Why Are We Certain that We Exist?
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2014
© 2014 Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LLC
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
Volume 91, Issue 3, pages 723–759, November 2015
How to Cite
Billon, A. (2015), Why Are We Certain that We Exist?. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 91: 723–759. doi: 10.1111/phpr.12113
- Issue published online: 26 OCT 2015
- Article first published online: 28 MAY 2014
Descartes was certain that he was thinking and he was accordingly certain that he existed. Like Descartes, we seem to be more certain of our thoughts and our existence than of anything else. What is less clear is the reason why we are thus certain. Philosophers throughout history have provided different interpretations of the cogito, disagreeing both on the kind of thoughts it characterizes and on the reasons for its cogency. According to what we may call the empiricist interpretation of the cogito, I can only claim to be certain of having experiences, and this certainty, as well as that of my own existence, stems from their phenomenal and subjective character. According to rationalist interpretations, on the other hand, I am certain of having some self-reflexive propositional attitudes, and this certainty derives from their rational features. Psychiatric patients suffering from acute forms of depersonalization or of the Cotard syndrome often doubt that they think and exist, and might even believe that they don't. I argue that their study allows us to favor the empiricist interpretation of the cogito.