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I Think Therefore I Am vs I Am Therefore I Think: A Philosophical Debate

I Think Therefore I Am: The Essentialist View

One of the most influential philosophers who proposed the idea that thinking is the essence of existence was Rene Descartes, a 17th-century French philosopher. Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy and the founder of rationalism, a school of thought that emphasizes the use of reason and logic to attain knowledge.
Descartes was interested in finding a solid foundation for his philosophical inquiries, something that he could not doubt or question. He began by doubting everything that he could perceive with his senses, such as the external world, his own body, and even his own existence. He wondered if he could be deceived by an evil demon who could manipulate his senses and make him believe in things that are not real.
However, Descartes realized that there was one thing that he could not doubt: his own thinking. He reasoned that even if he was deceived by an evil demon, he still had to exist in order to be deceived. He could not doubt his own doubt. Therefore, he concluded that he exists as long as he thinks. He expressed this idea in his famous phrase: cogito ergo sum, which means I think therefore I am.
Descartes believed that his thinking was the core of his being, his essence. He identified himself with his mind, which he considered to be a separate substance from his body and the material world. He argued that his mind was clear and distinct, while his body and the material world were obscure and confused. He also argued that his mind was immortal, while his body and the material world were mortal and subject to change.
Descartes’s view is an example of essentialism, a philosophical position that holds that things have a fixed and inherent nature that defines what they are. Essentialists believe that things are born with certain qualities that make them what they are, and that these qualities cannot be changed or influenced by external factors.

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I Am Therefore I Think: The Existentialist View

Another influential philosopher who proposed a different idea about the relationship between existence and thought was Jean-Paul Sartre, a 20th-century French philosopher. Sartre is known as one of the main figures of existentialism, a school of thought that emphasizes the freedom and responsibility of human beings to create their own meaning and values in life.
Sartre was interested in exploring the human condition, especially the anxiety and absurdity that humans face in a world that has no inherent purpose or order. He rejected the idea that humans have a fixed and predetermined essence that defines who they are. He argued that existence precedes essence, which means that humans exist first and then define themselves through their actions and choices.
Sartre believed that humans are thrown into the world without any reason or explanation, and that they have to confront their own freedom to make their own decisions and shape their own destiny. He also believed that humans have to face their own nothingness, the fact that they are not bound by any external authority or law, and that they are ultimately alone and responsible for their own actions.
Sartre expressed his view in his famous phrase: I am therefore I think, which means that thinking is a consequence of existing. He identified himself with his existence, which he considered to be a dynamic and open-ended process of becoming. He argued that his existence was not clear and distinct, but rather ambiguous and uncertain. He also argued that his existence was not immortal, but rather finite and limited by death.
Sartre’s view is an example of existentialism, a philosophical position that holds that things have no fixed and inherent nature that defines what they are. Existentialists believe that things are not born with any qualities that make them what they are, and that these qualities can be changed or influenced by external factors.

Comparing and Contrasting the Two Perspectives

The perspectives of Descartes and Sartre on the relationship between existence and thought are very different and have different implications for how humans understand themselves and the world. Here are some of the main points of comparison and contrast between the two perspectives:
Certainty vs Uncertainty: Descartes sought to find a certain and indubitable basis for his knowledge, while Sartre embraced the uncertainty and ambiguity of human existence. Descartes believed that he could prove his own existence and the existence of God through his clear and distinct ideas, while Sartre denied the possibility of any objective or absolute truth or value. Descartes aimed to build a rational and coherent system of philosophy, while Sartre challenged the rationality and coherence of any philosophical system.
Essence vs Existence: Descartes assumed that he had a fixed and inherent essence that defined who he was, while Sartre argued that he had no essence and that he had to create his own identity through his actions and choices. Descartes identified himself with his mind, which he considered to be a separate and immortal substance, while Sartre identified himself with his existence, which he considered to be a finite and contingent process. Descartes viewed his body and the material world as secondary and inferior to his mind, while Sartre viewed his body and the material world as integral and inseparable from his existence.
Freedom vs Determinism: Descartes believed that he had a free will that allowed him to choose and act according to his reason, while Sartre believed that he had a radical freedom that forced him to choose and act without any guidance or justification. Descartes believed that his actions were determined by the laws of nature and the will of God, while Sartre believed that his actions were not determined by anything and that he had to take full responsibility for them. Descartes believed that his freedom was a gift and a privilege, while Sartre believed that his freedom was a burden and a curse.

Alternative Views on the Relationship Between Existence and Thought

The perspectives of Descartes and Sartre are not the only ones that have been proposed on the relationship between existence and thought. There are many other philosophers who have offered different views on this topic, some of which are:
I think and I am: This is the view of dualism, which holds that existence and thought are two distinct and independent realities that interact with each other. This view is similar to Descartes’s view, but it does not identify existence with the mind or thought with the essence. Instead, it recognizes that both existence and thought have their own properties and modes of being. Some of the philosophers who have defended this view are Plato, Leibniz, and Kant.
I am because I think: This is the view of idealism, which holds that existence is dependent on thought and that the material world is a product of the mind. This view is opposite to Sartre’s view, but it does not identify thought with the essence or existence with the process. Instead, it recognizes that thought is the source and the foundation of existence and that the material world is a manifestation and a representation of thought. Some of the philosophers who have defended this view are Berkeley, Hegel, and Schopenhauer.
I think because I am: This is the view of materialism, which holds that thought is dependent on existence and that the mind is a product of the brain. This view is opposite to Descartes’s view, but it does not identify existence with the process or thought with the consequence. Instead, it recognizes that existence is the cause and the condition of thought and that the mind is a function and a phenomenon of the brain. Some of the philosophers who have defended this view are Hobbes, Marx, and Skinner.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has stimulated your curiosity and interest in this topic, and that you will continue to explore it further. Remember that there is no definitive or final answer to this question, and that you are free to form your own opinion and perspective. As Sartre said, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”
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