Sunday, December 07, 2008

A criticism of the Cartesian "Cognito Ego Sum"

Inspired by the introduction to Frederick Beiser's excellent book "The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte". Heavily inspired by.

A problem in the idea of "I think, therefore I am" as a ground for the rest of philosophy is, well, first off, what does "thinking" mean, what does "I" mean, and how is "thinking" connected to the "I" in such a way that the presence of thinking completely proves the existence of the "I"? I think, I have self awareness, but do I really? I observe something, or rather something observes a process of analyzing, but what exactly the mysterious something doing the observing or what the analytic process really is are both obscured. Where does the "I" come from? What is that which people have called "thought" or the operations of thought? It doesn't work like a computer. One process observes another process---does this prove that an external world exists, or even that an internal world resembling in any way what we colloquially think is going on inside our heads actually exists? No, it doesn't. Both are left undefined, and sense impressions present themselves as being potentially as valid as self reflection on a mental level. Additionally, isn't it possible that the only reason that we find "I think, therefore I am" to be an understandable concept is because we go forward from a particularly Western philosophical tradition that developed in Western Europe, so that the idea of Cognito, Ego Sum is potentially a cultural construction in and of itself?

If the basis of the Cognito as the source of philosophy is challenged it may in fact destroy the idea of epistemology as the essential foundation of everything else and open the door to ontology replacing it as the measure of truth. The contemplation of the Being of the external world may be a portal to a more valid truth about the philosophical situation or problematic in general.

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