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Cogito Ergo Sum: Descartes' Proof of the human soul.

By: Andy Montgomery E-mail Exec-PC: (414)-789-4210

I really have a new appreciation for just how much I don't know after reading Descartes' "Part Four: Proofs of the Existence of God and the Human Soul" from *Discourse on Method*. I mean, Descartes was about the age I am now when he wrote this. FER' GOD'S SAKE! My greatest accomplishments to date consist of having one of my poems published in Fish-Rap . Oh well, some people are just over-achievers. I spent most of my twenty-fourth year going to clubs to see or work with rock and blues bands. Rene' Descartes spent his proving the existence of himself, God, and the soul; did a spiffy job of it, too. After a skillful placation of the church in line one of the introductory paragraph, Descartes sets a straight course into the "heart of an impenetrable darkness", as it were: what is truth? He reasoned that throughout the course of history, philosophers have sat around and tried to define truth, but nobody ever hit a home-run. Descartes looked at it and said, in effect: "That's too hard--plus, it hasn't worked so far. It would be easier to define what truth isn't. Get rid of all that stuff, and what's left over must be truth." To do this, Descartes started doubting everything... kinda. He was working within the following guideline: if it's true, it will be obviously so, and cannot be doubted. So, try and doubt it. If you can, then it ain't truth! His first doubt was his senses: "Thus, as our senses deceive us at times [are doubtable], I was ready to suppose that nothing was at all the way our senses represented them to be." That ruled out everything that he could observe. Next, he put the kibosh on prior human reason: "As there are men who make mistakes in reasoning even on the simplest topics... I judged that I was as liable to error as any other, and rejected as false all the reasoning which I had previously accepted as valid demonstration." Descartes here says that because he's no better than any other guy, he has the same chance to screw up and therefore must doubt his ability to hold as certain anything that he has been shown to be true. This must be done due to his own chance to error as well as other people's. Finally, Descartes wound up doubting all of reality: "As the same precepts which we have when awake may come to us when asleep without their being true, I decided to suppose that nothing that had ever entered my mind was more real than the illusion of my dreams." More simply put: you can doubt the ability of the human mind, because it too can fool you. You can always ask yourself, "Is this reality, or just a dream?" If it has any doubt, then it can't be a certainty. Well then, WHAT IN THE HELL IS LEFT? Descartes crap-canned the whole shootin' match! Everything that can be observed, thought, or reasoned is doubtable and must be tossed out the window in the search for 100% certainty. But there is something left, of course... COLLEGE-TOE AIRHEAD SOUP! Great with pumpernickel (jk). Descartes hit upon the biggie. After all of this doubting, the one thing that could not be doubted was that he was the thing that was doing the doubting. This was the bottom floor of the building. The foundation. He was undoubtedly thinking [ergo] he was undoubtedly existing: But I soon noticed that while I thus wished to think everything false, it was necessarily true that I who thought so was something. Since this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so firm and assured

that all the most extravagant suppositions of the sceptics were unable to shake it, I judged that I could safely accept it as the first principal of the philosophy I was seeking. Now we're cookin'! Descartes knew with 100% certainty that he was a thinking thing that existed. But what kind of thing was he? This is the other humongo point to Descartes' terrifyingly simple writings. He states that while he can easily imagine that he had no physical nature, and even that no physical universe even existed, he could never imagine that he had no ability to think. Just by the simple fact that he was trying to imagine his body with no mind, he proved to himself over and over that he was thinking. Cool, eh? Kind of like a mental Chinese finger-prison: the harder you think about not being able to think, the more you prove to yourself that you're thinking. This little concept has come to be known as Descartes' Mind/Body Dichotomy: ...therefore I concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature was only to think, and which, to exist, has no need of space nor of any material thing. Thus it follows that this ego, this soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body and is easier to know than the latter, and that even if the body were not, the soul would not cease to be all that it now is. This distinction between the psyche and the body finally freed the scientific world from the oppression of the church. Now all of the scientists could say "No, no... I'm only examining the physical stuff around me. I'm not trying to knock God or anything like that. All I'm doing is having a look around!" These two differences--the mind and the body--are the melons that Descartes dreamed of. Finally, since Descartes had so much fun finding this truth, Cogito Ergo Sum, he wanted to be able to recognize other truths that he might come across in order to build his new personal philosophy. But how could he do it? you ask yourself. (Well, you might not ask that, but other people do...) He reasoned that if the statement "I think, therefore I am" is true because it's the simplest of statements and can't be doubted, then any statement that is as simple and doubtless as that statement must be true. Cogito Ergo Sum could now be employed as a measuring stick to find true statements. All in all, it still blows my melon to think that Descartes came up with this stuff while he was barely out of his philosophical diapers. It makes me wonder about philosophy as a whole. I mean, we had a lot of philosophy before that, and then this young punk comes along and proves that he exists and that he has a soul and that he can think and all of that cool stuff. If he could do that, does that mean that we could get another Descartes coming along some day telling us that we don't exist? The future is the youth...