The self-reflective cogito

Both Plato and Aristotle made actuality the measure of knowability, so a systematic inquiry into being-as-doubtable would be a vision of the possibility of things. This is, in fact, exactly where Descartes’s methodological doubt takes him, culminating in a vision of the world as entirely contingent beneath divine omnipotence, and the apparent reality of all things as controllable by a cognitive manipulator stronger than ourselves.

Descartes escapes the possibility of doubt through self-reflection. The precision here is important: Descartes misses an opportunity when he defines himself as “A thinking thing” and not a self-reflective one. Reflection occurs when any action has a numerical* identity of origin and terminus, e.g. the face in a mirror is both the source of the image and the object of sight, but mind is not just reflective but self-reflective since it is not both origin and terminus in something else, like a reflective surface. Had he focused on what was formal to the cogito, he might have divided mind from body by the intensive and the extensive, where the intensive character was given in the mind’s unity of principle and terminus. While extension doubles by going outside of itself, mind doubles by its source becoming its own terminus.

The terminus of mind is thought, considered both as object and as awareness of one’s own thinking. Like sensation, thought is an immanent act, but it differs from sensation because it is not just awareness of an object but also of itself. Sight is an awareness of visibles but not of vision while thought is an awareness both of the thinkable and thought. It’s only because thought is both of these that we can compare thought to object to see who they measure up, giving rise to truth and falsity.


*Any cycle has an identity of origin and terminus, e.g. in semi-automatics, shooting the bullet also causes the next cartridge to load. Reflection differs from a cycle in that numerically the same thing repeats or comes back: the same sound echoes, the same light bounces off the surface, etc.

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