Home Forums Newcastle Reading Group April 7th 2020- Descartes’ First Meditation Reply To: April 7th 2020- Descartes’ First Meditation

Michael Bavidge

Cartesian Thoughts
Michael Bavidge

From Philosophy in Borders
Descartes realises that secure knowledge cannot rely on the resources of a solitary individual. The Doubting Self can be turned into the Knowing Self only through the protection of God. Only an infinitely good Other provides an argument to refute scepticism. But if we can manage without an argument, and yet retain the idea that only a personal intervention will do, then perhaps a halfway good person will be enough, an ordinary person, someone like you or me.
p. 49
Saying that we are each of us is ‘essentially, and finally alone’ is equivalent to saying you are you; and I am me. This may be an insight into something, but not into essential solitariness. There is a tragedy about being the last of the Mohicans but not about being the only Me. The grammatical discomfort is illuminating: it seems better to say that ‘I am Me’ than ‘I am I’ – using the accusative of exclamation ‘O me miserum!’ But the accusative case signals that in trying to capture the unique nature of first person experience in terms of solitariness, I am treating myself as an object. As if I was saying: ‘I am one of the …’; and then going on to complain that ‘I am the only one of the …’ We are used to the idea that there is something wrong with treating other people as objects. But there is also a problem about treating oneself as an object. As Wittgenstein says, the I that wrote the book The World as I found it ‘could not be mentioned in the book’.
These thoughts emerge from a long tradition of thought about self-knowledge. Descartes argued that we ourselves are the thing we know best and first. The Cogito is self-knowledge in which the absolutely rational knower comes face to face with itself, the purely intelligible object. We remove all content and context from our experience, we make a void and call it ‘Self’, as David Hume pointed out. The Self, the Ego of the Cartesian tradition, can only be conceived as a transcendental object or not as an object at all.
p. 104