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"I think, therefore I exist" -- Rene Descartes
Philosophy, An introduction to the Art of Wondering - Sixth Edition -- pages 36/37 | 1994 | James L. Christian

Posted on 11/04/2002 7:52:21 AM PST by thinktwice

Descartes was a geometrician. He found only in mathematics and geometry the certainty that he required. Therefore, he used the methods of geometry to think about the world. Now, in geometry, one begins with a search for axioms, simple undeniable truths – for example, the axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. On the foundations of such “self-evident” propositions, whole geometrical systems can be built.

Following his geometrical model, Descartes proceeds to doubt everything – de onmibus dubitandum. He will suspend belief in the knowledge he learned from childhood, all those things “which I allowed myself in youth to be persuaded without having inquired into their truth.” Doubt will be his method, a deliberate strategy for proceeding toward certainty. (Descartes is a doubter not by nature, but by necessity. What he really wants is secure understanding so he can stop doubting.)

Descartes finds that he has no trouble doubting the existence of real objects/events – our senses too easily deceive us. And we can doubt the existence of a supernatural realm of reality – figments and fantasies are too often conjured by our native imaginations. But now his geometrical model pays off: in trying to doubt everything, he discovers something that he can’t doubt. What he can’t doubt is that he is doubting. Obviously, I exist if I doubt that I exist. My doubt that I exist proves that I exist, for I have to exist to be able to doubt. Therefore I can’t doubt that I exist. Hence, there is at least one fact in the universe that is beyond doubt. “I am, I exist is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it.

Descartes thus becomes the author of the most famous phrase in Western philosophy: Cognito ergo sum, or, in his original French, Je pense, donc je suis. – I think, therefore I exist. With roots in St. Augustine, this is certainly one of the catchiest ideas yet created by the human mind.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: descartes; existence; inconsequentiality; maudlinmumbling; myheadhurts; philosophy; proof; renedescartes; startthebombing; winecuresthis
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"... the most famous phrase in Western philosophy: Cognito ergo sum."

Posted for reference and discussion.

1 posted on 11/04/2002 7:52:21 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: thinktwice
Terry McAwful refutes this philosophy.
2 posted on 11/04/2002 7:54:07 AM PST by DocCincy
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To: thinktwice
Cognito ergo sum
Close. It's Cogito ergo sum.
3 posted on 11/04/2002 7:55:57 AM PST by eastsider
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To: eastsider
You are right ... Thank you.
4 posted on 11/04/2002 7:57:26 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: thinktwice
Few know how Descartes died. He walked into a bar, sat down dejected, and when asked by the bartender if he wanted a drink, Descartes replied "I think not" and disappeared in a puff of logic.
5 posted on 11/04/2002 7:58:55 AM PST by ctdonath2
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To: DocCincy
My doubt that I exist proves that I exist, for I have to exist to be able to doubt.
So you exist as a thing-which-doubts (i.e. you exist in what sense?). All the rest is tenuous supposition.
6 posted on 11/04/2002 7:59:23 AM PST by Asclepius
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To: thinktwice
Why not sum ergo cogito?

Descartes admitted the idea of infinity as real. Hobbes wouldn't. In the Meditations, Descartes has reasons: his own finitude implied divine infinity.

7 posted on 11/04/2002 8:00:21 AM PST by cornelis
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

To: thinktwice
I've never thought the "I" in "I exist" is the "thing" that does the thinking. The "I" is actually an object of consciousness. You can never catch consciousness by itself, but rather consciousness is always consciousness of something, in this case, "me." The "I" that Descartes talks about isn't actually doing the thinking, rather, it is an object of a pre-reflective consciouesness that cannot really be captured. It's always out of our reach.

But anyway, now for something completely different...
9 posted on 11/04/2002 8:02:15 AM PST by BikerNYC
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To: ctdonath2
That is funny; isn't Free Republic grand?
10 posted on 11/04/2002 8:04:04 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: DocCincy
McAwful denies that most people think. Some can. Some Don't.
11 posted on 11/04/2002 8:04:31 AM PST by c-five
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To: thinktwice
I think, therefore I exist

In the spirit of doubting or analyzing I contend that it would be better to say: "I am aware, therefore I exist". Thought/intelligence could originate from our Source and just be manifested through us. I like: "God thinks, therefore we exist".

12 posted on 11/04/2002 8:06:52 AM PST by Semper
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To: BikerNYC
Did you know that the plot in Ayn Rand's Anthem, involves a society where use of the word "I" is totally banned.
13 posted on 11/04/2002 8:07:42 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: BikerNYC
I've never thought the "I" in "I exist" is the "thing" that does the thinking

As indicated in my post #12, we are in agreement.

14 posted on 11/04/2002 8:10:44 AM PST by Semper
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To: Semper
Thought/intelligence could originate from our Source and just be manifested through us.

Why would an all-knowing God send us out ... so poorly equipped?

15 posted on 11/04/2002 8:12:23 AM PST by thinktwice
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Comment #16 Removed by Moderator

To: thinktwice
"... the most famous phrase in Western philosophy: Cognito ergo sum."

And the most disastrous. Of course, his axiom assumes the truthfulness of its terms. It is impossible to doubt the terms with which one thinks. Therefore truth (which exists) precedes reasoning or thought.

Descartes finds that he has no trouble doubting the existence of real objects/events – our senses too easily deceive us.

Also false. Our senses do not deceive although they can deteriorate. For example, I can look at a fake apple and think it real until I pick it up or feel or taste it. The sense that perceives and makes sense out of the input of the five senses is called in Thomism the "common sense."

The common sense has the following functions:(Regarding these functions, see Aristotle, De anima, III, 2 (426b8-427a15); De somno 2 (455a5). cf: St. Thomas, In de anima III, lect.3, nr. 599 ff.)

1. To know all the sensations of the external senses which are known separately by the external senses.
2. To compare and distinguish these qualities, e.g., color and taste.
3. To be aware of the operations of the external senses.
4. To distinguish the real objects from the images of the fantasy, e.g., to know whether we are dreaming, and to realize that our dreams are not reality.


17 posted on 11/04/2002 8:17:30 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: thinktwice
Obviously, I exist if I doubt that I exist. My doubt that I exist proves that I exist, for I have to exist to be able to doubt. Therefore I can’t doubt that I exist. Hence, there is at least one fact in the universe that is beyond doubt. “I am, I exist is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it.
Cogito ergo sum was Descartes' first axiom, and solved the problem of absolute skepticism and prove the existence of a physical world. To solve the problem of solipsism, he repeated Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God (which was later refuted by Kant).

If providing a foundation for science was the intellectual context of Descartes' "Meditations," why did he spend so much time discussing God? The intellectual context of the "Meditations" was that the Aristotelian world view was being challenged by the scientict revolution sweeping Europe that began with Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus." Descartes hoped to provide a foundation for science, with the implicit goal of harmonizing science and religion and convincing the leaders of his day that they could believe in a new world view while maintaining their traditional theology.

18 posted on 11/04/2002 8:20:25 AM PST by eastsider
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To: thinktwice
Why would an all-knowing God send us out ... so poorly equipped?

For the same reason God made the world flat. In other words, God did not send us out ... so poorly equipped; we are just unaware of God's reality. We are living in our "flat world"/flawed existence because of our limited perception and our acceptance of a mythical existence separated from an all-knowing, perfect God.

19 posted on 11/04/2002 8:22:59 AM PST by Semper
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To: thinktwice
I haven't read that book. I think "I" is a useful word, but I just don't think it is the thing that does the thinking. Consciousness is, but by the time we start thinking about what is doing the thinking, we have let consciousness slip through our fingers and are only aware of the objects of consciousness, those things that consciousness is thinking about.
20 posted on 11/04/2002 8:25:02 AM PST by BikerNYC
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To: thinktwice

I think, therefore I'm a FReeper !!!


21 posted on 11/04/2002 8:37:35 AM PST by GeekDejure
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To: thinktwice; eastsider
What's the Latin for, "I lurk, therefore I am?"
22 posted on 11/04/2002 8:39:55 AM PST by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: GeekDejure
You're right! Liberals don't think, they prefer to "feel."
23 posted on 11/04/2002 8:41:47 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: GeekDejure
Cogito ergo Freeperum.
24 posted on 11/04/2002 8:46:24 AM PST by ZeitgeistSurfer
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To: Aquinasfan
Our senses do not deceive..

Of course they do, as your example of a fake apple indicates. As you said, they deceive and limit until the deception is exposed. For thousands of years human consciousness perceived and believed that the universe emanated from our local environment. That false belief persisted until we were able to view things from a much more enlightened perspective. It seems foolish to believe that the senses are no longer deceiving us. Ultimate truth is most certainly not how it currently appears to us through the senses.

25 posted on 11/04/2002 8:48:30 AM PST by Semper
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To: thinktwice
I think it was Rand who had the best comment on this - it shouldn't be "I think, therefore I am" - it should be "I am, therefore I will think." I prefer this because it implies that people have the responsibility to actually use their heads.
26 posted on 11/04/2002 8:57:16 AM PST by DeRATted
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To: BikerNYC
I haven't read that book. I think "I" is a useful word, but I just don't think it is the thing that does the thinking. Consciousness is, but by the time we start thinking about what is doing the thinking, we have let consciousness slip through our fingers and are only aware of the objects of consciousness, those things that consciousness is thinking about.

At least for Descartes, the quest for certitude requires initially dismissing the entire order of sense and bodily experience, even my experience of myself as a body. The putting into question of the entire physical order allows the pristine intelligibility of the order of mind to come to the fore. We know ourselves better than other things and we know out intellect better than our body. The intellectual self is known immediately and transparently. Following Aristotle, and in contrast to Descartes, Aquinas urges a methodological retreat in our pursuit of self-knowledge. There is no possibility of gaining immediate, introspective access to the intellect or the soul. The route to self-knowledge is indirect, oblique. To understand the essence of any species, we must begin with the objects naturally pursued by members of the species in question, then move back from these to examine the activities, powers, and, finally, the essence. The indirect route to self-knowledge follows from the fact that the intellect is a potency made actual only by knowing things. But a power is knowable in so far as it is in act. Thus, there is no possibility of knowing the intellect until it has been actualized by knowing something other than itself.

The indirect and mediated path to knowledge of the human soul does not diminish the importance of that knowledge. Indeed, the general investigation of soul culminates with an analysis of what is proper to human souls. Thus we find Aquinas explicating in great detail Aristotle's comparison of sensation and understanding and his argument that intellect so differs from sense that it must be an immaterial power, whose operation transcends every bodily organ. Like sense, the intellect is said to be passive with respect to sensible objects. It is a potency actualized by receiving the forms of things. But there are different sense of passivity and clarification of them is crucial to a comparison of sense and intellect. Aquinas writes:

To be passive may be taken in three ways. First, in its most strict sense, when from a thing is taken something which belongs to it by virtue either of its nature, or of its proper inclination, as when ...a man becomes ill. Secondly, less strictly, a thing is said to be passive when something either suitable or unsuitable is taken away from it. And in this way not only he who is ill is said to be passive, but also he who is healed.... Thirdly, in a wide sense a thing is said to be passive, from the very fact that what is in potency to something receives that to which it was in potency without being deprived of anything. And accordingly whatever passes from potency to act may be said to be passive, even when it is perfected. And thus with us to understand is to be passive (ST, I, 79, 2).

27 posted on 11/04/2002 9:06:19 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: thinktwice
'sum' means 'I am' (Latin)
'suis' means 'am' (French)
Both have root at 'being'.
The concept of existence, especially the Philosophic notion (seperate and distinct from the concept of 'being') wasn't really bandied about until the 19th century. In fact, it grew out of the very questions Descartes raised.
The implication is that Descartes settled the questions he created by saying "I think therefore I exist" when, in fact, he said "I think, therefore I am."
No, I won't go into all of the nitty, gritty details here. Suffice it to say that an essentialist could never even phrase things in terms an existentialist would consider a worthwhile format.
By raising the question of 'being', the next question became "What is the nature of 'being'?" Many people made the jump from being to existence, some did not. Called 'existentialists' the problem before them had more to do with the nature of this existence and how we come to know things (empiricism) and less to do with the empirical certainty Descartes asserted.
Don't muddle things by changing the definition of the word after the fact. That's very clinton-esque.
28 posted on 11/04/2002 9:07:44 AM PST by dyed_in_the_wool
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To: Aquinasfan
"Straw" -- Aquinas
29 posted on 11/04/2002 9:09:55 AM PST by dyed_in_the_wool
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To: thinktwice
..one of the catchiest ideas yet created by the human mind.

It may "appear" that the human mind creates ideas but it may be that just like a computer does not create ideas, our bio-computers do not create ideas but just manifest intelligence emanating from a Source beyond our human perception.

30 posted on 11/04/2002 9:10:58 AM PST by Semper
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To: rudeboy666
we cannot deny that the structure of the arguments from the 6th Meditation are still relavent in the Philosophy of Mind.

Beyond Good and Evil, F. Nietzsche, First Section.
Done.
That was easy.
31 posted on 11/04/2002 9:11:44 AM PST by dyed_in_the_wool
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To: Semper
I'm a democrat, therefore I tax.
32 posted on 11/04/2002 9:11:45 AM PST by appeal2
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To: Aquinasfan
The Cartesian credo of the current rationalist/materialist religion is "I think, therefore I am."

But how can one demonstrate the fact that one thinks?

They cannot. It is impossible to "prove" that one exists, because it is impossible to "prove" that one thinks. We directly experience our own existence -- but it is impossible to demonstrate that existence scientifically. We all take our own existence on faith.

Therefore, even rationalism is based on unprovable faith.

B-chan

33 posted on 11/04/2002 9:12:24 AM PST by B-Chan
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To: thinktwice
"... the most famous phrase in Western philosophy: Cognito ergo sum."

Or, as Ambrose Bierce said in the Devil's Dictionary, what he should have said is:

Cigito, cogito, ergo, cogito sum

"I think I think, therefore, I think I am!"

34 posted on 11/04/2002 9:13:52 AM PST by DrNo
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To: DrNo
Oops!

Cogito, cogito, ergo cogito sum

35 posted on 11/04/2002 9:15:38 AM PST by DrNo
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To: ctdonath2
L.O.L. - You just made my morning!
36 posted on 11/04/2002 9:16:29 AM PST by Vetnet
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To: appeal2
That works.
37 posted on 11/04/2002 9:18:07 AM PST by Semper
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To: Semper
I'm surprised that no one has posted "The Philosophers Song" yet. Don't look at ME!
38 posted on 11/04/2002 9:21:40 AM PST by babaloo999
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To: thinktwice
Leaving aside the merits of Cartesian philosophy, Descartes was a heartless bastard who infamously nailed the paws of his wife's dog to a table and vivisected the animal without any concern for its pain. In a letter to a friend Descartes wrote: "They [animals] merely went through the external motions which in man were symptomatic of pain, without experiencing any of it's mental sensation."

Accordingly, Descartes decided to open up these "beast machines" to see just how they worked. Apart from dissecting dead animals and attending public vivisections, Descartes enjoyed practising vivisection. Amongst other things, rabbits were utilised by Descartes. The purpose of this was to observe the operations of the heart and the movement of the blood in the arteries.

According to Rupke, Descartes 'Beast Machine' theory provided a twofold advantage. It protected scientists' mechanistic view of both animals and human beings against charges of heresy, and protected the reserved immortality for man, which was the favoured doctrine promoted by Catholicism.

Descartes theory, therefore, entered medical and certain ecclesiastical circles. Two clergymen, Father Nicholas Malebranche and the theologian Antoine Arnauld, emphasised their commitment to Cartesian ideology by practising severe cruelty to animals. Malebranche, who took dualism one step further than Descartes, claiming that such action as the movement of a limb was a direct result of God's intervention, is said to have demonstrated his commitment to automata theory by kicking a pregnant dog, and declaring when reproached: "Don't you know that it has no feelings at all"? Indeed, Nicolas Fontaine, a secretary of prominent Jansenist Fathers eventually reported the equally violent Arnauld, to the monastery Port Royal.

Descartes legacy, though, had beaten him to it. Fontaine reports: "The solitaries
beat their dogs with the utmost indifference, and laughed at people who still
maintained they could feel pain...They nailed the poor animals to boards by four
paws to dissect them while still alive, in order to watch the circulation of the
blood, which was a great subject of discussion." (Fontaine quoted in Rupke,
27:1990)
39 posted on 11/04/2002 9:26:30 AM PST by mg39
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To: dyed_in_the_wool
Anselm's ontological argument assumes that existence is one of God's perfections. If a supremely perfect being didn't exist, then it wouldn't be supremely perfect, which is a contradiction; ergo, it must exist.

A standard way of criticizing the ontological argument is to claim that the argument rests on a false assumption; that is, it rests on the assumption that existence is a perfection. Kant claimed that existence is not a property at all, the way colors or shapes are properties, but rather an utterly different concept.

Kant's view was accepted by the framers of standard symbolic logic. In standard symbolic logic existence doesn't appear as a property at all; rather, it's a so-called quantifier. So, if one were to try to articulate the ontological argument using standard 20th-century symbolic logic, the articulation would fail because that logic doesn't allow for existence as a property.

40 posted on 11/04/2002 9:27:30 AM PST by eastsider
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To: thinktwice
On a lighter note: I used to have a skunk under my house that I never actually saw. I knew it was there because my cat got sprayed a couple of time.

Its motto: I stink, therefore I am.

By the way, don't ever try to bathe a cat in tomato juice. Your bathroom will end up looking like a scene from "Psycho"

41 posted on 11/04/2002 9:28:25 AM PST by TX Bluebonnet
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To: Semper
But his whole concept was working out from the only thing that didn't ever have to be proven. The position he started from was that everything around you could be an illusion, the very body you live in could be a mental construct, to put it in modern terms, we could all be in The Matrix. But he knew, with absolute certainty, that he existed because he could contemplate this in the first place. The fact that he could think proved beyond any possible doubt that somewhere somehow in some form he existed. From there he went on to prove that everything else (including God, or at least something God-like) existed. From the starting position he was going for God was one of those external "things" that he couldn't be sure of (remember, his very body was on that list, it's not that he was being anti-religious he was looking for proof of reality on it's most basic level).

It's really a very interesting logical excercise. Useless, but very interesting.
42 posted on 11/04/2002 9:35:07 AM PST by discostu
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To: Semper
our bio-computers do not create ideas but just manifest intelligence emanating from a Source beyond our human perception.

If so, you would -- apparently -- hold that Hitler's idea to eradicate Jews emanated from a Source beyond our human perception.

43 posted on 11/04/2002 9:36:20 AM PST by thinktwice
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To: Aquinasfan
"Consciousness is a being whose existence posits its essence, and inversely it is consciousness of a being, whose essence implies its existence; that is, in which appearance lays claim to being. Being is everywhere...We must understand that this being is no other than the transphenomenal being of phenomena and not a noumenal being which is hidden behind them...It requires simply that the being of that which appears does not exist only in so far as it appears. The transphenomenal being of what exists for consciousness is itself in itself.... Consciousness is the revealed-revelation of existents, and existents appear before consciousness on the foundation of their being...Consciousness can always pass beyond the existent, not toward its being, but toward the meaning of this being. A fundamental characteristic of its transcendence is to transcend the ontic toward the ontological. The meaning of the being of the existent in so far as it reveals itself to consciousness is the phenomenon of being...This elucidation of the meaning of being is valid only for the being of the phenomenon....For being is the being of becoming and due to this fact it is beyond becoming. It is what it is. This means that by itself it can not even be what it is not...It is full positivity. It knows no otherness; it never posits itself as other-than-another-being. It can support no connection with the other. It is itself indefinitely and it exhausts itself in being...Consciousness absolutely can not derive from anything, either from another being, or from a possibility, or from a necessary law. Uncreated, without reason for being, without any connection with another being, being-in-itself is de trop for eternity." (Being and Nothingness, 1943)
44 posted on 11/04/2002 9:44:56 AM PST by BikerNYC
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To: discostu
Descartes was trying to provide a foundation for knowledge, and the existence of God is a keystone in Descartes' foundation for knowledge. Once it's established that God exists, it then can be established that clear and distinct ideas are true because if they weren't true, God would be a deceiver.

God, then, plays this essential role in Descartes' axiomatic philosophy: God exists; God is not a deceiver; therefore, clear and distinct ideas are true.

45 posted on 11/04/2002 9:49:57 AM PST by eastsider
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To: discostu
the very body you live in could be a mental construct, to put it in modern terms, we could all be in The Matrix.

Uh, the 'Matrix' was a ripoff of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, from The Republic. Not exactly a 'new' idea.
And many question whether Descartes ever solved his problem,or even stated it correctly.
Finally, mental exercise is a lot of things, but not useless. Unless, of course, you're in an environment where thinking is considered useless.
46 posted on 11/04/2002 9:51:47 AM PST by dyed_in_the_wool
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To: eastsider
Right, but you have to build to God. If you don't "know" there's a world in the first place you can't have God the Creator. If all of everything is an illusion (not a lie necessarily, there's a difference) then so would be God. It works like all mathematical proofs, you've got to start with that which is so absolutely obviously patently true that it doesn't need tobe proven. The only thing you have absolute knowledge of is your own thoughts. You think, this is a given, this proves that you exist, from there more things can be proven. It's not until we have proven that there is a reality we live in that we can even begin to prove that said reality was made by God.
47 posted on 11/04/2002 10:07:49 AM PST by discostu
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To: discostu
The only thing you have absolute knowledge of is your own thoughts. You think, this is a given, this proves that you exist, from there more things can be proven. It's not until we have proven that there is a reality we live in that we can even begin to prove that said reality was made by God.
The only reality Descartes needed to "prove" was his own existence. Once he did that, then he went on to "prove" the existence of God via the ontological argument. If both Descartes' existence and God's existence could proven, the rest of reality (i.e., everything other than Descartes) would necessarily exist because God is not a deceiver.
48 posted on 11/04/2002 10:17:00 AM PST by eastsider
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To: dyed_in_the_wool
Not only that, it was a rip-off of a really good Twilight Zone episode. ;)

I never said Matrix was new, actually I think Matrix kind of sucked, a good looking but incredibly stupid movie. I was drawing a parallel to help illustrate for people. Neo runs into a situation that was basically what Descartes was working with as a thought experiment: the idea that the only thing truly "real" was his own thoughts, that indeed he existed but nothing else that he'd thought of as reality actually did. The problem with the Matrix is that Neo is effectively god in that illusionary reality, and he got to find out what was really real and it totally sucked, and he chose to break the machine anyway. No person faced with that situation would do what he did, there's no reason for it, thus everything after that decision was just dumb. And as an audience member my temporary suspension of disbelief was terminally shattered never to come back... but the special effects were really cool. Great movie to watch with the sound off.

Different concept of useless. The end result of Descarte's thought experiment was really nothing, he wound up back where he started, that indeed reality was real. While yes mental exercise is good, this particular mental exercise was no more innately useful than any other. It accomplished nothing, but it's fun to work with. People shouldn't be so uptight about the word useless, there's lots of useless things in this world that I wouldn't give up for anything. They serve no real purpose, but they're fun so what the heck.
49 posted on 11/04/2002 10:18:54 AM PST by discostu
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To: discostu
It's not until we have proven that there is a reality we live in

If your existence is a proven fact, that fact is a truth within the self-same reality ... that you don't seem to know exists.

"Truth is the recognition of reality." -- Ayn Rand

50 posted on 11/04/2002 10:20:17 AM PST by thinktwice
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