Rene Descartes could be likened to a modern day “One Act Wonder.” The only fact that the ordinary man recalls about Descartes is “I think therefore I am.” Yet, even still, people may not even know he said it. Descartes, however, goes much further into detail than most people do, who stop at this one statement.
Descartes had a great number of powerful insights into human existence. What one must first do is reduce everything to the most basic principles of existence. So what are these most basic of principles? This is where Descartes comes up with, “I think therefore I am.” Descartes was a strong believer in doubting all that one has learned, known, or been told. He is keen to perceive deception and overcome it. He is an empiricist in that he believes that the only things that work are those that can hold up to scrutiny.
A very clever explanation for doubting these things which one accepts out of hand is that there is some form of an evil genius out to get all persons. This is actually quite a handy argument should one be seeking a cop out for any action. If these was reasoning accepted in a court of law, every guilty party could get off without any due punishment. Yet, this, as with most other things, must be put into perspective. This evil genius is a theory, not a proven fact. Must like the creation stories, the evil genius is an allegory, a story that is meant to portray a lesson or view. In this particular instance, the lesson is that there is the possibility of an alternative force that is causing doubts in one’s own life. Counter to this one argument, he later explores the existence of God, which he proves to himself. Therefore, he trusts that God favors him, then God could not deceive him.
During this process of discernment, Descartes promulgates this theory. Descartes says that if one has belief and clear and distinct existence, then it is known to be true. There are obvious ways to disprove this idea. Say for example, that one cannot know anything to be clear and distinct, or even if something can truly be. I could personally counter any argument made. For example, if a friend tells me that a desk exists because he has belief and clear and distinct knowledge, it must be true. I would counter that his belief is a part of his skewed view of reality and therefore there is no way that he could have clear and distinct knowledge. While this may be radical and preposterous, some arguments in philosophy are.
While most consider Augustine or Aquinas as those who discuss God and His existence, Descartes actually tries to prove the existence of God. As previously stated, Descartes founded his footing for the existence of God to counter the evil genius theory. Descartes acknowledges that mankind is flawed and that a perfect being must exist. In the end of his discernment, he claims that God affirms the basic beliefs and God’s perfection allows Him to be wholly good.
This is the first time that I have personally read Descartes. I have had brief discussions on the notion of existence. I find Descartes to have great insights, yet I disagree with the idea that the only way to know that we exist is to doubt our existence. There are a great number of possibilities that are alternatives that might disprove this theory.
I have made this argument before, but I would like to reaffirm it and refine it a bit. Right now I am writing a paper and at some point in the future you will be reading this paper. Now, I wonder to myself if I exist. Perhaps I am in a coma dream of you, the reader, and am merely a player in your dream. Being the great philosopher that you undoubtedly are, you very well have thought me up to have a complex ability to discern things philosophy and, at this point, you are having me write this paper so that you can think even more about the nature of reality. Now, my intelligence can be a credit to your giving it to be, and you would be in a god-role in this dream. Going even further, you may have the ability to remove me from your reality, yet you do not because you enjoy my company. Yet, through this paper and the reading of Descartes, I start to wonder about my existence. I may believe that I exist, but you would probably chuckle to yourself at my belief that I exist when you have full knowledge that, in your coma dream, you hold me in existence. I will never know if I am truly here, but even with the most vivid of perceptions, I am convinced that I exist.
Considering even the most basic tenants of Descartes’ arguments, one could seek to expand the exploration to another thing that is potentially in existence, postage stamps. Some may argue that the following adventure is preposterous and extreme, but it may really not be so.
Descartes says, “I think therefore I am.” As previously discussed, he says that the only way to know our existence is to doubt it, thereby confirming the reality. What about, however, postage stamps? The first point of contention is that they are brought into existence by humans, so they cannot be real, as they have a master. However, are not humans created by God, a superior being as well? In fact, stamps are mostly perfect with no blemishes. It is hard to final a human, if at all possible, that has no flaws or blemishes. As the progression gets more extreme, there is a definite possibility that stamps are simply more evolved than man. They do not get sick, they do not quit their jobs, they are not lazy, and they do not kill their young. In fact, once made they are fully complete, whereas man takes years, in fact one’s whole life, to reach fruition. Going even further, it is possible that stamps are so highly evolved that they are able to communicate on such a high level that we cannot even hear them or understand their signals. According to Descartes thinking means existence, do not stamps have the potential to think? At this point some may throw out this argument as ridiculous, yet one should not be so hasty. If Descartes is correct and one can only know one’s own existence to be true, how could one disprove another’s existence?
Truly I believe that postage stamps exist and that they are inanimate objects and that they exist. As a stamp collector, I know that they exist, and certainly hope so because their value is great. Yet, even should I debate their existence, I agree with Descartes and believe that God is a perfect being and is not out to deceive me. I believe that there is an evil genius, but he is only given as much power as I allot to him. Surely too, stamps can only be paralleled to the creation of man very loosely, in that man is much more complex than stamps. The sophisticated nature of man clearly demonstrates that man is superior to all other beings in that we can evaluate our lives and have the ability of self-reflection.
In the end, however, as with anything, it does not really matter what Descartes said. All that truly matters is how I perceive and apply these matters to my life. He has relevance, but it is my own personal journey is that which is most important in my life. At the end of the day, that which is most crucial to me is for me to get to a point that I am satisfied with the conclusions that I reach. My conclusions are that my world exists, stamps exist, and Descartes has some relevance even today in modern thought and it is these conclusions that I am sufficiently satisfied with.