Descartes: I Think Therefore I Am

  1. Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    In following the rules, I will explain in detail what exactly is up for debate here, so this thread will not be locked.

    "I Think Therefore I Am", a common phrase (maybe the most common phrase), was written by Rene Descartes in the 1600's in his book Meditations II. In Meditations I, he "demolished" the certainty of anything existing. His reasoning was that there is no way to prove that his thoughts are deluded or being deceived, as humans have been wrong. Some of the examples he provided was you could not disprove that there is an evil supernatural being tricking the human mind or simple everyday optical illusions that trick the mind. The next day in Meditations II, he wrote that there is one thing that he could be completely certain of, that he existed. His logic was that doubts of certainty were because of deluded thoughts. If there are thoughts to delude, thoughts exist, and "I" (in this case, Descartes) is a thinking being that exists.

    Question: Does this common phrase which is often seen as self-evident provide solid proof to remove the doubt of "I" (in your case, yourself) existing.


    My personal opinion:

    Essentially descartes’ proof is:
    X is true. Y is true. Therefore, X is true.

    His argument is circular. "I think therefore I am" could also be "I am therefore I think".

    It’s the same thing as to say unicorns are pink, therefore unicorns surely exist. How could something be pink if it doesn’t exist. It’s tautological. It’s the equivalent of saying apples are red and they are delicious, therefore apples are surely red.

    You can replace the word think with ANYTHING. I eat therefore I exist. I dream therefore I exist. I walk therefore I exist. There’s no difference of what you say.

    Philosophy is a part of linguistics. We use words, as our only means, to try to prove our ideas to other people. There is so many limitations to language. We may exist, but we are unable to use words to prove it.

    Your thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    I think you went wrong with the "X is true. Y is true. Therefore..."

    What "I think therefore I am" means is that whilst any sensory input and feeling can be faked you can't fake the feeling of existence because the being would have to exist for you to do that. I.e. you can convince a conscious being that they are not conscious but you cannot convince a non conscious entity that it is a conscious being.
  4. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    That is Descartes logic. And that applies to Descartes argument for skepticism. That does not necessarily apply to other arguments for skepticism, such as Hume's.
  5. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    I'm not sure how that applies to what I said. I was responding specifically to comments like this:
    Your mistake was jumping to apply the I think therefore I am logic to other things. It literally only works for thinking/existence/consciousness.
  6. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    If it works for anything its because Descartes did not provide a rigorous definition for "I" and, as Ryan points out, it has to do with the "feeling" of existence. Its a nice compelling argument, but so is the idea the earth is flat and like the idea the earth is flat there exists endless evidence to the contrary.
  7. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Well, to start a linguistics debate on Descartes is to beg for a ginormous discussion on everything from Nietzsche to Wittgenstein.

    However, like someone else pointed out, Descartes was merely indicating that the "feeling" of thought is proof that he exists. Everything else: the world, his body, could be an illusion, but if thoughts are the basis of a human mind, then the fact that he thinks is the proof that his mind exists. Which is what he means with "I am".

    Now, of course the language can't quite describe the "feeling of awareness". Nietzsche, for example, pointed out that nothing in the language accurately describes something else. He used to say that the language is full of metonymys and metaphors that aren't actually "the thing in itself", to use a Kantian term. To prove his point, he says that we apply attributes to words that just don't fit with the "thing in itself". For example, in german language, "kitchen", Küche is a female noun. His point is, just how arbitrary is a neutral object to be gendered.
  8. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Nonsense, the OP asked a specific question:

    "Does this common phrase which is often seen as self-evident provide solid proof to remove the doubt of "I" (in your case, yourself) existing."

    Either you consider it rock sold evidence or you don't and only the psychic network might debate the issue of how you feel.
  9. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    This is a consensual reality and all 'proofs' require that you accept certain unprovable propositions as axioms(as have done others). I would challenge solipsism on the grounds that as much stupidity as seen in our reality would be a challenge for me to come up with. Same with all the horror and injustice found in reality. This doesn't disprove solipsism, only that certain versions(those claiming that i am the inventor of my own reality) are much less likely.
  10. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    The earth is locally flat, so maybe we locally exist?:tongue2:
  11. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    That could also be rephrased as, "The question has no demonstrable meaning outside specific contexts." Certainly we seem to exist in some sense and there is obviously something we refer to as "I", but Descartes was trying to make some sort of sweeping metaphysical argument.
  12. Char. Limit

    Char. Limit 1,937
    Gold Member

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Aren't you misjudging Descartes' argument? His original premise was "I doubt", and he did. He doubted his own existence. Then he went "Since I am doubting, this must mean I am thinking, because doubt is a type of thought." Okay, so you're thinking. However, you cannot have a non-existent being that nevertheless thinks. So therefore, since he's thinking, he must exist.
  13. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Personally I find it rather bizarre to think any animal could actually doubt its own existence. Pretend to, sure, but not really doubt its own existence.
  14. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    It happens, Cotards syndrome can sometimes manifest in patients as a distinct belief that they are dead and no longer exist. You can even say to these patients "do you exist" and they say "no I'm dead" even though they acknowledge they can see themselves and speak to you.
  15. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Believing you are dead is one thing, but nonexistent is beyond conceptualization.
  16. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    I commend to all the story of Descarte's end. He went to a tavern with some friends and after several rounds, when asked by the barmaid would he like another ale, he said "oh, I think not" and he instantly ceased to exist.
  17. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Conceptualising nonexistance yes but it's entirely possible for a patient to believe that they do not exist due to a psychiatric disorder.
  18. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,555
    Gold Member

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    That's kind of the point here.

    A non-existent thing can categorically not doubt anything. If doubt is occurring, the thing doing the doubting - whatever that thing is - exists. And whatever it is doing the doubting is what Descartes calls "I".
  19. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    So, you know a lot of non-existent things personally I take it?
  20. DaveC426913

    DaveC426913 16,555
    Gold Member

    Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    Mm... no. But I can still categorically state that they cannot do any doubting.
  21. Re: Descartes: "I Think Therefore I Am"

    What about those who believe they exist? Wouldn't it be less dubious to say - something appears to be happening, instead of using loaded words like "I"(which undergoes changes all the time, is hard to define and determinists hold that it doesn't exist in and of itself)?

    As a continuation to Decrates' doubt, it is in principle possible(and likely?) that we all share a psychiatric disorder which, because of sheer the number of cases(7 billion), has proved to be the norm(and which we call the reality as we agree on it). There'd be no way to know, as a disorder has to be contrasted to the 'normal' state, which we have assumed to be the prevalent case. And only certain doubts like not being able to understand uncaused events or certain conceptual problems, can give a reason to consider such a scenario and that a different hypothetical breed could have fared better in some circumstances.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2012
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