Russell on the Cogito

Bertrand Russell


Source: Russell, Bertrand. 1945. A History of Western Philosophy And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 567.

Descartes’s indubitable facts are his own thoughts—using “thought” in the widest possible sense. “I think” is his ultimate premiss. Here the word “I” is really illegitimate; he ought to state his ultimate premiss in the form “there are thoughts.” The word “I” is grammatically convenient, but does not describe a datum. When he goes on to say “I am a thing which thinks,” he is already using uncritically the apparatus of categories handed down by scholasticism. He nowhere proves that thoughts need a thinker, nor is there reason to believe this except in a grammatical sense.