In Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, he is trying to explain and theorize that humans are more than just a shape with mass. He does so by creating the concept of the ‘I’ – or ego. I do not completely agree with Descartes’ beliefs of mathematics, his designation of the ego, and his use of the term ‘I’, although I do believe he identified an important concept in proving one’s existence.

Descartes argues that the ‘I’ – or ego – exists through a process of logic. He begins his meditations by rejecting all his own opinions and relying on basic principles which can form any belief.

He does so to find a reason for doubt. Doubt is required when forming a theory in order to be sure that one is not being deceived. Once Descartes had demolished his opinions, he began pure thinking.

First, he analyzed what is universal – he is a human with a body that has mass, size and numbers, location, and time. Descartes makes a statement regarding mathematics; “For whether I am awake or asleep, two plus three makes fives, and a square has only four sides[1].” Descartes also states that “mathematics contains something that is certain and indubitable,”[2] however, this “something” is unknown.

If something is unknown then how can it be certain? Mathematics is not innate. Mathematical facts, formulas, and theorems were created by man in order to describe the world we live in[3]. Man is flawed, therefore what man creates is also flawed – mathematics is doubtable simply because it is man-made.

When considering counterarguments to this, one could propose that man has created everything we have come to know, therefore everything would be flawed. I would have to say that I do believe that nothing is ever perfect, therefore everything can and will be flawed in some way.

Descartes continues to meditate, moving onward to the existence of God. He argues as a believer of God, but considers the counterarguments against God’s existence.

This seems as though Descartes is “warming up” in order to discover the truth. Descartes becomes absorbed into the perception that there must be more to a person than just a body. Descartes states, “One needs a body in order to perceive[4] ” then later, makes his great discovery as to what humans are. “A thinking thing…a thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wants, refuses, and also imagines and senses[5].”

Descartes then concludes that the belief of being a thinking thing by summing up all his assumptions and beliefs throughout the meditation; doubt, affirmations, denial, imagination: these are all part of one whole – thought. Descartes describes this as the point of identity, a center, and free, which he refers to as the ‘I’.

The primary function of the ‘I’ is to perform logical operations. These logical operations include deductions, inference, and association. All of these are variables of thinking. Deductions include the mathematical way we think. For example, one can state that A causes B, and B causes C, therefore A causes C.

The inference is the act of processing information. Lastly, association involves the ability to associate previously known ideas and linking them with new or old ideas. These three logical operations make up what thinking is, which altogether makes up what Descartes describes the ‘I’ of a human to be.

I do not follow Descartes’ use of the ‘I’ in his Meditations. When he uses the word I, he is using it in what seems to be the third person. When speaking of one’s self in the third person, the name given to such person should be used.

When considering counterarguments to my point, I do understand that one may point out that he is simply using the word ‘I’ as a name for this thinking thing; however, this is improper use of English. The more appropriate title for this thinking thing is mind, soul, or intellect.


[1] Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Revised by Johnathon Bennett. 2007. 2. Print.

[2] Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Revised by Johnathon Bennett. 2007. 2. Print.

[3] “Is Math Man Made or Natural?.” WikiAnswers. Answers Corporation, 2010. Web. 13 Oct 2010. <>.

[4] Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Revised by Johnathon Bennett. 2007. 5. Print.

[5] Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Revised by Johnathon Bennett. 2007. 5. Print.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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