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Indeed, the thinking activity of a reflective person presupposes such a 'reflective person'. What I observe is that there are certain attributes or characteristics in words, words like 'think', 'articulate', 'summarize', 'deduce' are mainly applied to human-beings. If 'think'(subjectively) is privileged to human beings, then 'thinking' along will prove the existence of someone, if not 'I'. If these words are not only applicable to human, that some animals also possess such capabilities, there is also one distinction of human beings from animals, that is the power of subjective initiation and the 'awareness of such initiation'(self-consciousness). When someone uttered 'I', he is already using both of the attributes, that it is impossible for us not to think but simultaneously initiatively utter 'I', hence it is sufficient as proof of the existence of 'I', and thus 'think' is surplus or as a further elaboration for 'I'.

It seems to me that both 'there is thinking activity, therefore someone'(if thinking is privileged to human beings, and uttering such sentence is a think activity) or 'I, I am'(with the recognition, self-awareness of 'I' and such recognition entails thinking activity in the broadest sense) are both sufficient to prove existence of at least something, and the latter is sufficient to prove the existence of 'I'.

Is it valid?


Thank you for those who reply.

Maybe let me condense my query a bit. It is that 'I think, therefore I am' seems a bit tautological, that when he says 'I', it is simultaneously implied the cognitive activity of thinking which is necessary for I to recognize myself and to utter 'I'. Also, surely, both 'I' is identical and we are ascribing different activities or states which has the same subject 'I' relied on, and this sounds a bit tautological to me.

So when I read the critic by Bertrand Russell, I promptly agree. 'If the cogito does not presuppose a substantial self, what then is the epistemic basis for injecting the “I” into the “I think”? Some critics have complained that, in referring to the “I”, Descartes begs the question by presupposing what he means to establish in the “I exist.” Among the critics, Bertrand Russell objects that “the word ‘I’ is really illegitimate.” Echoing the 18th century thinker, Georg Lichtenberg, Russell writes that Descartes should have, instead, stated “his ultimate premiss in the form ‘there are thoughts’.” Russell adds that “the word ‘I’ is grammatically convenient, but does not describe a datum.” (1945, 567) Accordingly, “there is pain” and “I am in pain” have different contents, and Descartes is entitled only to the former'

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    No because 'I' is not a proposition with a truth value. Moreover 'I wash my car therefore I am' doesn't seem right because your washing your car could be illusory, so 'think' is important because according to Descartes the observation that 'I think' cannot be subject to illusion: once the proposition conceived, it is immediately true. Finally 'therefore' is not really a logical deduction. The sentence should be interpreted as an assesment: 'I think, I am'. – Quentin Ruyant Feb 9 '15 at 11:14
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    I am only imagining that I'm washing my car, therefore I am. – gnasher729 Feb 9 '15 at 22:41
  • This is "I think I'm washing my car, therefore I think, therefore I am" – Quentin Ruyant Feb 11 '15 at 0:13
  • I think not (And promptly vanishes)... – Neil Meyer Feb 11 '15 at 12:18
  • This question may be a duplicate of philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/2553/… – Chris Sunami Feb 17 '15 at 16:26
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There's a couple different things going on in your expanded question. Let's take it sentence by sentence.

Indeed, the thinking activity of a reflective person presupposes such a 'reflective person'.

Perhaps but this has little to do with the argument Descartes actually makes in Meditation 2

What I observe is that there are certain attributes or characteristics in words, words like 'think', 'articulate', 'summarize', 'deduce' are mainly applied to human-beings.

Yet Descartes' argument does not hinge on an observation about how we use language. Instead, it's a substantial claim about the activities he finds the "I" engages in upon reflection.

If 'think'(subjectively) is privileged to human beings, then 'thinking' along will prove the existence of someone, if not 'I'. If these words are not only applicable to human, that some animals also possess such capabilities, there is also one distinction of human beings from animals, that is the power of subjective initiation and the 'awareness of such initiation'(self-consciousness).

This bit is curious because his argument in Meditation 2 specifically denies that what he has proven exists is a human being as understood in the metaphysics of his time.

When someone uttered 'I', he is already using both of the attributes, that it is impossible for us not to think but simultaneously initiatively utter 'I', hence it is sufficient as proof of the existence of 'I', and thus 'think' is surplus or as a further elaboration for 'I'.

His argument is slightly different than what you're saying here. He is just concluding there's some locus of thinking (and several similar activities). It works precisely insofar as there must be something (on his view) for this thinking to be coherently happening (within the guarantee of a God to block the evil demon).

It seems to me that both 'there is thinking activity, therefore someone'(if thinking is privileged to human beings, and uttering such sentence is a think activity) or 'I, I am'(with the recognition, self-awareness of 'I' and such recognition entails thinking activity in the broadest sense) are both sufficient to prove existence of at least something, and the latter is sufficient to prove the existence of 'I'.

It greatly depends on the sort of 'I' you are trying to prove exists. Descartes is specifically trying to prove a res mensa (thinking thing) exists rather a res extensa. That there are things would prove only the latter. That some thing engages in thinking would prove the former. (You can make an argument from the notion of I -- this is what Hegel does much later, but this is not what Descartes says he is doing)

Maybe let me condense my query a bit. It is that 'I think, therefore I am' seems a bit tautological, that when he says 'I', it is simultaneously implied the cognitive activity of thinking which is necessary for I to recognize myself and to utter 'I'. Also, surely, both 'I' is identical and we are ascribing different activities or states which has the same subject 'I' relied on, and this sounds a bit tautological to me.

Descartes disagrees adamantly with your "surely" ( dangerous word in philosophy). Moreover, it's not a tautology because 'I' by itself doesn't prove anything. Specifically, this is because he has banished all sorts of evidence except his mental activity.

So when I read the critic by Bertrand Russell, I promptly agree. 'If the cogito does not presuppose a substantial self, what then is the epistemic basis for injecting the “I” into the “I think”? Some critics have complained that, in referring to the “I”, Descartes begs the question by presupposing what he means to establish in the “I exist.”(1945, 567)

There are lots of critiques of Descartes. The logical positivist one requires us to backport concerns somewhat foreign to Descartes -- specifically the indexical problems of the "I" that they ran into in trying to translate everything in natural language into logic.

It's not clear that this critique is right either. Why? Simply put, the introspective datum is that there's a self doing some thinking. There's some complexity here, but we could consider what Descartes offers a type of transcendental argument rather than question-begging.

To put it another way, if I read 1.6 x 10 ^ -19 eV and then infer there's an electron, is that question begging? Descartes begins with his datum of introspection -- that there's thinking going on and infers that cetera demonis there must be something that holds those thoughts.

A better version of the objection Russell raises would be to argue introspecting at all is question-begging.

Russell argues that accordingly, “there is pain” and “I am in pain” have different contents, and Descartes is entitled only to the former'

Yes but then apply the transcendental argument Descartes is (possibly making):

  1. There is a pain
  2. pain = ... [some definition of pain]
  3. There must be a pain-bearer / pain-experiencer

But actually at Med 2, Descartes has bracketed out the experience of pain (it won't be back until around Meditation 5).

  • Thank you so much for your detailed explanation. I will digest it over time. – Fatto Lee Feb 14 '15 at 6:42
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It is true that in the argument I [think], therefore I am, any action could replace "think" without changing the structure. However, Descartes' specific claim is that thinking is the one thing he has direct irrefutable proof via personal experience of doing.

In terms of the overall structure of The Meditations he first doubts everything that could possibly be false, he then claims that the reality that he thinks is irrefutable (even if he is utterly mistaken about who is the entity doing the thinking), and he proceeds from that premise to the conclusion that he exists.

"I" is just a marker for whatever entity is thinking. Descartes claims (at this point) no knowledge about any characteristics of "I" other than the fact that it is thinking. You might rephrase his argument as Thought is happening, therefore something that can be called "I" is doing that thinking.

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