Descartes’ philosophy begins in doubt. The first step towards certainty, the Archimedean point from which the whole structure will grow, is the discovery of the existence of the self. At the beginning of Meditation II, reflecting on the evil genius posited at the end of Meditation I, Descartes observes: ‘Let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something… I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind’. In the earlier Discourse (Part IV) and the later Principles of Philosophy (Part I §7 ), this proposition has the more familiar form, ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist,’ or, ‘ego cogito, ergo sum,’ in its Latin formulation. Here, it is called the Cogito Argument.
There is considerable discussion about how exactly Descartes thought this argument functions. There are two strains of interpretation that derive directly from his texts. In the Second Replies, Descartes observes that ‘when we become aware that we are thinking things, this is a primary notion which is not derived by means of any syllogism’. This suggests that the Cogito Argument is known immediately by direct intuition. In the Principles (Part I §10), however, Descartes notes that before knowing the Cogito, we must grasp not only the concepts of thought, existence and certainty, but also the proposition that ‘it is impossible that that which thinks should not exist’. This suggests that the Cogito is a kind of syllogism, in which I infer my existence from the fact that I am thinking, and with the premise that whatever thinks must exist. Recent analytic philosophers have also been attracted to the Cogito, trying to understand its obvious allure through speech act theory and theories of demonstratives (Hintikka 1967; Markie 1992 ). These accounts, however, are distant from anything that Descartes himself conceived.
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