Here we read:
People often question the utility of philosophy. One use of philosophy is to protect us from bad philosophy, pseudo-philosophy, the 'philosophy' of those who denigrate philosophy yet cannot resist philosophizing themselves and as a result philosophize poorly. Man is a philosophical animal whether he likes it or not. Philosophize we will — the only question being whether we will do it poorly or well.
But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges — not just in people but in other animals as well.
The result is perhaps the strongest challenge yet to the worldview summed up by Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who divided the creatures of the world between humanity and everything else. As biologists turn up evidence that animals can exhibit emotions and patterns of cognition once thought of as strictly human, Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” loses its force.
The two paragraphs quoted illustrate the sort of pseudo-philosophy that the genuine article must combat. Since to spend much time criticizing writing as shoddy and uninformed as the above is a poor use of time, I'll just make two brief remarks.
First, it was not Descartes who set human beings apart from the animal kingdom. This idea is a staple of the Judeo-Christian tradition and is already set forth in the Book of Genesis:
Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram . . . (Gen 1, 26) Let us make man in our image and likeness. . . Et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam. . . (Gen 1, 27) And God created man in his image. . .
The idea is that God, a purely spirtual being, conferred upon man a spiritual nature that distinguishes him from the rest of the animals. In Imago Dei, I go into this at some length and ward off a common misunderstanding.
Second, the 'force' of Cogito ergo sum is in no way lessened by evidence that animals exhibit emotions and patterns of cognition found also in humans. The author betrays a complete lack of understanding as to what the Cartesian dictum means.
What it means is that there is something accessible to my experience that is indubitable. The existence of my thinking (in the broad Cartesian sense that includes perceiving, imagining, wishing, willing, hoping, desiring, and indeed every mental act that displays the property that Brentano called intentionality) cannot be doubted. Given that I am conscious of a (putatively external) object (in whatever modality: perception, imagination, recollection, etc.), it is possible to doubt whether the object of consciousness exists apart from my being conscious of it. Presently gazing at Superstition Mountain, I can doubt the existence of the mountain, but I cannot doubt that a mental act of visual perception is now occurring, or that this act is of a mountain of such-and-such a description. Both act and object qua object are indubitable as to their existence; dubitable alone is the existence of the object in reality. If I try to doubt the existence of my present thinking, I find that my doubting guarantees its own existence: Dubito ergo sum.
If you understand this, then you understand that the author of the NYT piece is an ignoramus.