I think that there is no one who has not heard the name Descartes. Rene
Descartes (1596-1650) was a great philosopher and mathematician born in
France. He was a contemporary with the great physicist, Galileo Galilei
(1564-1642), born in Italy Descartes, in Discourse on the Method, a work
published in 1637, wrote, gI think, therefore I am.h1 These words,
signifying the comprehension of the existence of the self as a reality beyond
doubt, formed probably the most famous and most important proposition in the
history of modern philosophy. For that reason Descartes is called the Father of
The process of Descartesf cognitive methodology in the Discourse
on the Method is, to put it simply: gIf something can be doubted even a
little, it must be completely rejected.h Those things which we usually think of
as correct must be completely rejected should there be even the faintest doubt
about them. In such a process even the proposition that 1 + 1 = 2, which seems
to be self-evident reasoning, is rejected. However, Descartes asserts that the
one thing that cannot be excluded and remains last of all is the perception gI
think, therefore I am.h Is this true? Should this be rejected? Certainly there
is a self which thinks about the self thinking. This fact cannot be denied.
But was Descartes really right?
Descartes was mistaken. I cannot help but say so. Perhaps someone will say to me, gDo you really think that you have the knowledge and intelligence sufficient to refute the conclusion drawn by one of the greatest thinkers known to us, someone who thoroughly thought through the problem and reached a conclusion affirmed by everyone?h It goes without saying that I do not have the knowledge and intelligence of Descartes. However, this is not a question of knowledge and intelligence. It is rather a question of the real world discovered through experience.
Descartes is mistaken in a number of points.First of all, the proposition itself, gI think, therefore I amh is a
tautological contradiction. The contradiction lies in the fact that while the
proposition seeks to show the process whereby one can know the existence of gI,h
already from the start it is presupposing that existence in the words, gI
think.h This contradiction seems at first to be only a matter of word usage and
not something essential to the argument. However, it is really closely tied up
with the essence of the problem.
To think about gIs this correct? Is this mistaken?h is something that cannot be denied. gThinkingh
is a reality that cannot be excluded. Up to this point it is true just as
Descartes maintained. However, the next step in which Descartes knows the
existence of gIh by gtherefore I amh is where Descartes fell into error. Where
in the world did Descartes bring in this gIh? Where in the world did Descartes
find this gIh? I must say that as soon as Descartes started with gI think,h he
already had fallen into this error.
gThinkingh is a reality that cannot be denied. But there is nothing beyond that reality of gthinking.h
No matter where you look, something called gIh does not exist. No matter how
much intellectual knowledge you may have, insofar as you do not have this
experience, you cannot discover this world. gI think, therefore I amh must be
re-phrased as gThinking, but there is no I.h
When Master Joshu was asked what was the world discovered by Shakyamuni (What was the meaning of Bodhidharmafs coming
from the West?) he answered, gThe oak tree in the garden.h This is a famous koan
in the Gateless Gate (Mumonkan).Jôshû is presenting the world of gThinking, but there is no I.h The oak tree in the garden, besides that tree nothing else exists in heaven or earth--an even less so, a gJoshuh who is looking at it. This is the world that is manifested in this utterance.
gThe oak tree in the garden, but there is no I.h
original French is: Je pense, donc je suis. This was rendered into Latin by a
priest friend of Descartes as gCogito ergo sum.h