Section 1b

What is Thought?

by Rene Descartes Icon

9 What is thought (COGITATIO)?

“Thought” is all that takes place in us that we are immediately conscious of.

The following are the same as to think (cogitare, penser):

  • to understand (intelligere, entendre)
  • to will (velle)
  • to imagine (imaginari)
  • to perceive (sentire, sentir)

I say, I see, or, I walk. Therefore I am.

If this seeing or walking is from the body, then this seeing or walking is not absolutely certain.

  • This is because, I may think that I see or walk in my dreams

But if this seeing or walking is the sensation itself, then it is the consciousness of seeing or walking.

  • This knowledge is manifestly certain because it is then referred to the mind.
  • The mind alone perceives or is conscious that it sees or walks.

[Footnote: In the French, “which alone has the power of perceiving, or of being conscious in any other way whatever.”]

10 The notions which are simplest and self-evident, are obscured by logical definitions.

These are born with us and not among the cognitions acquired by study.

Philosophers are wrong to use logical definitions on such truths that are most simple and self-evident.

  • They merely rendered them more obscure.

“I THINK, THEREFORE I AM” is of all others the first and most certain which occurs to one philosophizing orderly.

  • This means that it is necessary to know what thought, existence, and certainty are.

I did not enumerate them there because:

  • these are the most simple notions, and
  • these themselves afford the knowledge of nothing existing

11 How can we know our mind more clearly than our body?

Our knowledge of the mind precedes, has greater certainty, and is even clearer, than our knowledge of the body.

Affections or qualities belong to nothing.

Wherever we observe certain affections, we find that there is a thing or substance connected to them.

  • This means that we know a thing or substance more clearly as we discover more of its qualities.

We remark more qualities in our mind than in any other thing.

There is no occasion on which we know anything whatever when we are not at the same time led with much greater certainty to the knowledge of our own mind.

For example, if I judge that there is an earth because I touch or see it, on the same ground, and with still greater reason, I must be persuaded that my mind exists; for it may be, perhaps, that I think I touch the earth while there is one in existence;

but it is not possible that I should so judge, and my mind which thus judges not exist; and the same holds good of whatever object is presented to our mind.

12 Why does this not come equally to everyone?

Those who have not philosophized in order have had other opinions on this subject, because they never distinguished with sufficient care the mind from the body.

They had no difficulty in believing that:

  • they themselves existed, and
  • they had a higher assurance of this than of any other thing

Nevertheless, they did not observe that by THEMSELVES. They should here understand their MINDS alone [when the question related to metaphysical certainty].

On the contrary, they rather meant their bodies which they saw with their eyes, touched with their hands, and to which they erroneously attributed the faculty of perception, they were prevented from distinctly apprehending the nature of the mind.

13 In what sense does the knowledge of other things depend on the knowledge of God?

A mind might know itself but still doubt all other things.

  • It looks around on all sides to widen its knowledge.
  • It first discovers within itself many ideas.

The mind is in no danger of erring when the mind:

  • simply contemplates those ideas, and
  • neither affirms nor denies that there is anything beyond itself corresponding to those ideas

The mind also discovers common notions.

  • Out of these, it frames various demonstrations.
  • These demonstrations carry conviction to such a degree as to render them true as long as we pay attention to them.

For example, the mind has within itself common ideas of numbers and shapes.

  • It has likewise among its common notions the principle THAT IF EQUALS BE ADDED TO EQUALS THE WHOLES WILL BE EQUAL and the like.
  • From this, it is easy to demonstrate that the 3 angles of a triangle are equal to 2 right angles, etc.

As long as we attend to the premises from which this conclusion and others similar to it were deduced, we feel assured of their truth.

But the mind cannot always think of these with attention.

The mind perceives that the truth of conclusions should not be trusted when it:

  • remembers a conclusion without recollecting the order of its deduction, and
  • is uncertain whether the author of its being has created it of a nature that is liable to be deceived, even in what appears most evident,

At such a point, the mind cannot have any certain knowledge until it has discovered its author.

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