Tuesday, 10 April 2007

'I think therefore I am. I think.' (The Twelve Theses)

I thought I'd head off on an interesting tangent for my next post. It's a question, as you may have guessed from the title, of existentialist philosophy. I'd only read if it you're happy to tear it apart. Because I'm hardly in my area of expertise. If you'd like to read an interesting little known work of philosophy, from which some of the better phrased ideas (the quotations) below are drawn, try ST Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, at Chapter XII.

Cogito ergo sum

The venerable Descartes came up with this very famous little bit of philosophy. Whether or not Descartes intended it to be so, his 'I think therefore I am' has been taken by many people to be the defining truth of philosophy, proved beyond all doubt. This irritates me, for the following reason. Enjoy deciphering it:

'The Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum is objectionable, because either the Cogito is used extra Gradum [that is, absolutely] and then it is involved in the sum and is tautological, or it is taken as a particular mode or dignity, and then it is subordinated to the sum as the species to the genus, or rather as a particular modification to the subject modified; and not pre-ordinated as the arguments seem to require. For Cogito is Sum Cogitans. This is clear by the inevidence of the converse. It may be true. I hold it to be true... but it is a derivative, not an immediate truth.'

The Dummy's summary of this is that 'I think, therefore I am' presupposes the existence of 'I', or else the observation necessary to begin 'I think', requires its conclusion to be true.

An alternative

What I'd like to do is establish an alternative to Descartes. It draws heavily on the work of Coleridge, as well as other philosophers, and a little of my own thoughts. Thus I shall present it logically, and with quotation. The format is his; many of the points are his. But I affirm them, and add to them. I won't separate my work from his - there are simply my additions. Do work through it with me.

[Two terms I shall use: a Thesis is a proposition, a scholium a marginal note for explanation. These too are unoriginal, but I like them. I shall therefore adopt them]


I shall assume here, that truth exists. I believe it does. No universal truths are assumed. All that is required is a truth such as 'I had lunch today'. That will suffice. [My lunch was lovely, incidentally]


'Truth is correlative to being. Knowledge without a correspondent reality is no knowledge; if we know, there must be something known by us. To know is in its very essence a verb active.'


All truth is either 'mediate' or 'immediate'. If a = b and b = c, then a = c. A 'mediate' truth is one which is dependent upon another truth or truths, in this case, a = c. The first two statements are 'immediate' truths - at least in this example. They are the basis upon which we work. You may recognise an allegory - from Coleridge - that I have used before:

A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their stability, or a series without a first, has been not inaptly allegorised, as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him, reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation in one strait line. It would be naturally taken for granted, that there was a guide at the head of the file: what if it were answered, No! Sir, the men are without number, and infinite blindness supplies the place of sight?

Equally inconceivable is a cycle of equal truths without a common and central principle, which prescribes to each its proper sphere in the system of science. That the absurdity does not so immediately strike us, that it does not seem equally unimaginable, is owing to a surreptitious act of the imagination, which, instinctively and without our noticing the same, not only fills at the intervening spaces, and contemplates the cycle as a continuous circle giving to all collectively the unity of their common orbit; but likewise supplies by a sort of subintelligitur the one central power, which renders the movement harmonious and cyclical. '


What we need, therefore, is an absolute truth. We require the guide for the string of blind men; we require a staple for the chain. We need a certainty, which is not itself dependent upon a previous truth. We need a truth self-grounded, seen by its own light. Simply, we need something that is, simply because it is. (For those versed in technical terms, I believe the phrase is 'a priori')

This is aptly illustrated by the world of mathematics. Logic - both in philosophy and mathematics is a construct dependent upon axioms such as the mathematical ones set down by Euclid. One of these, for example, is that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.


There can be only one self-grounded truth. If there were many, they would be inter-dependant. If there were two, for example, they would refer to each other. Thus one would require the other - in order that its equality is proven. Thus it is not self-established, as Thesis III demands.


Such a truth as this cannot be any tangible object or 'thing'. Each 'thing' is what it is as a consequence of the existence of some other thing. I limit this to 'tangible' objects - corporeal things, as it were, and most abstract nouns also - because that's all we know of definitively.

Scholium I
Tangible things cannot be definite because they require a cause: life requires a 'parent', as it were. Inanimate objects require something - a force or person or phenomenon - to create them as they are.

Valid objections have been raised about the use of the word 'create' here. It is used in the sense of creating them as the exist at the moment. A mountain is known to be a mountain because of its shape and general identity. Such an identity is what we require, since we are talking of a truth self-grounded.

Thus the self-evident truth cannot be an object because such an object would require firstly the particles to form it as we know it; secondly, they would require some other factor to form such particles into their present shape.

Why can this truth not simply be the whole universe? All the atoms in existence? Such a hypothesis falls below the second requirement. It does not explain how they have come to exist in such a fashion as they do now.

Scholium II
Each thing perceived presupposes a perceiver. Everything observer requires something to make an observation. Thus the principal truth cannot be found in a subject - contra-distinguished from an object - because a subject needs an object by definition.


Such a truth - one which 'is because it is' seems ultimately to be the cause of our self-consciousness. Our high-level sentience - that of philosophy and art and science, above that of animals - must be linked logically to this truth. I shall henceforth express the truth as SUM - I am - since it exists only in itself.

Why do I affirm this to be the cause of our self-consciousness? In one's examination of oneself the subject and object are merged into one. This could be called a 'self-duplication', since one fulfills two categories simultaneously.


If I thus know myself only through myself, can one require any other mediate truth? Existence as an immediate truth must - if it can be thus taken at all - require the 'existence' to be the existence of an intangible self-consciousness. My corporeal existence, under Thesis V, cannot fulfill the required characteristics of the truth we search for.

However, our 'spirit' - if I may use that term to describe what I have mentioned above - is involved in the corporeal existence. We cannot work on the assumption that 'spirits' exist without their bodies. To do so would require the existence of an unproved 'spirit plane' - be it heaven or another plane of existence, or any other such idea. Thus the human 'spirit' is involved in our corporal nature.

Therefore, even our self-consciousness implies by necessity an act, or will, to cause it. Thus our quest for the absolute truth is to begin again.


What is in its origin objective is thus necessarily finite. Therefore, since the spirit is not originally an object, it is not itself finite. Our spirit is, being involved in the bodily existence, which is objective.

I would observe, however, that the concept of spirit is not necessarily limited to our own 'spirit'.


Given that the truth cannot be corporeal, and must merge subject and object, a spirit entity is what we must look for. Our principium commune essendi et cognoscendi [common principle of being and knowing] must be a will, a primary act of self-duplication, which is the immediate truth of transcendental philosophy.


Thus it has been shown that the truth required in philosophy is one of self-consciousness alone. This is what Descartes comes close to - perhaps he truly means this, but others have corrupted his work: I know not. We are not investigating an absolute principium essendi [Principle of being]; for then many valid objections might be raised against our theory; but an absolute principium cognoscendi [Principle of knowledge]. The two are linked: by discovering the principle of knowledge we allow ourselves to progress to the greater questions. Unless we know how we know, we cannot know anything.


We require, therefore, a self-consciousness which exists by definition.


If a man be asked how he knows that he is, he can only answer, SUM QUIA SUM [I am because I am]. But if (the absoluteness of this logical certainty having been admitted) he be again asked, how he, the individual person, came to be, then in relation to the ground of his existence, not to the ground of his knowledge of that existence, he might reply, SUM QUIA DEUS EST [I am because God is], or still more philosophically, SUM QUIA IN DEO SUM [I am because I am in God].

But if we elevate our conception to the absolute self, the great eternal I AM, then the principle of being, and of knowledge, of idea, and of reality; the ground of existence, and the ground of the knowledge of existence, are absolutely identical, SUM QUIA SUM;* I am, because I affirm myself to be; I affirm myself to be, because I am.'

*It is most worthy of notice that in the first revelation of Himself; not confined to individuals; indeed in the very first revelation of his absolute being GOD at the same time reveals Himself, and also the fundamental truth of knowledge and philosophy, and that the two are one and the same.


In this way, philosophy passes into religion. I consider this to be a useful argument for the necessity both of truth and of God. We begin with the 'I KNOW MYSELF', in order to end with the absolute 'I AM'. We proceed from the self, in order to lose and to find all self in GOD.


Tom said...

It is 1:15am, but I am determined to get a response in now :)

I have not read the entire post yet, but have begun to read it and am through to the 4th thesis. I've been taking notes along the way :)

First of all, may I just say that the execution of your thoughts is incredibly precise and for that you should be congratulated. However, unnecessary complications such as "not inaptly" in place of "aptly" keep catching my eye. In many respects that's a good thing because I have to reread the sentence. But it does perplex me :)

Ignoring your condition of a correspondent reality, you have said knowledge is no knowledge. Is this not a paradox? Surely the condition should state that "without a reality to correspond with, there is no knowledge"? Just an administrative point, but I couldn't let you slip a paradox in.

As a logical argument, Thesis I is flawless and I accept it (assuming that truth exists).

We accept that a = b and that b = c. These are immediate truths. You state later that there must be one truth from which all other truths derive. However, here appears to be two truths! a = b and b = c! To state that a = b, is to say that the absolute truth a is the same as the absolute truth b. You are simply saying 1 = 1 in essence. Algebraically you are associating a different letter. But for them to be equal, they must represent the same value. Therefore, to then conclude that a = c is to repeat yourself once more. This is nonsense! Lets not waste letters: a = a = a.

Lets rescue the analogy :) If 'a' is your absolute truth, then every other value can be represented in terms of 'a'. Therefore we can say b = ja and c = ka (where j and k are unique constants). Taking your truth of "you had lunch today", 'b' could be "you ate something today", and 'c' could be "you ate around lunchtime". All conclusions relate to what lunch is. Therefore, if lunch is accepted to be the eating of something at lunchtime, you can conclude that it is true to say that by having lunch, you ate today at lunchtime.

Lets stick a paragraph here for breathing space.

So you may then argue, well yes, but surely then we can define 'a' if we know that you ate today and you didn't eat in the 23 hours that aren't 12:00 noon. Of course you can. Mediate truths are simply derivations of the immediate truth. If you collaborate all mediate truths, you have the immediate truth. An immediate truth is not dependent on its mediate subordinates, but it can be defined if every derivation is used to define it.

Allow me to take the maths further (forgive me). We must accept that j and k are < 1 because if they = 1 or more, 'b' and 'c' are not only capable of being equal to the absolute truth, but greater than the absolute truth, which goes against the definition of it being the absolute truth. And so j and k can be seen as fractions, which agrees with us saying that mediate truths are 'parts of' or 'derivations from' the absolute truth.

So lets say j is 1/8 and k is 1/4. Mathematically speaking, we can explain the absolute truth with 4c or 8b. But 'b' and 'c' are fixed values. They are only undetermined so far as we can associate any mediate truth to them. But if we say that 'b' is "you ate lunch today", then that truth cannot be multiplied. It is absurd to assume that saying "you ate lunch today" 8 times will make it any more true. Therefore, we cannot simply multiply truths to define the absolute truth.

However, we can use addition of different truths (addition of the same truh is multiplication). If we also have l = 5/8 and l is the constant for the mediate truth 'd', then we can say that:

a = b + c + d
= ja + ka + la
= 1/8a + 1/4a + 5/8a
a = a

Therefore, if we are to accept the maths, we are to accept that the absolute truth can be defined by the collaboration of all mediate truths.

Phew! Enough maths for now. Although saying that, you mention a circle :|

I enjoy the phrase "equal truths". If they are true, are they not all equally true? Or are some truths less true than others? Having asked that question, my maths could be argued to be misleading as the constants are different for different truths. But let us just accept that all truths share the same constant 'm', therefore 'm' is equal to 1 divided by the number of mediate truths.

How curious, I've just defined the value of truth. I accept truths can be different.

I now take the part of your infinite blindness remark that reads "[they] are without number". If they are without number, then rather than saying infinite blindness, we could take the number as being 0 and thus say that the argument reads, "no blindness supplies the place of sight?". This would make sense in that if we accept that you must either see or not see, then if you don't not see, you see.

However, this is nonsense. The truth of 'you either see or don't see' is dependent on the men existing in the first place to see or not see. Thus if they are without number, you cannot conclude that they find sight in the absence of blindness. Only that there is the absence of blindness. If you wish for it to remain as "infinite", then the argument still applies but with an apparent physical value (as we find it hard to compare everything to nothing).

For the number of men to truly be infinite, there must be nothing but men. If all men are blind and there is nothing but men, then there is nothing but blind men. You cannot conclude sight.

However, if there is nothing but men, and therefore nothing but blindness, then is there such a thing as sight? This is the problem with a hypothetical situation. It does not obey physical laws that we accept due to the absence of any physical representation of the hypothetical situation.

If there is nothing but men, then physically, there is no absolute truth but men. Everything is defined in terms of the infinite nature of men. Therefore, if men do not have sight, there is no such thing as sight to be derived.

Any more thoughts about this situation are pointless. We have already concluded that sight can only exist if there are blind men, but there is something other than blind men.

So lets move on. You assume that this chain of blind men is moving? If the chain is infinite, there is nothing but men as we've argued. Therefore there is nowhere to go but in themselves, for they are all that is. But the chain cannot occupy the space of itself, otherwise infinite becomes less, which is ludicrous. Perhaps more ludicrous is the concept of this infinite chain. If we accept that each man is a certain size, then the men can only extend in the y and z axes of 3-d space by a certain amount. Only the x-axis can be infinite because to occupy all of space, the men must extend off into infinity and come back again! Ludicrous!

Hence we cannot picture this chain in terms of space as we know it, because the x, y and z axes will all only exist within the chain.

So now lets take the analogy and apply it to your truths. If the truths are infinite, then they can only move in terms of themselves, which is no motion at all. Like you said, you must have a correspondent reality for this motion to be created by comparison. Thus cyclical, or infinitely linear, it does not matter. There is no motion without something else. So we must accept one of two things. Either there is no motion because motion has no definition in the infinite nature of the chain, or that there is something to compare the infinite chain to, which gives it motion by comparison. The latter is impossible by logic because you cannot have something as well as an infinite chain because the infinite chain will no longer be everything.

Therefore, for the chain to be infinite, there must be no movement. And as there is nothing to compare it to, there is no direction. That is why it is unimportant as to whether it is cyclical or infinitely linear.

So to propose an infinite chain of men moving in any direction is proposterous. To then try to conclude anything from that nonsense is more nonsense.

So what can we propose? For the chain to have motion it must not infinite :)

I'll stop for the night. It's now 2:30am. Your post needs more time dedicated to it Phil. What I leave you with for now however is an interesting point. For you to be a part of something with motion and direction, you must accept that the chain is not infinite. And if the chain is not infinite, then there must be something else there to prevent its infinity. A correspondent reality? And by acceptance of Thesis I, an absolute truth?

Bon nuit :D

Phil' said...

It's now 10:19 a.m. and I'll try to get a response in before breakfast. For simplicity's sake, I'll take your point in order. I'm afraid I may not answer your points in the manner you might like.

Firstly, remember that all of the quotations come from a poet-philosopher's work published in 1817. Hence the 'not inaptly allegorised' and other such examples of florid language are the bits in quotation. He writes his philosophy so poetically that it's a joy to read.

Your concerns over my equations are fully justified. The same thoughts applied to me. However, if I may highlight a section of that Thesis:

'A 'mediate' truth is one which is dependent upon another truth or truths, in this case, a = c. The first two statements are 'immediate' truths - at least in this example.'

I fully acknowledge that that required two 'immediate' truths to support it. And that by Thesis IV, that's an absurdity. Which leads us to the conclusion that neither a = b or b = c can be the absolute truths.

The statement 1=1 could well be used as analogy for my conclusion of Thesis III - the necessity existence of something that is simply because it is.

The same applies to your concerns about the string of blind men. It is an absurd suggestion to state that 'infinite blindness takes the place of sight'. I did not fully explain why, but you have done so brilliantly. I'm almost tempted to copy your work as a second Scholium to the second Thesis.

As you perhaps conclude, the necessity is that there is a guide, or at least something to permit 'movement'. There cannot be such a chain of blind men. Thus, I would say, we require an absolute truth. A correspondent reality.

I look forward to your later thoughts. Or criticisms of my response, of course.


Tom said...

Thanks for the ammendment Phil :) I can appreciate Thesis V now.

For anyone else choosing to read this, Phil and I have been discussing this post for most of the day. I am lazy, but also appreciate the way in which our conversation shows a logical progression of conclusions. Thus I quote:

"What if particles exist simply because they exist and thus are the absolute truth?

But how in the fashion they exist now? It's the same idea which leads to the question: 'ok, the Big bang created the universe, but what caused the big bang?'

But what if we assume that the universe and every particle in it is infinite? We can certainly argue that physics will agree with me when we say that the sum of the energy and matter of the universe cannot change. Thus it cannot be made or destroyed. So what makes the unmakeable?

Every particle is infinite? That makes v. little sense. So what made it then? What factor caused the big bang?

Has an infinite existence rather.
The particles which already existed.

What caused them to exist? And more to the point, what caused them to change shape?

The correspondent reality. The space now occupied by matter has arguably always been there.

What is that reality?

If the space that the universe occupies is not infinite, then where does it end...if nothing lies beyond infinity can it end? Mind-boggling to try and imagine it. The particles had motion and thus changed shaped, moved, whatever you wish to call it. Given our argument about the blind men, we must assume that there is something other than particles to relate the motion to. That which is not a particle, the space between particles. It is not a physical thing. It is the absence of a physical thing. Arguably it is unperceivable, only by logical exclusion of the real (as you kind of put it). So it exists of itself. Space is space. What you attribute to "existing" in that space is limitless. It is unperceivable.

Can nothing exist? Is it not the lack of existence?

It's the absence of that which we can perceive We can only perceive nothing so much as there is something which we can perceive to compare its absence of being to. It is not necessarily nothing...it's just not a perceivable something. As we have argued, infinite blindness does not take the place of sight. Equally, infinite sight cannot take the place of blindness. Just because we cannot perceive it, it doesn't mean that it isn't there."

End quote [the quotation marks should indicate that].

In short, we have concluded that:

- We cannot use the absence of one thing to indicate the presence of another.

- Simply because we don't perceive something, it does not mean that it is not there.

- Simply because we don't perceive something, it does not mean that something else must be there.

...however we conclude that there must be something there for the motion of particles to be related to. Thus there must be something, but we do not base that on the absence of something else.

This is a thrilling discussion :D

Gavin said...

Phil I really wanted to read this whole post but I'm afraid it is too boring. I am in no way anti-intellectual as you well know, but this post doesn't inspire me to read on. The subject matter, while interesting in some ways, is very uninteresting in most others. I respect your meticulous and academic style but it's no fun. More rants, please.

Phil' said...

Perhaps it's just not for you, Gavin. That's not a problem. As you can see from the comments left, at least one person was interested, so I'm happy.

There is a rant coming up, but I'd nonetheless advocate that you try this one again: you may well find the end more interesting than the beginning.


Phil' said...

"Also, a priori means without prior knowledge (i.e. analytically true by definition, e.g. a=b and b=c therefore a=c. A priori knowledge does not add anything to your existing knowledge, it is arrived at via deduction rather than induction). When you talk about the need for something that exists simply because it does you mean a necessary (or unconditioned / unconditional) reality as opposed to a contingent one. For more details read up on the Cosmological Argument (Aquinas, drawing on Aristotle). "

Said Gavin.

Gavin said...

You stole my bit!

Francis said...