"I Think, Therefore I Am": The Philosophy of René Descartes

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 636 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Sep 16, 2023

Words: 636|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Sep 16, 2023

Table of contents

  1. The Context of Descartes' Philosophy
  2. The Meaning of "I Think, Therefore I Am"
  3. Implications and Philosophical Legacy
  4. Conclusion

The statement "Cogito, ergo sum" in Latin, or "I think, therefore I am" in English, is one of the most famous and enduring philosophical phrases in history. Coined by the French philosopher René Descartes in the 17th century, it serves as a foundational concept in his philosophical system. This essay explores the meaning, context, and implications of this profound statement and its enduring relevance in the realm of philosophy and human existence.

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The Context of Descartes' Philosophy

René Descartes was a mathematician, scientist, and philosopher who lived during the 17th century, a time of great intellectual upheaval. He sought to establish a method for acquiring knowledge that would be certain and indubitable. To do this, Descartes embarked on a radical intellectual journey that would lead him to doubt all of his beliefs and systematically question the foundations of knowledge.

Descartes' doubt was not a rejection of knowledge but a rigorous method for building a secure foundation for it. He aimed to find an indubitable starting point upon which he could build a system of knowledge that would be unassailable. The famous phrase "I think, therefore I am" emerges from this process of doubt and self-examination.

The Meaning of "I Think, Therefore I Am"

At the heart of Descartes' philosophy is the recognition that doubt itself is a form of thinking. By doubting, he could not deny the existence of his own thoughts. Doubt presupposes a thinking subject—a "thinking thing" in his terminology. Thus, the act of doubt itself served as proof of his existence as a thinking being.

In more detail, Descartes' argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. Doubt: Descartes begins by doubting everything—his senses, the external world, and even the existence of God. He imagines an evil demon who might deceive him into believing false things.
  2. Existence of Thought: Despite the doubt, Descartes recognizes that he is thinking. Doubt requires thought, and thought requires a thinking subject.
  3. Existence of the Thinker: From the existence of thought, Descartes concludes that there must be a thinking "I" or "self" that is doing the thinking.
  4. Certainty of Self: Descartes finds that the existence of the thinking self is undeniable and certain. It is immune to doubt because, in the very act of doubting, he affirms his own existence as a thinking thing.

Thus, the statement "I think, therefore I am" captures the essence of Descartes' philosophical journey. It signifies that the act of thinking is the most certain and undeniable evidence of one's existence. Even in the face of radical doubt and deception, the thinking self remains indubitable.

Implications and Philosophical Legacy

The assertion "I think, therefore I am" has profound implications for the nature of knowledge and the self. It establishes the thinking self as the foundation of knowledge, as Descartes sought to build a system of certain knowledge from this foundational point.

Descartes' method of doubt and his emphasis on the thinking self had a significant influence on the development of modern philosophy. It laid the groundwork for a new era of philosophical inquiry characterized by skepticism, rationalism, and the quest for foundational knowledge. Philosophers such as John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume engaged with Descartes' ideas, offering their own perspectives on the nature of the self and knowledge.

Furthermore, Descartes' exploration of the thinking self contributed to the development of the philosophy of consciousness. It raised questions about the relationship between mind and body, the nature of personal identity, and the role of the self in human experience.

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"I think, therefore I am" encapsulates the essence of René Descartes' philosophical journey—a journey marked by doubt, inquiry, and the quest for certain knowledge. This statement reminds us of the foundational role of the thinking self in our understanding of existence and knowledge. Descartes' legacy endures in the world of philosophy and continues to inspire exploration into the nature of consciousness, identity, and the boundaries of human understanding.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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“I Think, Therefore I Am”: The Philosophy of René Descartes. (2023, September 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from
““I Think, Therefore I Am”: The Philosophy of René Descartes.” GradesFixer, 16 Sept. 2023,
“I Think, Therefore I Am”: The Philosophy of René Descartes. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 Apr. 2024].
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