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The Cogito

This lecture will help you


understand:
Why Descartes thinks his own
existence cannot be doubted
Mind-Body Dualism
Solipsism
Descartes proof of the
existence of God
Descartes proof of the
external world

Rene Descartes
(1596-1650)

Question 1:

What does Descartes do in the Second


Meditation?
A. Continue his method of doubt
B. Prove his own existence with absolute
certainty
C. Prove the existence of God with absolute
certainty
D. B and C

We really are in the Dark!


When Descartes ends the First Meditation, it
seems that he is in worse shape than when he
began:
at the end I feel constrained to confess that there
is nothing in all that I formerly believed to be true,
of which I cannot in some measure doubt (IP
207).

But hold on!

When he tries to doubt the claim I am


doubting he actually ends up proving it! If he
tries to doubt that he is doubting he is still in a
state of doubt. Descartes cannot doubt that
he is doubting.
Without doubt I exist! (IP 224)

The Evil Genius?


Then without doubt I exist also if [the
evil genius] 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 that I pronounce it, or
that I mentally conceive it (IP 224).

The Basic Argument


P.1 The existence of thought implies a thinker.
P.2 Thought (e.g., doubt) exists.
C. Therefore, there exists a thinker (who does
the doubting).

The Axiom!
After noticing that this truthI think,
therefore I amwas so firm and so assured
that all the most extravagant suppositions of
the skeptics were incapable of shaking it, I
judged that I could accept it without scruple
as the first principle of the philosophy I was
seeking. (Discourse, Part 4, 18)

Cogito ergo sum


(Principles of Philosophy, which Descartes wrote in
Latin in 1644)

Criticisms
What, from [Descartes] own point of view, he
should profess to know is not I think, but
there is thinking.... I think we ought to admit
that Descartes was justified in feeling sure
that there was a certain occurrence,
concerning which doubt was impossible; but
he was not justified in bringing in the word I
in describing this occurrence.
Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy (1927)

Criticisms
I think is [Descartes] ultimate
premise. Here the word I is
really illegitimate; He ought to
state his ultimate premises in
the form there are thoughts.
The word I is grammatically
convenient, but does not
describe a datum.
Russell, A History of Western
Philosophy (1945):

Bertrand Russell
1872-1970

Question 2:

What does Descartes do in the Second


Meditation?
A. Prove that a person called Descartes exists
B. Prove that the universe is composed of
two fundamental types of stuff: mind and
body
C. Prove that the evil genius doesnt exist
D. Prove that I exist as long as I am thinking

Who is the I?
But what then am I? A thing which thinks.
What is a thing which thinks? It is a thing
which doubts, understands, [conceives],
affirms, denies, wills, refuses, which also
imagines and feels (IP 225).

Mind-Body Dualism
The picture that emerges from
Descartes is that there are two
quite distinct substances that
are mutually exclusive:
thinking thing (res cogitans)
(Descartes himself)
extended thing (res extensa).
(Descartes body)

Wax Example (Med 2, 226-227)


Our senses alone cannot inform us
of the continuity of the two states
of the wax. What does? Descartes
concludes that the continuity of
the wax is established neither by
sight, nor touch, nor imagination,
but it is my mind alone which
perceives it (IP 235).
The same is true of our perception
or concept of ourselves.

Automata Example (Med 2, 227)


Like the judgment that the wax
after it has melted is still the
same piece of wax as it was
before it melted, it is:
And similarly solely by the faculty
of judgment which rests in my
mind, I comprehend that which I
believed I saw with my eyes (IP
235).

Conclusion of Meditation 2
Understanding is superior to imagination and
sensation. The properties and identity of our
mind are actually more clear and fundamental
than the perception of external objects.

Third Meditation
A Proof of the Existence of God

What does Descartes know?


At the beginning of the Third Meditation,
Descartes is certain that he exists and that it is his
nature to think: I am certain that I am a thinking
thing (Med 3, 70).
But that is all he knows!

Solipsism
Solipsism (from Latin solus, alone, ipse, self)
the view that there is no reality outside of my
own mind.

Clear and Distinct Ideas


I am certain that I am a thing which thinks; but do I
not then likewise know what is requisite to render
me certain of a truth? Certainly in this first
knowledge there is nothing that assures me of its
truth, excepting the clear and distinct perception of
that which I state, which would not indeed suffice to
assure me that what I say is true, if it could ever
happen that a thing which I conceived so clearly and
distinctly could be false; and accordingly it seems to
me that already I can establish as a general rule that
all things which I perceive15 very clearly and very
distinctly are true. (IP 229)

A Nagging Doubt
some evil genius not
less powerful than
deceitful, has
employed his whole
energies in deceiving
me (IP 208)

The Notion of God


I see that there is manifestly more reality in infinite
substance than in finite, and therefore that in some
way I have in me the notion of the infinite earlier
then the finiteto wit, the notion of God before that
of myself. For how would it be possible that I should
know that I doubt and desire, that is to say, that
something is lacking to me, and that I am not quite
perfect, unless I had within me some idea of a Being
more perfect than myself, in comparison with which I
should recognize the deficiencies of my nature? (IP
234)

Conclusion
I am not alone in the world. Something else,
namely, God, which is the cause of my idea of
God, also exists.

The Argument
P. 1. I have an idea of perfection.
P. 2. The idea must have originated from something at
least as perfect.
P. 3. That idea could not have come from me because I
am imperfect.
C. The idea of perfection could only have originated
from the perfect being we call God.

The Rest of the Meditations


God cannot be a deceiver (otherwise God
would be imperfect). Descartes can thus be
sure that he has a true belief whenever he
assents to an idea that is clear and distinct.

In this way, God forms a bridge that will allow


Descartes to pass from knowledge of his own
ideas to knowledge about the external world and
get back in touch with his body. . .