[hist-analytic] Descartes' "Cogito": An Analytic Historic Perspective

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Wed Mar 18 17:40:42 EDT 2009

In a message dated 3/18/2009 5:08:02 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk writes:
But I am sure that Descartes and Kant  (and perhaps the rest of
the a priori crew) would deny that it is based upon  experience: 
I tried to read Cartesius, Renatus, in the original vernacular (la langue  
francaise) and the Latinate. Both ... leave a lot for Malebranche to be  desired!
In French it's
"je pense; donc, j'exist"
where 'donc' sounds _very_ interjectional_ to me!

In Latin it's
"cogito ergo sum" which sounds better.
But is the logical form, for him, as we assume it _should_ be:
         .  . sum
? Don't think so. Logic was never so developed then. I think he  merely meant,
"si je pense, j'exist".
"si cogito, sum"
"Ergo" is _a_ trick of a word. I would never have my students learn  it! It's 
I find that anything that can be expressed with .    . can also
be expressed without.
Grice's epoch-making example:

"He is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave."
Note the profussion of graphics: 'comma', semi-colon. It's _ungrammatical_  
So it's not a sentence in Chomskyan sense. It's two.
(1) He is an Englishman; he is, therefore, brave.
(2) He is an Englishman.
(3) He is, therefore, brave.
And they are conjoined:
(2) & (3) iff (1)
But that's not what it's meant. What is meant can never be put euphonically  
which is a bad sign for any Austinian worthy of her name:
(4) The fact that he is brave follows from the fact that he is an  Englishman.
But what _facts_ are we talking about? Surely the 'cogito' for Descartes  
cannot be a _fact_.
"un fait accompli". The Latin 'factum' would also be otiose. But  eliminating 
'factive' references:
(5) Jack's bravery follows from his Englishry [sic]
is some otiose.
--- I use Jack because Grice expands on this as being an utterance by  _Jill_ 
on she having to report on Jack's brain swelling for that literally  bloody 
pail of water. "Jack felt down and broke his crown" -- I always found  that 
rhyme so obscene. But then so was my nurse!
As I write this I'm hoping that Natasha Richardson's courage will follow  
from her Englishry too. 
It's interesting to model Kant's 'transcendental' ego, so-called, in terms  
of the ego of the cogito. "Ich denke" indeed. What's slightly problematic is  
that it's a mere doxastic: 'think', 'denken'. Now, "I _know_; thefore I am"  
sounds like a veritable truism to me. Never mind a priori.
But I would think that Cartesius and Zant (I prefer this spelling -- as  it's 
"Cant" pronounced in Germany before he changed it to Mr. "K")  would have 
allowed for the total cancellation of the cogito: alla:
(6) Cogito ergo sum; but then perhaps it's not even a fact that I cogito.  It 
could be all the result of a malignant demon.
In Descartes, it has to do with the odd metaphysics of res cogitans. When  in 
problem with some cancellation, invent a new category of entity, call it 'res 
 cogitans', and add that something is true in that realm by _decree_.
With Kant, the 'ego' becomes so otiose, transcendental or not, that my  
teacher never understood it! "Skip it," she said -- "Stick to the things he  writes 
the ego _understands_". Another trick, 'understand'. Why are these  
continentals so into not accepting 'knowledge' for what it claims to be?
Hintikka had it possibly right when he tried to put Austin's odd notions to  
some good use, and said, "It's the performative, stupid" (Verifiable by their  
use, alla Lemmon).
J. L. Speranza
           Grice,  'Descartes on clear and distinct ideas', WOW. Part II: 
Semantics and  Metaphysics. 
           Hintikka. The  Cogito
           Chisholm. The  first person
           Anscombe. The  first person
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