Descartes’ cogito ergo sum posits the idea that if we think, we exist. Or in Descartes’ own words:
- 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 (AT VII 25; CSM II 16–17). It doesn’t take much to understand that Descartes claims existence to be a sentient act; thus to exist, means to be alive. This fits well in Descartes dichotomous view of the mind (soul) and body. The mind (soul) thinks (metaphysically) and the body (physically) exists.
Yet this statement has not been without its share of controversy; the primary criticism concerns itself with the implicit premise: “Whatever has the property of thinking, exists.”
- If in fact this is true (“…whatever has the property of thinking, exists”), does this apply to things that are not human? What about computers? A smart (complex) computer can be defined as thinking, does that mean it exists (has sentience)?
- And if in fact the computer has sentience, does that mean it can have a soul? [Hint: Watch 2001 a Space Odyssey if you have the time.]
- At the very least if a computer has sentience (or is HIGHLY intelligent) does it inherently have rights? -at least the right to life (and not be terminated arbitrarily).
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