Descartes and Knowledge of Self

Just something I’ve been thinking of recently.

Descartes is of course famous for his, “I think therefore I am.” But I find it difficult to follow with him on this. It’s not because I think he’s wrong (that’s not relevant here either way). The point is, it just doesn’t seem to follow from his preceeding “dream” theory.

For instance, to say, “I think therefore I am.” We must assume there is a thinker necessarily associated with thought. However, as Hume would point out, the only reason we have to think there is necessarily a thinker associated with thought, is that we have always prior to this point associated a thinker with thought. But this gives us no justification to think that a thinker is always necessarily associated with thought. Bertrand Russell (I hope I spelled his name right) obviously contested this idea. But even if we assume Russell is right, in this scenario, the evidence is assumed to be untrustworthy, therefore, Hume’s argument holds ground.

We cannot assume, based on an assumed false observation, that a thinker is necessarily associated with thought. Therefore, all we are left with is: there is thought. Since this is self-evident, it stands on its own grounds, without need for an argument to support it. But the idea of self, or a “thinker” is obviously not going to follow if we take the “dream” theory to its logical conclusion.

Now, this does nothing to go beyond this point. As such, what is thought? Can thought have some form of self-realization? I’m noy debating the “nature” of thought. Only instead, that Descartes’ assumption doesn’t seem to follow with the argument. I don’t know the nature of thought. And quite frankly, it appears to be a pointless pursuite.

Thoughts? Opinions? Objections?

Welcome to our humble abode Shybard, do not be afraid the Gods are here also (heraclitus). I have also heard it expressed instead of cogito ergo sum (i think therefore i am) dubito ergo sum (i doubt therefore i am). i think (therefore some doubt) i owe this to Ortega Gasset. Anyway, the argument runs thus, you can doubt everything in the universe, the World, yourself, the forum. You can not, however, doubt the fact that you doubt (that would negate your previous doubts and be self-refuting). Expressed negatively like this, Descarte’s argument attains a certain logical coherence and eloquence and is more easily understood.

I don’t know, what do you think?

According to the Buddhist Logic of antimetaphysical reasoning, Cogito ergo sum is a result of an an illicit implication, and therefore is banned as a futile mental construction. The analysis of our internal and external experience doesn’t testifies to the existence of such ultimate dharma as the human Self (this teaching is called anatma-vada). There are only cogitata and no cogitans. The cogitans is a mere name for denoting the highly contingent aggregate of external properties (rupa-dharmas) and the everchanging stream (santana) of internal noemata - “mental matter” (vedana, samjna, sanskara, and vijnana-dharmas).

Something similar, though in a radically different terminological and conceptual framework, we can find in the Husserl’s interpretation of the Cartesian cogito sum. According to Husserl, the ontological and even theological aspirations of cogito ergo sum are not vindicated in the light of the Voraussetzunglosigkeit (premislessness). The postulation of Ego as external reality is an unwarranted assumption, tantamount the postulation of substantial Consciusness. Both of them require something else to exist, and this Else is God.

Husserl believes that Ego sum is applicable only to the inexistential transcendental subject, that is, to the self-evident final residium of the transcendental-phenomenological reduction. This kind of radical-epoche based attitude (epoche, pronounced epohe, is the European analog of the Buddhust apoha) rules out the construction of any contingent ontology of the manifold Reality-Spheres from the working field of the phenomenologist. In fact, Ego sum constitutes (konstitiert) only the formal schemes of the ontologies, whose validity has to be proved in the irrefutable apodixity of the eidetic Wesenschau (Intuition of essence, yogi-pratyaksa).


I was reading, “What the Buddha Taught” actually when I thought of this. I’m afraid I’m not incredibly well-versed in Buddhism though, and so your post is shall we say, a little over my head? I think I get the general idea of what you’re stating. But would you mind clarifying it a bit?


That does seem a little more clearly concise. However, it still suffers from the same problem. That is, we’re assuming there is one who doubts. If we define “doubt” as “the action of a doubter” then that makes perfect sense. However, we still have to assume that there is a person who is doubting, and thefore we must assume that our experience of persons as such, is true. Whereas, we have just stated that it may very well be false. There, again is obviously doubt occuring, or at least the “experience” of doubt, but we’re assuming again, just as we’re assuming thought must be experienced by a thinker, that doubt must be experienced by a doubter.

Though, it is a more clearly expressed way of describing the theory, it falls into the same difficulty. We must be stating that there is a doubter associated with doubt, and any evidence of said doubter could very well be false. It seems to make sense, that there is a doubter associated with doubt, just as there is a thinker associated with thought. But this is due to our experiences (which may very well be false) and concluding from them.

Does this make sense? It’s the same case as I previously stated. But for the fact we’ve changed “thought” into “doubt” and “thinker” into “doubter.”

I understand what Descartes is saying. It just doesn’t seem to follow from the previous argument, unless he’s trusting empirical information, which he previously stated we can’t do.

PS- Thank you for the warm welcome. :slight_smile:

“What the Buddha Taught” of W. Rahula is a nice intro to Buddhist philosophy and practive.

As you perhaps already know, dharmas are devided into nama and rupa. Rupa (form) is the matter, while nama (name) is all the rest. The nama-rupa is all that we are.

sigh You know Imago,
maybe your board works by some special Buddhist etiquette, and correct me if I’m wrong, but message board site owners frown upon people going from one message board to another and simply copying and pasting everything all over message boards. In fact, many have it as part of their disclaimer as a NO NO. It’s actually really childish. It makes you appear as though you really have nothing to say, and are only here to proliferate your posts and gain popularity from as many places as possible by copying and pasting. Which kinda works against itself, especially since sooner or later people will begin to recognize you from one place to the next. For example, your second last post here in this thread was COPIED and PASTED by you, here is a link that contains the same post verbatim…

The more I investigate you from other message boards, the worse my feeling gets about you sir. Your not only a fake, but you’re also a troll, not to mention the fact that you act as a child by demeaning without explanation, and ignore any and all questions that are posed to you. In fact, it appears that you are stealing post ideas so you can further your own cause on your own website. It shows that you really don’t understand the topic at hand, otherwise, why not just sum up the topic the next time you post it on your own website, or atleast add another aspect to the topic. Take it deeper, or look at it from another perspective. This is pretty low, instead of thinking things up for yourself you go about the net stealing from others. Now I see the connection between Teyes and you.

What’s your take?

Yeah, if you’re gonna plagiarize you could at least not include the site that you’ve plagiarized from in you’re signature.

—Shybard! serendipitously ran across this while reading at work tonight.

(italics in original and are presumably Nietzsche’s)

Source: (It is important to quote one’s sources) The Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche translated by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, edited by Walter Kaufmann Vintage Books copyright 1967

This comes closer to answering your question.

So let me get this straight. Doubt is the action of a doubter and thought is the action of a thinker. hmmmm

What if Descartes changed his mind? Let’s say that his dream theory and his Cogito have nothing to do with each other. I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but I do believe that thoughts have their own reality. And that they can create a reality. Aren’t you thinking that you are seeing these words on what you believe is a computer screen right now? This could be a dream. And dreams are just thoughts as well.

"But some care is needed in using Descartes’ argument. ‘I think, therefore I am’ says rather more than is strictly certain. It might seem as though we were quite sure of being the same person to-day as we were yesterday, and this is no doubt true in some sense. But the real Self is as hard to arrive at as the real table and does not seem to have that absolute, convincing certainty that belongs to particular experiences. When I look at my table and see a certain brown colour, what is quite certain at once is not ‘I am seeing a brown colour’, but rather, ‘a brown colour is being seen’. This of course involves something (or somebody) which (or who) sees the brown colour; but it does not of itself involve that more or less permanent person whom we call ‘I’. So far as immediate certainty goes, it might be that the something which sees the brown colour is quite momentary, and not the same as the something which has some different experience the next moment. "

The Problems of Philosopy Bertrand Russell

How can I plagiarize myself? :slight_smile:

I am the author of that post and have the legal right to post it wherever proper.
Site is included in my signature because I own it. Here is the place of origin of the post, and there - at my own forum - I seconded it. All posters are the owners of their posts…

But I am not going to teach you Cyberlaw.

P.S. I see, the little fly with the logorrhea is omnipresent and superexcremental. :slight_smile:

I can understand hubris. What i fail to understand (even when i do it myself), is the constant name calling (whoever may commit this Argumentum Ad Hominem). Please, Gentlemen.

I understand what’s being said. The point is thus:

The “tautology” as it’s stated here, is however, self-evident. Whereas, the “logical-metaphysical postulate” is derived from our assumptions, as stated, we put “a doer to every deed.” But our grammatical forms have been derived from our observations, and understanding of them, which Descartes has already stated as possibly false, and thus, not useful in this argument. As Hume pointed out, it doesn’t follow logically (especially in this instance, where the experiences are assumed to be false) and though Bertrand has stated these as useful and founded reasons for belief, if we’re disregarding our information as false, we can’t even use them for that.

As such, Descartes (from what I gathered) was looking for something to base true “knowledge” upon, not just “reasonable belief.” And therefore, at least in that regard, he failed.

I hope that makes more sense.

Probably condemned from the start. As if there could be “true” knowledge, a first principle. Nietzsche at one point destroys the belief in the “thing in itself” roughly thus:

Source: pp 302 The Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche translated by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, edited by Walter Kaufmann Vintage Books copyright 1967

The first premise is false. Everything has a least the property of self-identity. Everything is identical with itself. And that property has no effect on anything else. The Universe, for instance, is identical with itself, and has no effect on anything else for the obvious reason that there is noting else. (And this, of course, shows that the premise that there is no thing without other things is false too.)


What I am saying in my first post is not that different from what Nietzsche is saying, as cited by Marshall McDaniel.

The transition from cogito to cogitans is an unwarranted implication nuch similar to the implication contained in the ontological proof of God. In fact, cogito ergo sum is nothing more than a secular expression of the famous proof of Anselm.

That’s why great thinkers like Buddha, Nietzsche and Husserl have rebelled against it.

P.S. I should have written “freethinkers” instead of “thinkers”.

The first premise is false. Everything has a least the property of self-identity.
You ratiocinate like a cryptobuddhist. :slight_smile: Yes, the properties of a thing are not effects OF other things, because this would be also an illicit postulation of a very strange type of “heterosubstantialism” - the properties are here, and the sustance is there. :slight_smile:

And a second “Yes”: Every property (dharma) is the bearer (dharmin) of its own characteristic (svalaksana, pron. svalakshana). This is a basic Buddhist postulate.

I, personally, find it contradictory, because, from a metaphysical point of view, a property (dharma) cannot be the bearer (dharmin) of itself. You cannot predicate the predicate. There is always a subject to be predicated. But the fact of logical predication does not imply the ontological reality of the subject, i.e., its independent substantiality. Those are different types of being.
Most relevant here are the studies of Meinong.

Hello Kennethamy! Good to hear from you again! A thing is identical with itself (a=a) for about a nanosecond or so, after that it becomes something else. (All being is becoming). please feel free to plug that into your otherwise excellent formula.

If I did philosophize like a “cryptoBuddhist” I certainly did not intend to, and I will stop immediately. Don’t tell anyone-please.

I would have thought that a=a for exactly as long as a exists. No less, and no more. In fact, a Principia Mathematica definition of “a exists” is, a=a. So, it would be impossible for something to exist and not be self-identical.