My first thought is always: I AM



This question is derivative of the question here: Could 'cogito ergo sum' possibly be false?

It is noted by authors such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard that there are several assumptions implicit in the formulation: "I think, therefore I am." And the minimal statement that can be made is: "Thought occurs" or "There is doubt"

Now I'm trying to think how can it be that "I" may think, before acknowledging my involvement in that thought. It seems to me that prior to 'owning' the "I" of my perspective, "I" could not have any thoughts. So does this mean that before I can doubt, or think, I must first implicitly or explicitly declare: "I am".

Are the assumptions implicit in "cogito ergo sum" therefore justified? Has any philosopher argued that "cogito ergo sum" is sufficiently justified against detractors?

Bonus points: Is this the primordial "Duality": The I that declares itself and then contemplates the world. vs. The World that produce thoughts, eventually forming an unique perspective that can be said to constitute an "I"?


Posted 2018-09-14T09:14:32.240

Reputation: 2 265

The basic assumption is : "if there is action, then there is an agent". Thus, from the fact that I'm aware of my action of thinking, I can imemdiately be aware that I'm the subject of the thinking action (I'm the agent). – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2018-09-14T10:56:39.607

At first, the consciousness is involved (intends) so it separates itself from the object. The obiect is thus a pure fact "there" (transcendent) but its possibilities (the meaning) are consiousness own. Primordially, before I'm a subject, I'm my opportunities of (= on the topic of) the object. The agent who "thinks" is thus subjectless at first. Then comes cogito which is a reflective act to create a second object called I or subject "who would think the thought" - its thinking is an illusion, it is passive. "I" is just another object out there in the world. No so called "inner world" exist. – ttnphns – 2018-09-14T11:31:05.707

@ttnphns But what is 'thinking' then, merely computational/algorithmic? For what purpose would such an agent 'invent' "a second object called I"? Another formulation by Descartes is: "we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt...." So perhaps to doubt is the purpose of "I"? – christo183 – 2018-09-14T12:02:24.390

@MauroALLEGRANZA Would you say then that for instance Nietzsche would deny that an "agent" is necessary for an "action" to occur? And how would that answer impact the supposed presumptions in "cogito ergo sum"? – christo183 – 2018-09-14T12:03:25.780

christo183, one useful way to classify thinking is positional (positing) and nonpositional (nonpositing) thinking. The important idea I wanted to express in my comment was that "positional thinking of an object is at the same time nonpositional [objectless] thinking of oneself" (Sartre, The transcendence of the Ego). – ttnphns – 2018-09-14T12:44:17.803

@ttnphns This really gets at the heart of the matter. So the question becomes: Is thinking of the sort done prior to self-realization, the same as the sort of thinking done when contemplating "I am"? That is: Is meta thinking substantively (mechanically) the same as regular intentional thinking? – christo183 – 2018-09-14T13:08:04.953

christo183, "Thinking" as a process is unobservable, a man has only access to its current results which are phenomena (evidences) of consciousness. Now, reflection is consciousness positing consciousness. Reflection is a second ("mirroring") mind activity which overlays and not replaces the primary activity, or, better, it is the same activity (or "thinking") only it has two objects to pose instead of one - the 1) tree and 2) thought of tree. Reflection attempts to pose the primarily nonpositional self which are the resources (the aboutness) of the tree. When reflection deepens... – ttnphns – 2018-09-14T13:48:35.207

...farther it splits off an articulated object called "I", the subject. Somebody "who must be contemplating ot thinking". – ttnphns – 2018-09-14T13:51:49.853

Isntead of "positional thinking" better use term "positional consciousness" because "positional thinking" is preoccupied by another, cognitive science branch of thought. – ttnphns – 2018-09-14T14:00:00.240

2If this line of thought is of interest for you, you might want to check out J.G. Fichte: Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge, trans. Peter Heath. In Fichte: Science of Knowledge (Wissenschaftslehre), ed. Peter Heath and John Lachs, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970; 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. There, he states that the original duality is that of stating (self-)identity, which can only be stated in difference to something else, i.e. "I" = "I" is what all scientific knowledge builds upon. This is one of the last defenders, historically. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-11-13T15:20:08.957

Oh, an interesting criticism of this doctrine is the short Judgement and Being (there are varying titles since it is a fragment) by Hölderlin. There, he argues that the First Principle has to be a unitary Being which is falling into dualisms through judgement, i.e. even identity and opposition presuppose Unity. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-11-13T17:14:06.790

@PhilipKlöcking Now Hölderlin is an interesting fellow, having known Hegel, Schelling and Fichte, he was in the middle of German idealism and Romanticism. Do you know of any influence/interaction between their works? – christo183 – 2018-11-14T05:17:36.037

1@christo183: Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin studied together in Tübingen. The three were good friends. Hölderlin was the first one to leave, studying under Fichte in Jena. When he and Hegel met again in Heidelberg, Hölderlin introduced him to the criticism against Fichte he conceived, Goethes intuiting the whole, and the Spinozist program of Jacobi. I think this eventually led Hegel to let go of his early philosophical ideas and start to think of a unitary substance all knowledge has to rest on, an absolute Being, which because of his deep faith had to be God, leading to absolute Geist. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-11-15T15:07:38.657

@PhilipKlöcking There is a theory (I don't recall what it's called right now, something like "keystone" or "fulcrum") where the idea is that certain people or events have a pivotal role in shaping subsequent events (even to the point of being initiators in a change of zeitgeist). It seems to me that Hölderlin is a good candidate for such a pivotal node in history, especially in regards to the development of Continental philosophy. Thanks for the leads. – christo183 – 2018-11-15T17:11:27.800

1You might be interested in the classic The Course of Remembrance by Henrich. There is another edition in English by him I do not remember the name of right now. It is a reconstruction of the historical constellations of persons and ideas around Hölderlin. – Philip Klöcking – 2018-11-15T18:05:20.960

1First, "thought occurs", then... another thought occurs: that someone/something should have that/these thought(s). The minimal statement remains the first, but you can equal your "I" with the flow of thoughts, this way "thought occurs" and "I am" would be the same. – Francesco D'Isa – 2018-12-13T17:55:10.003



Nice question.

Descartes' 'cogito' axiom reduces to 'I Am' and he could have just said this for the same effect. As the poet Paul Valery says, 'Sometimes I think, sometimes I Am'.

If you check out the Bible book Exodus chapter 3 you'll see that God calls himself 'I Am'. ('Tell them 'I Am' sent you'). For the mystic this is the state of 'I Am' that is prior to thought. This 'I Am' is proved by 'I think' but if we stop thinking it remains.

Regarding the point Omar makes about Buddhism. Intentional consciousness is not 'I Am' but by definition is directed elsewhere. If we begin to see that the 'I Am' of our deepest consciousness is independent of intentional consciousness then we are beginning to see the distinction between self and Self that is so endlessly discussed in mysticism. Take away thoughts and concepts and the self evaporates to reveal the Self, which would be the 'I Am' of the Grail experience and the unchanging Reality that is the source of our 'self'.

Are the assumptions implicit in "cogito ergo sum" therefore justified? I would say there are no assumptions. Perhaps he assumes the reality of the 'I' when he need not but the axiom works anyway. I'd rather say he overcooks the goose since it would be unnecessary to think in order to to be.

If he assumes the reality of the individual 'I' of the self then this is not a justified assumption but it would not matter much. If he simply notes its appearance than this would be enough to prove 'I Am'. The subtlety for a Buddhist would be that the 'I' of 'I think' would not be the same as the 'I' of 'I Am'. They would be respectively the self and the Self. Even so 'I think' would prove 'I Am' since the former would be dependent on the latter.

There would be no 'primordial duality'. This phrase would be an oxymoron. Intentional consciousness would not be primordial. What would be primordial is the unity of consciousness and for this we would have to abandon dualism for non-dualism. The fist duality would be created with the first instance of intentional consciousness, which would be emergent and reducible in metaphysics.

This is a rather rushed and possibly unrigorous sketch of the answer given by the 'mystical theology', the 'primordial cosmology' or 'Perennial philosophy, for which 'I Am' would be fundamental.

"So does this mean that before I can doubt, or think, I must first implicitly or explicitly declare: "I am"?" It seems to me the answer is yes, well spotted, and I'd suggest this is an idea that deserves a lot of thought.


Posted 2018-09-14T09:14:32.240


1This is nice: 'Sometimes I think, sometimes I Am' - thanks. I think what Descartes was going for was the proof of "self". While 'Self' would need no statement to affirm its being, it is also not differentiated enough to make a declaration like "I think" or "I am". In this light the 'primordial duality' I'm wondering about would be the first schism (or even mechanism), of differentiation between The One and The Other. – christo183 – 2018-09-14T11:35:20.247

@christo183 - It seems we are on the same page. I would likewise suggest the differentiation begins with subject-object and the first distinction. This would be the first instance of symmetry-breaking except that all division would be illusory and not fundamental. (By the way I found that quote of Valery's in Dennett's book on consciousness as I skipped through. which is somewhat ironic). I'd agree about your first duality but would not call it primordial or fundamental but emergent or arising from Unity. This would be the orthodox view among those who study consciousness. – None – 2018-09-14T15:50:05.640

@elliot svenson - Many thanks for the correction. Silly mistake. – None – 2018-11-14T12:28:33.913

@PeterJ, don't mention it! – elliot svensson – 2018-11-14T17:36:06.403


What I know from Buddhism is that receptions (visual, sensual, auditory, states, thoughts) hit you. You are not these receptions.

So, for example, if you fell off of a cliff and your leg broke, you feel pain but you say there is pain. You feel stressed. You say there is stress. You get a thought. You say there is a thought of X. They come and go like a cloud. Consciousness of their existence arises due to impersonal causes. You felt the taste of a pizza because the pizza was in your mouth. You put it in your mouth because of the existence of a need or intention to eat not because YOU wanted to eat.

You just get this sense of "I am" because of a need to feel accomplished. However it's an illusion.

Omar Boshra

Posted 2018-09-14T09:14:32.240

Reputation: 129

So the 'receptions' of the world, or the objects that cause them, converge and culminate into a particular perspective that is "you"? But, I wonder, could that particular perspective, that "you", that 'chooses' to identify with a particular continuum of events witnessed from that particular perspective, could that "you" be said to be real unless, or if, that "you" declares "I am"? – christo183 – 2018-09-14T10:53:03.747

@christo183 - I'd say not. I'd rather say that the 'I' of 'I Am' is real but not the 'I' that identifies with thoughts and objects and is separate from other 'I's. The Oracle at Delphi could have said 'Know the I of I Am, for that is thyself'. . – None – 2018-09-14T11:09:57.047

I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing if you wish. You may see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. Hopefully the edit made the answer clearer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny – 2018-09-14T13:01:58.347

@christo183 That "You" doesn't exist its simply an illusion its like when you are a child that just experienced darkness and thinks there are beasts in it then when you grow up and discover its just no light .There is no self.... there is just experience.The sense of you comes from the subconscious which is based on instinct awareness of the experience is liberating and unique to humans over animals – Omar Boshra – 2018-09-14T23:56:05.327

An illusion that thinks it is real, and yet does not in fact exist? I can see how this would solve any number of philosophical problems. Do you perhaps have any further reading/references on this position? - And by the way, welcome to Philosophy SE. – christo183 – 2018-09-15T15:40:17.810

@christo183 Yes the illusion exists.... but in the subconscious as a thought thats the only thing real about it.Reality is Cognized by the conscious brain.subconscious is for automation and if left by itself would direct your intelligence into actions that are negative for you and others.As it would make wrong assumptions about the receptions.Leading to inaccurate beliefs and emotions including the feeling of "I".Works great if you are animal not human.I guess thats all I know thanks man :) – Omar Boshra – 2018-09-15T19:03:41.367

I know that Douglas Hofstadter has put forward a theory of the self aware consciousness as an emergent epiphenomenon of lower brain function. Should you have any references, or reading, that substantiate your view it would be appreciated if you share it here. It is always nice to find a new perspective or philosopher you haven't heard of. – christo183 – 2018-09-16T11:42:48.800

My favorite reference is JosephGoldstein's ...Mindfulness a practical guide to mental awakening... .Also John Kabbat zen's ...Whatever you go there you an amazing introduction to Buddhist philosophy – Omar Boshra – 2018-09-16T13:27:28.370

"Whatever you go there you are" - the only motto are real skeptic could live by... – christo183 – 2018-09-18T08:41:33.933

@christo183 - Further reading would mean delving into the 'Wisdom' literature. The Upanishads might be a good place to start, or maybe searching for 'non-duality' on youtube. And you're right, these ideas solve any number of philosophical problems. – None – 2018-10-15T13:06:23.933

@OmarAhmed You wrote "Reality is Cognized by the conscious brain". So you think that the brain exists? It is not an illusion? – Bob – 2019-01-12T13:02:44.077