Sunday, March 18, 2007

I think therefore I am


Cogito, ergo sum. I think therefore I am. 我思故我在.

Recently I learned about Arbinger Theory. It expounded the philosophical thinking of follow the sense and self-betrayer. It is about following the sense to stay out of the box to make other's day. Who can break the box? It is ME. I am the subject. When we treat other as a subject rather than as an object, the relationship can be improved. We can get out of the box to make each other’s day.

The Arbinger Theory seems building on the foundation of Martin Buber’s (马丁布伯) “I-thou, I-it”. It would be interesting to trace back to René Descartes’ (笛卡尔)famous philosophical statement Cogito, ergo sum (Latin: “I think therefore I am”, a translation of Descartes' original French statement: "Je pense, donc je suis", which occurs in his Discourse on Method (1637)). It became a foundational element of Western philosophy.

Descartes placed a strong emphasis on I. I am the subject. Descartes considered the ultimate level of doubt based on his argument from the existence of a deceiving god – Descartes examined his beliefs to see if any had survived the doubt. In his belief in his own existence he found it: it is impossible to doubt that he exists. Even if there were a deceiving god (or an evil demon, the tool he used to stop himself sliding back into ungrounded beliefs), his belief in his own existence would be secure, for how could he be deceived unless he existed in order to be deceived?

"But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something [or thought anything at all] then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind."

Descartes suggested that I can exist in isolation. 290 years later, Martin Buber’s I and Thou (Ich und Du, 1923) presented an alternative philosophy of personal dialogue, in that it describes how personal dialogue can define the nature of reality. Buber’s major theme is that human existence may be defined by the way in which we engage in dialogue with each other, with the world, and with God. I exist not in isolation.

According to Buber, human beings may adopt two attitudes toward the world: I-Thou or I-It. I-Thou is a relation of subject-to-subject, while I-It is a relation of subject-to-object. In the I-Thou relationship, human beings are aware of each other as having a unity of being. Human beings do not perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, but engage in a dialogue involving each other's whole being. In the I-It relationship, on the other hand, human beings perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, and view themselves as part of a world which consists of things. I-Thou is a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity, while I-It is a relationship of separateness and detachment.

I-Thou relation is a direct interpersonal relation which is not mediated by any intervening system of ideas. No objects of thought intervene between I and Thou. Thus, I-Thou is not a means to some object or goal, but is an ultimate relation involving the whole being of each subject.

The evolution of the I-philosophy is fascinating. From Descartes-I, Buber-I thou I it, to Arbinger-self deception and out of the box. It seems that the human society is moving towards a more holistic whole and would eventually be more compassionate. There is a Chinese saying 沉舟侧畔千帆过,病树前头万木春. We are progressing to a better tomorrow.