In daily life, nothing is really sure for the subject. Even obvious truths are doubtful: should I live here or there, should I forgive someone, could my life be happier? During his entire life, Descartes was looking for the first knowledge, the one on everyone can build his own life.
I think therefore I am: Descartes’s cogito
This quote was taken from the Discourse on Method by René Descartes.
Descartes is looking for an unalterable foundation to build the knowledge, a fixed point from which knowledge could be erected.
For this, Descartes proposes two methods:
- the doubt
- the evil genius
Both methods reach the same result: the certainty of the existence of subjectivity: I think therefore I am.
1 / The methodical doubt: the active channel
Descartes’s philosophical project is to decide voluntarily to question all their knowledge and opinions. What is he? It was he who doubts. However, to doubt, think. So, if I may, I think, and if I think I am.
Doubt, which initially put everything into question, reverses and becomes a source of certainty.
2 / The evil genius: the passive channel
Descartes made the assumption that a force is cheating, making him pass for true or misrepresented.
But again, if I may be wrong, if my senses can be a source of illusions, the fact remains that I can suspend my decision. And again, this suspension is an action by the thought that comes conclusively prove my existence.
“So I suppose […] that some evil genius, no less cunning and deceiving than powerful, has employed all his ingenuity in deceiving me, and I think the sky, air, earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all other external things are nothing but illusions and dreams which he used to set traps for my credulity, I consider myself as having no hands, d ‘eyes, no flesh, no blood, as having no meaning, but mistaken belief have all these things, I will remain steadfastly committed to this idea, and if, by this means he is not in my power obtaining knowledge of any truth, at least it is in my power to suspend my judgments: which is why I take the greatest care not receive any falsity in my belief, and so will prepare my mind all the tricks of the great deceiver, that for powerful and cunning he is, he will never impose anything on me”
“But what is it that I am?” A thinking thing. What is a thinking thing? Is one thing which doubts, which means that conceives, affirms, denies, wants, who does not want, which also imagines and feels. Certainly, this is not much if all these things belong to my nature. But why do they not belong? Am I not the one doubt that even now almost everything, who nevertheless hears and sees things, who affirms these alone be true, who denies all the others, wants and desires to know more, who will not be deceived who imagines many things, sometimes even despite that I may have, and who feels as much as through the organs of the body. Are there any of that that is not also true that it is I am certain that I exist and that, even if I could sleep forever, and that gave me being would use his entire industry to deceive? there is also none of those attributes that can be distinguished from my thought, or that can be said to be separated from myself? Because it is self-evident that if it is I who doubt, hear that and wishes that he not need anything here Add to explain it. And I certainly also the power to imagine, for, although it may be (as I assumed before) I imagine that things are not true”
In both methods, active or passive, the certainty of the cogito is acquired. The Subjectivity, sure of his existence, can act as the home of the Truth.
This statement, now considered obvious, revolutionized philosophy and served as the premise of modern philosophy. Kant, Spinoza, or Sartre and Husserl never question this philosophical achievement: I think therefore I am.