Could 'cogito ergo sum' possibly be false?

  • I've heard it postulated by some people that "we can't truly know anything". While that does seem to apply to the vast majority of things, I can't see how 'cogito ergo sum' can possibly be false.

    No matter what I am, no matter in what way I'm being tricked, no matter how I may be deluded, I must exist in order to - in some way - be considering this right now (or be being tricked right now).

    Is 'cogito ergo sum' necessarily correct, or have I missed something?

    It was helpful to me to recognize there is a degree of irony in his formulation: Descartes is arguing, then, that doubt itself can be an absolutely firm foundation for knowledge. That is, knowledge itself is hereby founded on this very paranoia-about-knowing-anything-whatsoever ;)

    Cogito ergo sum -- is a single most important achievement of humanity, as a civilization -- which are not that many. If humanity will pass away, i propose to write "Cogito ergo sum" on its grave!

    Too many answers to bother making a full answer about this. But it is said that not only is it a delusion, but it is the fundamental delusion.

    Take a look at this material in relation to your question. Be patient with it though, it's long. The link is provided here:

    Descartes has made a mistake in logic as well. Kindly read my answer.

    This very statement is a prime example of the ego of humanity. The admission of knowing nothing, in and of itself is saying we know something - the fact that we know nothing. The illusion this statement is significant for one who is classified as genius only furthers the significance of how pompous this truely is. Presenting a linquistic paradox as a statement you are more elightened because of this privy knowledge, is severly inverted.

  • Wooble

    Wooble Correct answer

    10 years ago

    The objection to "I think, therefore I am" is that it presupposes the existence of an "I" doing the thinking. Possibly, "there are thoughts" is the true minimum statement that can be reached using Descartes' method; this does not presuppose the existence of some sort of unified consciousness having the thoughts.

    Bernard Williams and Søren Kierkegaard were early objectors to presupposing "I".

    That said, cogito ergo sum certainly has a stronger basis than the rest of what Descartes built on it with the Cartesian Circle.

    +1 In addition, it presupposes that a proposition or fact and its negation cannot be both true. And that *existence* is a meaningful term. Etc.

    As someone who researches artificial intelligence via genetic algorithms of neural networks, I also have to question what it means to "think" or what "thoughts" are. The `Chinese room` is often taken as a refutation of the intelligence of artificial intelligences, but the same arguments used to deconstruct _artificial_ intelligences can also be applied to _natural_ ones.

    +1 It's worth noting that this answer argues not that *cogito ergo sum* is false, but that it is a circular argument. Philosophical skeptics may, of course, reject the proposition. (But that at their own peril!)

    @Jon: indeed, "I think -> I am" is True if "I think" is False, although I took the OP's question to be more whether Descartes' argument is a sound one than if the particular compound logical statement is True.

    @Wooble, don't forget about Jean-Paul Sartre's Transcendence of the Ego! It's probably the single best example of an argument against presupposing "I".

    I would say "there are experiences". The thoughts are very hard to objectively distinguish from hearing. It might not be thoughts, but just a recording. ;)

    And yet, on the other hand, "there are experiences" implies some reality outside "me" in which those experiences exist. It can be argued that Descartes statement is a mere definition of "I", not a proposition or a fact.

    One small quibble: Williams and Kierkegaard are only "early" in a Western context. Buddhist philosophy has been investigating the implications of the unfounded presumption of an "I" for about two and a half millenia.

    Dont underestimate Cartesian Circles: mathematicians use it all the time to prove equivalence of statements, if N statements are to be proven equivalent `Si <=> Sj` then using Cartesian Circles you reduce N*N-1 proofs to N proofs because `<=>` is transitive. In the context of Descartes, if the deductions are correct and in one direction =>, then even if a conclusion is proven false, it still gives the usefull information that all the statements are false since `A=>B` not only says that if A is true so is B, but that if B is false so is A, so they all stand or fall together.

    I was thinking about, and if we assume "there are thoughts" as true, then looking for "what am I?", it comes to my mind next "I am these thoughts", what do you think?

    I is not objection to Descartes, if you or Kierkegaard did not HAVE I its not the fault of Descartes I. His I existed, unlike many other I's who object him in his OBVIOUS statement. His I just stated that it had existence and thoughts, other I's which had no (did not reach) existence and no thoughts should not object him.

    @BenHocking, the chinese room is not a refutation of intelligence, but an argument against a Turing machine having qualia.

    @nir, whether we want to call it "intelligence" or "qualia", the same problem applies to natural entities (such as ourselves) as to artificial entities. (That said, I don't believe the Chinese Room has anything to do with qualia, although I know some people have argued otherwise.)

    @BenHocking, Searle calls it consciousness in this discussion of the Chinese room experiment in Consciousness and Language.

    @nir, where "consciousness" is yet another ill-defined term (to be clear, I don't think I'm arguing with you, because I don't sense that you're significantly disagreeing with me), and so any argument we might make that artificial entities cannot have it fall apart when we try to apply those same arguments to ourselves. (To be fair, my thoughts are also influenced by B. F. Skinner.)

    @BenHocking, do you mean that any argument that ai cannot have consciousness, falls apart when applied to humans?

    @BenHocking, btw, Searle defines consciousness (as qualia) in the beginning of the same book "by consciousness I simply mean those subjective states of sentience or awareness"

    @nir, yes, that's what I mean: any argument that AI cannot have consciousness if applied rigorously to humans would also conclude that we cannot have consciousness, unless one assumes some sort of "magic" on the part of humans

    @nir, Searle's definition of consciousness is unsatisfactory (from a rigorous, scientific POV) as we now have to define sentience and/or awareness. That's not meant to be a criticism of Searle, however, as I am unaware of any such definition, and skeptical that such a definition is possible. (Skinner would refer to it as a "mentalism".)

    If you can't trust there is a "I", than why would you care is there a "he" and a "she"? You could kill anyone without problem. But the truth is a social perception too, and you wouldn't go much far thinking like that.

    @Rodrigo: I don't get your point. You can be an amoral solipsist even if you accept your own existence (arguably the definition requires that you accept it). In any event, "think of the moral consequences!" isn't exactly a valid critique of a position.

    You can be amoral even accepting your existence. But if you deny your own existence, how to take into consideration the existence of others? I think the solipsist in question would act less morally, usually. "Think of the moral consequences!" is a bad critique in a world where morality is a fake (like the monotheistic world). But in a society where people know and care for each other, it's completely different.

    It doesn't matter what kind of world or moral system you're talking about. Your slippery slope argument against the epistemological question of whether Descartes is justified in asserting the Cogito argument is a fallacy. The consequences of Descartes being right or wrong are a non sequitur in considering the fact or whether he's right or wrong. Dragging moral arguments into epistomology is rhetoric, not philosophy.

    i mean for me this objection (it shows "there are thoughts" / doubts) is a misunderstanding and suggests that the thinker isn't actually engaging in any doubt. whatever "i" am, seems like it's self evident when i think

    "the chinese room is not a refutation of intelligence, but an argument against a Turing machine having qualia" -- completely wrong. The Chinese Room has nothing to do with qualia. It is a multiply fallacious and oft refuted thought experiment purporting to show that computers cannot "understand" -- specifically that they cannot "understand" Chinese, regardless of how proficient they are at it.

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