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  • Cogito, Ergo SumAuthor(s): W. von LeydenSource: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 63 (1962 - 1963), pp. 67-82Published by: Wiley on behalf of The Aristotelian SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4544671 .Accessed: 20/05/2014 18:57

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  • Meeting of the Aristotelian Society at 21, Bedford Square, London, W.C.1, on 26th November, 1962, at 7.30 p.m.

    IV-COGITO, ERGO SUM

    By W. VON LEYDEN

    IN a recent paper, Professor Hintikka has raised, often forcefully and clearly, a number of valid points in his analysis of Descartes' Cogito as a performatory utterance.' None the less, I am not convinced that his analysis is itself free from difficulties. Just as he charges Descartes with compressing several different argu- ments into the apparently simple formulation cogito, ergo sum, so might he be charged with merging some separate issues into each other and into his apparently simple interpretation of the Cartesian dictum. I intend to substantiate this claim by first pointing to the particular issues which in my view Hintikka has not clearly distinguished from each other. I will then advance a number of arguments with a view to bringing into the open the complexity of the problem involved in Descartes' Cogito.

    1. Difficulties in interpreting the Cogito as performatory

    It would seem, in the first place, that for Hintikka one important reason why Descartes' Cogito is to be interpreted as a performatory utterance is that, if I say that I do not exist, my saying this shows that what I say is false; hence I refute or defeat myself by uttering this sentence. Now it is certainly correct to maintain that the surmise that I do not exist, though not formally self-contradictory, is absurd in the sense of self-stultifying; and it is also true that I could not utter the words " I do not exist", unless I existed. But does it follow that for either or for both of these reasons neither " I exist" nor " I am thinking " can be regarded as a descriptive phrase, and that they must instead be classified as performatory utterances? After all, the denial of " I exist " or " I am thinking " is absurd in the sense of self-defeating even on the assumption-which Descartes would seem to have

    1 Jaakke Hintikka, " Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance? ", The Philosophical Review, Vol. LXXI, i (January, 1962), pp. 3-32.

    k

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  • 68 W. VON LEYDEN

    made-that both " I exist " and " I am thinking " are statements describing or reporting facts truly and that both " I do not exist" and " I am not thinking" are statements describing or reporting facts falsely. Accordingly, it might be argued that the indubitability of Descartes' Cogito insight is not necessarily due to its performatory character nor that, because I cannot intelli- gently, i.e., without giving rise to an " existentially " inconsistent or self-defeating statement, deny " I exist " or " I am thinking ", such a denial must be tantamount to at once entering into and not entering into a commitment or the performance of an act.

    Secondly, it is not clear to me whether Hintikka wishes to interpret as performatory the whole of the formula cogito, ergo sum, or only the first part, i.e., the phrase cogito, or again only the latter half, i.e., the phrase sum. The three types of interpre- tation merge into each other throughout his paper in a confusing manner and are also, to my mind, each open to criticism. That Hintikka intends the first of these interpretations would appear from the title of his paper and the way in which he often speaks of the performatory aspect of " the Cogito " or of the performa- torily interpreted " cogito argument " (e.g., pp. 23, 27, and sect. 13 ad fin.) Assuming this is his intrepretation, one might ask whether the issuing of the performative utterance " cogito " or alternatively " I exist" is not by itself sufficient to show the truth intended by Descartes. For is it not precisely by the mere utterance of " cogito " or alternatively of " I exist " that the character of Descartes' insight may be said to express itself? Besides, if the whole Cartesian formula be accepted as performa- tive in character, an unsatisfactory consequence would appear to be that by issuing this utterance one would both explicitly assert something which is true, i.e., that one exists, and at the same time be expected not to assert anything at all but merely to imply or to show that one exists.

    On the other hand, if Hintikka's intention be to interpret only the word cogito as performative, as would appear from what he says on e.g., pp. 17 and 31-32, he would be splitting up the meaning of a formula which Descartes obviously regarded as uniform in character. Besides, would not on this interpretation,

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 69

    contrary to Hintikka's claim (p. 17), the status of " I think ", which Descartes considered unique, become vulnerable to competition from other performatory utterances such as " I promise " or " I apQlogize ", since the issuing of any of these might in some sense be held to imply that the sentence " I exist " is true? If however it is conceded by Hintikka that the status of " I think" is unique, it is difficult to see how he can hope to establish this by merely classifying the sentence as performatory, i.e., without at the same time showing it, on independent grounds, to be either the only one of its kind or alternatively unique within its kind. Of these two alternatives, however, while the former is difficult if not impossible, the latter necessitates a further analysis of the sentence, over and above its interpretation as performative.

    Yet, in the third place, if Hintikka's intention, as appears from sections (6), (7) and (13, ii) of his paper, is to interpret only the sentence ego sum or " I exist " as performatory, the argu- ments he adduces to this effect, and particularly his point that it would be absurd or pointless to deny this sentence, should make his interpretation also apply to the phrase cogito or " I think ". For the inconsistency or absurdity of uttering the sentence " I am not thinking " does not seem to differ from that of uttering the sentence " I don't exist ", nor does the sentence " I am thinking " seem to be less self-verifying or intuitively self-evident than the sentence " I exist ". In fact, the sentences " I am thinking" and " I exist " share the important characteristics that, though they are not logically necessary and therefore may be denied without self-contradiction even by the person who happens to utter them, they are nevertheless certain and indubitable in that their truth follows from their being doubted or denied by the person uttering them, so that their denial is absurd in the sense of being self-defeating. Hence the certainty of " I am thinking" can be established by the same criterion as that of " I exist ".2 Perhaps the fact that the two sentences are in this sense independent of one another was one reason for Descartes' frequent insistence on the non- inferential nature of his Cogito.

    2 Cf. A. J. Ayer, The Problem of Knowledge (London, 1956), pp. 46-7. K2

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  • 70 W. VON LEYDEN

    Moreover, a difficulty would now also arise as to the interpre- tation of ergo sum: is this to mean the fact that I exist or that I am certain that I exist? In other words, is Descartes' Cogito intended as the embodiment of an ontology or an epistemology? Here, I think, Mr. Hintikka is guilty of a certain confusion. He says " the word cogito refers to the ' performance ' (to the act of thinking) through which the sentence 'I exist' may be said to verify itself" (p. 17). But exactly what verifies the sentence " I exist " ? Surely, on Descartes' view, if fully expanded, it is only because the performance of thinking shows or makes explicit that I exist, that the sentence " I exist " can be held to be verifi- able. I should think that, if Descartes' Cogito is to be in any way interpreted as performative, the gain of such an interpretation would be precisely the possibility of saying that the act of uttering " I think" in the first place shows the fact of my existence or gives it to be understood that I exist, before it can subsequently serve as the verification of the sentence " I exist ", or help to demonstrate to myself that I know that I exist. In my view the whole point of the Cogito is not so much that the indubitable or certain knowledge of my own existence depends on my thinking, as that my existence is indubitable because my thinking (which is indubitable) depends on it or presupposes it. This point is both obscured and made ambiguous when Hintikka talks of " Descartes's intuitive idea of the dependence of his existence on his thinking" (p. 22). Clearly what depends on Descartes' thinking is his certain knowledge of his existence, while his thinking itself of course depends on his existence.

    In this connexion, I believe, it is also important to avoid underestimating, as Hintikka tends to do (pp. 18 ff.), the role of introspection and consciousness in Descartes' cogito argument. Descartes' celebrated passage from scepticism to certainty was determined by the fact that doubt, even total doubt, was for him not so much the result of an unshakeable belief as a short-lived implication of his philosophical method.3 The function of this methodological doubt was to help in fixing the Archimedean

    3 See my " Descartes and Hobbes on Waking and Dreaming ", Revue Internationale de Philosophie, Vol. XXXV (1956).

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 71

    point4 of his metaphysics, and this was the fact that, even though I may doubt, dream, be deceived, or think wrongly, so that what I am thinking about may be false, it is nevertheless indubitable that I am conscious of something whenever I doubt, dream etc., and therefore I must think and exist. Accordingly, though I fully agree with Hintikka when he says (pp. 18-19), " the reason why Descartes could not doubt his own existence is in principle exactly the same as the reason why he could not hope to mislead anybody by saying 'I don't exist ' ", I doubt whether he is right in claiming that " the one does not presuppose introspection any more than the other" (p. 19). In my view, as I shall try to explain later, Descartes' Cogito insight is not wholly separable from what used to be called acts of introspection or self-awareness. And it seems to me that it is only by disregarding this aspect of the question completely that Hintikka has been able to lay so much stress on an over-all interpretation of the Cogito as per- formative.

    Before advancing my own suggestion for an analysis of the Cogito, however, I may add here that in connexion with such an analysis it is important, more so even than Hintikka would seem to recognize, to distinguish clearly and persistently between three different issues, namely (a) that of ascertaining the meaning of the Cogito as intended by Descartes; (b) that of ascertaining what the Cogito may mean in connexion with any particular philo- sophical issue, or what it has been held to mean in one or the other of the hundreds of discussions and interpretations to which this Cartesian principle has given rise; and (c) that of ascertaining what it must mean in order for it to be accepted as a proposition one knows to be true or a piece of reasoning one can show to be valid.

    2. The indispensability of the first-person pronoun " I" in the formulation of Descartes' insight

    It has been a commonplace in discussions of Descartes' Cogito to argue that his use of the phrase " I think ", from his own as

    4Second Meditation, ad. init., The Philosophical Works of Descartes, ed. Haldane and Ross (Cambridge, England, 1931), Vol. I, p. 149; Reply to Bourdin's seventh set of Objections, Vol. II, p. 271.

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  • 72 W. VON LEYDEN

    well as from a more general point of view, can mean no more than "thinking is going on " or "there is a thought now ". That any reference to a mind or self is illegitimate on Descartes' own premisses is indicated by the fact that when he first thought of the cogito foimula or uttered it as the one self-certifying proposition supplanting his alleged total doubt, he could not then have used the word " I " in this formula to describe a substance or spiritual entity that endured as the unitary basis of his mental life, for all this would have had to remain for him a matter of absolute doubt. Then there was of course Hume's scepticism regarding the mind and personal identity, and his inability to prove that thoughts require a thinker. Accordingly, Russell suggested5 that the word " I " should be omitted altogether from the Cartesian formula. Now this interpretative move would deprive Descartes' formula of neither its prima facie plausibility nor its importance. For if his original doubt was twofold, i.e., whether anything exists and whether there is any true knowledge, the incontestable affirmation of such a fact as that there is a thought now would dispose of both doubts, without reference to a self or the employment of the word " I ".

    None the less, it appears that what Descartes claimed as his insight cannot be made wholly plausible unless it is formulated in terms of a first-person singular sentence. His own reason for preferring to express the cogito statement in the first rather than the third person was not merely that it would have been grammatically incorrect to say " il suis ", or fallacious to talk of " thought thinking ", or that the French language made no provision for the phrase " it thinks "6 in analogy to the German "es blitzt". Nor is it easy to concur in Collingwood's7 belief that Descartes' paiticular formulation was due to the desire to emphasize the concrete historical fact, the fact of one's actual

    5 Cf. Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Philosophy (London, 1927), p. 171; History of Western Philosophy (London, 1946), p. 589.

    6 For the suggestion of this phrase see G. C. Lichtenberg, Werke, ed. Goldschmit (Stuttgart, 1924), p. 78, and Wittgenstein's view as reported by G. E. Moore, " Wittgenstein's Lectures in 1930-33 ", Mind, Vol. LXIV (1955), pp. 13-14. Cf. also P. F. Strawson, Individuals (London, 1959), p. 95, n. 1.

    7 R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis (Oxford, 1924), p. 202.

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 73

    present awareness, as the root of science. Descartes' reason was rather, one might say, semantical. He realized, like St. Augustine and a number of mediaeval thinkers before him,8 that, just as I cannot doubt concerning that of which I am conscious,9 because states of awareness are their own guarantee, so are there a number of first-person sentences, e.g., " I am thinking ", " I live ", " I know some English words ", etc., which it would be in a certain sense absurd, or at any rate very repugnant to whoever makes the statement, to deny or to contradict. Whatever it is, for instance, that I see when I claim to see a hawk, there can be no doubt that in one sense, though in one sense only, my utterance " I see a hawk " is true, even if there is no hawk to be seen, and that one could not in this sense be said to " see falsely . Similarly, the statement " I am thinking" as also the statement " I live " are both in a sense incontrovertible and self-guaranteeing. How- ever, the peculiar reason for this here is that to doubt or deny either statement precisely proves it to be true: we think in saying that we do not think and we cannot but exist while denying our existence.

    It is perhaps chiefly because of this logically unique status in which certain first-person forms of assertion find themselves that Descartes rejected Gassendi's charge that his cogito formula was a syllogism in which the universal major premiss, " he who thinks, exists" (qui cogitat est) had to be supplied.10 For to accept Gassendi's point would have meant placing the two premisses and the conclusion of the proposed syllogism all on the same logical level, thereby losing sight of the indubitable nature of certain first-person utterances or the self-verifying nature of certain forms of knowledge. Admittedly, the gain in this case would have been to make the conclusion concerning one's own existence appear demonstratively certain. Descartes, however, though he

    8 Cf. M. Chastaing, " Consciousness and Evidence ", Mind, Vol. LXV (July, 1956).

    9 Second Meditation, Works, ed. Haldane and Ross, Vol. I, p. 153; also Oeuvres, ed. Adam and Tannery (Paris, 1910), Vol. VII, p. 443. Foradevelop- ment of this point in the textbook of Cartesian logic see the Port-Royal Logique, ou l'art de penser (Paris, 1662, 3rd ed. 1668), pp. 380-1.

    10 Reply to Second Objection and Letter to Clerselier, ed. Haldane and Ross, Vol. II, pp. 38 and 127.

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  • 74 W. VON LEYDEN

    sometimes used the word " conclusion "'1 for his cogito formula, always considered the principle it involved as a truth known immediately or by itself (per se nota).'2 He considered it as such, because he claimed it to be a basic or primary principle'3 and this claim he could not have maintained with the principle depending, like a ratiocination, on the acceptance of a major premiss. But neither could he have declared the principle to be certain in the sense of being self-certifying without making use of the semantical rule that the sentence " I am thinking " cannot be denied by the person uttering the sentence without thereby evincing its truth.

    Hence the retention of the first-person singular pronoun in the formulation of Descartes' basic principle, though admittedly not of the assumption that the use of this pronoun indicates a self or mind, would seem necessary at least so far as his immediate purpose is concerned.

    3. The question of the logical truth of the Cogito

    However, Descartes obviously wished the two statements "I am thinking" and "I am" to be not only certain but logically certain, not only psychologically or semantically in- dubitable but a priori or necessarily true.'4 Now, while a priori or logically necessary statements are such that their negation is logically impossible or self-contradictory, my being here or the fact that I am thinking now are contingent facts and could there- fore, especially if the personal pronoun is understood descrip- tively, be denied without self-contradiction. It is true that they could not be denied meaningfully at any time by myself. For

    Oeuvres, ed. Adam and Tannery, Vol. IX, pp. 2, 27; Vol. VIII, p. 7. 12 Cf. here also P. D. Huet's Censura philosophiae Cartesianae (Paris,

    1689), Vol I, p. 11, and P.-S. Regis' reply in Re!ponse au livre (Paris, 1696), pp. 48-53.

    13 See Spinoza's Principia philosophiae cartesianae (Amsterdam, 1663), Part I, Prolegomenon, for the correct emphasis on the basic nature and unique status of the Cogito in Descartes' doctrine.

    14 " I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it " (my italics), Second Meditation, ed. Haldane and Ross, Vol. I, p. 150. See also A. J. Ayer, 7he Problem of Knowledge, pp. 45 ff., and in Analysis, Vol. 14, No. 2 (December, 1953).

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 75

    how could such denials actually be made if they were true? The fact then that they can be made shows them to be false. None the less, such denials on my part are absurd or inconsistent, not in the sense that they are formally self-contradictory,'5 but only in that they are self-refuting, self-defeating, or self-stultifying: though they are false, and though we can indeed deduce that what they assert must be false, they are not logically false. Hence the statements " I am thinking" and " I exist" are likewise not logical truths. Both Leibnizl6 and Kantl7 were right in this sense in regarding Descartes' Cogito as a factual or empirical truth only. Yet it is clear that Descartes persuaded himself to find in it more than a purely factual or semantical certainty.

    The only alternative interpretation, then, for the sake of satisfying Descartes, would be to suggest that the statement " I exist" is necessarily true because it is logically implied by the statement " I am thinking ". However, to say this would be to suggest that the meaning of the first statement merely repeated that of the second. For neither statement might be said to follow logically from the other, if " I exist " meant something different from " I am thinking " (as would particularly be the case if " I am thinking " is understood as meaning " there is a thought now ") and if we accept Hume's notion that no one fact or event occurring at a given moment points to, or proves the existence of, any other fact or event in the past, present, or future. So let us consider the view that " I exist " does not differ in meaning from "I am thinking " and is therefore deducible from it.

    In explanation of this view it has been urged that the word "I " in Descartes' formula, just as any personal pronoun or proper name, " is an index sign which cannot be meaningfully used except to refer to an existent particular. And to say ' this existent particular thinks, therefore it exists' conveys no more

    15 The first to have clarified this point, I think, was Professor Ayer in his Analysis article, p. 30, and in the Problem of Knowledge, p. 46. See also J. Passmore, Philosophical Reasoning (London, 1962), p. 60, and Hintikka, loc. cit., pp. 10-18.

    16 Nouveaux Essais, Bk. IV, Ch. ii, Sect. 1, ad fin., Ch. vii, Sect. 7. 17 Critique of Pure Reason, Refutation of Idealism, 2nd ed. (Konigsberg,

    1787), p. 274; in Werke, ed. Hartenstein (Leipzig, 1867), Vol. III, p. 197.

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  • 76 W. VON LEYDEN

    new information in the conclusion than does ' this is a black cat, therefore it is a cat',"18 Now I believe that such an interpre- tation of the Cogito would have appeared unsatisfactory to Descartes for two reasons. In the first place, if the cogito formula is regarded as tautologous and therefore trivial, it could not be taken to assert or describe anything, as it would be entirely concerned with symbols. The statement " I exist" would like- wise become uninformative and consequently there would be little force left in the word " ergo ", or " therefore ". It follows that the character of the whole folmula, which Descartes claimed as an insight or discovery, would become modified to an extent incompatible with his original purpose.

    4. Is the Cogito an " analytic triviality"?

    But secondly, the interpretation in question is by no means incontestable. It depends for its acceptance on the assumption that the word " I ", in its two uses in Descartes' formula, logically refers to one and the same thing. If it can be shown, at least on Descartes' own premisses and perhaps also independently of his own view, that this need not be so, the charge that his famed cogito, ergo sum is merely an " analytic triviality ", and in addition the claim that the formula is the expression of a logically necessary truth, must fall to the ground.

    The question should be first approached, as is natural I think, from Descartes' own point of view and particularly in connexion with that stage of his argument where he shows that he can pass from any of the basically unguaranteed forms of knowledge to the indubitable fact of his own existence. His procedure here depends on the notoriously controversial distinction between the act and the content of awareness and on the notion that an act of awareness can be made the content or object of further reflective acts. He finds that his self or ego always re-emerges as active and as the life-centre of any subsequent doubt or thought con- cerning itself or anything else, and that therefore his self or ego must be real and immune from doubt. Consider now Descartes'

    18 D. J. O'Connor, John Locke (London, 1952), pp. 111-12; also J. R. Weinberg, An Examination of Logical Positivism (London, 1936), pp. 1834.

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 77

    statement cogito or " I am thinking ". It expresses a case of self-awareness: it is to the effect that I know or am conscious of myself thinking. If we distinguish again in this case between the act and the content or object of self-awareness, we might say that it is not so much when I am thinking as when I conceive of myself thinking, or make myself and my thinking an object of thought, that I must exist and can know that it must be true to say " I exist ".19 Hence it might be suggested that the word " I "', which occurs twice in Descartes' cogito formula, has two different senses, without however indicating two " I "s or even two persons. The two senses may be described as " the use as object " (Me) and " the use as subject " (I or Ego).20

    In order to substantiate this argument it is essential to show that a case for the two senses or uses of the word " I ", which I have indicated, can in fact be made out.

    There are at least two ways in which it is possible to draw a distinction between the two senses of " I ". One was seized upon by existentialists and phenomenologists, who have always hailed Descartes as one of their chief forerunners and his Cogito as a basic truth.21 Only brief reference to their distinction need be made here. On the one hand, they argue, there is in every person a real self or ego, something unique, spontaneous, and active. This actual fountain-head or core of a man's existence can itself never become an object of knowledge. It eludes any attempt at apprehension, by which it is constantly presupposed. Whenever

    1I That Descartes' phrase " cogito " stands for the content, not the act, of awareness clearly emerges from Thomas Reid's formulation: " In this state of universal doubt, that which first appeared to him to be clear and certain, was his own existence. Of this he was certain, because he was conscious that he thought, that he reasoned, and that he doubted." (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Edinburgh, 1785, Essay II, Ch. viii, p. 129.) Of course to say " I exist " in its turn shows that I am now thinking about my own existence, thereby making this an object of thought; but this in its own turn again presupposes my existence and therefore the truth of " I am ".

    20 Ishould point out that these phrases, as used here, differ in meaning from Wittgenstein's use of this terminology in The Blue Book (Oxford, 1958), p. 66.

    21 Cf K. Jaspers, Descartes und die Philosophie (Berlin, 1937); J.-P. Sartre, Existentialisme est un Humanisme (Paris, 1946), pp. 63-4 (Engl. tr., London, 1948, p. 44). -

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  • 78 W. VON LEYDEN

    I observe or reflect on my own being in introspection (or rather retrospection), I apprehend myself only as an object of conscious- ness, a " Me ", but never recapture the original " I ", myself as something really existing, as the subject of experience. On the other hand, as the object of self-knowledge the self becomes something altogether different. It loses all the immediacy and independence, the vividness and activity of the real centre of consciousness: it turns from something absolute into something relative. Sartre would in fact say that consciousness is definable as " 'etre-pour-soi" (being-for-itself).22 By this phrase Sartre means something which is what it is not, and is not what it is.23 This existentialist approach and terminology is perhaps best summed up in Jaspers' pithy saying " I am not what I know, and I don't know what I am."24

    5. The concept of " I " and " higher order actions"

    Alternatively, one might say, following Professor Ryle,25 that the concept of " I " is " systematically elusive ", and that what ordinarily passes as self-awareness and figures so prominently in Descartes' Cogito is adequately described as the performance of a " higher order action " upon a " lower order action ". A higher oider action for him is one that involves the thought of another, such as when I laugh at myself for an awkwardness on my part, or further reflect upon my laughing at myself. One might then argue that we talk of self in two different ways, according to two different uses of the first-person singular pronoun. The distinc- tion is admittedly obscured as a result of what Ryle calls the elusive character of "I ": we seem to be able to recognize the basic importance and uniqueness of whatever it is that " I " stands for, and yet there is a systematic and hence tantalizing lack of

    22L'Etre et le Neant (Paris, 1943), Introduction and Part II. Cf. also E. Husserl, Cartesian Meditations (The Hague, 1960), pp. 25 ff.; also his distinction between cogito and cogitatum, pp. 31 ff., and his view of the nature of the alteration implicit in " transcendental-phenomenological reflection ", p. 34.

    23 Op cit., p. 33. 24 Die Geistige Situation der Zeit (Berlin, 1932), 3rd ed., p. 147. 25 The Concept of Mind (London, 1949), Ch. vi.

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 79

    success in apprehending and describing it. "Like the shadow of one's own head, it will not wait to be jumped on. And yet it is never very far ahead. It is too near even to be within arm's reach.' 26

    The explanation of the last point of course is that every time one attempts self-description one adds a fact to be described. None the less, if we regard the statement " I caught myself just beginning to dream" as expressing the operation of a higher order action upon a lower order action, not unlike reporting an event, applauding a performance, or replying to a question, the statement must be of a logically different type from the state- ment " I was just beginning to dream". Hence the personal pronouns employed in the two sentences are being used with a different logical force.27

    I suggest that the second of these two attempts at distinguish- ing between two senses of the word " I " has obvious advantages over the first, which is rather obsolescent in character. On the other hand, I wonder whether Ryle's explanation does full justice to Descartes' original intention. In the first place, there is an existential pre-condition rather than any kind of logical implica- tion involved in the Cogito, and certainly the " existentialist " preoccupation in Descartes, as later also in Pascal, is undeniable. For this reason Descartes' point in the cogito argument seems to me to be somewhat different from the Rylean point of view of conceptual analysis. For, as Ryle explains, higher order actions are " in one way or another concerned with " other actions and their descriptions "involve the oblique mention of other actions."28 He also says that the performance of a higher order action " involves the thought of" another, lower order action. He attempts to safeguard the meaning of the phrase " involves the thought of" from certain misconceptions,29 using in two passages the term " presuppose "30 in order to indicate in what sense a higher order action " involves " the thought of another.

    26 Ibid., p. 186. 27 Ibid., p. 190. 28 Ibid., p. 191. 29 Ibid., p. 192-3. 30 Ibid., pp. 191, line 35, and 192, line 7.

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  • 80 W. VON LEYDEN

    Now while for Ryle the performance of a higher order action involves the thought of another in the sense of logically " pre- supposing" it, Descartes' interest is focused upon a rather different kind of implication, namely that such a higher order action as for instance the doubting of a belief or statement implies or presupposes, quite apart from the thought of this belief or statement, an act of thinking or awareness, and this in turn (even if it is denied) the fact that he who thinks (or denies that he thinks) exists. The meaning and force of " ergo " in the Cogito formula lie precisely in the fact that my existence is a pre- condition of the truth of " I am thinking " and this in turn of the truth of " I am doubting ". Whereas laughing at myself for an awkwardness, just like doubting something, presupposes the thought of a lower order action, an " object" upon which it is performed (retrospectively it may be said), doubting something now on Descartes' view involves, in addition to any such lower order action, the present performance of an act of thinking in the sense that, unless doubting is thinking, it is impossible or does not occur. Similarly, for Descartes, thinking or being conscious not only involves something to think about, to reflect upon or be aware of, i.e., a lower order action upon which the thinking is an operation, but in some further sense also the fact of one's own existence.

    But secondly, in his distinction between higher and lower order actions Ryle might perhaps have gone further. He has been criticised3l for assuming that any action or situation which becomes the " object " of a higher order action remains unchanged in the process. The assumption is perhaps justified in cases where the higher order action has to do with things other than a person's self. However, in a case of self-commentary, as when I reflect or report upon a recent feeling of sadness or a previous attempt at memorizing on my part, the process of becoming the object of a higher order action is necessarily correlated with a change of the notion of self from subject to object. In saying " I am laughing at myself for being clumsy ", I am of course not talking of two selves; nor am I, as can be seen from the grammar,

    31 I. T. Ramsey, " The Systematic Elusiveness of ' I ' ", The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. V (1955), pp. 196 ff.

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  • COGITO, ERGO SUM 81

    referring to two " I "s or two " me "s: I am talking in terms of one I and one me (or myself). While the logical status of me (or myself) is something objective in the sense that for " me " we could readily substitute the name of a person, the logical status of I can be described as that unique area in self-awareness which is " observationally elusive ", i.e., of which Hume could never have obtained the eageily looked-for " perception ". It follows that no self-commentary can ever be completely or adequately accounted for, either at the moment when it is per- formed (for at that stage it cannot be the concern of itself and hence no account would include it), or indeed at any subsequent moment when it may have become the object of another higher order action (for by then it would have lost its actuality and spontaneity and have become a mere object of reflection).

    6. Summary and Conclusion

    The upshot of my argument then is that from Descartes' point of view the distinction between the two senses of the word " I " in his cogito foimula can be represented in even more radical terms than is allowed for by Ryle. At any rate the formula as a whole cannot be considered a tautology nor indeed a logical truth. Accordingly, its weakness is threefold. If "cogito " is taken in the sense of " there is thinking ", " I exist" does not follow from it nor of course that there is a self or miDd. Neither in fact does there seem to remain anything conclusive or self- certifying in the formula. On the other hand, if the cogito formula is understood in its ordinary sense of " I think, therefore I am ", to say " I think" as also to say " I exist", though in some sense indubitable and true, is not necessarily true, since a denial of either statement, though self-defeating, is not formally self-contradictory. However, to regard the whole formula " I think, therefore I am" as logically certain and necessary is possible only at the price of rendering it uninformative and trivial-a price which Descartes would not have been prepared to pay and which, as I have tried to show, no one can in fact be compelled to pay.

    I may add here that in my view the suggestiveness of Descartes' Cogito and the challenge it has presented to subsequent generations

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  • 82 W. VON LEYDEN

    of philosophers arise partly no doubt from the subtlety and complexity of its implications, but also partly from its inherent difficulties. And though in fact we may do it justice by explaining its subtlety and complexity, we cannot, in any of the senses which Descartes may have had in mind, strictly speaking establish or vindicate it. As regards my foregoing criticism of Professor Hintikka's analysis, I will summarize this here by saying that, though the cogito insight, or one aspect of it, may be interpreted as performatory along the lines he has indicated (with the proviso however that in order to be effective such an interpretation must be free of certain ambiguities), I see no reason for believing that Descartes himself understood the Cogito exclusively in this way, nor indeed that it must be so interpreted in order to be plausible. For it seems to me that whatever is plausible, true or indubitable in the Cartesian formula is so even without Hintikka's suggested analysis.

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    Article Contentsp. [67]p. 68p. 69p. 70p. 71p. 72p. 73p. 74p. 75p. 76p. 77p. 78p. 79p. 80p. 81p. 82

    Issue Table of ContentsProceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 63 (1962 - 1963), pp. 1-282Front MatterMind and Body: Some Observations on Mr. Strawson's Views: The Presidential Address [pp. 1-22]Value-Concepts and Conceptual Truth [pp. 23-44]Constructivity and Grammar [pp. 45-66]Cogito, Ergo Sum [pp. 67-82]A Sense of Complexity in the Visual Arts [pp. 83-102]Attending and Noticing [pp. 103-126]Concepts and Concept Formation [pp. 127-144]'Ought' Implies 'Can Say' [pp. 145-166]On Belief [pp. 167-186]Meaning, Memory, and the Moment of Creation [pp. 187-202]Entailment and Modality [pp. 203-216]Historical Causation [pp. 217-236]Meaning and Mental Images [pp. 237-250]The Characterisation of Actions and the Virtuous Agent [pp. 251-266]