This question is derivative of the question here: Could 'cogito ergo sum' possibly be false?

It is noted by authors such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard that there are several assumptions implicit in the formulation: "I think, therefore I am." And the minimal statement that can be made is: "Thought occurs" or "There is doubt"

Now I'm trying to think how can it be that "I" may think, before acknowledging my involvement in that thought. It seems to me that prior to 'owning' the "I" of my perspective, "I" could not have any thoughts. So does this mean that before I can doubt, or think, I must first implicitly or explicitly declare: "I am".

Are the assumptions implicit in "cogito ergo sum" therefore justified? Has any philosopher argued that "cogito ergo sum" is sufficiently justified against detractors?

Bonus points: Is this the primordial "Duality": The I that declares itself and then contemplates the world. vs. The World that produce thoughts, eventually forming an unique perspective that can be said to constitute an "I"?

  • The basic assumption is : "if there is action, then there is an agent". Thus, from the fact that I'm aware of my action of thinking, I can imemdiately be aware that I'm the subject of the thinking action (I'm the agent). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Sep 14 at 10:56
  • At first, the consciousness is involved (intends) so it separates itself from the object. The obiect is thus a pure fact "there" (transcendent) but its possibilities (the meaning) are consiousness own. Primordially, before I'm a subject, I'm my opportunities of (= on the topic of) the object. The agent who "thinks" is thus subjectless at first. Then comes cogito which is a reflective act to create a second object called I or subject "who would think the thought" - its thinking is an illusion, it is passive. "I" is just another object out there in the world. No so called "inner world" exist. – ttnphns Sep 14 at 11:31
  • @ttnphns But what is 'thinking' then, merely computational/algorithmic? For what purpose would such an agent 'invent' "a second object called I"? Another formulation by Descartes is: "we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt...." So perhaps to doubt is the purpose of "I"? – christo183 Sep 14 at 12:02
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Would you say then that for instance Nietzsche would deny that an "agent" is necessary for an "action" to occur? And how would that answer impact the supposed presumptions in "cogito ergo sum"? – christo183 Sep 14 at 12:03
  • christo183, one useful way to classify thinking is positional (positing) and nonpositional (nonpositing) thinking. The important idea I wanted to express in my comment was that "positional thinking of an object is at the same time nonpositional [objectless] thinking of oneself" (Sartre, The transcendence of the Ego). – ttnphns Sep 14 at 12:44

Nice question.

Descartes' 'cogito' axiom reduces to 'I Am' and he could have just said this for the same effect. As the poet Paul Valery says, 'Sometimes I think, sometimes I Am'.

If you check out the Bible Genesis 3 you'll see that God calls himself 'I Am'. ('Tell them 'I Am' sent you'). For the mystic this is the state of 'I Am' that is prior to thought. This 'I Am' is proved by 'I think' but if we stop thinking it remains.

Regarding the point Omar makes about Buddhism. Intentional consciousness is not 'I Am' but by definition is directed elsewhere. If we begin to see that the 'I Am' of our deepest consciousness is independent of intentional consciousness then we are beginning to see the distinction between self and Self that is so endlessly discussed in mysticism. Take away thoughts and concepts and the self evaporates to reveal the Self, which would be the 'I Am' of the Grail experience and the unchanging Reality that is the source of our 'self'.

Are the assumptions implicit in "cogito ergo sum" therefore justified? I would say there are no assumptions. Perhaps he assumes the reality of the 'I' when he need not but the axiom works anyway. I'd rather say he overcooks the goose since it would be unnecessary to think in order to to be.

If he assumes the reality of the individual 'I' of the self then this is not a justified assumption but it would not matter much. If he simply notes its appearance than this would be enough to prove 'I Am'. The subtlety for a Buddhist would be that the 'I' of 'I think' would not be the same as the 'I' of 'I Am'. They would be respectively the self and the Self. Even so 'I think' would prove 'I Am' since the former would be dependent on the latter.

There would be no 'primordial duality'. This phrase would be an oxymoron. Intentional consciousness would not be primordial. What would be primordial is the unity of consciousness and for this we would have to abandon dualism for non-dualism. The fist duality would be created with the first instance of intentional consciousness, which would be emergent and reducible in metaphysics.

This is a rather rushed and possibly unrigorous sketch of the answer given by the 'mystical theology', the 'primordial cosmology' or 'Perennial philosophy, for which 'I Am' would be fundamental.

"So does this mean that before I can doubt, or think, I must first implicitly or explicitly declare: "I am"?" It seems to me the answer is yes, well spotted, and I'd suggest this is an idea that deserves a lot of thought.

  • 1
    This is nice: 'Sometimes I think, sometimes I Am' - thanks. I think what Descartes was going for was the proof of "self". While 'Self' would need no statement to affirm its being, it is also not differentiated enough to make a declaration like "I think" or "I am". In this light the 'primordial duality' I'm wondering about would be the first schism (or even mechanism), of differentiation between The One and The Other. – christo183 Sep 14 at 11:35
  • @christo183 - It seems we are on the same page. I would likewise suggest the differentiation begins with subject-object and the first distinction. This would be the first instance of symmetry-breaking except that all division would be illusory and not fundamental. (By the way I found that quote of Valery's in Dennett's book on consciousness as I skipped through. which is somewhat ironic). I'd agree about your first duality but would not call it primordial or fundamental but emergent or arising from Unity. This would be the orthodox view among those who study consciousness. – PeterJ Sep 14 at 15:50

What I know from Buddhism is that receptions (visual, sensual, auditory, states, thoughts) hit you. You are not these receptions.

So, for example, if you fell off of a cliff and your leg broke, you feel pain but you say there is pain. You feel stressed. You say there is stress. You get a thought. You say there is a thought of X. They come and go like a cloud. Consciousness of their existence arises due to impersonal causes. You felt the taste of a pizza because the pizza was in your mouth. You put it in your mouth because of the existence of a need or intention to eat not because YOU wanted to eat.

You just get this sense of "I am" because of a need to feel accomplished. However it's an illusion.

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  • So the 'receptions' of the world, or the objects that cause them, converge and culminate into a particular perspective that is "you"? But, I wonder, could that particular perspective, that "you", that 'chooses' to identify with a particular continuum of events witnessed from that particular perspective, could that "you" be said to be real unless, or if, that "you" declares "I am"? – christo183 Sep 14 at 10:53
  • @christo183 - I'd say not. I'd rather say that the 'I' of 'I Am' is real but not the 'I' that identifies with thoughts and objects and is separate from other 'I's. The Oracle at Delphi could have said 'Know the I of I Am, for that is thyself'. . – PeterJ Sep 14 at 11:09
  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing if you wish. You may see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. Hopefully the edit made the answer clearer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Sep 14 at 13:01
  • @christo183 That "You" doesn't exist its simply an illusion its like when you are a child that just experienced darkness and thinks there are beasts in it then when you grow up and discover its just no light .There is no self.... there is just experience.The sense of you comes from the subconscious which is based on instinct awareness of the experience is liberating and unique to humans over animals – Omar Ahmed Sep 14 at 23:56
  • An illusion that thinks it is real, and yet does not in fact exist? I can see how this would solve any number of philosophical problems. Do you perhaps have any further reading/references on this position? - And by the way, welcome to Philosophy SE. – christo183 Sep 15 at 15:40

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