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Descartes: I Think, Therefore I Am

1137 words - 5 pages

Through skepticism and doubt Descartes raised a simple yet complex question, what can I be certain of if I doubt everything? Struck by all of the falsehoods he had come to believe, Descartes set out to determine through reason what was certain and able to exist beyond doubt. In order for his habitual opinions and false knowledge to not interfere with his ability to perceive things as they truly were, Descartes doubted everything. In terms of the physical body, our senses tell us that there are external ligaments and matter that come together to produce a body. However, when we are skeptical and doubt all previous knowledge, we are then deceived by our senses and the physical body cannot be proven to exist. Even while doubting the existence of the physical body, Descartes was still able to project skepticism and have thoughts of doubt. There must have been a thinking thing thinking those doubts. For this reason, Descartes concluded that though he may not be certain that the physical body exists, he can be certain that he in fact does exist, “I am, then, in the strict since only a thinking thing that thinks,” (Cottingham 5). Thought has proven to be inseparable from “I” and there must be a self that exists. While nonmaterial, self is the intellect and faculty of thought. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes concluded to be the single most certain fact and closest statement to an ultimate truth. We can doubt all previous knowledge and beliefs, but we cannot assume that we who are able to have thoughts such as doubts, do not exist.
Using his new concept of self as a thinking thing, Descartes further demonstrates this concept with a melting piece of wax. All of the features of the wax such as its smell, taste, sight, and touch that he acquired through the senses are nonexistent after the wax has melted. Our senses would tell us that after the wax had melted it was no longer the same wax. Though after the wax has melted and everything the wax was (its color, taste, and smell) is taken away, there is still left the thought of the wax. However, our intellect, our only certain faculty of reasoning and understanding would tell us that it was the same piece of wax. We know that it is the same piece of wax after it has melted but the flame has caused it to appear differently. If the solid and melted piece of wax are the same, how does the intellect know this? Descartes concluded that his ability to understand the wax was not only through the senses acquired by the physical body but also by the reasoning and understanding of his own intellect. In order to determine what is certain, all previous knowledge and beliefs must be doubted. By doubting everything, the senses acquired by the physical body become unreliable and all is left is the reliable nature of thought and intellect. In order for those things in which we become aware of through the senses to have meaning there must be thoughts. The certain belief that thoughts do exist allows for the...

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