Samuel Pensler
Amherst College
“I think, therefore I am” suggests a “naïve” interpretation whereby anyone who argues as follows is certain of their existence. I think. Therefore, I am. Curiously, the famous line doesn’t appear in the Meditations, while it does in Descartes’ other works. Does the naïve interpretation, while a plausible reading of the other works, misread the Meditations? In this thesis, I claim that the Meditations should be naïvely interpreted by defending this position against three central objections. Objection 1: Nowhere in the Meditations does the meditator assert that cogito is certain. I respond that the meditator does assert the certainty of cogito in the first meditation as he doubts his beliefs. This happens when he makes judgments about what he is thinking such as: “I have no answer to these [skeptical] arguments” and “my habitual opinions keep coming back.” Objection 2: Even if the meditator claims cogito in the Meditations, he never accounts for why cogito is certain, which he must do if he uses it as a premise. I show that an argument for the certainty of cogito can be reconstructed by examining how the meditator doubts his beliefs. The idea behind the argument is that for the meditator to doubt his belief system it’s necessary that he is certain that he thinks, in particular, that he is certain about what his beliefs are and their amenability to doubt. In short, the certainty of cogito is built into the method of doubt. Objection 3: The naïve interpretation of the Meditations is false since Descartes says that the cogito is not an argument. For, he says that the cogito is a “simple intuition of the mind”, not a “deduction by means of syllogism.” I respond that Descartes is not denying that the cogito is an argument. He is specifying the type of reasoning process one must use to work through the argument from cogito to sum—sum is discovered by “intuition” rather than syllogistic reasoning.
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