What Does Cogito Ergo Sum Mean? What Does Je Pliers Donc Je Suis Mean?June 27, 2021
Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy. His aim was to definitively dispel the doubts voiced by skeptics. Thus, we would confidently devote ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge and strive to improve.
Stripped of every doubtful belief, adrift in a seemingly bottomless river of uncertainties, Rescartes Descartes desperately tries to find some deep-water place to set foot. Here Descartes is looking for a solid sea in which humanity’s sea of knowledge can shine again and be pure.
“As I was trying to think that everything was wrong, I realized that there must be something called ‘I’ who thinks and deals with it. It was after that that I realized the truth: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ I saw that this truth was on such a solid and reliable basis that even the deepest assumptions of all skeptics could not shake it. So I decided with peace of mind that I could accept this as the defining principle of the philosophy I was seeking.”
Thus, Descartes arrived at the most famous and perhaps the most impressive thought in Western philosophy.
Descartes was among the pioneers of the scientific revolution that spread in Europe in the 17th century. He tried to put aside the dogmas of the Middle Ages and to build and raise the sciences on the most solid foundations. To this end, he adopted the rigorous and meticulous method called the method of doubt. In his own words, not content with picking out a single rotten apple, he emptied the basket completely and threw away any belief that aroused the slightest suspicion. In a final move, he imagined a malevolent genie whose sole purpose was to deceive him, so much so that even the seemingly obvious truths of geometry and mathematics were no longer certain.
It was at this point that he was stripped of everything, other people, the world outside, and even his own body and senses, and Descartes found salvation in the Cogito. No matter how many times he is deceived and how much the demon deceives him every time, in the end there has to be someone or something to be deceived, right? Although Descartes was wrong about everything else, he could not doubt that he was there, in that moment. “The genie will never be able to assert that I am nothing as long as I think I am something. As long as the idea that I am ‘I am’ and I am is put forward and conceived in my mind, it is necessarily true.”
One of the first criticisms leveled at Descartes and adopted by many since then was that he drew too many conclusions from the Cogito. Here he was told that he could only assert the existence of an act of thinking, and that the conclusion that he was the thinker could not be deduced from this. But even if we do justice to the idea that thoughts require the existence of a thinker, the conclusions that can be drawn from Descartes’ views are extremely limited. First, the cogito is intrinsically related to the first person, everyone’s cogito will be of use to him. The genie may be making me think what you are thinking. Second, the cogito is in the present tense. Maybe I’m not there when I’m not thinking. Third, the self whose existence is determined is of an extremely uncertain nature. I may not have any of my life and other qualities that I believe make me who I am. And I can still be completely in the clutches of the deceitful demon.
In short, the ‘I’ of the Cogito consists of a moment of self-consciousness. Cogito is a dot cut off from everything, including its own past. So what could Descartes build on such an unstable foundation?
Descartes’ theory of knowledge has two main supports. The first is the clarity about the undoubtedness that characterizes the Cogito. Descartes comes to a conclusion by basing his logic on this: “The things that come to our minds blatantly and distinctly are all true.” He can be sure of this as follows, Descartes says: Because there is the idea of a perfect God who is omnipotent and knows everything clearly. God is the source of all our ideas, and since he is good, he will never deceive us. Since our power of observation and reasoning also comes from God, our observations and logic will guide us to the right one in the most appropriate way.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook