I think, therefore I

So it turns out that of all the things René Descartes came up with (Cartesian geometry, dualism, several whopping good recipes), his most basic principle is also the most hotly contested.

Cogito, ergo sum.

which, roughly translated, is:

I think, therefore I is.

I told you it was roughly translated. Anyway, I just heard all of the objections to this simple little claim which include:

  1. Bertrand Russell‘s “Do thoughts need a thinker?” That if they don’t, then he doesn’t really know anything other than “I think, therefore I think.”
  2. That there’s a hidden major premise, namely “all those that think, exist.” In other words, you can’t say “I think, therefore I am” without proving that everything that thinks, is.
  3. That since Descartes doubts math and analytic truths as a possible confusion imposed by some evil demon, then even logic would be doubtful and his whole operation is useless.
  4. Georg Lichtenberg‘s argument that Descartes inferred too much from his thought processes. That he really should have just said “there is some thinking going on.”
  5. That the word ‘I’ implies existence, therefore the ‘am’ in “I think, therefore I am” is redundant. In other words, Descartes is really saying “I think, therefore I,” which, of course, is a tautology and true by definition (p and q, therefore p).

Wow. Okay, I don’t much care for René Descartes, but the man’s been dead for 455 years, you’d at least think that philosophers would cut him some slack. I mean, the man can’t defend himself anymore. He isn’t anymore, therefore he doesn’t think.


  1. “…René Descartes was a drunken fart/I drink therefore I am”

    My brother, who’s starting college, says he’s taking a philosophy course. I sincerely hope he doesn’t say stuff like this when he comes home.

  2. Bah. Hairsplitters and egomaniacs. Bertrand Russell: “Do thoughts need a thinker?” If a tree falls in the forest, only there is no forest, then what the fuck is all this wood doing on the ground?”

    “I think, therefore I am” is perhaps not the best way to state the premise that, if I am able to perform an action, I must first exist, but it is short and to the point. It is only redundant if you interpret it to mean, “I am because I think”. Descartes chose thinking to be his action because it required no interaction with an unproven environment (other than what was going on in his own head one could argue – see wood on ground above). Sartre chose nausea because it was an experience that no one would choose to undergo.

    My take on the matter is that the whole argument is interesting, but overly academic. Premise A: Everything I percieve to be a real part of my environment is real. Premise B: Everything is an illusion. If premise A, and I treat it as real, no problem. If premise B and I treat it as real, no problem. If premise B and I treat it as unreal, I starve, I die, I am institutionalized and force-fed, etc. This makes the safest course of action for continued existence to treat everything as being real. In other words, it makes no difference whether it is real or not; I can either go catatonic, or I can go for a nice bike ride.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *