I’m not against René Descartes. In fact, I usually defer to pretty much everything the man had to say. But there is one thing he said that I fervidly disagree with, and it happens to be the most famous thing he ever uttered. Je pense, donc je suis, he said. “I think, therefore I am.” (Cogito Ergo Sum, in Latin). This phrase originally appeared in his work Discourse on the Method (1637) but has since go on to be the catchphrase that essentially personifies the whole Age of Enlightenment. The use of reason, Descartes says, is enough to prove our own existence. Philosophically speaking, I get it. The thing is, I feel that here is a rather blatant instance of circular reasoning, a patent no-no in the hallowed halls of philosophy and rationalism. What Descartes is actually saying, it seems to me, is that because he possesses the ability to reason, he must therefore exist as a real, empirical entity. But this, to me, is the same as saying the following: “I possess the ability to run, therefore I have legs.” But that is the same as saying this: “I have legs, therefore I can run.” What has actually been proven here? Nothing. We didn’t came away from the statement learning anything new. The validity of our existence as living entities does not need to be confirmed by the ability to reason out that validity, because if we didn’t exist we wouldn’t be asking the question to begin with! It just seems circular to me. I feel like saying, “Hey Descartes, you know that the instant you opened your mouth to say something, you validated your existence. The instant you even formed the thought to say something, you validated your existence. In fact, the very moment you decided to contemplate your existence, you validated it. Thus, your famous statement, to me, is a bit redundant and categorically overrated. Sorry.”
Besides, do dogs and cats and birds and fucking monkeys not exist? If science is telling the truth (and I’m not sure it is in this particular instance), then animals do not possess the ability to reason. In fact, science asserts that animals don’t even know they’re alive because they don’t know what “being alive” means; they’re just automatons that live on pure instinct and nothing more. (Again, I do not agree with this.) But if that is true, then they don’t even exist at all, at least not if Descartes famous aphorism holds water. If existing requires the ability to reason out one’s own existence, then my cat doesn’t exist. “If Cogito Ergo Sum is a factual statement, your dog is just an illusion, Descartes. As is that lion that’s mauling you to death, or that bird that just shat on you. The bird shit dripping down your shoulder doesn’t actually exist, according to you, because the bird cannot reason out its own existence. Nor, for that matter, can the shit itself.”
Okay, I’m little soap-boxy about this, but still, Descartes is just wrong here. In my opinion, at least.