Monday, October 15, 2012


D O U B T: When French philosopher René Descartes published Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641, he helped establish the rationalist ideology of foundationalism. As a distinct school of thought in Western metaphysics, foundationalism purported that all beliefs must be justified in order to be considered valid. And justification of a belief only occurred in two ways: first, by existing independently of other beliefs, i.e., a belief that falls outside the realm of existence, and second, by being derived from other preexisting basic beliefs. Perhaps the most famous basic belief that Descartes derived from his methodology of doubt was Cogito ergo sum or "I think, therefore, I am." As a self-evident axiom, this phrase effectively captured the true essence of Cartesian doubt, which by definition, meant ridding oneself of all the opinions that one had acquired over time and starting anew with a basic (foundational) belief system. Like Immanuel Kant, who came about 150 years later, Descartes primarily concerned himself with how human beings acquired knowledge (epistemology). Was it merely through sensory perception (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch)? Or was there something more empirical to the knowledge acquisition process? In his Philosophical Fragmendts (1844), Kierkegaard criticized Descartes' Cogito as presupposing the logical idea of existence. In short, he believed the phrase should be reversed: "I am, therefore, I think."

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