I am, therefore I think?

Greenabby has a post entitled “I think, therefore I am?”. I like the question mark on the end. I guess old René Descartes would have a period there. If we didn’t have the capacity to think, all we’d be is walking, eating, digesting, etc., etc., animals. But the thinking part — that’s the spirit!

But the existentialists — like Jean Paul Sartre — have it the other way around: existence comes first. In other words, I AM , therefore I think.

There’s a famous story of Sartre’s, called “The Wall”, in which a man, condemned to death, suddenly feels totally free, exilerated, and filled with a sense of absurdity of all life, he laughs at and insults the beaurocrats who have condemned him. But the final irony is yet to come: in the morning as he is led out to be shot, he is notified that he is freed. The story ends with him rolling around in insane laughter on the prison grounds.

Update: Just now I found the story on the internet. It’s a little different from what I remembered from many years ago, but mainly in one not so small detail. It’s a chilling story in more ways than one. Here’s the link.

  1. Church of Integrity’s avatar

    That was a great story, thanks for the link. I find those philosophical questions very interesting.

  2. Mardé’s avatar

    Yes, the story is a deep one and one of the greatest of Sartre. Not what you’d call upbeat of course. 😉

  3. Charles Churchill’s avatar

    I read the story with interest. You might be interested in this one as well.

    thanks for the post,
    Charles Churchill

  4. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks for your comment, Charles. I entered a comment to the story you linked. Not sure how you’ll feel about it but I expressed myself the best I could.

  5. AJ’s avatar

    There are aspects of existentialism I find appealing… there’s something attractive, for example, in believing that we can mold our lives “on the fly,” creating our personalities in the way that seems best. The downside is that identity and purpose become so malleable and elusive that they are often lost altogether, Lost in the Cosmos, as Walker Percy puts it.

    As Sartre’s story might imply, boundless, “freedom” to create ourselves is not something that humans handle with a great deal of poise. Maybe we were meant to recognize our “created” status after all…

  6. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, AJ. I just looked up on Amazon the Walker Percy book you mention. Looks pretty fascinating. I may get it.

    I can see the point you’re making about losing identity. This is what Pedro did in the Sartre story, but he gained an objectivity about his place in the world. Of course, it was a Sartre Godless place but also, I think, a place of kind of ultimate awareness.

    Thanks again. I’ve got a looong way to go to resolve this Theist vs Atheist thing, I can see that now! I may not have known what I was getting into. 😕


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