Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Cogito Ergo Sum

The French Philosopher Rene Descartes, whose main skill was as a mathemetician, set himself the task of reducing the process of thought and understanding to the same principles as mathematics. He wanted to base his philosophy only upon what he could actually prove to be true. He locked himself away in a log cabin up in Switzerland, and pondered. What was the least thing he could prove absolutely to be true? On the basis that his senses often deceived him he ruled out everything that relied upon them as evidence. Could he even prove absolutely that he existed?

In the end he reached the conclusion that he must exist, because if he didn't he could not even pose the question, could not think about the answer. The solution was summed up in the phrase "I think, therefore I am" or in Latin "Cogito Ergo Sum". In many ways it symbolises what is uniquely human. Humans are separated by two things from other animals. Humans engage in the act of conscious Labour, and the labour is conscious for the very reason that unlike other animals humans have the power to think, to rationalise. Where other animals are merely objects of nature, humans are also subjects. Animals have things done to them by their environment, whereas humans also do things to the environment - sometimes, as with Global warming, things which are not in humanity's own interest - Man is not just a product of history, but a creator of history too. As Marx put it "Man creates his own history, but under conditions not of his own choosing."

Central to that process of creating history is the ideas that Men develop, and there are many forces at work that provide the stimulus for the development of those ideas. Many of those forces are rooted in the material world, the environment in which we grow up, but some too are the ideas of others that we come across, and consider.

The purpose of this blog is to throw out for consideration some of these ideas that have been developed over the generations, and how they might give some insight into the world in which we find ourselves, to orientate towards it, and be able thereby to better shape our own history. Coming from a Marxist background that will flavour the nature of the ideas discussed, but no one seriously wanting to understand the real world can achieve that simply by looking at ideas of one particular strand of opinion. Unfortunately, dead men can no longer speak to us, or they would no doubt have many interesting things to say. The best we can do is to look at what they had to say in relation to similar circumstances in the past, and to see what if anything is applicable to our current situation. By standing on their shoulders we hope to see a little further.

The hope is to look at various questions, and provide some insight, not as some absolute truth, but as the basis of further thought and discussion, and to do so in a way that is easily accessible.