescartes by Peter, Auditor

I think it might be useful to think about the context of Descartes' Cogito. The Cogito appears in at least two of his works (maybe more, I'm not sure), his "Discourse" (actual name is quite a bit longer) and his "Meditations on First Philosophy".

In Meditations, which is his main work, he is seeking to introduce certainty in his beliefs. So first he analyses all his previous beliefs (such as there being an external world, that he can know mathematical truths etc.) and finds that actually he can be certain of none of these things. The first thing he hits upon is the Cogito (although in Meditations he never actually says "I think therefore I am"). There is no way for this statement to be false when uttered. It is not a necessary truth, but a contingent one, and we can only be certain of our own existence (at least initially) when thinking about the Cogito.

The point I want to make is that Sovin Nai is right in identifying that the Cogito doesn't prove the existence of non-thinking things (indeed initially it can't even prove that there are other thinking things, because thought is entirely a subjective experience and so I can't know other people are thinking things and not just automotons). However, when Descartes utters the Cogito he cannot actually be certain of anything existing outside himself as a thinking thing (perhaps not even a bodily one), that comes later.

Sorry, I had intended this to be a short message, but what I will say is that in modern philosophy, it seems to me that most people accept the Cogito to some extent. It is generally agreed however that Descartes fails later on in his work, most people concentrating on his proofs of God as the weakest links (indeed many would claim non-existent links). view post


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