26 April, 2004

On Truth (& A Refutation of Descartes' Cogito)

Unlike the ancients, I do not believe that the noblest end is to think. Nor would I even grant that to think is at least the noblest end of man. But put this aside for the moment. I will grant thought as the pinnacle of existence for the purposes of this argument, so that I may best illustrate my point.

Even if the true end of man is to think, why is it that this would be so? (I realize it is odd to grant a point not to use it as a premise, but rather as a conclusion, but if the reader will bear with me, I am sure they will see the reason for my attacking the argument in this way.) The reason, as given by the ancients (and almost unilaterally agreed upon until the Heideggerian reopening of the question), is this: only because it is through thought that we may be closest to what is (e.g., the truth, the good, or the God) that it may be true that the end of man is to think.

Thus, if one accepts God's existence, the noblest quest is to try to know God. But notice this is merely a corollary to the main idea that the noblest quest is to try to know truth.

As such, I strive to know truth. (This is despite my inability to grant thought as the pinnacle of existence, as stated earlier. The reason why will become clear soon enough.) Not relative truth, nor what others would call fact, but real, solid, truth. As in the complete opposite of falsehood.

The truth I speak of is necessary truth, concepts (or events, or whatever you choose to call them) that must be, no matter what. I am speaking on a level which transcends even Descartes. This is way past the cogito.

Am I? I mean this question quite literally. Do I exist? Descartes says that if I think that I am writing this question, I may not actually be writing this question, but at least I think I am writing it, which means that I must be thinking. And if I think, then there must be something which is having a thought, and whatever that thing may be, it must necessarily exist.

But Descartes fails in this argument. Such has been made quite clear in numerous doctoral theses over the many years. If one still remains unconvinced that Descartes' argument fails, I will briefly introduce my own counterargument here, which to my knowledge has not been made elsewhere.

My counterargument:

Even if it is granted that if one's existence is guaranteed by their thought, their thought may never be shown to truly exist. What I mean by this is that we, as observers, determine what the meaning of existence is. We call the existence of a thing "something", while we call its absence "nothing". But we, in all our years as observers, have never seen "nothing". Instead, all we see is "something". And we try to give this concept of "nothing" a descriptive quality that we truly do not have the ability to judge.

Imagine a field filled with "nothing". We observe this field, and we see nothing. If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would say that they are nonexistent.

Now, imagine a field filled with protons, a very different situation than the one filled with "nothing". If one were to ask what the electrical charge was at a certain point, we would have the exact same answer as before: they are nonexistent.

Then imagine a single anti-proton inserted into the former field of nothingness. We would then say that the electric charge at this single point is -1, and that at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Now consider in the latter field filled with protons that we remove a single proton. What would we say about the field now? The same as in the previous example: the electric charge at this single point is -1, and at all other points in the field, the electric charge is 0.

Which is the truth? As Feynman once quipped, is the positron merely an absence of a electron, or is it the other way around? Or is it neither? The point of this argument is not to show that it is one or the other, but rather to show that we cannot know which situation is the true reality.

Now consider Descartes. He says he is thinking. Or at least he thinks he is thinking. But regardless, he must exist, right? But this is not neccessarily so, even if you grant the hypothesis of his cogito, since the antecedent of his hypothetical cannot be established. Is it not possible that true nothingness -- the absence of all which is something -- is what Descartes considers his own state of thinking? I am not arguing that this is the necessary case, nor even a likely case, but I am arguing that you can never establish for a fact that the act of thinking is "something" rather than 'nothing", and so Descartes may not definitely assert his own existence.

And so, with even Descartes falling short of what may be called true truth, the question rears its ugly head once more: Am I?

I'm not sure.

I am bombarded on all sides by arguments for the existence of Jesus' divinity, or at least Abraham's god, or if not that, then at least the civil war, and when I am still unable to profess true belief, they all look at me increduously and declare that surely I must at least believe in their existence, for if that much is not granted, then how can we even speak to one another? But even Descartes never granted others' existence. He only granted his own.

What bothers me most is my own hypocrasy. You see, I enjoy life. A lot. I like to think. I like to play games. I like to argue with people. I love, and I feel loved. I live my life with regard to what I consider is good, going so far as to commit to charities, and to remain a strict vegetarian. My actions are consistent with a man who cares about things, and who thinks he can make the world a better place.

But I do not get my notion of what is better from God. Instead, it is rather more like Zarathustra. I think, and if I consider what I think to be bad, then I deem it bad. If I consider it to be good, then I deem it good. Granted, my considerations are heavily influenced by the Christian society that I was brought up in, but if one puts this aside, then my situation is the worst form of idolatry: To me, I am God.

Unlike with Boethius, it is not philosophy which consoles me, but rather it is philosophy which terrifies me. It is the wonderfulness of the life around me which keeps me from depression. Not the thoughts that logic give me so readily.

Do I exist? If I am truly truthful with myself, I am forced to answer that I do not know. Is there anything, then, that I might know?

I ask this question of myself, and I am amazed at my own answer. If it is a question of belief, then I can only believe what I feel to be true. And there is only one thing that really and truly feels true to me:


I love Robin. I love my life. I love the world, and all that is in it. This feels true to me, just as it feels morally wrong when I see someone kicking a dog, or eating meat. Not because I see the necessity of kicking a dog to be morally wrong, but because I feel kicking a dog is morally wrong.

By what other method may I attempt to define truth? True truth remains unnattainable, by every method I've considered. But if one creates their own horizon, rather than accepting that which they are given, then truth suddenly becomes attainable, since that truth is defined by one's very existence.

My truth is that of love. Zarathustra's truth may differ from mine, but they have come about in the same way. And I am proud of this meaning of truth. I am proud because it is the strictest interpretation that truth can be tied down to. Sure, I could easily give looser meanings for truth... But this is as strict as it gets. This is the best that can be done. And I am proud of it.

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