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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where I Done Been 


I been somewhere. Let me paint a picture of a small part of what's been going on for the past several days.

You have to eat dinner some time, and I didn't feel like El Pollo Loco again, so I meandered toward Onotria. You know how some places serve various types of food, then figure out what wines will go with the food? Well, Onotria serves various types of wine, then figures out what foods will go with the wine. In other words, it's slightly more classy than the eating establishments with which I usually associate myself. For the record, I had a Pinot Grigio with linguini and clams and stuff.

I only had one glass of wine, but it was enough to cause me to wax philosophical. Or, more accurately, to wane philosophical, since I've never had a true philosophy class in my life (Reed Humanities doesn't count, since I pretended that was a history course). So my musings on philosophy are pretty barren.

On that evening, my musing was particularly lacking in thought. Here's what I was thinking about:


You know the guy who said "I think, therefore I am?" If that guy was looking at a plant, did he truly believe that the plant did not exist?


Several days later, the Pinot Grigio long gone, I can finally ponder the barrenness of that thought. But let's take a look.

As you know (and I didn't), "the guy" was Rene Descartes, who, like all good philosophical types, did his thinking in Latin. Cogito, ergo sum is actually what he thought, since he probably didn't think in English. But he did think about God and belief:


At the beginning of the second meditation, having reached what he considers to be the ultimate level of doubt – his argument from the existence of a deceiving god – Descartes examines his beliefs to see if any has survived the doubt. In his belief in his own existence he finds it: it is impossible to doubt that he exists. Even if there were a deceiving god (or an evil demon, the tool he uses to stop himself sliding back into ungrounded beliefs), his belief in his own existence would be secure, for how could he be deceived unless he existed in order to be deceived?...

There are three important notes to keep in mind here. First, he only claims the certainty of his own existence from the first-person point of view — he has not proved the existence of other minds at this point. This is something that has to be thought through by each of us for ourselves, as we follow the course of the meditations. Second, he is not saying that his existence is necessary; he is saying that if he's thinking, then necessarily he exists (see the instantiation principle). Third, this proposition "I am, I exist" is held true not based on a deduction (as mentioned above) nor on empirical induction, but on the clarity and self-evidence of the proposition.



So, in my alcohol-induced state, I missed the point. Descartes was not trying to show that only thinking beings exist; he was merely confirming his own existence. Wikipedia gets into this error in a bit of detail:


Some non-philosophers who first come across the cogito attempt to refute it in the following way. "I think, therefore I exist," they argue, can be reversed as "I do not think, therefore I do not exist." They argue that a rock does not think, but it still exists, which disproves Descartes' argument. However, this is the logical fallacy of denying the antecedent. The correct corollary by modus tollens is "I do not exist, therefore I do not think."

This fallacy and its prevalence is illustrated by the popular joke:

Descartes is sitting in a bar, having a drink. The bartender asks him if he would like another. "I think not," he says, and vanishes.



Then Wikipedia gets into various criticisms, but I would need an entire bottle of wine to mess up those arguments. And some of the wines at Onotria sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle, so that could be an expensive...um...proposition.

P.S. On another night I played Buzztime trivia at TGI Fridays instead. No great philosophical thoughts in that instance.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
Man, those thoughts are *way* too deep for a Friday morning ;)

As for restaurants that start with wine and create a menu around it, that's an awesome philosophical idea but probably lost on those of us who are too cheap to order wine with dinner!

I do like upscale, though. Not big on the cheap, heaping-quantity places that employ unskilled teenage "sous-chefs."
 
I've had the pleasure of studying Descartes. Personally, I think his ramblings only make sense when under the influence of alcohol, so I guess we're different there. Stick to Fridays!
 
And now, if Buzztime asks a question about the person who conceived "I think, therefore I am," I'll know the answer. Maybe.
 
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