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Descartes and the Origin of Cogito Ergo Sum

Updated on May 14, 2012
Descartes | Source


René Descartes (1596-1650) was born into a good position to be able to work on his education - so that is what he did. In fact, he did a lot of work that changed the way people think in many ways, even coming up with the statement of “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think because I am”, which explains that because he is able to think, it proves that he is real or alive. Descartes did a lot of work that went to the root of issues, trying to figure out everything all over again. Literally.

Methods of Thinking

One day, he started to question everything about he knew and decided that there were a lot of things he needed to dismiss so that he could be able to reform his thoughts and build a new foundation for his knowledge. He had a few goals.

Firstly, he was to never except anything as true that he did not know through evidence to be true, so that he would not presume anything and cast a false judgement.

Secondly he was to divide everything he analyzed that he found intricate or difficult into its smallest pieces so that he could both understand and solve it - he was to conduct his thoughts in an orderly way as to think about all the simplest things that can be thought about a subject and then rise to the more complex ideas that may arise.

Thirdly he was to enumerate everything and review it so much that he would be sure that he had not left anything out.

Fundemental Truths

Descartes decided that mathematics were true because they were so proven that there was no doubt in them. He said that he would borrow what he could from mathematics to explain things in science.

While looking for another place to start from and other truths that he could not argue with, he found himself thinking a lot about thought. He found a fundamental truth he could not argue with. "I think, therefore I am." Though he went to many people to try to get an argument from them, he got none and so it became a truth to him.

Cogito Ergo Sum

This was the start of many thoughts that he would have, the many Truths that exist in the world. Of course, he gave many things to science and changed the ways of thinking a lot - but this one Truth remains a popular one. I think, therefore I am.


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    • Danieljohnston profile image

      Daniel Johnston 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I actually had a much larger paper I had written, but I liked this story so I wanted to share it. Simple, short, but a nice story to know - I was a little worried it was too short.

    • CaravanHolidays profile image

      CaravanHolidays 5 years ago from Wales UK

      Good to have such a simple explanation of the concept that forms the basis for much of western law (beyond a 'reasonable doubt')- without having to read the whole of Descartes' treatsise.