Descartes cogito is 'I think therefore I am'. Can an ant do the same?

Breaking this down, one has 'I think' and I am aware that 'I am thinking' and therefore 'I am'.

One requires here it seems some self-awareness and deductive capability.

One generally supposes that an ant, unlike humans is not self-aware, so he cannot carry out the conclusion; but we would naturally suspect that he isn't capable of carrying out the deductive step either.

An ant, presumably has the awareness of his own existence ie 'I am'.

Going back to Descarte - these two steps seem already too long for a statement celebrated for its concision; can it be shortened; or am I wrong to analyse this statement into these two components?

  • if a dog "knows" that it exists then i would think it does something close enough to human thought.
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 19:56
  • Changing dog to ant is a different question and no longer strongly related to Descartes. His claim is stronger. Perhaps because he wished to avoid tempting fate as Bruno did. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 1:42
  • @rudgers: The question isn't really about a dog, or an ant; its about the last sentence in the body of the text. I simply mentioned a 'dog' as a rhetorical device that condenses what the question is trying to investigate. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 1:53
  • Cogito for Descartes is certainly not animal since animals for him are pure mechanisms; but cf Serres in Five Senses who says cogito is something the whole body "does" (a very interesting book and worth a look)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 23:11

3 Answers 3


Having been a companion to dogs throughout my life, I don't generally suppose that dogs are not self aware.

Unless one defines 'thinking' as only encompassing the way in which humans think. In that case, the answer is "No dog's cannot think." Another consequence of that would be that computer's cannot think. A third would be that if there is a god, it does not think.

Otherwise, there is no more basis for believing that a dog can think than that another person can think. Likewise, there is no more basis for believing that a dog cannot think than for believing that a person cannot think.

  • Perhaps I should have said 'can an ant think' :) Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 19:41
  • I'll amend my question accordingly. Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 23:14
  • Changing dogs into ants obscures the logical issue, it does not solve it. That an ant is no true Scotsman is not a proof. I'll buy in empirically at rocks and chairs and medium-well hamburgers. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 1:41

The poet Paul Valery gets it right with the line - "Sometimes I think, sometimes I am".

The 'I am' of awareness requires no thought yet thought depends on it. Kant saw this and places the origin of the intellect prior to the categories of thought such that it is 'not an instance of a category'. I'm fairly sure he would have been a Buddhist if he'd been alive today.


As popularly phrased, "I think, therefore I am" doesn't require awareness (or reflection) of the thinking process.

If you accept the premise "I think", then you already presuppose the existence of the thinker as well as the thought, but we can ignore consideration of the thought for now.

Since the thinker is the "I", the existence of the thinker reduces to the existence of the self. The second conclusion "therefore I am" follows.

The tricky part is deciding whether this line of argument presupposes the conclusion, but if we allow the logical argument, we don't have to consider the thought, beyond its existence.

If you hold that an ant thinks but doesn't process formal logic, then an intelligent observer might observe that it thinks, therefore it is, even if the ant doesn't make that connection itself.

You ask about whether it is right to break the statement into its two components. I'd say that, yes, it's right to do so (or at least, that it's not wrong to do so), but you've picked the harder component to logically establish.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .