Descartes' Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck

Descartes' Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck

Descartes' Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck

Descartes' Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck

Synopsis

Perhaps the most famous proposition in the history of philosophy is Descartes' cogito "I think therefore I am". Husain Sarkar claims in this provocative new interpretation of Descartes that the ancient tradition of reading the cogito as an argument is mistaken. It should, he says, be read as an intuition. Through this new interpretative lens, Sarkar reconsiders key Cartesian topics. He demonstrates how Descartes' attempt to prove the existence of God is foiled by a new Cartesian Circle.

Excerpt

Rene Descartes offered an ultimate truth, famously known as the cogito. But there have been virtually no takers. Some have thought that it was merely an analytic statement, a statement empty of content; some have thought that he should have begun with a less complex, a less unwarranted statement (but then he could not have derived the cogito from it); some have averred that it was an argument that was badly in need of repair (and when repaired, one that could not possibly do what Descartes had wanted it to do); and a distinguished philosopher once argued that the truth of the cogito, if that is what it is, is at best odd, “degenerate.” This has been the litany for 350 years.

Here is Descartes in Discourse on the Method:

But immediately I noticed that while I was tryingthus to think everything false, it was necessary that I, who was thinking this, was something. And observing that this truth, “I am thinking, therefore I exist” was so firm and sure that all the most extravagant suppositions of the skeptics were incapable of shaking it, I decided that I could accept it without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking.

Then, in his “Replies to the Second Set of Objections”:

When we observe that we are thinking beings, this is a sort of primary notion, which is not the conclusion of any syllogism; and, moreover, when somebody says: I am thinking, therefore I am or exist, he is not using a syllogism to deduce his existence from his thought, but recognizing this as something self-evident, in a simple mental intuition.

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