Where did I leave…

Our memories are largely inscribed as though on scraps of paper — here a reappropriated napkin bearing verses of light, there a ghost image’s sketch — many waiting to be lost in repositories from which they may never emerge.

There ‘s a legend about the Muslim polymath al-Ghazali.  Whilst traveling with a caravan, bandits waylay and lighten the loads of the travelers.  Included were Ghazali’s multitude of notes — the wealth of his research to this point.  Now he begs to repossess these — his memories are about to wander off and never return.

In reply, the bandit regrets that Ghazali’s memory (‘ilm) is on his papers and not in his heart.  He has compassion and returns the papers to the grateful young genius.

/`/`

While this is almost surely apocryphal (possibly the story was true of a famous relative and was reappropriated (as per Frank Griffel), the idea holds nonetheless) the question of externalized memory is one we each ought to consider.  Who has n’t observed the blue screen of death remove memories innumerable to the sea of eternal forgetfulness?

So we back up our memories, eh?  In the story, Ghazali rededicates himself to fully internalizing his notes.  We are a society which carries memories in sticks — but don’t all libraries eventually succumb to decay or burning?

I have lost many a note which felt absolutely essential at the time.  I can’t number how often I forget even to take the list which is my backup memory.

//

I ask myself what it is I wish to hold onto — what is indispensable.  I ‘m still learning what that might be — still not sure if efforts are best placed in maximizing word or action; working for the future or the present.

That brings me to consider that words really are memory devices — we trust that the path to communication will be illumined, but surely this path too will fall into darkness, no matter how well worn.  And where shall be the feet to find it again?  And what shall the passenger eyes see?

See A Robbers Advice to Imam al-Ghazali for a telling of the story and Griffel’s Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology for further considerations.

Intros to European Philosophy: Nietzsche

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900)

Previously read: Birth of Tragedy, the, ‘Seventy-Five Aphorisms from Five Volumes’, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Case of Wagner, the, Ecce Homo.  But, I have n’t read him in awhile: the last time was the gap-year between undergrad and masters.  Also, when the title is European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (ed. M. Beardsley), you ‘re a bit happy to finally have arrived at the end. Of the philosophers to be found therein, I feel most familiar with Nietzsche.  You could accuse me of starting this blog as a place to exercise (probably not exorcise) Nietzsche and Kierkegaard’s stirrings.

Key texts: Beyond Good and Evil (abr.)

Overall impression: Nietzsche was n’t an unfamiliar subject, but I was for once able to locate him against (often) Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hegel.

Surprises:

**’^`’ *

 

Abstrusest im-pulses

 

“Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: ‘What morality do they (or does he) aim at?’  Accordingly, I do not believe that an ‘impulse to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche ed. M. Beardsley, p. 808)”

I ‘m quite partial to these sentiments regarding the ‘true vital germ’ of philosophers; they are not chosen for knowledge’s sake but in view to accomplishing some other aim, an aim which is all too often contrary to the means of communicating it.  Beware the one who is elusive in this matter.

>>-[[>

Begging the Faculty and Opiates

 

“But let us reflect for a moment – it is high time to do so.  ‘How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?’  Kant asks himself – and what is really his answer? ‘By means of a means (faculty)’ – but unfortunately not in five words, but so circumstantially, imposingly, and wish such a display of German profundity and verbal flourishes, that one altogether loses sight of the comical niaiserie allemande involved in such an answer… One can do no greater wrong to the whole of this exuberant and eccentric movement…than to take it seriously, or even treat it with moral indignation… But is that – an answer?  An explanation? Or is it not merely begging the question?  How does opium induce sleep?  ‘By means of a means (faculty),’ namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliere,

Quia est in eo virtus dormitiva,

Cujus est natura sensus assoupire.

[Because it contains a soporific power,

Whose nature is to dull the senses. ~ trans. Monroe Beardsley] (p. 811)”

We should expect scalding remarks from Nietzsche; it is our weakness then to be surprised and reflect little on the content therein.  Opium induces sleep because it has a ‘soporific effect’, just as any other physical explanation fails to explain the phenomena in absence of the physical relation – the same could be said for our explanations of gravity: things fall because the smaller mass experiences the pull exerted by the greater.  We still have no idea why.  Why then we should agree with Kant, if he has ‘explained’ nothing – it does not matter, for Nietzsche, as they are in our mouths only false judgments (p. 812).

#^<—-##?

Who exactly is doing the thinking here?

“With regard to the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small, terse fact, which these credulous minds are unwilling to recognize – namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes and, not when ‘I’ wish; so that it is aperversion of the facts of the case to say that the subject ‘I’ is the condition of the predicate ‘think.’  Something thinks; but that this ‘something’ is precisely the famous old ‘ego,’ is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an ‘immediate certainty.’ (European Philosophers, p. 815)”

Even the something which thinks is imposed by the observer.  So much for Descartes, but then, this is what happens when Nietzsche is allowed the last word: he relishes it.

&&==;///

In a name, prejudice lurks

 

“But it seems to me again that in this case Schopenhauer also only did what philosophers are in the habit of doing – he seems to have adopted a popular prejudice and exaggerated it.  Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only in name – and it is precisely in a name that popular prejudice lurks, which has got the mastery over the inadequate precautions of philosophers in all ages. (p. 816)”

The will is certainly an important matter for both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a matter too much neglected in many prominent philosophical systems (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and to some extent Hegel), but it is certainly a complex matter.  It is not simply enough to know that the will to power or the will to action are the reason for which we think and discuss matters, we must not make the mistake of Descartes in allowing it to be simple.

~~~__^^^

The escape into normalcy

 

“That the various philosophical ideas do not evolve randomly or autonomously, but in connection and relationship with each other; that, however suddenly and arbitrarily they seem to appear in the history of thought, they nevertheless belong just as much to a system as the members of the fauna of a continent – is betrayed in the end by the circumstance: how unfailingly the most diverse philosophers always fill in again a definite fundamental scheme of possible philosophies.  Under an invisible spell, they always revolve once more in the same orbit; however independent of each other they may feel themselves with their critical or systematic wills, something within them leads them, something impels them in definite order, the one after the other – to wit, the innate methodology and relationship of their ideas. (pp. 817-818)”

Leave it to Nietzsche or Foucault to say a lot in two sentences, with a lot of Nietzschian/Foucauldian asides to mark their respective streams of consciousness, but still to wander on their way.  It makes for interesting reading and it is n’t ‘clean’ in the manner of some philosophers.  That ideas operate within a discourse and are essentially all reactions to each other (and necessarily they are always in response to some finite series of former reactions) is a point which needs making (even as a reaction, it still needs to be said again as the counterreaction is sure to come back).

Pausality

“[O]ne should use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding –not for explanation. (pp. 818-819)”

I love considering causality, and alternatives to causal explanations, but prefer to note that ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are useful in day to day discourse as language conventions; but ought to not be thought of formally as useful descriptors.  For Nietzsche, the only helpful causality is the causality of will (because any who wills certainly expects to make a specific change – to will this thing) (p. 823) and for Ghazali it is most important that causality not limit God’s freedom.

  • This is only an aside, but in speaking of experience Nietzsche leaves this: “[E]xperience, as it seems to me, always implies unfortunate experience? (p. 833)”

 

Fear of the known

“Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.  The latter perhaps wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart, his sympathy, which always say: ‘Ah why would you also have as hard a time of it as I have?’ (p. 849)”

I have elsewhere remarked on this passage, so I only here would say that understanding, as truth or knowledge, is power-language and can so be deemed abusive by one who feels experience has given her a right to speak thusly.

Intros to European Philosophy: Kant

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

Previously read: I used his rejection of the transcendental argument for God’s existence in a paper (though I didn’t understand it well), but mostly encountered him through secondary sources and key ideas in other people’s courses – both in undergrad and graduate studies.  It’s nice to at least dig into the abridged text of Critique here.

Key texts: Critique of Pure Reason (abr)

Overall impression: It feels like dealing with Kant in an abridged form is at once necessary and lamentable.  I’d really like to trace his complete thought, and I’m almost ready to fruitfully understand him I feel, but I must admit I don’t have the time to treat him as his status deserves.    Perhaps one day I’ll do better, for now I’ve merely sharpened my teeth a little more for that day when I can begin this task in earnest. 

His contributions to metaphysics and ethics are unavoidable even in their secondary form in academia.  So this was a frustrated but perhaps fruitful familiarizing with several important philosophical utterances sourced in one voice.

Surprises:

“There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience… In the order of time, therefore, we have no knowledge antecedent to experience, and with experience all knowledge begins. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley, p. 375)”

 

“In what follows, therefore, we shall understand by a priori knowledge, not knowledge independent of this or that experience, but knowledge absolutely independent of all experience.  Opposed to its empirical knowledge, which is knowledge possible only a posteriori, that is, through experience. (ibidem, p. 376)”

  • “Experience teaches us that a thing is so and so, but not that it cannot be otherwise. (p. 376)”  This meets well with Ghazali’s critique of the philosophers in Incoherence/Tahafut.  It’s easy to assume that a thing can be no other way than what it has been previously, but our experience is far too limited to tell us how probable or exclusive such knowledge is.  “Secondly, experience never confers on its judgments true or strict, but only assumed and comparative universality, through induction. (ibidem)” 

 

  • Analytic judgments are connected by means of identity; without identity it would be synthetic (p. 380).  So all judgments of experience are synthetic. 

 

  • Space is a pure intuition according to Kant.  To me that’s brilliant.  We necessarily intuit it in order to try to locate our world.  Even when we speak of multiple spaces, we are only representing to ourselves that one space (p. 389).  So, perhaps space is that which I project to the world around me in order to understand it.  In this sense, space may not be infinite in the sense that it is endlessly extensible but it is certainly indefinite in that it is the background against which all events in time are located.  “Space is nothing but the form of all appearances of outer sense. (p. 391)” 

 

“Permanence, as the abiding correlate of all existence of appearances, of all change and of all concomitance, expresses time in general.  For change does not affect time itself, but only appearances in time.  (Coexistence is not a mode of time itself: for none of the parts of time coexist; they are all in succession to one another.)  If we ascribe succession to time itself, we must think yet another time, in which the sequence would be possible. (p. 402)”

  • “[T]ruth consists in the agreement of knowledge with the object… (p. 404)”  Perceptio is representation with consciousness; a sensation is a perception which ‘relates solely to the subject as the modification of its state’ – we only notice a smell or a sound when it demonstrates change; knowledge is an objective perception – whether intuition or concept (empirical or pure); the pure concept is called a notion.  “A concept formed from notions and transcending the possibility of experience is an idea or concept of reason…” (pp. 414-415)  An idea, therefore, can have no sense-experience matching it.  Whew, maybe it’s easier to use Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 

  • “Reason does not really generate any concept.  The most it can do is to free a concept of understanding from the unavoidable limitations of possible experience, and so to endeavor to extend it beyond the limits of the empirical, though still, indeed, in terms of its relation to the empirical. (p. 419 found in Ch 2: ‘The Antinomy of Pure Reason’, Section 1)”  It seems that reason makes demands of understanding, and so constrains it or reminds it of the natural boundaries, but is not itself a system by which to produce concepts.  Understanding is by way of experience and we choose concepts or recognize their value by way of reason, but reason does not itself give rise to them.  It seems interesting that reason, as Kant would have it, is the very thing which reminds us of its own division from the conditioned.  Reason is herein its own limit (or the limit of our reason-discourse).  [Nothing is ever interesting if I have to say ‘it seems interesting’, but still I offend.]

“[Humanity] is thus to [it]self, on the one hand phenomenon, and on the other hand, in respect of certain faculties the action of which cannot be ascribed to the receptivity of sensibility, a purely intelligible object.  We entitle these faculties understanding and reason.  The latter, in particular, we distinguish in a quite peculiar and especial way from all empirically conditioned powers. (p. 446)” 

This aligns, I believe, with what I have attempted to say about understanding and reason in the previous segment. 

“That our reason has causality, or that we at least represent it to ourselves as having causality, is evident from the imperatives which in all matters of conduct we impose as rules upon our active powers.  ‘Ought’ expresses a kind of necessity and of connection with grounds which is found nowhere else in the whole of nature.  The understanding can know in nature only what is, what has been, or what will be. (ibidem)” 

He goes on to say that our ‘ought’ has no meaning when applied to nature.  It is simply our projection upon our experiences – our expectations.  This is ever so like Ghazali’s critique of those who would claim causality’s rulership as part of the world rather than God’s decision in Incoherence.  Causality is a concept we impose, not something inherently true of experience – at least it cannot be determined by way of experience.

  • “Therefore there is only one categorical imperative, namely this: Act only on a maxim by which you can will that it, at the same time, should become a general law. (p. 473)”  Is it possible that any such maxim can exist?  That we should wish for its existence is reasonable enough – who could then argue with it?  But it ‘s not so simple. 

 

Concluding Remark:

This is already too long, but summarizing Kant is (at this moment for me at least) an absurd task.  Please treat these as thoughtful musings, worthy of rebuke and further instruction, which may one day reach toward some useful understanding.  As of today they are still speaking a foreign language, but one which may one day be more familiar.

Helpful links:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/ (Michael Rohlf)

A Contrario: Aquinas and Faith-Orientation

I mean here to treat briefly, if haphazardly, of some gleanings from Aquinas’ considerations of faith; especially faith as propositional.  John Bishop, via the Stanford Encyclopedia (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/faith/), informs that interpreting the famous Dominican is difficult as ‘faith’ is primarily used to describe a mental state (I agree with…) while St. Thomas uses the term to mean the way a believer is related to God.  Taken in this sense, belief is not primarily propositional.  Perhaps, as Bishop suggests, belief in does not perfectly align with belief that

This is not to suggest that Aquinas is unconcerned with propositional aspect of faith.  Rather, there is room to consider the will and ration in a Thomistic model.  He then describes faith, in the Second Article, Part II from Summa, as ‘a mean between science and opinion’, both of which concern propositions, but the act of believing them concerns less their propositional value than their origination in God and their leading towards Him (as Terence Penulham via Bishop).  Faith is then based not primarily on content, but rather on divine testimony (akin in my mind to the role of prophecy for Ghazali – perhaps worth scaring up as Aquinas ought at least to have been familiar with an Avicennan model of prophecy). 

Further, as noted in Objection 2, faith is explained by way of symbol.  This is exceptionally strange if the content of the faith-object is purely propositional but unsurprising when we note that the action of the believer ends in a thing, not a proposition.  I.e. I think, my faith act is incomplete if it stops at agreement; Christ called followers to actively align their footsteps (and far more) with His.  Faith is not purely rational; and neither is truth.  Aye, it is propositionally understood, but it is also understood symbolically – both by analogy and combining of similar thoughts.  There is space for metaphor so long as our object is right action.  “For as in science we do not form propositions, except in order to have knowledge about things through their means, except in order to have knowledge about things through their means, so is it in faith. (Reply Obj. 2)”

So then, faith can be understood propositionally — but not solely.  The primary expression of faith is submitting the will.  Which then is better, faith as typically understood or faithfulness?  One certainly costs more of the seeker — perhaps everything.

Disputatio

Last week’s Christian mini-blog war provided an interesting case study. First, it illustrates how language meant to serve your purpose can serve the opposite purpose just as well or better. In such cases where our words ‘get away from us’ how ought we to respond? We start engaging in a cost-benefit analysis: who is being helped or harmed/what truth is being defended. Of course, in being misunderstood the line blurs. Am I being misunderstood or my assertions? These are so intricately connected within the framework we recognize as part of ourselves that defensiveness is natural.

Second, it shows that power and language funnel into each other, even when we might not intend to be speaking of power-relations explicitly. Good luck speaking of anything worth arguing about without utilizing or defending some system of power and corresponding language game.

Connected with this, it is difficult to translate skills from one game seamlessly into another. Playing baseball messes up your throwing mechanics for American football and vice versa. In fact, for many only one game is legitimately worth spending the effort to engage in. This is true of language games as well – it is difficult to see worth in another’s game without observing it closely or participating in its culture. Some people only see human worth and some only see their truth in need of defending. Striking a meaningful balance is very difficult, but one does n’t have to perform significant contortions to do so. One learns that real football has its legitimate beauty as well.

As I watched, often in horror, things being said (and let ‘s be honest, things said on from one camp generally made me sicker than the other) heightened as they always do. The urge to respond waxed and waned. My threshold of response is pretty difficult to cross (my wife wishes I would respond more often), but it happens.

The thing that kept me from replying directly is simply that by doing so, I inevitably give credit to those thoughts I am opposing. To illustrate this point, I shall recall when I first joined Facebook.

I immediately commenced finding out ‘what can I do with this?’ and discovered a religious debate group (back when group discussions were popular). Soon I was defending my views, often from those who I felt were poorly articulating them, and enjoying myself. I tried to be humble, but that has its limits. My heart was never in winning, but I liked getting my point across and figuring out a way to answer tough questions, or at least make them easier.

Then one day I stumbled onto the wrong thread. She posed an OT quandary and I tried to use my pre-adolescent Hebrew skills to set the problem in a better context (how old are the ‘children’ who mock the prophet Elisha and are mauled by God? 10 or 15? I thought it made some difference). My argument from language was questioned because she could n’t easily find a translation that backed up my interpretation. And halt. I realized that I could n’t personally defend my skills to interpret and have her trust my interpretation. Maybe someone else could. The cost of defending myself was too high. To this day I have n’t responded to her challenge. If this dispute were to be held by members of the Society for the Study of Biblical Literature, they might ‘ve sided with me (at least in my dreams they always do) – but in our context, there was no way to establish authority except by pure force of argument.

Since then I have put less and less stock in winning the debate on the street, or in the pulpit, or in the chat room than before. I do n’t like that I end up defending myself more than whatever idea I think requires defending. And then I ought to be responsible, so I ‘ll have to represent my opponent’s views. But that ‘s not the ideal starting place. This could give you the idea that I avoid conflict in all situations. Far from it – I love disagreeing with people. But I realized that there is a social cost that must be paid to speak out if I ‘m to change anyone’s mind for more than five seconds.

The title of one of my favorite books is translated as ‘the Incoherence of the Philosophers’. In it the author demonstrates, using his opponents’ methods, the limits of their understanding. He then shows that they do n’t have legitimate grounds to argue for any position counter to what God has revealed. The pre-eternity of the world? Can’t prove it – might as well trust God. The mortality of the soul? Can’t prove it either – see previous answer. You know what ‘s funny? The author was accused of adopting his opponents’ view. In doing disputation well, you might unwittingly lend credence to a voice which does n’t deserve the help. That ‘s my general feeling about this past week’s events – but we ‘ll keep moving along.

Also, someone said that often we choose to affirm something as true based on who said it, rather than judge whether these words themselves were true (and applicable). I ‘d tell you who said it, but then you might judge the verity of what he or she said by who she or he is. Kinda missing the point; for now pretend it ‘s your favorite author…then that it ‘s your least favorite author. Author and authority – it ‘s crazy stuff.  This is one of the ways we close our discourse-communities: we pick people who say what we want, then we affirm anything they say without thinking deeply about the contents of any individual utterance (or even consider whether this is a false attribution).

The last point is also a Facebook story. When I first joined, I really liked the idea of trying to articulate who I was. Some of the answers changed over time, but basically I wanted people to know that I read a lot of stuff and that I liked to talk about religion and philosophy. One of my favorite profs described his religious views as ‘accurate’ on his account. He had a Ph.D. I still do n’t. He ‘s also brilliant in a way I still do n’t feel I match, so I amended my entry to say that I was ‘pursuing accuracy’. I liked it. It sounded cool.

But I ‘ve come to realize something. While I ‘m still pursuing accuracy, it ‘s so terribly much more difficult to be faithful. After a few more years of scratching my head and typing away, maybe I could convince the people I care about that I was pretty close to ‘accurate’. But ‘faithful’? No blog post is going to show that. Ever. No public debate will tell us how to fix poverty. That does n’t mean we should give up strong opinions or serious discourse. But disputations which are self-defensive, or give voice to those who won’t do anything worthwhile with it, or which lead away from applying right action – these are n’t worth our time.

So, while we ‘re busy trying to be accurate and cordial and wise, why do n’t we consider for a moment why this fight is worth winning.  I doubt such efforts are fruitful when framed as public disputes, but some of us overvalue being right (not me of course).  Being right without doing good is absurdly meaningless.  Let ‘s try to revaluate so that what matters is defended by our actions first and then, if you must, debate away.

Notes to Explore: Pascal and al-Ghazali

Apologies, this is not a complete thought yet:

There are three sources of belief: reason, custom, inspiration.  The Christian religion, which alone has reason, does not acknowledge as her true children those who believe without inspiration.  It is not that she excludes reason and custom.  On the contrary, the mind must be opened to proofs, must be confirmed by custom, and offer itself in humbleness to inspirations, which alone can produce a true and saving effect.  Ne evacuetur crux Christi.

~Pascal in Pensees, translated in 1904 by W.F. Trotter and offered, abridged, in The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (2002) by the Modern Library, NY: p. 121

I make mention of this because, it sounds distinctly Ghazalian (I should know better, I ‘ve just been reading Foucault’s Archaeology).  Particularly, this division of the sources of belief mirrors, I think so please correct me, al-Ghazali’s al-Munqidh min al-Dalal or Deliverance/Deliverer from Error.  Regardless, primacy is given to that knowledge which is revealed – inspiration.  It’s a thought I would wish to see borrowed more by those religious philosophies which claim that God has revealed Himself in the world.

Oh, and the other, which is perhaps more removed, is when Pascal comments that offering arguments to unbelievers is most likely to lead to contempt rather than belief, for they are likely to scorn your arguments as indicative of the weak strands holding your belief together.  Such an utterance would n’t sound out of place for al-Ghazali either, I should think, especially given the manner by which he defines theology – as first an internal defense and then an external one against unbelief.  Theology is not, in the function it serves, equipped to be particularly constructive.

Again, apologies for the incomplete nature of this piece, but I ‘m trying to catalogue major dialogue points with al-Ghazali and not only has this one interested me on prior occasion, but it jumps off the page when I hear Pascal echoing sentiments so near in tone.  I ‘m happy to be corrected in these matters.

Doubt Mis-Placed

My current nightly reading is cycling between Descartes and Foucault: well, at least they were both French.  My reasons and reading choices aside, I ‘ve come through the Meditations on First Philosophy wherein we are led through Descartes’ search for the “true Method of arriving at a knowledge of all the things of which my mind was capable.  (Meditations, translated by E.S. Haldane & G.R.T. Ross, from The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (2012), Modern Library, edited by Monroe Beardsley: p. 15)”  Noting that everyone seems to think they have sufficient good sense that most do not desire more of it (ibid, p. 5), Descartes chooses to sort between those reasons manifest as good sense according to method; namely, an adaptation of methodological skepticism which has come to be known as Cartesian doubt.

A full critique of such methods, or more specifically a critique of the reliance on methods to alleviate one doubt by choosing systemically choosing another and the dualism necessary to accept the Cartesian result, is not of interest here.  Descartes has been scoffed at enough.  What has interested me instead has been how the results of Descartes’ project so diverged from his purposes.  An example: Descartes hoped, in the introduction to his Meditations to show how his method frees reason from prejudices.  But Descartes was not truly interested in letting go of his central prejudices.  The two that remained were his identity as a thinking being and being equally sure that God exists.  Instead of liberating philosophy from all prejudices, Descartes hoped instead to free from all prejudices that were of lesser importance.

Of course, the first of these prejudices embodied in Je pense donc je suis or cogito ergo sum fails to answer either what it means to be, who I am, or that of which thinking is truly comprised.  It did, however, add questions not asked in isolation (methodological skepticism was not original to Descartes – see Pyrrho of Elis, Sextus Empiricus, and, if you ‘re feeling adventurous, I really recommend al-Ghazali’s al-Munqidh min al-Dalal or Deliverance from Error but his use of it was unique) and the results went well outside the bounds of Descartes’ purpose.  Instead of accepting the Cartesian presupposition, the subject ‘I’ became the locus of reason with the illusion that right thinking freed one from prejudice.  The prejudice against prejudice must be dealt with another time, but I follow Gadamer enough to distrust such claims.  Needless to say (why is this considered an appropriate segue ever?) Descartes sought to answer such questions as I have raised, but the success of his project was ineffective for effecting his purpose while its reliance on the definition of man as rational animal was reinforced by his project.

But the second is equally important to Descartes!  Interestingly the idea of the ‘natural light’ rings of al-Ghazali as I read this, but my point holds: existence is not imagined apart from the being above the realm of thought.  Here:

“[T]he idea by which I apprehend a supreme God, eternal, infinite, immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, and the creator of all things which are in addition to Himself, has certainly in it more objective reality than those ideas by which finite substances are represented.”

~Meditation III, p. 45

Because Descartes is so assured of God’s existence, and recognizes that such an idea cannot originate from himself, so he holds that not only does something other than himself exist, but that being must be the cause of that idea (ibid, p. 46).

“Consequently, the idea I have of Him is the most completely true, the most completely clear and distinct, of all the ideas that are in me.”

~Meditation III, p. 49

He then goes on to consider, in Meditation IV, truth and falsity which necessarily includes some discussion of error by way of an Augustinian theodicy.  In the Supplementary Passages attached, Descartes concludes:

“And though the wisest minds may study the matter as much as they will, I do not believe they will be able to give any sufficient reason for removing this doubt, unless they presuppose the existence of God.”

~Metaphysical Doubt and Certainty from The European Philosophers, p. 82

This should be all that is necessary to demonstrate that Descartes’s purpose in discourse cannot be easily divorced from a belief in God.  Taking away this second assumption would remove the meaning in defense of Whom Descartes doubted.  In a similar way, no one ever deconstructs purely for deconstruction’s sake, but does so with the hope to be consulted in the rebuilding.  Otherwise, one does not write.  That ‘s speech-act theory at its core: we speak and write to communicate a purpose.  So, to avoid plunging further into terms, I here wish to expound on my own research project – that of mis-understanding as it relates to the thoughts of one or many coming to serve purposes contrary to those for which the author publishes.  I ‘m no less haunted.  If I stoop but a little to look at the mis-purposed corpses of thought – meditative projects whose methods are made to serve, whose lives must be animated by something other than the purposes which were their origin – that for which they were conceived and sewn together.

Again I put the question to myself, so I shall put it to you as well: what thought is more horrifying for the thinker?  Rejection is far better than this mis-projection, this misuse of energies.  Put the question to yourself – what is worth being not only misunderstood for, but what is worth putting your energies into and subsequently being completely misunderstood and misdirected?