The Concept of the "I" in Descartes’ Philosophy

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The Concept of the

The concept of the "I" and the works of Rene Descartes in particular play an important role in modern philosophy. The rationalistic philosophy considered the "I" as the central link in the chain of rationalist view on the world and a human in it. Given the features of the "I" proposed by Descartes, it makes sense to consider it as the transcendental "I" that is able to organize human cognitive activity, defining the capabilities of operating information obtained. The transcendentalism of Descartes’ "I" is endowed with divine status and contrasted with the earthly world, although it correlates with the latter through its empirical experience.

To begin, in Meditations, Descartes argues that the "I" simply means the "thinking thing" ("res cogitans"). Initially, in Descartes’ view, the saying "I think, therefore I exist" is a property of the thinking thing. Thinking logically precedes being and it is its base, while being is a consequence of thinking. According to Descartes, the activities of the cogito are organized in such a way that its every act has a certain logical and grammatical form: every representation takes the form of "I imagine," every thought - "I think", every motivation - "I want", etc. The idea is always "my" ("someone’s") thought. Descartes considers thinking in terms of the first person: "I think", "I am", "I am the thinking thing "; i.e. he considers his own thinking as a model of thinking as such. The analysis of this thought reveals that every effort represents something that exposes first the "I". The deep analyses of Descartes’ Meditations allows one to see that the philosopher is first interested in the transcendental structure of actual empirical acts of consciousness. Descartes knew that a particular person can think, but, according to him, his/her thinking leads to the construction (that is repeatedly reproduced in real science) of a subject. The subjec ideally is a timeless, spaceless, reflective and self-identical transcendental subject. It is the necessary carrier of continuity of perceived events before which all phenomena are assembled into a single space of objectivity. Therefore, Descartes considers the "I" as a philosopher, not as a psychologist, though he elects his own "I" as a model for such a discourse. The latter fact demonstrates Descartes’ desire to oppose the world as if he was the only unearthly being certifying existence of the world itself and being able to say "my world."

In fact, the subject of the Cartesian metaphysics is reduction of consciousness of specific individuals to certain sustainable patterns of consciousness. Spontaneous psychic life of an individual integrates with a masking frame, the circuit of which defines a substantive content of experience. Thanks to this, one could eliminate any phenomenal givens without damaging the very framework. This distance of the subject from the objective contents of consciousness provides freedom of the subject, which has a formal character. The "I" is free, at least in the sense that it can doubt everything, which determines the need to find unbreakable foundation for true knowledge. For Descartes, one should not doubt the existence the transcendental subject, presented in the most logical and grammatical form of representation. If anyone doubts it, then, according to Descartes, he/she simply does not think. Starting to think, a person is not able to doubt the "I" any more. Therefore, a specific person is a subject only insofar as he/she is held in a state of thought-presentation and retains some objective content in the form of "I represent".

In the Meditations, Descartes often considers the "I" in terms of a soul, mind, intellect, spirit, being, thinking thing, i.e. in terms of which empirical content is mixed. Therefore, accusations that the concepts of the empirical and the transcendenntal subject are confused appear. However, Descartes did it only in order to show the connection of the acts of the cogito with the mental, psychological and physical organization of the thinking being that can have an experience: the experience of thought, soul, body, and the unity of the first, second and third ones. The Cartesian subject is actually cleared of all but the cogito’s activity, and this is the pathos of the contrast between the "I" and the world, transmitted grammatically through the simple pronoun of "my" ("my world").

Descartes’ God is directly connected with the human "I", where only the "I" is capable of detecting the essence of any subject due to its reliability. The difference and equidistance between the "I" as res cogitans and the body as res extensa allows the subject to perceive the world in its authenticity. The information received by the subject of cognition gets to the "I" forming its essence. That is, in the act of creation of the "I", the "I" is displayed by the light of transcendence. The "I" is actually transcendence. Under this condition, the process of knowledge acquires its depth dimension, i.e. the "vision" of not only changing features of the world, but its ideological component. The more the "I" is separated from the world, the less natural and the more transcendent (divine) it is.

Thus, the divine or transcendental status of the "I" makes it non-spatial and non-volatile versatility, which is uneducable to the earthly world. The proximity of the “I” to the concept of God is one of the arguments that support this idea. Moreover, the fact that Descartes sharply contrasts consciousness with the “I” and matter with the body also confirms the idea that the philosopher emphasizes the unique nature of the “I”. He believes that the "I" has divine status and hence a certain freedom expressed in particular in the ability to question any information received.

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