Descartes’ View: Why Cogito Ergo Sum Is Foundational?

Descartes started with defining knowledge in terms of doubt. He made a clear distinction between rigorous knowledge and lesser degrees of conviction by stating “ I distinguish the two as follows: there is conviction where there remains some reason which might lead to doubt , but knowledge is conviction based on a reason so strong that it can never be shaken by any stronger reason” (1640 letter, AT 3:64-65). Such was the nature of quest of Descartes’ cetaninty and knowledge which ultimetely led to cogito ergo sum which is foundational for knowing the baisis of truth. This want of absolute certainity marks a new approach at looking at things because it starts with the emphsisis on doubt rather than certaninity. Below we shall discuss how Descartes arrived at this conclusion and the types of knowledge that he casted in doubt before at this arrival at conclusion.

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Descartes belonged in the Methodist camp. Descartes contemplated that prime facie the earth is unmoved, that ordinary objects are just as they seem, however the newly formulated doctrines of the 17th century imply that such judgments are false. Such intuitions slowly led him thinking about the truth behind what we conceived to be reality, since initutions derived from simple sensory perecptions that cannot be trusted any longer. Descartes therefore needed a method to distingusish truth from falsifity.

In the First Meditation Descartes’s put forward the claim “ that I am here, sitting by the fire, wearing a winter dressing gown and so on.” He further goes on to say that even though doubt in these matters seems quite impossible or so it would seem but prima facie obviousness of such particular claims does not provide sufficent proof.

In the second meditation Descarte tried to dig out a method or a procedure to what is innate. According to Descartes our minds come stocked with a variety of intellectual concepts. These ideas includes ideas in mathmatics, metaphysics,. Descartees mainted that every sensory ideas involve innate content. This understanding grew that the new mechanical physical bodies have no real properties resembling our sensory ideas of colour, sounds, tastes and thus we derive all these ideas from the mind itself. These ideas however he admitted were based on sensory stimulation. Descartes official doctrine therefore suggested that ideas are innate in so far as their content derives from the nature of the mind alone as opposed to sensory stimulation.

Descartes reasoned that to understand the reality around him he had to deconstruct everything that he had learnt earlier. His central idea of fondationalism is to organize one’s belief in the manner of a well, structed architectural edifice. This means to to draw a super structure one needs to lay down a firm foundation and then only one has a justified belief that could be unshakable. One example of foundationalist structure is Euclid’s geometry. Euclid begins with the foundation of first principles like definiation and axioms and then bases a super structure of further propositions.

In the case of geometry and mathmatics his system seems to work well , axioms, postulates and definitions are deductable. However in the realm of metaphysics Descartes seemed to have run into a problem. The priciple of foundationlism is revolutionary in realm of sciences because it begins with doubt and first test the foundations to make sure the superstructure has not been build on shaky foundations. However it is wrong to assume that Descartes aim was to introduce doubt into everything but his aim was to reach a level a certainity. His sceptical doubts were only to be put into use to test the firmness of beliefs put forward as candiates of Knowledge- testing their epistemic shakibility.

Descartes maintained that it is necessary “to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations” (Med. 1, AT 7:17). Why is doubt so nessassary to this extent ? Descartes offered a good analogy in this respect : Suppose that a person has a basket of apples and he is scared that some of them might have become rotten. His best chances is to tip the whole of basket then reexamine every apple and put those fresh back in. Same way in childhood we have developed preconcieved notions and have reasons to believe that many of them may be false. Now the best way is to reject all the belief system and to start a new. Descartes maintened over and over that to beware that senses are realible or that the ancient authorities can be trusted.

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Famously Descrtes has put forward of knowledge by methodic doubt- that is to say that all my thoughts are mistaken. Strating with the premise that nothing in the world exist. Does that follow, Decartes thought, that I too do not exist. However if he is thinking of his existence then he certainly must exist. But then he reasoned that there could be this deciever who could be tricking him into believing that he exist. Even then if the deciever is trying to decieve me then I must exist. I am I exist is necassirly true ( Descartes).

Therefore arouse Decartes most famous sayings, I think therefore I am (cogito ergo sum). The way he arived at this conclusion with certainity is through the methodist doubt.


Decartes, Rene, Robert Audi, Alam Nelson, Ram Neta, and Shaun Nicholes. “Descartes Epistimology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1997. Web.

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