Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Original "I think, therefore I am"

In today's Office of Readings, the second reading was an excerpt from Saint Augustine's "Confessions." It was a great one, primarily about enduring every burden with love and out of our complete reliance on God's great mercy.

This got me thinking about a not-so-well-known fact. There is a famous phrase in philosophy that even those who have never studied the subject are likely to know: "I think, therefore I am." This phrase is almost always attributed to René Descartes - a French philosopher who wrote at the beginning of the modern period. At its most basic level it is a claim in epistemology (the study of knowledge and knowing) that you can know you exist because you can recognize that you are thinking.

Clever though this argument may be, it is not original to Descartes. Hundreds of years before, this point was made by a famous philosopher and theologian. Who was it?

Saint Augustine!

One of Saint Augustine's many great accomplishments was his argument against the Skeptics. The Skeptics were a group who (during Saint Augustine's time) argued that nothing could be known. The point made by Descartes was first publicly used by Saint Augustine, specifically in Saint Augustine's argument against the "academicians" - a subgroup of the Skeptics whose primary point was that nothing could be known and that wise persons would give their assent to nothing.

The argument that is commonly attributed to Descartes was used by Saint Augustine to show the Skeptics that something could be known. Saint Augustine argued that 1) to doubt something, you must exist, 2) to be either correct or mistaken, you must exist. So, Skeptics, if you doubt you have knowledge, then you KNOW that you exist; if you are either correct or mistaken about what is wise, the you KNOW you exist. In any case 3) you know something - that you exist.

Saint Augustine offers seven arguments in total against the Skeptics, two of which argue the point that if one does not know if wisdom exists, how can one claim to be wise?

The main point of Saint Augustine on this topic is that happiness is the persuit of truth and we are able to discover and know truth. So, truthseekers, I hope to see you in the Saint Paul Seminary chapel soon pondering and pursuing truth.

Take care, -Jeremy

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