Cogito ergo sum

19.03.2015 |

Episode #1 of the course “Philosophical ideas that everyone should know”

“Cogito, ergo sum” is Latin and translates to “I think, therefore I am.” René Descartes first considered this complex idea in the 17th century. He was at the front of the scientific wave moving through Europe at this time and is often considered the Father of Modern Philosophy. It was his forward-thinking idea to throw away the traditional thought surrounding the medieval sciences.

In medieval times, great minds tried to “establish the sciences” on sensation alone. Descartes was concerned about this method because he believed it was “prone to doubt.” Instead, Descartes proposed a contrasting “method of doubt.” Using his method, he considered anything false that was susceptible to even the slightest doubt. His phrase “cogito, ergo sum” is the foundation of his theory.

He thought that there was absolutely no doubt that he existed, so that must be an absolutely certain occurrence. He explains the theory in his book, Second Meditation. He writes the book from the first person, but he wants the reader to attempt to meditate with him so they can understand the logic behind this famous theory. In his first book, he explains that all of the senses are subject to doubt, so they cannot be relied upon. In fact, he actually considers these beliefs false, not just unreliable.

However, in the second meditation, he wants to show the reader that even though all of the sensory perceptions are false, that does not mean that the individual does not exist, which might be a logical conclusion if all senses are false. He explains that if people can think, then they must exist (even if they cannot see, hear, feel, or smell). Regardless of whether what the reader is thinking is true or false, the fact that he or she is thinking at all is a sign that he or she exists.


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