The Fallacy of Descartes’ Joke

The Fallacy of Descartes’ Joke

     Jokes about philosophers can also be funny. But one substantial thing for a joke on а certain philosopher to be funny is the audience to be familiar enough with that philosopher so that they can understand it. In that case, when we want to tell a joke, we have to know whether the audience is familiar with the philosopher of the joke. If they are not, we might come upon that uncomfortable silence after telling the joke in which we only hear the fading away of our laughing.

     At this point, I want to say something about the joke on the famous French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Almost everyone had heard Descartes’ famous dictum “I think, therefore I am”, so upon hearing a joke about it almost everyone can lough. Here is the joke:

 Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks him, “Would you have the usual?”        Descartes replies, “I think not”, and instantly disappears.

What makes the joke funny is that while the existence is related to thinking, the non-thinking is related to non-existence. The logic of the joke is that when Descartes thinks, he is, but when he thinks not, he negates his being and so cannot exist anymore.

     However, this joke is based on a complete incorrect interpretation of Descartes’ dictum and his philosophy in general. It presupposes that the thinking is the cause and the being is the effect. In that case, if something thinks, that something is, and if it doesn’t think, then it isn’t. Then how about a rock? Descartes takes for granted that a rock doesn’t think, but he doesn’t deny its existence. Or maybe a rock exists because we think about its being when we see it or touch it? But then if I think of a rock somewhere on a top of a mountain, does it really mean that it is there?

     For Descartes, it is the other way round. If something thinks, it means that something is; for if it wasn’t, it couldn’t think. There are things that can think, like I, you, and the others similar to us, and there are things which do not have the ability to think, but they still are, like rocks, tables, trees etc. My thinking is only a prove that I am. It is not that because I think, therefore I am, but it is because I think that I know I am. Even when I doubt my existence, there must be someone or something that doubts. Or, as Descartes explains, even if there is some kind of evil demon who deceives me and makes me wrongfully think that I and the world exist, there must be someone or something that is being deceived and wrongfully thinks that I and the world exist; and that someone is I. Even when I say I am not, or I think not, even then I think, even than I am.

     I am sorry if I spoiled the joke, but I promise that next time I hear it I won’t do it, I will just enjoy the fun with the others.

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