Mr. Wilcken, a remarkably kind old gentleman, has for a moment left his labours with Amnesty International to communicate a startling discovery: whereas the modern Western self is constructed from an individual interior perspective outwards; for the Japanese the self is an internalization of the collective. So much so that according to Claude Lévi-Strauss there is no adequate Japanese translation for Descartes's dictum "I think, therefore I am."
Well! I find that very hard to believe. If any one from Japan happens to see this thread I would be most interested to hear anything he or she has to say about the question.
I myself have never been convinced of my own existence. Not really. Perhaps other members might care to shed a light upon their own "interior perspectives."
And another scarcely credible thing Claude said, apparently, is that Japanese process the sound of insects through the left hemisphere of the brain as if it were music, while for Westerners the chirps go through the right hemisphere as noise. How about Persians Indians or Mongolians then we might ask - what kind of buzzings do they in their half way houses hear?
Well, to be pedantic, "I think, therefore I am" is an English translation of René Descartes's French proposition, "je pense, donc je suis[/i]", which appeared in his 'Discourse on the Method' (1637), which was written in French rather than Latin to reach a wider audience in his country than scholars. He used the Latin "cogito ergo sum[/b]" in the later 'Principles of Philosophy' (1644), Neil.
The argument is popularly known in the English speaking world as "the cogito ergo sum argument" or, more briefly, as "the cogito". If I may quote René directly (1637), if only for Sydney:
"… Ainsi, à cause que nos sens nous trompent quelquefois, je voulus supposer qu'il n'y avoit aucune chose qui fût telle qu'ils nous la font imaginer; et parce qu'il y a des hommes qui se méprennent en raisonnant, même touchant les plus simples matières de géométrie, et y font des paralogismes, jugeant que j'étois sujet à faillir autant qu'aucun autre, je rejetai comme fausses toutes les raisons que j'avois prises auparavant pour démonstrations; et enfin, considérant que toutes les mêmes pensées que nous avons étant éveillés nous peuvent aussi venir quand nous dormons, sans qu'il y en ait aucune pour lors qui soit vraie, je me résolus de feindre que toutes les choses qui m'étoient jamais entrées en l'esprit n'étoient non plus vraies que les illusions de mes songes. Mais aussitôt après je pris garde que, pendant que je voulois ainsi penser que tout étoit faux, il falloit nécessairement que moi qui le pensois fusse quelque chose; et remarquant que cette vérité, je pense, donc je suis, étoit si ferme et si assurée, que toutes les plus extravagantes suppositions des sceptiques n'étoient pas capables de l'ébranler, je jugeai que je pouvois la recevoir sans scrupule pour le premier principe de la philosophie que je cherchois."
Of course, if you prefer an English translation, Wikipedia will also suffice! Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations; and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search. In this way, René originally came up with the idea that I think, therefore I am. Well, what do I know?
(Michel de Montaigne)
René turned Michel's famous question on its head and said I know that I think. I can doubt everything, and everyone, apart from the fact that I doubt.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested that I feel, therefore I am, whilst Karl Marx went for action; I act, therefore I am. Meanwhile, the great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, suggested, ethically enough, that I ought, therefore I can. Arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, felt that previous philosophers had tied themselves in knots by asking the wrong sorts of questions. They thought that philosophical problems were to do with understanding the nature of the world, but Wittgenstein thought that they were all problems of language. Sort language out, Sydney Grew, and you could knock philosophy itself on the head. Let us therefore knock language, philosophy and everything else on the head here in 'The Third' today, Sydney.
I don't personally regard René Descartes's proposition as a proof, at least not in a philosophical or scientific sense.
It is as if I were to go the Proms tonight, and say to some French bird, "What are you doing later?"
She might reply, "Au revoir, tweet, tweet!"
My proposition would clearly have failed. Therefore, I sense that in the same way, René has failed to prove that he exists (because he thinks, because he doubts everything apart from the fact that he thinks)! As a scientist, therefore, Sydney, I would adopt the null hypothesis that neither kleines c nor Sydney Grew exists. As Ludwig would later point out, however, there is this particular word, sentence, reply, posting, thread, discussion forum, social media, internet and virtual reality, however, and all the language and cultural and technological baggage, so to speak, which comes with them!
As for the Japanese and the collective, I would be more inclined to think of my existence not in individual terms, but in terms of my selfish genes, or even jeans, if I can ever get them on and/or off. What matters is not kleines c as an individual, but the replication of his genes. That is why the French bird, or any other bird, for that matter, really matters! I cannot do it on my own! Such is the human condition!
Well, to be pedantic, "I think, therefore I am" is an English translation of René Descartes's French proposition, "je pense, donc je suis
[/i]" . . . [/quote] Herefrom arise so many important points! I shall attempt to discuss some of them in an orderly fashion, little by little (as the proverbial Bishop put it). Let us commence with two arising from:
1: It does not mean "I am thinking." It is not, that is to say, the present continuous tense. It is in fact the simple present tense, just as are "I play cricket" and "I write books."
2: "Je pense" - "I think" - does not mean that any thought is taking place at the present moment. Indeed what is taking place at the present moment when some one utters this phrase is (we find) simply that some one is uttering this phrase. The "thinking" to which it refers has taken place in the past and is not known to be taking place in the present. In other words, it is only after a period of reflection (thought about thought etc.) that one discovers or realizes that one thinks. And the same can in turn be said of one's discovery that one remembers - which is why I added the words "we find" above. We can have absolutely no direct knowledge of or experience of the present. For us there IS no present in any direct sense; everything is recollection. (Enter jolly old Proust - only the past is real.) That reflection - or remembrance - may or may not also be "thinking" but one thing we can definitely say is that it differs from that "thinking" which our reflection is about.
Next time: much more on "je" and much more on "pense."
2: "Je pense" - "I think" - does not mean that any thought is taking place at the present moment.
Hmmmm.... it's been a while since I spoke much French, although I studied it quite rigorously many years ago.
I am not sure that there is an equivalence of "je pense" and "I think" that excludes an English translation in the present continuous?
The richness of tense expression in English offers both
"I am thinking" (at the moment I am speaking to you about it)
"I think" (as a general habit)
It's a distinction one becomes acutely aware of if living in countries like Russia or Greece. Their languages have "moods" in which one must be entirely precise about whether the action is finite or continuous... because quite different verbs are used in each case.
Ask not for the meaning of the word, 'pense', nor indeed, for the meaning of the word 'je', but for their use (after Ludwig Wittgenstein). . . .
What if their "uses" are identical with their "meanings"? Is not jolly old Ludwig drawing a distinction there where there is none to be drawn?
The personal pronoun "I" derives from the Old English "ic" which in turn comes from the Gothic "ik," as do even the Greek "ἑγώ" and the Latin "ego" and the French "je".
It was only with the introduction of printing that Middle English "ic, ik, icc, ich, yk, or ych" settled down as "I".
Both "i" and "ich" were often written in combination with the verb, as in "idude" I did, "icham" I am, "ichill" I will; these last were often erroneously divided by later scribes and printers as "I cham", "I chill" and so on.
The Latin "ego" was for the most part used only for emphasis; the more usual expression of its significance being by way of a verbal suffix or inflection. I do not regard that function as essentially different from the "I" prefixes in "icham" et cetera above.
And again, the French "je" is the same word ("ik") in origin: "ÉTYM. 1080, Chanson de Roland; eo, io, 842, Serments de Strasbourg, puis jo et je; lat. class. ego." (Grand Robert again.)
As a preliminary probe, we may note the O.E.D.'s suggestion that the meaning of "I" is "The subject or object of self-consciousness; that which is conscious of itself, as thinking, feeling, and willing; the ego." And it adds a helpful citation from E.B. Bax: "The I which we think of when we say "myself" is not the true I, the I that is thinking, but merely a pseudo-I, a synthesis of thoughts and feelings reflected in this I, which are immediately or intuitively identified with that I." Are we any further forward? . . .
Last Edit: Jul 21, 2013 10:10:28 GMT -5 by Deleted
The member is right to draw attention to this phrase, particularly since it relates to the important - nay supreme - question of time, one already adumbrated above and to which I intend to return in further discussion of "je pense."
Some years ago I did a little research in this area. We might begin with Schelling's exposition of the relationship between mythology and religion. "Consciousness," says Schelling, "cannot break away from the mythologicality of the facts related in Genesis until it recognizes the true god as not only the god now merely apparent, but at the same time as the god who at some future time shall be. Seen from this aspect the religion of Abraham is pure and authentic monotheism, but for him it is not the religion of the present - in the present his monotheism is subject to the restriction of mythology - certainly, though, it is for him the religion of the future; the true god is the one who shall be, that is indeed his name. When Moses asks under which name he should proclaim the god who will lead the people out of Egypt, this god answers 'I shall be the I shall be.' Here, thus, where the god speaks in his own person, the name is translated from the third person into the first, and it would be quite inadmissible to find here too the expression of the metaphysical eternity or immutability of God."
Now there ("I shall be the I shall be") Schelling is quoting Luther's version from the German bible: "Ich werde seyn der ich seyn werde." Less literally, perhaps, it might be translated as "I shall be that I shall be."
The Authorized Version (as quoted by our member) has a very significant difference, in that the future tense is lacking:
"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
The New International Version likewise drops any hint of a future:
"God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I AM has sent me to you."'"
This last bit - "I AM has sent me to you - strikes me as rather ridiculous, although it might have been "the I am" meaning "I, the one who is". But the New International Version does deign to add an alternative reading in a foot-note:
"I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE", which agrees in tense with Schelling's (Luther's) version. What Schelling means above about the name being translated from the third person to the first is that "the one who shall be" is changed to "I, the one who shall be". (Would it be too simple-minded of me to suggest that the god actually said "I am 'the one who shall be'"?)
T. S. Gregory, in his introduction to Spinoza's Ethics, takes "I AM THAT I AM" to mean that God exists from the necessity of his own nature, and is his own cause.
Vico, in De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia, says that God is saying that each and every thing is not in comparison with him. There is another long and important passage about this divine statement in Schelling's Philosophy of Mythology, where Schelling interprets it in terms of his philosophy of existence, necessity, and freedom; here are two excerpts (note that the unnatural phrase "that itself which exists" is a kind of technical term):
"That which shall be, is admittedly for that very reason not yet existing; it is, however, not nothing, and so that itself which exists, considered purely as such, is admittedly not yet something existing, but for that very reason not nothing; for it is in fact that which shall be. "God is that itself which exists" means, according to what has just been said, the same as: God in and for himself, regarded in his pure essence, is merely that which shall be; and here I again call your attention to how, in the most ancient document in which the true god is mentioned, this god gives himself the name 'I shall be' [only in German!]; and here it is very natural that the very same god who, when he speaks in the first person, thus of himself, calls himself Aejaeh, that is to say 'I shall be', that this god, when it is a question of him in the third person, when another speaks of him, is called Jahwo or Jiwaeh, in short, 'he shall be' . . .
"This ['I shall be the I shall be'] may be translated as 'the I wish to be' - I am not that which necessarily exists (in this sense), but am Lord of existence. You will see from this how, simply from the fact that God is stated to be that itself which exists, he is also at once characterized as spirit; for spirit is precisely that which can either exist or not, can either express itself or not, which is not obliged to express itself, like the body (which has no choice about filling its space and is obliged to fill it), while I for example, as spirit, am entirely free to express myself or not, to express myself in one way or another, to express one thing and not something else. You will also see, for that very reason, how a philosophy which goes back to that itself which exists and starts out from there, how this philosophy leads immediately, and simply of its own nature, to a system of freedom, and has freed itself from the necessity which weighs down like an evil spirit on all systems which remain with mere existence and do not raise themselves to that itself which exists, however much they may go on about 'movement.' To go beyond existence, and even to gain a free relationship to it, this is the true endeavour of philosophy. That itself which exists is simply of its own nature also that which is free from existence and in respect to existence, and that itself which exists is all that is important for us. In existence there resides nothing, existence is in every case only an accessory, something being added to that which is."
On a lighter note, possibly, there exists an amusing scrap in Schelling's hand (published in 1989 with his "Introduction to Philosophy"), as follows:
Ich bin der ich war. Ich bin der ich sein werde. Ich war der ich sein werde. Ich werde sein der ich bin
(I am the I was. I am the I shall be. I was the I shall be. I shall be the I am )
Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, Sydney, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation!
Last Edit: Jul 25, 2013 15:06:35 GMT -5 by Deleted
We hope the member will before long expand upon that!
But let us to-day return to René the Maps. When he used the word "je" what did he understand it to mean? Three points:
1) It was that "je" that for instance studied, shut himself in a stove, and received his three visions from a divine spirit that revealed to him the idea of applying mathematics to philosophy. All that history and much much more went to constitute his "je." His "je" WAS "that which did" all those remembered things, and certainly did not only "pense."
2) My own "je" may pense, and kleines c's "je" may also pense, but they are very far from being the same "je." What is it that penses? A different "je" in each case, with its own distinct history, which serves to define it. (And in fact no person can have direct experience of more than one "je" - that the others exist in the same way can - strictly - in the nature of things and by definition be no more than a theory.)
3) Nothing about any one's "je" is physical. René's "je" - and our own - are constructed entirely out of remembrances. Of course these remembrances - some of them - may refer to the natural world, but they occupy a different space, and there is no possibility that the twain could ever meet. All our awareness of, and knowledge of, the physical world, even, occupies a space different from that occupied by that physical world.
Next time: more about "pense" and reading other people's pensées.
It might also well be the case that thinking and communication with other people are intimately connected. For example, I could not possibly write this cogent reply without first having read and understood what Neil has just written.
To the best of my knowledge, Neil and kleines c have never met, and yet for the best part of ten years we have understood one another perfectly well online. Of course, we both realise that we hold very different views of the world, and of ourselves, but that is, in a sense, the mark of our maturity. We can accept each other for what we are!
My own opinion, too, is that the pronoun is ultimately irrelevant. It does not actually matter who is doing the thinking. It may not even matter that the thinking, whether individual or collective, is irrelevant. In the beginning was not the Word, but the Deed. The Word, an abstraction, came later!
Last Edit: Jul 29, 2013 10:30:34 GMT -5 by Deleted