The Root Basis Of Self—Negation


Descartes, in his own fashion, placed the essence of Being in thinking. He affirmed, with absolute certainty, and through a second order affirmation, his own existence. But, this certainty followed from the logic, not his physical condition. It is the “thinking of thoughts” that the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self implies, and the thought that is being thought would not be thought if it were not for the negation of the me-self, the negation of biography.

Negation Is A Second Degree Affirmation–Not-Me-Self Affirmation

In The Highest Tradition Of Rationalism, Descartes Places The Essence Of Being In Thinking

Implicative Affirmative Of The Not-Me-Self

It is somewhat ironic that the implicative nature of negation, in its most significant form, can be traced back to the man who is given the tribute, according to Hermans and Kempen (1993 : 2), of being “the founder of Enlightenment, an era in which questions relating to the body were increasingly answered in terms of physical, mechanical, and biochemical explanations.” Descartes (1650), the seventeenth-century French philosopher, is also recognized for giving the Western world the notorious mind–body split which not only separates mind and body, it also separates self and others. When we speak in terms of the outside world as an “objective, matter of fact reality,” we are using Cartesian terminology and, in the process, following a 17th Century line of thought, whether we want to or not.

Descartes, using his method of systematically doubting the existence of everything in the mental and physical world, concluded, with absolute certainty, that the only thing he could not doubt was that he exists. In his imaginary battle with the wicked demon who possessed mind-controlling powers, Descartes concludes in his second meditation, according to Flew (1979: 91), “I am, I exist, is necessarily, true as often as I put it forward or conceive of it in my mind.” This argument is expressed in the Discourse in the form “I think, [doubt] therefore I am.” Descartes, in his attempt to escape the powers of his imaginary controlling demon arrives at absolute certainty by shutting his eyes, stopping up his ears, and eliminating from his thoughts all images of bodily things. In this way, Descartes realized his famous Cogito, ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). For Descartes, negation (doubt) is at the heart of a person’s I-ness.

[Footnote.Toms (1962: 72) puts this idea in its simplest form when he states: “The paradox of non-existence is most simply stated by saying that, in so far as a negative existential proposition seems to be about the very object or objects denied existence, it presupposes their existence.” Further, Gale (1976: 43-44), in support of his own thesis in which negation is itself held to be a higher order affirmation, recounts some of the people who have argued that affirmation is in some sense “prior” to negation. He states:

“According to Sigwart (1885:119), a negative judgment is not as primitive as a positive one because it ‘presupposes the positive attribution of a predicate, and has its meaning only in contradicting or annulling such an affirmation.’ This theme is echoed, with modifications, by both Bradley and Bosanquet. For Bradley (1922: 114), a negative judgment occurs on a higher level than a positive one because in affirmation we refer an ideal content to reality while in negation we deny that some real X accepts this ideal content. “The primitive basis of affirmation is the coalescence of idea with perception. But mere non-coalescence of an idea with perception is a good deal further removed…” Bosanquet expressed a similar view in (1911: 280): ‘Negation is a degree more remote from reality than is affirmation,’ for while an affirmation can be given as a fact a negation is ‘made by setting an ideal reality over against real reality and finding them incongruous.’ Bergson, although he differed radically from the idealist logicians, nevertheless followed them on this point. He wrote (1944: 313) that ‘negation…differs from affirmation… in that it is an affirmation of the second degree: it affirms something of an affirmation which itself affirms something of an object.’”]

Of course, what Descartes actually discovered with his Cogito argument is that the existence of the thing, which cannot be doubted, is, in fact, the thought that is being thought, not the “I” that is thinking the thought. Descartes’ inference, according to Anscombe, can be described as: “The thinking that thinks this thought–that is what is guaranteed by cogito” (Cassam, 1994: 152). But, to give Descartes his do (without, of course accepting Descartes’ excess baggage, or what Hermans and Kempen (1993: 39) describe as “…the existence of a unitary, closed, highly centralized subject or self, as an entity in itself, having an existence ‘above’ or ‘outside’ the social environment,” Descartes, in the highest tradition of rationalism, placed the essence of being in thinking.

The Process Of Thinking Is Reflexively Oriented Within Biography And Its Negation

The Self Consists Of A System Of Me/Not Me Oppositions—When “I” Appears In Memory, It Has Already Become A “Me”

It is the “thinking of thoughts” that the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self implies, and the thought that is being thought would not be thought if it were not for the negation of the me-self. In other words, the give and take that goes into the process of thinking is reflexively orientated within biography, and, the negation of biography, instead of within the “me” and the “I” as Mead would have it.

[Footnote. According to Hermans and Kempen (1993 : 119), Gregg, recognizing that biography and the negation of biography are pivot points within which the “self” develops, argues:

“[T]hat the self consists, not of a collection of Me attributions, as cognitive personality theories would have it, nor of ego-syntonic identifications, as most psychoanalytic personality theories would have it, but of a system of Me/not Me oppositions. He holds that every Me attribution or identification must have at least two defining relations (implying at least two meanings); a positing, which establishes the self as the presence of something, and a negation, which establishes the self as the absence or opposite of something else. However, the ‘thing’ negated also must be, in some sense, the same sort of entity as the ‘thing’ posited.”]

If, in the following quote, you replace the words biography and negation with Mead’s “me” and “I” reference, then Mead could just as easily be talking about the not-me-self, as opposed to the I/me couplet, when he states (1934: 182):

“The ‘me’ (biography) and the ‘I’ (negation) lie in the process of thinking and they indicate the give-and-take which characterizes it. There would not be an ‘I’ (negation) in the sense in which we use that term if there were not a ‘me’ (biography); there would not be a ‘me’ (biography) without a response in the form of the ‘I’ (negation). These two, as they appear in our experience, constitute the personality.”

In a like manner, using the words negation and biography in place of the “I” and “me” allows for a more consistent reading of Mead when he says (1934:174):

“The ‘I’ (negation) of this moment is present in the ‘me’ (biography) of the next moment. There again I cannot turn around quick enough to catch myself…. If you ask, then, where directly in your own experience the ‘I’ (negation) comes in, the answer is that it comes in as a historical figure. It is what you were a second ago that is the ‘I’ (negation) of the ‘me’ (biography).”

In the reflexivity of biography and its negation, biography is in syncopation with Mead’s “me” and the implicative affirmative (of the not-me-self) is in syncopation with Mead’s “I.” In this way logical consistency reinforces Mead’s claim when he says: “…[T]he actor never catches sight of himself or herself as ‘I.’ The ‘I’ appears in memory, it has already become a ‘me’” (Mead, 1934: 171).

Although the above passages cited from Mead are consistent with how the normal give-and-take of thought processing proceeds, Billig’s (1987) critique–concerning cognitive psychology’s penchant for describing the thinking process in terms of basic units of thought, –offers a more cogent description of the thinking process.

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