The Tractatus Comico-Philosophicus: Rene Descartes

Tractatus-283-DescartesRene Descartes Explains It All to You

  1. Here’s my method: I start by trying to doubt everything.
  2. I realize, however, that I cannot doubt that I am doubting, that I am thinking.
  3. Therefore, I exist. (I think; therefore, I am.)
  4. What am I thinking about? I am clearly and distinctly thinking of a supremely perfect being. Let’s call this being God.
  5. And, of course, in order to be supremely perfect, he must exist; that’s a tautology.
  6. In other words, it’s no more possible to envision God and have Him not exist than it is to envision a triangle that does not have three angles. Got that? You can trust me on this. I invented Analytic Geometry, after all.
  7. Now, for my final magic trick. You’re going to love this one: A supremely perfect being would not fool me about the important stuff.
  8. Therefore, all my prejudices and cultural presuppositions must be true. Did you really think I ever doubted those? Mon dieu!*

Who said philosophy was difficult?

Homework assignment 1: OK, the problem from 4 on is pretty clear, but what are the problems with 2 and 3? Those are trickier. How does he get from some thinking that is occurring to an “I” that is thinking if he’s not let anything but this thinking in yet? See the problem? Does this wreck his argument?

Homework assignment 2: Does D’s ontological argument apply to ANY clearly and distinctly imagined perfect entity–a supremely perfect archetype of a fairy flying hippo, for example?

*NB: There are two schools of thought about Descartes’ appropriation of the ontological argument from Anselm. Some think that he believed this crap. Others think he recognized that his method of doubt had taken him into dangerous territory (people were routinely put to death for such thinking in Descartes’ time) and so wisely tacked this “proof” onto the end of his skeptifest as an insurance policy, recognizing that bright folks would discount it (wink, wink), just as Lucretius, being no fool, tacked the invocation to Venus onto his De rerum natura, the message of which was, it’s all just atoms and the void, so chill, dude–to keep himself from suffering the fate of Socrates. BTW, the favored Western myth about Socrates was that he was forced to commit suicide because he dared to encourage the young to think, because he challenged orthodoxy with Reason; this fits the standard Enlightenment line; however, there’s reason to believe that Socrates conspired with others to violate a strict prohibition against revealing the Eleusinian Mysteries by participating in a celebration of those outside the official temple of those Mysteries at Eleusis. See

The tractatus comico-philosophicus. Dedicated to bring the wisdom of the ages to all, for why shouldn’t you be as confused as they were?

Copyright 2014 by Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For other essays (and cartoons!) by Bob Shepherd on philosophical subjects, go here:

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here:

For a short story about the Eleusinian Mysteries by Bob Shepherd, go here:

For a Tractatus piece about Kierkegaard, go here:

For a Tractatus piece about Heidegger, go here:



About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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