DESCARTES AND RUSSELL
Can anyone please explain how Russell thinks there is an error in saying 'I am a thing that thinks' (Descartes).
I understand he talks about language, substance theory etc but his whole argument still remains unclear to me.
HERE IS THE PASSAGE FROM THE BOOK (PORTRAITS FROM MY MEMORY):
What I wish to emphasize is the error involved in saying "I am a thing that thinks." Here the substance philosophy is assumed. It is assumed that the world consists of more or less permanent objects with changing states. This view was evolved by the original metaphysicians who invented language, and who were much struck by the difference between their enemy in battle and their enemy after he had been slain, although they were persuaded that it was the same person whom they first feared, and then ate. It is from such origins that common sense derives its tenets. And I regret to say that all too many professors of philosophy consider it their duty to be sycophants of common sense, and thus, doubtless unintentionally, to bow down in homage before the savage superstitions of cannibals.
What ought we to substitute for Descartes' belief that he was a thing that thought? There were, of course, two Descartes, the distinction between whom is what gives rise to the problem I wish to discuss. There was Descartes to himself, and Descartes to his friends. He is concerned with what he was to himself. What he was to himself is not best described as a single entity with changing states. The single entity is quite otiose. The changing states suffice. Descartes to himself should have appeared as a series of events, each of which might be called a thought, provided that word is liberally interpreted. What he was to others I will, for the moment ignore. It was this series of "thoughts" which constituted Descartes' "mind," but his mind was no more a separate entity than the population of New York is a separate entity over and above the several inhabitants. Instead of saying "Descartes thinks," we ought to say "Descartes is a series of which the members are thoughts." And instead of "therefore Descartes exists," we ought to say "Since 'Descartes' is the name of this series, it follows that 'Descartes' is a name." But for the statement "Descartes is a thing which thinks" we must substitute nothing whatever, since the statement embodies nothing but faulty syntax.