Friday, April 18, 2008

Descartes confused?

From a time in the past...

We are all familiar with the Descartes statement "I think, therefore I am" ["Cogito ergo sum"/"Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum ("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am")] but a colleague wrote that "Descartes had it backwards...'I am, therefore I think'".


Timray said...

And I still adhere to the proposition....

Mercury said...


Oh my, we are facing a "being" issue. Basically you claim that "existence precedes cognition"..."to be" is essentially primary before everything? Descartes would claim that "cognition" validates "existence"..."to be" is secondary...that self-awareness initiates "being". Would you explain more your position?

Timray said...

consider that existence is far from a limited sense of "only humanity" and being be defined as existing in the four dimnesions of Einstein....."I am" is necessary before "I think" and had not Descartes been hard wired or dropped on his head...he would never had thought...considering his French Heritage we allow him the frailites of humanity

Mercury said...

I got lost somewhere. What does Einstein have to do with this? I suppose that I was looking for something a bit broader involving Descartes in your interpretation. This is a matter of personal philosophy...either one subscribes to Descartes or not but you must agree that Descartes rattled the cage of traditional Aristotelian tradition and brought "doubt" into the picture.

Timray said...

Absolutey....but what i meant is simply that thinking depends upon the elelments having awakened...we used to call him Aristhrotlle...nor is manunkind the only entity of thought though I believe Descartes delivered upon the animal world torture....hmmm that rings a bell and criticism aging don't you?!

Mercury said...

Well, I "doubt" that this will incite another French-English war...unless the English are forced to eat escargot and the French forced to eat plum pudding. Okay, I am lost here too..."...thinking depends upon the elements having awakened...." I assume you mean consciousness?

Timray said... was Descartes definition of being or consciousness where the rub begins. He felt animals as well as Africans were incapable of consciousness and this is my objection to "I think, therefore I am". He opened a door whereby experimentation revolved on the axis that pain could only be felt by those who were deemed capable of consciousness. Therein lies the semantic if only I could remember the voices against him????

Timray said...

Back to this is in the thought how philosophy goes into "I am". It was Descartes position that there was an inner sense to knowing...a singular event if I read him correctly while Hume's repost was that he could make little of Descartes idea and the notion was a vacuum of little or no value. What I read of Kant is that in his own way he thought both positions were of value but only of value as an abstract idea.

this bring me to the old argument of Dr. Johnson and Master Berkeley and the rock kicking over perception. It is at this point the discipline of philosophy loses me as for me the tree does crash in the woods. when i think of being i am rather connected to the fact you, me, Bruno, Princes and Einstein all were floating around this star now long gone. "Being" to me is such an elusive term and without taking this into New Age perceptions of a connected universe commanded on some quantum level. so it is better for me to study say, physics than to try and explain just why Dr. Johnson kicked those rocks.....solipsism is simply beyond my patterns of recognition

Timray said...

after thought....Rodin's "Thinker" to me is most likely simply stoned or....well you guess

Mercury said...


Part of this is not that complex. For Descartes it was a matter of faith and Hume was a matter of being a hardcore empiricist. But now you have messed things up by interjecting Kant who has had recently a revival in certain scientific circles. Descartes basically stated "I am a thing that thinks" and Kant stated simply "I think".

I did you send the following by Jake Rose...any thoughts?

One of the greatest philosophers to develop and refine epistemology, along with other philosophical concepts, is Immanuel Kant. With careful examination, thought and concern, he developed a unique philosophy, that of transcendental philosophy, to extend both the worlds of rationalism and empiricism. By looking carefully at the former philosophers of notable importance, namely Descartes and Hume, Kant was able to a very modern philosophy that lays basis to much thought and looks upon thought today. Examination of the two mentioned philosophers will only show their importance in contribution to Kant’s foundation and therefore the foundation that bonded empiricism and rationalism.

Let us look at Descartes first. Descartes is a rationalist. He believes that there is some knowledge attained other than through or by the senses. For example, the saying “I think therefore I am” is an important aspect of this concept. This is knowledge developed on thought alone. More importantly, it is heavily weighted on the knowledge of God. This is to say that the idea of God, and God itself, is outside of the realm of the senses and so therefore exists through thought alone. Descartes shows through his meditations that by using our mind and thought that we can make judgments of the world around us. He believes that there are only two substances in the metaphysical. The first is thought and the second is matter. He believes, contrary to ancient philosophy, that there is matter without form. He also holds that certain ideas, specifically that of the mind and God, are innate and independent of the senses. This is contrary to many other philosophers and their beliefs.

The problem with Descartes is that a lot of his work is heavily based on the existence of God. This is to say that it requires God to help prove the concept of certain innate ideas outside of the sensible world. It is a very easy example to use and requires little to no back up support. This is because since one can not truly deny or prove the existence of God, one can merely say that he exists because they believe he does and can twist this to put as an innate thought. If one has a faith in God, then you can not deny this faith. Descartes uses this faith to support his idea of innate ideas. It is easy to say that God exists and use that as evidence to a philosophical concept of innate ideas because this requires no other basis. The very concept of God can be compared to Gaunilo’s Perfect Island theory. This theory clearly states that there is no need to find empirical evidence of God’s existence and therefore completely supports the innate idea concepts. The Perfect Island theory says that “if one thinks of the most perfect island in their mind, then it must exist for no other greater island can exist.” The very definition of God is that which is most perfect, and since nothing can be more perfect than God it is only proper to confirm God’s existence. Though debatably flawed, the theory does show the simple strength that faith holds to Descartes‘ philosophy.

On the other hand there is David Hume. Hume is an empiricist. Key to point out, as its opposite is a strong support basis for Descartes, is that Hume is a non-believer in God. Right there we can understand that we are dealing on a more sensory account of the world and philosophy. We can rules out thoughts existing simple because there is no greater thought to conceive or that we have merely thought of them. He also believes in the Copy Principle. This is to say that ideas are acquired ideas. Hume states that there are two principal ways to organize beliefs. One is relations of ideas which requires logical relations between the beliefs while the other is matters of fact which is the relation of a belief with the world itself. Furthermore, he denies that these matters of fact can be known a priori, only promoting his empiricist views. Hume had a philosophy that was seen by many as being strongly based in Skepticism. We can understand this by his belief in all knowledge coming by the senses. It is because of this that we can only trust these perceptions and therefore the knowledge that derives from them.

By understanding the basics of the two philosophers before, we can get a better sense of the philosophy of Kant. Kant takes what he considers the better of the two worlds of empiricism and rationalism and develops a philosophy attended to satisfy the imbalance between the two. Let us start by looking at the very basics of the two worlds and compare a priori, knowledge before experience, and a posterior, knowledge after experience. He holds that both do exist. On one hand, that of a priori, we have such ideas of logic, math, and other basic concepts that are not developed by human mind but rather recognized and taken from the natural world. Contrary is that of a posteriori, which Kant describes as being such things as science and sensory and analytical sciences that, though done through the natural world, are developed or recorded in a human process.

Even further we can break the two in half and use a concept developed by Hume. We can look at these things as being analytic, the equivalent of Hume’s relations of ideas, or synthetic, the equivalent of Hume’s matters of fact. Dividing a priori, we can see Kant labels logic as analytic while math and other basic concepts are synthetic. If we are to however examine closer a posteriori through this, we find that science can only be synthetic and that there is no analytic a posteriori knowledge. So from Descartes we see that Kant has taken the logical sense of thought, the “I think therefore I am” type of reasoning to support truth from reason alone, and from Hume we see that Kant has taken the relationship of ideas between ideas and the relationship of ideas compared to the world.

Kant also takes a good look at such mindful concepts as God, freedom and immortality. This lays on the side of rationalism with Descartes. Looking at this, we can see that there is a break between appearance and reality of the world through possible experience. Kant puts these concepts into reality, but even further he breaks reality into what we can know and what we can think. These concepts are placed in the latter. This puts emphasis on the logic and reason of his philosophy, holding weight not just in what can be sensed but more importantly what can be conjured by rational thought.

Taking the side of Hume though, Kant asks importantly the development of concepts. He puts emphasis not on the what we know but also on the how we know what we know. We get a further understanding beyond Hume’s. It goes past the ideas of judgment for Kant denies the practicality in doing such as it would be counterproductive to the cause. Such things belong to a priori, and therefore have an origin that is at least near conceivable to the human mind. What Kant is concerned with locating then is the development of the sensible world through a transcendental philosophy. This relies not to correct knowledge but rather extend it and further support the foundations of beliefs. It is important to note the contradiction of the phrase “everything which happens has a cause” though, for this will show that development of concepts is based more heavily not on origin but on a form of evolution. The phrase shows that the concept of cause signifies something different from “that which happens” and so creates this contradiction. Kant is thus focused on a progress of thought in philosophy.

Through this we can see the impact that Kant has brought to philosophy. He bonded the empiricist thinking with the rationalist thinking, and vice-versa. This is sometimes called the “Copernican Revolution.” He puts more emphasis on the reality of things and not on the extent to which our senses can progress knowledge. He also points out that the human mind has limits to its capabilities, like any container, and therefore not everything that exists can be known or recognized by mankind. This is important in that it shows the incompletion of epistemology and philosophy, yet does not point them out necessarily as weakness or restraints, but rather as acceptable truths that can be overcome if balanced between both epistemological worlds of empiricism and rationalism. Though he lies more on Descartes’ side, ruling out some of Hume’s assumptions and judgments of the world, it is a blending between the two to certain degrees that truly accept knowledge for what philosophy can understandably label it and not how epistemology can divide it.