Je Suis Redux

The famous French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) once famously said: “Je pense, donc je suis,” or in English “I think, therefore I am.” That statement as well as his other works earned him the title of the father of western philosophy.

The concept Descartes put forth of the centrality of “thinking” and “being” is profound on several levels and had a significant impact on western society.  The expression has an interesting sequel today.

French Sculptor Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker

Descartes did not call out overt action verbs like eating, running or talking to prove his existence. He argued that something as fundamental as brain activity proved that he was alive. Such an approach has led to interesting debates about brain death and the status of life today.

On a philosophical level, Descartes was plagued with doubt about everything: not just about ethereal matters such as the existence of a supreme being, but whether the world as he saw it existed at all. He considered whether it was all just his imagination, just a dream. He concluded that the actual process of considering whether anything at all existed, proved that he indeed did exist.

Je Suis 2015

The world was given a brief tutorial of French in 2015. In response to the horrible killings at the offices of Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, people around the world held signs and banners that read “Je Suis Charlie,” “Je Suis Juif (Jew),” “Je Suis Policier (Police)”. A few weeks later, when another terrorist shot people in Copenhagen, the signs “Je Suis Danois (Danish)” showed support for the people of Denmark.

“Je Suis” rally in Paris,
January 2015

The expression “Je Suis…”, “I am…” in those contexts expressed people’s solidarity with the cause for which people died (freedom of press, speech or religion), essentially reaffirming that those liberties live on. While individuals may have been killed, there are others that cherish those same beliefs who remain alive. While the victims are dead, the freedoms are not vanquished.

Je Suis…” attested to the strength of people’s convictions.  While the terrorists were killed by police in both Paris and Copenhagen, people did not deceive themselves that there were many other would-be-terrorists who might commit similar acts. Yet they stood defiantly with placards held high and passions held firm.

Consider that hundreds of years ago the father of western philosophy made a statement that was born from his complete doubt in anything and everything. He imagined that nothing was real, even his own existence. Doubt Affirmed Life.

In 2015, people rallied because of the murder of people who shared a similar western philosophy. In mourning the deaths, people realized the depth of their own convictions. Death Affirmed Belief.

The sequel of Je Suis in France may be a perfect mirror image of the original. But the central theme remains the freedom and ability to question and believe.

Other article:

Dancing with the Asteroids:


6 thoughts on “Je Suis Redux

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