Does Cartesian “Cogito” Render Individual Beatific Vision Impossible?

A claim that there is no truth implies contradiction in itself. Similarly, a systematic doubt has  its own indubitable foundation, namely the doubting subject. For René Descartes doubting is a mode of thinking. The one who is thinking certainly exists. In fact ‘cogito ergo sum’ is one of the easiest ‘valid’ existential inferences. In case of Descartes it has to be maintained that he  was honestly trying to refute Montaigne and a wide-spreading scepticism of his era. “Perhaps the best scene to capture Descartes’ entrance into Western philosophy would be the conference in Paris of November 1628. The gentle Oratorian Pierre Cardinal de Bérule, the Minim friar Marin Mersenne, René Descartes and a “grande et scavant compaigne” were summoned by the Papal Nuncio, Monsiegneur de Baigné, to hear the Sieur de Chandoux savage scholastic philosophy and propose “sa nouvelle philosophie.” […] When Chandoux had finished, the assembly applauded with a general enthusiasm. Only Descartes sat quietly. The Cardinal noted his silence an pressed him for a response. Descartes, after some half-hearted attempts to escape the charge, finally “praised the address, but did not praise the assembly because they had allowed themselves to be satisfied with what was only probable.” […] The assembly put to him him question that was being debated the length and breadth of France: whether there was any escape from scepticism.” (Buckley, Michael SJ. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. 71.) Thus, the task is given. Descartes has to combat scepticism once for all. His choice is simply to take premise of all sceptics to its final conclusion to the end of its inner logic.

The final object of Cartesian doubt is universal existence. Whatever is, may be a mere illusion, but I -who am thinking this- necessarily am. The “I” as a subject exists as this individual being as long as it thinks. “Thinking? At least I have discovered it – thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist, this is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exists.”(Meditations II, 27) In this couple sentences Descartes proceeds form thinking back to thinking. Is that not a “petitio principii” or a closed system which happens to have existence included in itself, but does not let one beyond its scope?

A substantial being  is posited – almost flowing from the reflection on the idea – which once again is the subject itself. Thus one gets I = I and in as far as one moves within the implications of this equation, everything is true, or rather does not oppose the principle of identity and non-contradiction. Substantial existence here is dependent upon the act of thinking. In terms of schools, the existence of the subject is posited from the conscious (reflected) apprehension of the esse intelligibile. If thinking ceases, the subject ceases to exist as well. Cartesian trick however relies on the immediacy and intimacy of his prove. Suppose that one would claim: a dog is barking, therefore dog exists. Well, in as far as this is just a mere statement on the screen, it proves nothing. Descartes’ proof is of the same kind except to the fact that it relates directly to us. This makes subject absolutely certain of its own existence. It makes the thinking subject special in a very peculiar way, for everything else may exist and is considered as object of science, only in as far as it relates to “cogito”.

After studying Descartes, I have to admit that he was ingenious apart from several things. I would like to consider one of them.

Simple apprehension does not mean anything to him, and even cannot, because he took scepticism seriously and scepticism arises precisely when the truth of mere presence of things is doubted. Indescribable and amazing contemplation of something or someone would be in some older times considered the highest state of man. He is there, alone with the object of his contemplation and lets the other to form his intellect. Slowly, peacefully. The observer never ceased to be himself, he just did not represent himself to himself as the one who is gazing. Once he did it, he has two options, either what he contemplated was real, or it was made up by the observer. A sceptic, due to difficulty of distinguishing the two will doubt simple presence of things. The only answer that will satisfy sceptical thirst for certainty can arise from the intellect immediately conscious of its own action. What happens before is beyond the scope of science. The  thinking “I” which is as a reality present to itself only in reflection therefore cannot go beyond actions where it has to abandon consciousness of itself.

Descartes, precisely because he was struggling with scepticism  and took it seriously could not leave any room for anything like simple apprehension or possible intellect. For when we simply apprehend things reflection usually does not happen, rather we are simply present and the present of reality reveals itself, it conceals its essence. But there is a further problem with Descartes. Whenever the thinking which is reflective would cease to happen, the I would cease to exist. Well, if that is the case, then no one should even try  to stop producing something with their mind or at least representing to himself some stuff, for their very existence is at stake.

Finally I have to think of beatific vision. As far as I understand, it is simple intuition without any intermediation. A direct vision of God. By the way, vision is suffered and not produced. I have no grounds for claiming that beatific vision excludes self-presence, but I can maintain that if it is direct, it cannot be reproduced through representation. Representative thinking however constitutes the existence of individually thinking thing, the I. May I then conclude that the Cartesian  individual would have to vanish in the state of beatific vision?




3 thoughts on “Does Cartesian “Cogito” Render Individual Beatific Vision Impossible?

  1. Thanks for the post.

    Please take all of what I’m about to write to be super hedged. It’s been a long time since I’ve engaged Descartes, and with everything going on, I’m not in a position to do so now.

    All of that being said, i wonder if you’ve mischaracterized the place of the >cogitoall of knowledge< is grounded in the thinking I and not just though itself, and thus must ultimately be grounded in the I, and all this for the sake of avoiding skepticism.

    If this is so, then I think we could say that it is not necessarily the case that the beatific vision is impossible on Descartes' view, as I don't think his project was about the absolute nature of knowledge. However, having the beatific vision would require the Cartesian to give up his project, as all his knowledge would no longer–could no longer–be grounded in his own subject or subjectivity but in the One he now sees face-to-face. If the Cartesian were unwilling to give up this project, then he would be consigned to the Hell that has its beginning in the person's insistence that he is the measure of what is knowable or not knowable.



  2. Principally I agree with your synthesis. The beautiful difficulty with Christian religion is that it takes human nature seriously. Therefore the way we define our nature shapes our faith. Therefore if I hold A about nature, but A is not in conformity with the statements given by the author of nature I either say, nature is dissolved in God or nature contradicts the one ho made it or God contradicts himself. For it he eyes of the hardcore Cartesian, to give up Cogito as space where knowledge is possible is to give up nature.

    I am of an opinion, hence this has nothing to do with science – that it is one of the trick of some modern thinkers, that if the I is not productive it is violated, simply because things do not conform to its structures … rather the I conforms to them. …. Thus there seems to be a strong emphasis in the fact that the individuality comes from operation and not from existence … I repeat however again, this is opinion and I desire it to be taken apart.


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