Philosophy for IELTS

Notes on my first lecture of Sunday October 22nd 

Rene Descartes wrote 'Je pense donc je suis' around 1637 after a long period of doubting everything he could think of. But did he really doubt enough ?

Philosophers are people who doubt - that's what they get their kicks from. The best philosopher is easily the one who doubts the most consistently, the problem is in deciding what are suitable things to doubt and keeping one's doubting consistent ! That's really difficult. A philosopher who just says 'I doubt everything' isn't going to be interesting - he doesn't doubt his own power of speech (or if its online, typing) for example, so is displaying inconsistency.

How was Descartes inconsistent ? Well it appears he noticed thoughts, but he assumed that he himself was the thinker of those thoughts. Assumption. They're the things to notice if you are a philosopher, but its so hard to notice them precisely because that's how our brains work. If our brains didn't make assumptions for us, we'd not be able to function as human beings at all. That's what makes philosophy such hard work, because we live in a whole world built on assumptions. We're looking for a particular pebble on a beach full of pebbles. To paraphrase Morpheus somewhat 'you make assumptions when you take out your garbage, when you pay your taxes. Assumptions are all around us'. Assumptions are an aspect of the Matrix, that's where we're all at.

Philosophers annoy people by questioning assumptions. If that annoys you, stop reading now. You'll get really annoyed here because I'm a philosopher and I enjoy asking questions. Questioning assumptions. In order to question an assumption though, first you've got to notice its there - you've got to be aware. Many assumptions are too well hidden, especially they are hidden by the very nature of language itself. 

We can take at least one assumption out of what Descartes wrote, but this time I'll use English since my French is too rusty. "I think, therefore I am" -> "I notice thoughts, therefore I am". One assumption fewer. Did you notice the assumption that I just took out ? No ?

Descartes assumed that he was the originator of his thoughts - that he caused them. He was the cause, his thoughts were the effect. That's what we buy into when we say 'I think' in English, we get to be responsible for what we think. But what about the possibility that Descartes' mind was just like a radio receiver - it picks up the thoughts channel ? So rather than buy that assumption, I've taken it out - we now aren't sure just who is the thinker of the thoughts, but we sure do notice them. 

 We could even simplify this further since why notice only thoughts - we notice other things too - like trees and chairs and tables (philosophers always seem to have to include tables in their discussions for some bizarre reason). So going two steps beyond Descartes we might proffer 'I am aware of things, therefore I am'. Taking out 'things' is also possible, so 'I am aware, therefore I am' is about as far as we might go with Descartes. However this last step really is a step too far because of the historical legacy which has come about from Descartes - the legacy of  "Cartesian Dualism".

"There are two types of people in this world. There's the type of person who considers there to be two types of people in the world, and then there's everybody else".

Its supposed to be a kind of joke - but maybe you've already heard it so its no longer funny.  [to be continued]