A Note on Cogito

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Abstract A Note to Cogito Les Jones Blackburn College Previous submissions include -Intention, interpretation and literary theory, a first lookWittgenstein and St Augustine A DiscussionAreas of Interest – History of Western Philosophy, Miscellaneous Philosophy, European A Note on Cogito Descartes' brilliance in driving out doubt, and proving the existence of himself as a thinking entity, is well documented. Sartre's critique (or maybe extension) is both apposite and grounded and takes these enquiries on to another level. Let's take a look. 'I think' somehow, for all its power, lacks something. What? Consider what one does when thinking (difficult, but we can try). Implicit in the word 'think', in fact the very essence of the word 'think', is that activity is going on, and if such activity is going on then it must be going on about something, an object, an emotion, a problem,or maybe some dreamlike state, but common to all these is that something is going on. Is that really so? Well, if that wasn't so we would be able to think in a pure state, wouldn't we? But what does a pure state of 'thinking' mean? It can't mean that there isnothing there, because if there were nothing there then no thinking would be taking place. Can it mean that we are thinking of nothing? Well no, because if we are thinking of nothing then we are thinking of something, we are contemplating the notion, or the nature, of nothing. In fact, one can argue that if we talk of something, inthis case nothing or nothingness, then in our head we have some notion of what that is, i.e. something exists in the mind for it to come out of our mouths. Thinking is a recognition of something outside the individual, for the very act of direction, which isan indispensable part of thinking, recognises, must recognise, that there are things to address outside the individual. Something else to bear in mind. According to Sartre human beings are condemned to freedom. Why condemned? Human beings did not choose to be born, but the act ofbeing born also imparts the freedom of which Sartre speaks. Freedom is something which we parrot off as being a sine qua non for the human condition. I believe that's true, but freedom in this sense isn't without its consequences for the individual humanbeing, for individual human beings handle freedom differently. To some it enables them to fly, to others it imparts immense pressures, anguish, heartbreak, unhappiness can all be associated with such freedom. Each individual is responsible for his destiny, for his direction. If someone says that God impelled him, that individual chose his or her God, and chose to obey his or her God. This believer has to sift through the multitude of things that his or her God desire of him or her. All this is fine, so long as we acknowledge what is going on here. Belief in God is, by definition, a belief. Belief, following Wittgenstein, is a language game with its rules and its boundaries. The essential feature of religion as language game are its boundaries, which can be summed up in the word belief. OK, belief has its practises which are its constituent parts, but belief is the boundary between religion and other language games, as the proof constituents are different. Our world is determined by the language used to describe everything that goes on within it. The boundaries of our world are set by the language we use. This might be better put as language gives access to ever expending boundaries. Ever expanding boundaries are only possible by ever expanding thought, and ever expanding thought is only possible by ever expanding directions to our thought brought about through language. It is a fact taken that to be conscious is to think. How could this be otherwise? Consciousness without thought just does not make sense. Imagine a state of consciousness without directional thought. What would it be like? It would be something never experienced, completely out of our understanding. Why? Because understanding itself is a directional thought process. If we say we are going outside our understanding then that is a world of void, and a world of void does not exist. Can such a world be contemplated in our thinking? Well, yes, but then it requires thinking, and thinking requires direction, and such direction requires language. Why does direction require language? Because there is no other way for human beings to articulate a directional thought. Could one point at an image without language? Well, one could have an image in mind, but the essence of saying something about it, of descriptive power, brings us back to the essence, to the power of language to direct. So what of this language of which we speak? Wittgenstein's private language argument points us towards the notion that language itself constantly develops and redevelops through human interaction. Descarte's cogito implies that thinking rules out doubt of one's own existence. But such thinking, to be valid, to make sense, to direct, must develop in a language that has developed, has been verified, by a plurality, by a plurality whose essence is social. Correct use of language symbols, i.e. words, requires that we verify and reverify the accuracy of such symbols. How do we do that? We do that in constant usage, in constant interaction, with other human beings. An individual using a private language could not be understood by others, his symbol system has not been verified by others, his meanings may not be your meanings. It follows from what we have said above that language is constructed, and is continually constructed, in a social context. Given our previous thoughts regarding verification this could not be otherwise. Language has a normative form. All language users are required, by their very use of the language, to verify the use of terms, grammar etc etc. As Wittgenstein cites (appropriately) games as a model, let us take a look. If I play e.g. Ludo, I am governed by the rules. It is not just that I may play dishonestly, for if I were to play at all that very dishonesty, to count as Ludo, would have to be rule governed. The rules of Ludo are Ludo, they are the essence and the constitution of it. Wittgenstein, particularly in his later writings, interweaves many concepts, and connects them in different and sometimes rather elusive ways. Wittgenstein sees concepts like emotions, sentiments and experiences in these interweaving maps. Of course these can be regarded as psychological concepts ** Language can be considered in another but related way, as embodying the elements of a cultural heritage. Language was seen as embodying the notion of higher culture in the arts, architecture etc. Over recent decades this has tended to shift to consider less tangible benefits, such things as oral traditions, cultural values and cultural identity. So language enables us to explore, through the achievements of past generations, cultural mores that may have laid unchallenged for many years. Many of these values and mores may be seen as independent of the language by which they are transmitted, but still this monumental accomplishment of mankind i.e. language, enables man to explore, to modify, to codify, to extend the boundaries of human experience. There are therefore massive implications for our Note on Cogito of Wittgenstein's work. Following Wittgenstein emotions and other psychological concepts can be termed depth grammar, and are distinguished by the fact that the third person of the present is recognised by observation, the first person is not. Taking Wittgenstein's well known pain example the sentence 'He is in pain' is a third person statement of an observational nature. The sentence 'I am in pain' is not derived from observation but from experience, it is an expression of that experience, it's essence is the experience. The asymmetry consists in the fact that predicting psychological attributes of others is warranted by what they do and say. By contrast, the use of such statements in the first person present tense does not rest on one's observation of one's own behaviour. (Hacker 2010:287) p 9 According to Wittgenstein 'I am in pain' is more like a cry of pain, an expression of pain, than a report of some pain. Of course this appertains for other similar statements. 'I feel good' etc.
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