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Thoughts to reflect on: I think, therefore I am

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Rene Descartes

Arguably, the most famous philosophical quote ever – I think, therefore I am (cogito ergo sum), which is considered to be the foundation of the Modern Philosophy and thought, belongs to the French philosopher Rene Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650). Renatus Cartesius (his Latinized name) was as well a prominent and influential mathematician and scientist, who is the founder of the Cartesian coordinate system, praised as the first systematic bridge between geometry and algebra.


Cogito Ergo Sum

However, Descartes is mostly known for the coinage of the phrase - I think, therefore I am (je pense, donc je suis- in french) and that is not a fortuitous circumstance. He was living in a time of great scientific and cultural uncertainty. It was the period when the spark of the Enlightenment was producing its first flickering beams of thought. An epoch of crucial discoveries and scientific revolutions, which, more or less, led us to the stage we are living in today. Rene Descartes was in search of a new methodology, of a system of thinking that could be certain and reliable. In his 1637's treatise Discourse on Method, he mentioned for the first time the cogito argument, considered as the undoubtful truth, although it was truly developed later on in his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). Nevertheless, in Discourse, Descartes presented the core of his method and the four presumptions, that were going to guide him in his later explorations:

1.One should rely only on what one could clearly and distinctly perceive to be true.

2.One should break down the area that he is trying to study into its simplest possible parts.

3.One should build from the simple to the complex.

4.One should try to make sure that the chain of reasoning from the simplest to the complex is as exhaustive and comprehensive as possible.

Embracing that form of radical skepticism, Descartes doubted everything that his mind was taking for granted. The only thing that he cannot doubt was the fact that he is thinking, or doubting. Therefore, someone should do the thinking, hence the existence of the self. Thought cannot be separated from the self. Taking all that into account, Descartes concluded – I think, therefore I am. That is what he called the first and most sure principle of Philosophy. From that point on, he elaborated the complex edifice of his Meditations and later researches.

Descartes Legacy

Someone might argue that the fact that one is thinking is not a real argument that he exists, or maybe only the thinking itself is existing but not the self or all that is caused by secretions and nervous activity. There are thousands of arguments against the first principle of Descartes' metaphysics and most of them have their right. Nevertheless, his biggest contribution was to undergird and express the important roles of the subjectivity and the self. As would Jean-Paul Sartre asserts, centuries later, all authentic philosophy starts with the acknowledgment of subjectivity. And not only, but every literary and scientific research or exploration, every meaningful act of our everyday endeavors. It wouldn't be possible to revolutionize the world of thought or to produce a piece of art if one hasn't previously explored and expanded his own intellect, comprehension, and senses. In the terms of Carl Gustav Jung, it would be called individuation - to raise awareness of the content of your own unconscious and become your true self. The various ways we perceive the world bring up yet more perspectives to our collective knowledge of the Universe in- and outside us. The Meditations of Rene Descartes are a stage that everyone should go through in order to distinguish certainties from illusions of the mind. Because it is our thoughts and ideas that construct the way we see the world and the only regulator if something goes wrong with it. The work of Cartesius gave a great lesson to the Western world. He traced down one of the biggest mysteries of the human mind. What is the essence of consciousness? What are the self and the body? Is there something that sustains our existence? Is there something sure about our concepts of the world? After all, almost 400 years later, we are still chasing the same philosophical phantoms.

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