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What kind of claim is, 'cogito ergo sum'?

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What kind of claim is, 'cogito ergo sum'? The Second Meditation sees the development of Descartes' arguably most famous claims, 'cogito ergo sum' translated as 'I am thinking therefore I am'. The question about what kind of claim this is has been of heated debate since its establishment. Previous to the Second Meditation Descartes has established that he must doubt everything. In response he asks 'So what remains true?' at the beginning of the Second Meditation. The very fact that he is thinking about doubt establishes for him that he exists necessarily, for as long as the demon continues to deceive him 'he will never bring it about that I am nothing'. In other words as long as the demon is allowed to deceive him, it implies that he exists. At this stage Descartes establishes that 'I exist' but refrains from making judgement about what this 'I' is. Also he says this 'I' only exists as a thinking thing and not in any material way, which continues to remain an uncertainty. Thinking is 'inseparable' from existence for Descartes, for it does not depend up on the senses as previously thought. He had come to realise whilst sleeping that there were many things that he appeared to perceive through the senses, which he afterwards realised he did not perceive through the senses at all. This thing was 'thinking'. Thus this is inseparable from 'I'. The fact that 'I think' does not make one exist but as long as 'I am thinking' because as soon as one stops thinking one ceases to exist. ...read more.


I might be wrong, of course, on how they really are. But (arguably) I can't be wrong about how they look to me. Now consider the propositions from Descartes' argument. 'I am thinking.' Suppose I believe that I am thinking. It follows that I am thinking. 'I exist'. Suppose I believe that I exist. It follows that I do exist. The propositions 'I think' and 'I exist' both seem to be incorrigible, in Williams' sense. The propositions are also self-verifying. This is a closely related concept, which concerns assertion rather than belief. A proposition P is self-verifying when it satisfies this description: if I assert that P, then P. Here are some candidate examples of propositions that satisfy this description. 'I am speaking'. 'I can speak at least a few words of English'. 'I promise to come to the party'. If I assert (out loud!) that I am speaking, then I am speaking. If I assert that I can speak at least a few words of English, then I can speak at least a few words of English. If I say that I promise to come to the party, then I do promise to come to the party. The latter is an example of what Austin called a performative speech act. Some philosophers who see a similarity between this example and the propositions of the cogito have developed the 'performative' interpretation of Descartes' argument, mentioned above (see Kenny). ...read more.


This means that the challenger, to make his point, is assuming that 'the mind is not distinct from the body' which without having the rational basis for doing so seems self-contradictory. Here Descartes shows the irrationality of the criticism by using the same line of argument to falsify the critic's standpoint. Descartes, according to J. Cottingham, admits that to arrive at the conclusion 'Cogito ergo sum' there is a need for some relevant presuppositions to be made, despite the premises being a priori by nature. This is because to distinguish between thinking and not thinking the person meditating will need to know what thinking is. In the same way they will need to know what doubting is as well as presuming that doubting is a branch of thinking. In addition, it is important to note the interdependence of thinking and existing, for to think one also needs to exist, not merely think to exist. Here it is seen that Descartes' analysis does not appear 'out of a complete vacuum'3. It is quite significant that Descartes does not choose to comment on this because it reveals that his line of thought is not as radical as they may appear at first glance. If the claim, 'cogito ergo sum' is accepted as valid, it provides the first stepping-stones for Descartes' venture towards certainty. If not then it may seem like a desperate attempt to salvage some beliefs from the mechanism of doubt, in fear of being left with nothing. 1 Descartes, J. Cottingham (Blackwell, 1998) 2 'Cogito ergo sum: inference or performance?' (Philosophical Review 1962) 3 Descartes, J. Cottingham (Blackwell, 1998) Kajal Gorasia 1 ...read more.

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The essay starts in a very confused way, with the argument very heavily obscured by poor grammar and writing in general. Thoughts are included as if at random and the reader is left to draw on their own knowledge of the cogito to guess at what the writer means. This is a very bad start to an essay.

The essay includes in its middle an extended section of highlighted text with lots of capitalisation, which is expressed with verve and precision and even includes some Gerald Manley Hopkins. This section would be great were it connected to the rest of the essay in any way.

This section is followed by some paragraphs rather clearer expressed than the opening passages, which make neat isolated points, but which fail to make any coherent overall argument. By the end, the essay has once again returned to making unexplained claims which it is difficult to interpret.

This essay would benefit from clearer expression. Without this it is difficult to evaluate the merits of the ideas it contains.

Marked by teacher David Moss 31/03/2012

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