In ‘The Simplest Mathematics’ (C.P. 4.71, 1893), C.S. Peirce elaborated:

It is a fundamental mistake to suppose that an idea which stands isolated can be otherwise than perfectly blind. He professes to doubt the testimony of his memory; and in that case all that is left is a vague indescribable idea. There is no warrant for putting it into the first person singular. "I think" begs the question. "There is an idea: therefore, I am," it may be contended represents a compulsion of thought; but it is not a rational compulsion. There is nothing clear in it. Here is a man who utterly disbelieves and almost denies the dicta of memory.

He notices an idea, and then he thinks he exists. The ego of which he thinks is nothing but a holder together of ideas.

But if memory lies there may be only one idea. If that one idea suggests a holder-together of ideas, how it can do so is a mystery.

Much has been published on this site regarding the cogito. Notably, I’ve seen in my surfing that users such as Conifold and Alexander S. King, as well as others, make note of minds who objected to the cogito with the likes of Kant and Nietzsche, who argued against the unity of the I, or the self, but didn’t object as hard to the proposition (or conclusion) that “there is thinking”, or that “thinking is occurring” as a base epistemological certainty.

Did Peirce come to the same conclusion as they did when he said “there is an idea?” … “A vague, indescribable idea?” Despite not giving any credence to the idea of the ‘I’, as many others have done in dissecting Descartes’ cogito?

  • "Nietzsche, who argued against the unity of the I, or the self". Could you provide sources for that? If anything, Also sprach Zarathustra indicates the opposie. For instance, in the passage Von den Verächtern des Leibes the self is portrayed as superior and more powerful than the senses and the spirit (Sinn and Geist). Also the references to the "I" weaken or contradict any suggestions against its unity. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 20:52
  • @Iñaki Viggers I’ve seen the direct quote from one of Nietzsche’s works cited plenty of times before, both on here and on Reddit. I don’t know the specific work it is from. I understand your wanting of citation, but unfortunately, I’m unsure of which work it is from, and I was just trying to find a specific comment section on this forum where I saw it cited, but I didn’t find it. Perhaps a google search of Nietzsche on the cogito would yield the results you hope for. I know his proposition, or conclusion, begins with “I think”… then he either begins a… Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 22:02
  • new sentence elaborating on the process of thinking, or he continues the same sentence. Perhaps you will see that with how Chris (the other contributor on my post) didn’t doubt my claims about Nietzsche that I’m not just making it up. Thank you for your input. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 22:05
  • I never suspected anything in the sense of you making that up. Instead, I think that either there is a misunderstanding of Nietzsche (such as inadvertently taking out of context some statement of his) or, to put it in Hegelian terms, an instance of thesis & antithesis that warrants a synthesis in regard to Nietzsche's thought. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 22:20

1 Answer 1


Q: Did Peirce come to the same conclusion as they did when he said “there is an idea?”

Pierce distinguishes himself by addressing the dimension of time as memory, albeit in passing. Heidegger develops the theme significantly in that time is understood as structurally incorporated in the 'holder-together': i.e. the self is temporal.

From The Principle of Reason (1957) p.12

It is well known that Descartes wanted to bring all human knowing to an unshakable ground (fundamentum inconcussum) by first doubting everything and acknowledging only what presented itself clearly and distinctly as secure knowledge. Leibniz remarked that Descartes’ procedure neglected to specify what was entailed in the clarity and distinctness of cognition that count as his leading principles. According to Leibniz, Descartes had at this point doubted too little. Concerning this, Leibniz said in a letter to Johann Bernoulli on August 23, 1696: sed ille dupliciter peccavit, nimis dubitando et nimis facile a dubitatione discedendo; “but he (Descartes) failed in a two-fold manner, by his doubting too much and by too easily desisting from doubting.”4

and Being & Time (1927) p.45-46

Kant took over Descartes' position quite dogmatically, notwith­standing all the essential respects in which he had gone beyond him. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that he was bringing the phenomenon of time back into the subject again, his analysis of it remained oriented towards the traditional way in which time had been ordinarily under­stood; in the long run this kept him from working out the phenomenon of a 'transcendental determination of time' in its own structure and function. Because of this double effect of tradition the decisive connection between time and the 'I think' was shrouded in utter darkness; it did not even become a problem.

In taking over Descartes' ontological position Kant made an essential omission: he failed to provide an ontology of Dasein. This omission was a decisive one in the spirit [im Sinne] of Descartes' ownmost Tendencies. With the 'cogito sum' Descartes had claimed that he was putting philo­sophy on a new and firm footing. But what he left undetermined when he began in this 'radical' way, was the kind of Being which belongs to the res cogitans, or—more precisely—the meaning of the Being of the 'sum'.1 By working out the unexpressed ontological foundations of the 'cogito sum', we shall complete our sojourn at the second station along the path of our destructive retrospect of the history of ontology. Our Interpretation will not only prove that Descartes had to neglect the question of Being altogether; it will also show why he came to suppose that the absolute 'Being­-certain' ["Gewisssein"] of the cogito exempted him from raising the ques­tion of the meaning of the Being which this entity possesses.

  • So although Peirce doesn’t acknowledge ‘thinking’ as something that happens through ‘time’, he adheres to the belief that there is an ‘idea’ that is undeniable, regardless of our understanding of the passage of supposed ‘time’? Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 18:15
  • I think he remains with the traditionalists in that respect. Temporality is a necessary part of thought for reflection, one thought reflecting on another. With just one 'idea' there isn't actually any thought. He sees the issue with memory. I don't know if he develops it elsewhere. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 18:40
  • I’m sure you’ll gather that I’m a layperson. Thank you for your inputs thusfar :) Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 18:45
  • To clarify a spelling error made on a previous comment, I’ll rephrase: So all thoughts that Peirce experiences, he would consider them as one, unified, collective ‘idea’ that is real and has ‘existence’? Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 18:50
  • This one experience without an adjacent thought fits Kant's ‘intuition without thought [gedankenlose Anschauung]’. As per Kant, Non-Conceptual Content, p.85: "[It] would be possible, but it would ‘never [be] cognition, ’ ... ‘One can intuit something without thinking something thereby or thereunder. / All cognitions come to us through thinking, i.e., through concepts; they are not intuitions.’" As described above, thinking requires a cognitive temporality, (note, not necessarily the same as clock-time temporality). Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 20:21

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