Descartes' Cogito

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Speakpigeon, Jul 19, 2019.

  1. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    Descartes' Cogito is not a stand-alone metaphysical claim. It is part of Descartes' discussion about body and mind, and more generally Dualism.

    He starts by justifying his notion of extreme doubt leading to his conclusion that he is able to doubt even the existence of his own body.

    The Cogito, then, is the expression of his conclusion that he cannot similarly doubt the existence of his own mind, because doubting is indeed thinking and thinking implies the existence of the thinking thing, the "I" of the Cogito.

    So, as part of this reasoning, the Cogito, rather than a logical argument proving the existence of human minds to the world, is the realisation that one cannot doubt the existence of his own mind, something which is often misunderstood, and indeed has been throughout history by many philosophers only too anxious to dismiss the Cogito as a purported proof of the existence of the human soul.

    You cannot prove the existence of your mind to other people. Whatever you do or say, someone else can reasonably and rationally doubt the existence of your mind. The Cogito doesn't solve this problem. However, the Cogito is the expression of the fact that no one can coherently doubt the existence of his own mind.

    The Cogito is thus a very peculiar kind of argument, and Descartes himself tried to preclude the argument being understood as a logical inference. Something which also explains why the argument has often been misunderstood.

    Thinking the Cogito is in effect a performative argument. Any mind thinking the Cogito formally proves its existence to itself. As such it is a fact. Rather than an ordinary argument, it is the expression of a self-demonstrative performance.

    Bodies don't need to prove to themselves that they exist. If they do, so be it. If they don't, who cares?

    The success of the Cogito, possibly the most well-known philosophical argument the world over, comes from its total unassailability in the face of the routine denial of the reality of minds. You can't prove the existence of your mind to somebody else. But whatever other people may say, the Cogito is the expression of the fact that you cannot coherently doubt the existence of your own mind.

    I don't believe their could be any other argument conclusively proving our existence.
    EB
     
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  3. river

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    How ?
     
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  5. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Outward speech, behavior / actions would make the cognitive faculties attributed to a body pretty difficult to skeptical about (apart from fierce conspiracy theories concerning Jane Someone really being a remote-controlled android).

    OTOH, departing from such attributions of intellect to the private "stream of manifestations" -- the latter not being directly observed in skull meat processes -- would be more vulnerable to doubt. But a priori belief in Nature having universal consistency -- of particular objects being subject to general characteristics and principles -- would make it seem extraordinary that one's well-functioning neighbor could be an exception in terms of not having feelings, emotional experiences and non-public presentations of visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile phenomena.
     
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  7. river

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    Agreed

    The brain is not of meat .
     
  8. CptBork Robbing the Shalebridge Cradle Valued Senior Member

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    The fact that Descartes is having an argument with himself proves that he exists in order to have the argument.
     
  9. river

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    Indeed .
     
  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    It proves that the argument exists. It says nothing about what, if anything, is "having" it. If something is, it doesn't prove that the something is a Descartes, a human being, or even one coherent entity.
    The notion that if something is happening some entity must be doing it seems to be a side effect of some languages as much as anything else. In English we have such bizarre constructions as "it's raining", where by agreement no fluent speaker focuses on what the word "it" is doing in that sentence, or derives meaning from the reference. The language requires an "it", regardless of the reality it purports to describe; that seems to affect the thinking of native speakers.
    You can. It's routine, in several religions and spiritual practices, to do exactly that. And Zen Buddhism, say, is hardly incoherent.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
  11. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    EDIT

    Could the Cogito be proved wrong?

    No, the Cogito cannot possibly be proved wrong, even though many philosophers throughout history argued exactly that. However, most philosophers got the Cogito wrong.

    There are two main ways philosophers got it wrong in their interpretation of the Cogito, usually to arrive at the irrelevant conclusion that it was not a valid argument.

    The first way to get it wrong is indeed to take the Cogito as a logical argument! It is not. The Cogito is not meant for anyone to prove in a logical way the existence of their own mind to somebody else. Indeed, the fact that someone thinks is not apparent to anyone else. Someone saying "I think, therefore I am" merely shows to other people that this person speaks. This in itself could not possibly be a logical proof that the "I" of this person is thinking, let alone that it exists at all. Descartes himself didn't mean the Cogito to be used to assert to the rest of the world the existence of one's own mind.

    The other way to get it wrong is to take the Cogito to be about the existence of the self. The self is this psychological phenomenon whereby a subject has a sense of their own biographical identity persisting over time, hopefully throughout life. Although Descartes' discussion of his notion of extreme doubt, leading to the Cogito, is suffused with the notion of self, the notion of self is irrelevant to the Cogito itself.

    The Cogito doesn't say "The self thinks, therefore the self exists". This would be a valid argument but one whose premise couldn't be proved true. Instead, the Cogito is expressed in the first-person: I think. And Descartes took the time to explain carefully what was the subject, the "I". The I in the Cogito is the thinking thing. Not the self. Not Descartes. Not a person. Just the thinking thing. The thing doing the thinking.

    Thus, the Cogito, if it was a simple logical argument, would be circular: The thinking thing thinks, therefore it exists. But it is not a simple logical argument.

    Descartes' Cogito is not a stand-alone metaphysical claim. It is part of Descartes' discussion about body and mind, and more generally Dualism.

    He starts by justifying his notion of extreme doubt leading to his conclusion that he is able to doubt even the existence of his own body.

    The Cogito, then, is the expression of his conclusion that he cannot similarly doubt the existence of his own mind, because doubting is indeed thinking and thinking implies the existence of the thinking thing, the "I" of the Cogito.

    So, as part of this reasoning, the Cogito, rather than a logical argument proving the existence of human minds to the world, is the realisation that one cannot doubt, coherently, the existence of one's own mind.

    The Cogito is often misunderstood, and indeed has been often misunderstood throughout history by many philosophers only too anxious to dismiss the Cogito as what they took to be an argument about the existence of the human soul.

    You cannot prove the existence of your mind to other people. Whatever you do or say, someone else can reasonably and rationally doubt the existence of your mind. The Cogito doesn't solve this question and wasn't meant to solve this question. Yet, the Cogito is the perfect expression of the fact that no one can coherently doubt the existence of his own mind.

    The Cogito is thus a very peculiar kind of argument, and Descartes himself tried to preclude the argument being understood as a logical inference. Something which also explains why the argument has often been misunderstood.

    Thinking the Cogito is in effect a performative argument. Any mind thinking the Cogito formally proves its existence to itself. As such it is a fact. Rather than an ordinary argument, it is the expression of a self-demonstrative performance.

    I think whenever I perform the act of thinking. Thus, the premise "I think" becomes true, and can be made true, each time I perform the act of thinking. And this, in particular, whenever I think the Cogito itself. Each time I think the Cogito, the premise "I think" becomes true, and with it, the conclusion that I exist.

    Bodies don't need to prove to themselves that they exist. If they do, so be it. If they don't, who cares?

    The success of the Cogito, possibly the most well-known philosophical argument the world over, comes from its total unassailability in the face of the routine denial of the reality of minds. You can't prove the existence of your mind to somebody else. But whatever other people may say, the Cogito is the expression of the fact that you cannot coherently doubt the existence of your own mind.

    This is all that the Cogito is about. The fact that we cannot coherently doubt the existence of our own mind. This is also the force of the Cogito. Nobody would need to pay any attention to Descartes merely asserting the existence of his own mind. Yet, each human being thinking the Cogito will be ipso facto incapable of doubting coherently the existence of their own mind. The mind understood as "the thinking thing".
    EB
     
  12. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Which - as pointed out - does not necessarily exist.
    But failing such proof, they cannot validly claim to necessarily exist.
    We can, is the problem. It's routine, in many spiritual practices famous for coherence, to do exactly that.
    If you exist, and are the entity performing that act.
     
  13. CptBork Robbing the Shalebridge Cradle Valued Senior Member

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    You could say that the "Descartes" I refer to is in fact the argument itself, since we're not having a dialogue with the man who originally wrote that argument. But regardless, the fact is that the argument exists and therefore something exists.
     
  14. CptBork Robbing the Shalebridge Cradle Valued Senior Member

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    What most interests me personally isn't the cogito ergo sum part of the argument, but the "proof of God's existence" that subsequently follows as an attempt to justify the reliability of our physical senses and logical consistency of our thoughts. I took a philosophy elective back in my undergrad days and had to either support or debunk the argument. My rebuttal to the God argument centered around Descartes' definition of God, in which God is not defined by what he is but rather by what he is not (e.g. finite, weak, hungry), and therefore the human mind's concept of God needs not have any divine origins.
     
  15. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Self, ego, whatever... it indeed isn't fundamental, especially as the initial ground for climbing some ladder of knowledge or a supposed ascending apprehension of "what's going on".

    But if what is meant by "thinking" is intellectual activity mediated by language, then that's certainly not primary or prior in rank either to the other features associated with "mind" (mind as a general label for faculites, beyond specific instantiation as brains). "Mind" itself is just another concept/principle abstracted from phenomenal experiences, with those interpretative processes having to make appearances themselves as something phenomenal to even register as transpiring slash representationally existing (i.e., intellect isn't first, either).

    Experiences (manifestations) are just given, no matter how much rationalists may hem and haw and want to usurp that with their non-immediate, indirect, and what would otherwise be (without experience) invisible affairs and furniture. Our uncertainties, tentative nihilism about a thing or a denial of its hierarchical status, is based on conceptual (Why life does not really exist), classificatory, and ontological reductionism issues which revolve around personal, cultural, and disciplinary choices in how to cognitively discriminate, group, and describe/represent sensory presentations. Due to the dependence on initial or presuppositional biases, our invented descriptive approaches are accordingly always going to be subject to degrees of mutability and controversy over the years, decades, centuries.

    What's given to begin with, before social/survival conditioning and reasoning go scurrying off into their various romps, is just the parade of changing manifestations/feelings. Eventually there's a discerning of that "stream" having a POV that it's tethered to[*], which gets conceived as self, specific body association, or whatever traditional ideas borrowed from the local society.

    Ego thus doesn't occupy the most fundamental position, it's just another resident of the phenomenal continuum which is primary slash given prior to interpretative pursuits. If we doubt the procession of appearances -- start proclaiming that both the introspective and extrospective showings of visual, aural, etc modes aren't really there, or that rational activity and the non-immediate objects it manipulates are more supreme (which would otherwise be working invisibly minus any presented evidence of itself), then we undermine the reality of everything else pegged with rankings of validity -- all the extended sand castles humanity has built-up/inferred over millennia.

    - - - footnote - - -

    [*] Taking into account all the contentious activity about whether or not some animals have self-consciousness, it's cautious to not assume outright that `we have an innate or inherited concept of self that kicks-in immediately after birth.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
  16. wegs With brave wings, she flies . . . Valued Senior Member

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    In essence, we exist, because we are aware through our senses that we exist. But, suppose you're mentally impaired and lack awareness? (someone in a coma, for example) That person exists, regardless of his/her awareness of it.

    Thoughts?
     
  17. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Yeah: the argument. The thinking.
    And as far as "proof" goes, that's it. For the rest of the claims - the inference of an entity "having" that argument, the validity of referring to that entity as "I", etc, - one needs considerably more in the way of evidence and argument.
    Then we're headed for a ditch. Human thought is mediated by language only if the human involved has the necessary skill - most people must struggle to get language to mediate their thoughts.
    Circular. Whose senses are involved, again? Do all those senses "belong" to one entity? How do you know?
    Meanwhile: sensory information does not normally provide the necessary for awareness of a labeled and identified self, but rather - at most - of some perceived feature or quality in the world outside the sensory organ. To identify a self among the "blooming, buzzing confusion" takes a lot.
    "And in addition to the darkness there was also me"
     
  18. sculptor Valued Senior Member

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    How silly?

    Our existence is not contingent upon our awareness.

    Attempting to make existence contingent upon awareness is a silly philosophical dead end..(somewhat equivalent to imagining that masturbation is the best means of procreation?)...mildly entertaining on a good day with damned few good days.
     
  19. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    If one believes in an invisible manner of being (materialism or whatever metaphysical doctrine) which experience and descriptive thought are simply representing "visibly", then it's instead only a kind of confirmation, or at least evidence, that one exists (as a body, organization of atoms, perturbations in quantum fields, something).

    Not really adding anything new here below, just unpackaging the idea or scenario, especially the "That person exists, regardless of his/her awareness of it".

    The non-consciousness of the impaired person is equivalent to being dead, if it's a dreamless coma. The impaired person has to become functional again to ever consider that she still existed during the blank interval, based on the internal story her returned experiences are conforming to. Or rather the story which her conditioning and reasoning abstracts from that return of appearances: That a sequence of invisible events did continue, apart from those being manifested via the experiences inferred to be associated with still functioning observers.

    Jesse Bering: In a 2007 article published in the journal Synthese, University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: “When I try to imagine my own non-existence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my non-existence. No wonder there’s an obstacle!”

    This observation may not sound like a major revelation to you, but I bet you’ve never considered what it actually means, which is that your own mortality is unfalsifiable from the first-person perspective. This obstacle is why writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe allegedly remarked that “everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.”
    --Why we can't imagine death ... Scientific American, October 22, 2008​
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019
    wegs likes this.
  20. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    Derail.
    The point of the Cogito isn't whether some person exists or not. The Cogito is an epistemological argument. That a person exists when it exists even if nobody is aware of it is a tautology.
    Thinking not only implies existence but knowledge of its own existence. It's not a tautology. Not even really an argument. It's a fact. I think, I am (as Descartes himself put it in the Meditations).
    EB
     
  21. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Thinking does not imply the existence of anything except the thinking.
    Thinking in itself does not provide knowledge of the existence of anything except itself.
    "I think" is a set of assumptions, for which thoughts are wholly inadequate evidence.
    "I am" does not even necessarily follow from those assumptions, much less the example situation (thoughts happen).
     
  22. River Ape Valued Senior Member

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    All my thinking is done by someone else.
    I contracted it out.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

     
  23. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Apparently what Descartes states here (taken from the larger excerpt below), that by converting "self-evident" affairs to systematic description (and in turn rhetoric), we actually only obscure their original status as being prior in rank to our later invented concepts and extended inferences.

    And I frequently remarked that philosophers erred in attempting to explain, by logical definitions, such truths as are most simple and self-evident; for they thus only rendered them more obscure. [...] I did not therefore deny that it was necessary to know what thought, existence, and certitude are [...] but, because these are the most simple notions, and such as of themselves afford the knowledge of nothing existing, I did not judge it proper there to enumerate them.

    I'd disagree that "certitude" is simply given or self-evident unless it references the raw presence of something and initial, instinctive reaction to it being real. Anything methodological establishing warranted belief would obviously be invented. Really anything converted to a described concept has already been tampered with by reflective thought and whatever underlying presumptions, biases, background theories, and motives it begins operating with.

    http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Principles-of-Philosophy1.html

    VII. That we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt, and that this is the first knowledge we acquire when we philosophize in order.

    While we thus reject all of which we can entertain the smallest doubt, and even imagine that it is false, we easily indeed suppose that there is neither God, nor sky, nor bodies, and that we ourselves even have neither hands nor feet, nor, finally, a body; but we cannot in the same way suppose that we are not while we doubt of the truth of these things; for there is a repugnance in conceiving that what thinks does not exist at the very time when it thinks. Accordingly, the knowledge, I THINK, THEREFORE I AM, is the first and most certain that occurs to one who philosophizes orderly.

    VIII. That we hence discover the distinction between the mind and the body, or between a thinking and corporeal thing.

    And this is the best mode of discovering the nature of the mind, and its distinctness from the body: for examining what we are, while supposing, as we now do, that there is nothing really existing apart from our thought, we clearly perceive that neither extension, nor figure, nor local motion,[Footnote: Instead of "local motion," the French has "existence in any place."] nor anything similar that can be attributed to body, pertains to our nature, and nothing save thought alone; and, consequently, that the notion we have of our mind precedes that of any corporeal thing, and is more certain, seeing we still doubt whether there is any body in existence, while we already perceive that we think.

    IX. What thought (COGITATIO) is.

    By the word thought, I understand all that which so takes place in us that we of ourselves are immediately conscious of it; and, accordingly, not only to understand (INTELLIGERE, ENTENDRE), to will (VELLE), to imagine (IMAGINARI), but even to perceive (SENTIRE, SENTIR), are here the same as to think (COGITARE, PENSER). For if I say, I see, or, I walk, therefore I am; and if I understand by vision or walking the act of my eyes or of my limbs, which is the work of the body, the conclusion is not absolutely certain, because, as is often the case in dreams, I may think that I see or walk, although I do not open my eyes or move from my place, and even, perhaps, although I have no body: but, if I mean the sensation itself, or consciousness of seeing or walking, the knowledge is manifestly certain, because it is then referred to the mind, which alone perceives or is conscious that it sees or walks. [Footnote: In the French, "which alone has the power of perceiving, or of being conscious in any other way whatever."]

    X. That the notions which are simplest and self-evident, are obscured by logical definitions; and that such are not to be reckoned among the cognitions acquired by study, [but as born with us].

    I do not here explain several other terms which I have used, or design to use in the sequel, because their meaning seems to me sufficiently self-evident. And I frequently remarked that philosophers erred in attempting to explain, by logical definitions, such truths as are most simple and self-evident; for they thus only rendered them more obscure. And when I said that the proposition, I THINK, THEREFORE I AM, is of all others the first and most certain which occurs to one philosophizing orderly, I did not therefore deny that it was necessary to know what thought, existence, and certitude are, and the truth that, in order to think it is necessary to be, and the like; but, because these are the most simple notions, and such as of themselves afford the knowledge of nothing existing, I did not judge it proper there to enumerate them.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2019

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