“Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am)

What brought Descartes to his famous conclusion? Does his conclusion still hold today? What does it mean to us in the present?

René Descartes is often proclaimed to be the first “modern” philosopher or the inaugurator of modern philosophy. And few phrases are more well-known or central to philosophy than the famous phrase “Cogito Ergo Sum” or “I think, therefore I am”.

In this meetup I will be presenting my own synopsis of Descartes’ conclusion, a little history behind it as well as a discussion of its meaning, some of its ramifications and my own conclusions on the topic. This will be a chance to discuss the validity of Descartes’ ideas from a fresh perspective. “Descartes says” will NOT be the final word on anything other than to simply quote what he said. So be prepared for critical debate!  :)

This will hopefully be the first topic in a series of member presentations where each month a different group member will give a presentation of something that interests her or him in philosophy, their own conclusions on the topic and then open the floor for discussion.

Since this will be a presentation, there are no prerequisites for this meetup other than to bring your analytic frame of mind, although the links below may be helpful:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes/

http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte/

This meeting can be up to two hours so hopefully it will give us a chance to present and debate the initial topic, go off on some tangents and give us time in the end to choose the presenter and topic for the next meetup.

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  • David R.

    Imaginative

    February 9, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    People were well behaved and contributed fairly evenly.

    February 9, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I enjoyed meeting the group and bantering our ideas around.

    February 9, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      It was wonderful meeting you as well! :)

      February 9, 2014

  • Pamala C.

    Lovely discussion but I totally blew my diet. Will power after dieting for awhile gets low. Maybe just one kind of healthy treat so my curiosity how each one tastes will not be my downfall. Lol

    February 9, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      LOL! Blame it on Descartes' evil genius. :)

      February 9, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Fell sick, sorry I couldn't make it.

    February 9, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      No worries, maybe next time. :)

      February 9, 2014

  • Joel F.

    I think you can use reason to clarify positions on a topic. It may not lead to an understanding of the universe, or a metaphysics per se. A worldview transcends reason, involving experience and aesthetics. Then, reason can step in to clear the inevitable brush of inconsistencies.

    January 26, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Perhaps the contribution of this statement is not the obvious. Rather it might be to justify using reasoning as the basis of philosophy. It attempts to show that you can discover 'truth' through thinking.

    January 26, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    This may be spoiling some of the fun for next month but, how about putting it this way? Do *you* think Walt? Are you currently thinking that you see a computer screen in front of you? If you are thinking that you see a computer screen in front of you, do you think it's possible that you do NOT exist at this moment? Or is the fact that you think you see a computer screen good evidence to you that you also must exist in order to think you see that computer screen, (regardless of whether or not the computer screen itself is real or an illusion or hologram or whatever and regardless of whether your body is real or not)?

    January 24, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      On further reflection, I think you're right about “exist” implying form and substance. So perhaps "exist" is not the right word. Unfortunately I can't think of a better word other than simply "to be". It seems to me that some things are and some things are not. It is not the case that I think I see what I call an elephant in front of me right now. It is the case that I think I see what I call a computer screen. The validity of these experiences can be disputed. However, is it disputable that I am? Can I not be when I think I see a computer screen?

      January 25, 2014

    • Joel F.

      Historically, the concept of existence is ambiguous: whether something is made of something, as in solid matter, or whether it could simply be a perception without substance. But there's a logical reason to dispense with arguments of existence altogether if one accepts existence as preceding any reflection or discussion on the matter. Either I do or do not exist, but If I make the statement, "I do not exist," that's circular logic.

      January 25, 2014

  • Joel F.

    Descartes never considered two separate I's, and I think that is not in his scheme. The significant conclusion "I am" is what Descartes later refers to in his Meditations and never mentions any timing issues. Just one "I." That said, the original cogito argument involves circular logic and also omits a step in the syllogism (a standard three-part logical argument). The shorthand version, "I am" is more significant as an axiom--something that is self-evident or grounded in itself. It's a strong statement and important historically, whether you accept it or not. I'm inclined to accept objective reality as a whole based on what I see and touch without starting with myself as first axiom. The world's complexity exceeds my own. But I also agree with Kant, that our minds provide the scaffolding of reality as we experience it, foreshadowing the holographic universe concept.

    January 23, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      I think we are bordering on mooting the topic already. In the above I was hinting that Decartes really didn't go very far in his musings. I have never seen it as much of a foundation for a whole philosophy to be built on.

      January 24, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    In short, a consciousness can not know anything for sure. The very possibility that anything at all can exist is so unreasonable that it kicks all the legs out from under the stool. I have looked in to the 'illusion' very deeply. Turn out there are many 'levels' of illusion (as much as there is anything else). I have delved into the possibility that nothing exists, real or illusion. Turns out that is not any less viable than something existing despite how unreasonable it seems.

    January 24, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Gary, I hope you tell us what 'I' meant to Decartes.
    Second, we need to work out if the 'I' from the first part is the same as the 'I' from the second part.

    January 20, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      thus the statement reduces to a question can be asked therefore there must be an agent

      January 23, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      the statement can not illuminate who or what that agent may be

      January 23, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Is there anything, anything at all a conscious being can know with absolute certainty other than that s/he is? Do I know for certain that the world around me is NOT an illusion? Or conversely, could I know for certain that the world around me IS an illusion?

    January 20, 2014

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