4 Meanings of I Think Therefore I Am
John Spacey, March 02, 2021 updated on February 01, 2023
I think therefore I am is a philosophical statement that was made by René Descartes in 1637. This is one of the most influential phrases ever stated. It is commonly interpreted as follows.
Your ExistenceI think therefore I am is commonly interpreted as a logical proof that you exist. If you doubt that you exist, this doubt itself suggests that you exist.
Only True StatementI think therefore I am has a special meaning to skepticism as the only statement that can't be disproven. That is to say that, skeptics would point out that everything that we sense, experience and measure could be an illusion or simulation. As such, I think therefore I am may be the only statement that stands up to harsh skepticism.
Knowledge ExistsAnother implication of the statement I think therefore I am is that it appears to prove that knowledge exists. This is important to the philosophy of knowledge as it gives knowledge a foundation that appears to stand up to skepticism.
ExistenceFriedrich Nietzsche pointed out that the statement actually makes several assumptions. It assumes that there is some entity "I" and some action "think." He proposed "it thinks" as more appropriate. In other words, your doubt doesn't prove that you are separate from the universe. Your doubt may be a product of the universe itself and you may not exist at all.
NotesRené Descartes communicated using plain language and tried to make his works accessible. The statement I think therefore I am was first expressed in plain French as je pense, donc je suis. This was later translated into Latin as cogito, ergo sum and there is a strange academic tradition of referring to this phrase in Latin. This is meaningless and pretentious as this isn't the origin of the phrase.
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