Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell
- 1 Quotes
- 1.1 Part 2: The Nobel Prize Winning Man of Letters
- 1.2 Part 3: The Philosopher of Language
- 1.3 Part 5: The Epistemologist
- 1.4 Part 7: Historian of Philosophy
- 1.5 Part 9: The Moral Philosopher
- 2 Flags
Part 2: The Nobel Prize Winning Man of Letters
How I Write
Part 3: The Philosopher of Language
Sentences, Syntax, and Parts of Speech
Part 5: The Epistemologist
Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description
There are two sorts of knowledge: knowledge of things, and knowledge of truths. [Knowledge of things is further divided into knowledge by acquaintance, and knowledge by description.]
We have seen that it is possible, without absurdity, to doubt whether there is a table at all, whereas it is not possible to doubt the sense-data.
When I am acquainted with "my seeing the sun," it seems plain that I am acquainted with two different things in relation to each other. On the one hand there is the sense - datum which represents the sun to me, on the other hand there is that which sees this sense-datum.
This last quote really strikes on a theme that showed up throughout Russell's works: the paradox of self-reference. Russell's work on the Principia Mathematica was an effort to make mathematics an entirely self-contained system founded on nothing but logic, but such an effort was ultimately proven by Gödel to be impossible.
Russell also came up with the logical paradox known as the Barber's Paradox: when entering a village, a traveler sees a sign outside of the barber shop that says, "This barber shaves all villagers who do not shave themselves." The logical paradox is this: does the barber shave themselves?
Another way to put the paradox is to write two sentences:
The sentence below this one is false.
The sentence above this one is true.
Theory of Knowledge
Among the prejudices with which I started, I should enumerate six as especially important:
1. It seemed to me desirable to emphasize the continuity between animal and human minds...
2. Along with the prejudice in favor of behaviorist methods there went another prejudice in favor of explanations in terms of physics whenever possible...
3. I feel that the concept of "experience" has been very much over-emphasized, especially in Idealist philosophy, but also in many forms of empiricism... Everybody, in fact, accepts innumerable propositions about things not experienced, but when people begin to philosophize they seem to think it necessary to make themselves artificially stupid...
4. I think that all knowledge as to what there is in the world, if not direct from facts known through perception or memory, must be inferred from premises of which one, at least, is known by perception or memory.
5. One of the things that I realized in 1918 was that I had not paid enough attention to "meaning" and to linguistic problems generally. It was then that I began to be aware of the many problems concerned with the relation between words and things.
6. The last... most important in all my thinking. My method is invariably to start from something vague but puzzling, something which seems indubitable but which I cannot express with any precision... I find that by fixity of attention divisions and distinctions appear where none at first was visible, just as through a microscope you can see the bacilli in impure water which without the microscope are not discernible.
There are many who decry analysis, but it has seemed to me evident, as in the case of impure water, that analysis gives new knowledge without destroying any of the previously existing knowledge.
It seems to me that philosophical investigation, as far as I have experience of it, starts from that curious and insatisfactory state of mind in which one feels complete certainty without being able to say what one is certain of.
Part 7: Historian of Philosophy
"Substance," in fact, is merely a convenient way of collecting events into bundles. What can we know about Mr. Smith? When we look at him, we see a pattern of colors; when we listen to him talking, we hear a series of sounds. We believe that, like us, he has thoughts and feelings. But what is Mr. Smith apart from all these occurrences? A mere imaginary hook, from which the occurrences are supposed to hang.
Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples.
By the time that logical originality revived, a reign of 2,000 years had made Aristotle very difficult to dethrone. Throughout modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from Aristotle's disciples.
St. Thomas Aquinas
The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserve to be put on a level with the best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times.
Currents of Thoughts in the Nineteenth Century
There is a further consequence of the theory of evolution, which is independent of the particular mechanism suggested by Darwin. If men and animals have a common ancestry, and if men developed by such slow stages that there were creatures which we should not know whether to classify as human or not, the question arises: at what stage in evolution did men, or their semi-human ancestors, begin to be all equal?
Would Pithecanthropus erectus, if he had been properly educated, have done work as good as Newton's? Would the Piltdown man have written Shakespeare's poetry if there had been anyone to convict him of poaching?
A resolute egalitarian who answers these questions in the affirmative will find himself forced to regard apes as the equals of human beings. And why stop at apes? I do not see how he is to resist an argument in favor of Votes with Oysters.
An adherent to evolution should maintain that not only the doctrine of equality of all men, but also of the rights of men, must be condemned as unbiological, since it makes too emphatic a distinction between men and other animals.
The most important effect of machine production on the imaginative picture of the world is an immense increase in the sense of human power.
There thus arises, among those who direct affairs or are in touch with those who do so, a new belief in power: first, the power of man in his conflicts with nature, and then the power of rulers as against the human beings whose beliefs and aspirations they seek to control by scientific propaganda, especially education.
To formulate any satisfactory modern ethic of human relationships, it will be essential to recognize the necessary limitations of men's power over the non-human environment, and the desirable limitations of their power over each other.
Part 9: The Moral Philosopher
The Place of Sex Among Human Values
First of all, this is one of the worst essays in the book. Russell comes across quite poorly in the way he argues his point.
The Puritans, in their determination to avoid the pleasures of sex, became somewhat more conscious than people had been before of the pleasures of the table. As a seventeenth-century critic of Puritanism says:
Would you enjoy gay nights and pleasant dinners?
Then must you board with saints and bed with sinners.
...undue obsession with food is rare among those who have never suffered want... Those, on the other hand, who, having adopted an ascetic philosophy, have deprived themselves of all but the minimum of food, become obsessed by visions of banquets and dreams of demons bearing luscious fruits. And marooned Antarctic explorers, reduced to a diet of whale's blubber, spend their days planning the dinner they will have at the Carlton when they gt home.
One is reminded of the story in The Brothers Karamazov describing the monk who is accused of giving in to the temptations of the Devil by accepting a jar of cherry jam, a gift from a woman in town, and putting it in his tea.
At this point Russell begins to wander through a vague thicket of ambiguous phrases. It borders on the absurd, because nothing he says is sensible, because he doesn't define any of his terms or give any understandable examples.
Healthy, outward-looking men and women are not to be produced by the thwarting of natural impulse, but by the equal and balanced development of all the impulses essential to a happy life.
This sounds like a vague corporate-speak version of sex education. It's marble-mouthed and awkward. What is Russell even saying?
He goes on to talk about "lyric love" - without saying what that even is. Who knows. He vaguely ties art and sex and love together in a hand-wavey way that doesn't conclusively make any positive statements.
And then there's this really awkward quote:
Societies that have been conventionally virtuous have not produced great art. Those which have, have been composed of men such as Idaho would sterilize. America at present imports most of its artistic talent from Europe, where, as yet, freedom lingers; but already the Americanization of Europe is making it necessary to turn to the negroes.
OMFG RUSSELL WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN -
The sexual freedom the artist needs is freedom to love, not the gross freedom to relieve the bodily need with some unknown partner; and freedom to love is what, above all, the conventional moralists will not concede.
SERIOUSLY RUSSELL - "freedom to love"? What does that even mean??
Russell seems to forget that people can be absolutely ghastly to each other, and can have insatiable, unhealthy, unbridled desires, and that people confuse love and lust all the time, and that sometimes people behave in very sick ways.
Power, sex, and parenthood appear to me to be the source of most of the things that human beings do, apart from what is necessary for self-preservation. Of these three, power begins first and ends last...
Curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge should, I think, be regarded as a branch of hte love of power. If knowledge is power, the n the love of knowledge is the love of power. Science, therefore, except for certain branches of biology and physiology, must be regarded as lying outside the province of the sexual emotions.
...it is necessary that sex should not over-shadow the remainder of a person's emotional and passionate nature. The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress, without which human society would stand still or retrogress. It may be that too complete a happiness would cause the impulses to knowledge and reform to fade.
So long as there is death there will be sorrow, and so long as there is sorrow it can be no part of the duty of human beings to increase its amount, in spite of the fact that a few rare spirits know how to transmute it.
Individual and Social Ethics
What I Believe
books/readingall the books/reading notes and pages and things
Opening Lines of famous novels
The Computer and the Mind (Johnson-Laird)
Watergate topic page
Wars of Watergate (Kutler)
Consider the Lobster (Wallace)
The Gun (Chivers)
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer)
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