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Cogito

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Jacques Lacan

"Cogito Ergo Sum"

Lacan's works abound in references to the famous phrase by Descartes, cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am"). This phrase (which Lacan often refers to simply as 'the cogito') comes to stand, in Lacan's work, for Descartes's entire philosophy. Lacan's attitude to Cartesianism is extremely complex, and only a few of the most important points can be summarised here.

Ego

On one level, the cogito comes to stand for the modern western concept of the ego, based as it is on the notions of the self-sufficiency and self-transparency of consciousness, and the autonomy of the ego.[1]

Although Lacan does not believe that the modern western concept of the ego was invented by Descartes or by any other individual, he argues that it was born in the same era in which Descartes was writing (the mid-sixteenth to the early seventeenth century), and is particularly clearly expressed by Descartes.[2]

Thus, although this concept of the ego seems so natural and eternal to western man today, it is in fact a relatively recent cultural construct; its eternal-natural appearance is in fact an illusion produced by retroaction.[3]

Psychoanalysis

Lacan argues that the experience of psychoanalytic treatment is an experience that leads us to oppose any philosophy directly issuing from the Cogito.[4] Freud's discovery of the unconscious subverts the Cartesian concept of subjectivity because it disputes the Cartesian equation subject = ego = consciousness. One of Lacan's main criticisms of ego-psychology and object-relations theory is that these schools betrayed Freud's discovery by returning to the pre-Freudian concept of the subject as an autonomous ego.[5]

Subject

On another level, Lacan's views can be seen not only as a subversion of the cogito, but also as an extension of it, for the cogito not only encapsulates the false equation subject = ego = consciousness which Lacan opposes, but also focuses attention on the concept of the subject, which Lacan wishes to retain.

Thus the cogito contains within itself the seeds of its own subversion, by putting forward a concept of subjectivity which undermines the modern concept of the ego.

This concept of subjectivity refers to what Lacan calls "the subject of science": a subject who is denied all intuitive access to knowledge and is thus left with reason as the only path to knowledge.[6]

Unconscious

By opposing the subject to the ego, Lacan proposes that the subject of the Cartesian cogito is in fact one and the same as the subject of the unconscious.

Psychoanalysis can thus operate with a Cartesian method, advancing from doubt to certainty, with the crucial difference that it does not start from the statement "I think" but from the affirmation "it thinks."[7]

Lacan rewrites Descartes's phrase in various ways, such as "I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think."[8]

Subject of the Statement/Enunciation

Lacan also uses the cogito to distinguish between the subject of the statement and the subject of the enunciation.[9]

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 6
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. pp. 6-7
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 4-5
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 1; Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 4
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. l1
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.831; Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 858
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 35-6
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 166
  9. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 138-42; Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XVII. L'envers de la psychanalyse, 19669-70. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 180-4