I think therefore I am. But what next?

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Many look at "I think therefore I am" with interest but just move on to other work. But to move on without building a foundation in which philosophers can fall back to is a disgrace, and will only lead to trouble as society continues to pile layers and layers of complexity on top of this missing foundation.

Submitted: December 05, 2011

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Submitted: December 05, 2011



What do one truly know? Rene Decartes would suggest that one can only be confident in one’s own existence. “I think, therefore I am” Decartes claims that because we can think, we must exist. No divine can make an individual nothing, and still have the individual think. But beyond that there is nothing in place to suggest that other people and things exist. They could be a figment of one’s imagination, everything one sense could just a mental projection. Although Rene Decarte’s method of inquiry, and method of doubt is an interesting philosophical approach he was unable to prove anything beyond his own existence.

Most people learned about his work with interest but eventually just moved on because there has yet been a method to pass Decarte’s strenuous expectations. But to move on without building a foundation in which philosophers can fall back to is a disgrace, and will only lead to trouble as society continues to pile layers and layers of complexity on top of this missing foundation. This essay will therefore undertake the task of exploring the implications of the current stale mate, and what is the best way to continue philosophical studies beyond it. A part of the focus will also consider the steps that needs to be taken if through one day philosophers have figured out a way to prove, or disprove, the existence of others.

I will now enter this essay in first person because this can be only observed and explained through introspection (also I can’t assume there are other thinking individuals). It’s clear from the paragraph before that I exist. But there is no way to prove that my body exists. They could be a projection of my mind or a illusion. Decarte proves his existence in the way that he is able to think and produce thought. That proves nothing about the body that I am in, or the chemical fluctuations exciting neurons in my head producing thought. To my current progress and intelligence there is no way for me to prove beyond doubt that my body exists. But regardless of it’s realism I experience pain if I damage my body, and happiness if I rest it. There are two possible outcomes
1. My body is real, but I have no way to prove it yet.
2. My body is an illusion, but I have no way to prove it yet.

In the first case, even if I were to prove my body exists then I’m only proving common sense. There is nothing I would do differently, I would still take care of my body as I have before this break through.

The second case however is more important. What if I were to prove that my body is an illusion? Certainly there have been plenty previous philosophers who have attempted to do so, but none have convinced me or frankly the masses with undeniable proof. Considering there is proof though, if my body is not real then perhaps it would make more me curious about death, or if death even exists. I would be interested to observe what happens to me as my non existent body ages. There would be no rush for suicide, it would be imperative to test what the natural process of life through this illusion entails. Also even knowing that my body is an illusion I would still be subjected to pain, pleasure, and the laws of nature.

Until I find proof it’s important to preserve the body in case it is the vehicle of life. Also in order to one day figure this question out we must continue generations of philosophers, this existence or non existence of our bodies must be continue to be discussed.

This line of thinking can be applied to not only our body but other objects. There is no way to know if these objects are real but for now it seems objects are detected by our senses and are consistent. These objects can bring us mental stimulation and pleasure. It can protect us and cause us pain. Even if we prove objects are not real, it is likely that we would still interact with it the same way as ever before.

Physical existence aside, there rests a second question regarding the existence of other people capable of individual thought. Until proven otherwise we cannot mistreat other individuals because the possibility of their existence would cause other minds pain, we being empathetic creatures cannot allow that to happen. There are also obvious consequences for treating other harshly. This could result in retaliation and being out casted from the community. So until proven otherwise we can only treat other human beings with respect as if they were real.

It is interesting however to consider what I would do if proven other individuals don’t exist. I am constrained by the rule of law and have to adhere to the rules that my projections have created. It would be unwise even still to treat my projections with disrespect because even though they are fake, I still need to them to fill the lonely void. It is obvious though that I would become more narcissistic.

The existence of my body, of objects, and other thinking individuals have yet to proven. I cannot assume one way or the other before there is a method to test the statements. It’s important to remember the choice to continue living as if everything exists as temporary means so that if a break through was ever made philosophers/philosopher/I will be ready consider the implications and takes new steps to reality. With that the chapter of epistemology can be temporally closed, new progress can be made in fields such as science to further improve our lives, and philosophers can perhaps sleep more soundly.

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