Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy

By Peter Hylton | Go to book overview
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It is, I think, a truism that one of the roots of twentieth-century analytic philosophy is the rejection of Idealism by Moore and Russell. The significance of this fact, however, is little examined. What can we learn about the early philosophy of Russell and Moore by placing it against its Idealist background? How exactly did the rejection occur? If we take this rejection as a more or less typical example of philosophical evolution or revolution, what can we infer? What, if anything, can we learn about analytic philosophy by taking seriously the fact that this is one of its points of origin? In so far as we are ourselves within the tradition of analytic philosophy, what can we learn about ourselves and our own philosophical instincts and practices? Such questions naturally suggest themselves on the basis of our initial truism. The rejection of Idealism by Russell and Moore would thus seem to be of evident interest to those who think of themselves as engaged in analytic philosophy. The period has none the less been the subject of relatively little sustained and careful examination; none, I think, which has in mind the sorts of questions that I have indicated. The primary aim of this book is to carry out such an examination. As my questions suggest, I think that such a study may be useful not merely as a means of understanding the relevant works of Russell and of Moore but also as a way of gaining perspective on the tradition of twentieth-century analytic philosophy, and thus of learning something about our own philosophical situation.

This book is a historical study of the influence of British Idealism on Bertrand Russell, of the rejection of Idealism by Moore and Russell, and of the subsequent development of Russell's thought to about 1913. In such a study, any stopping point is to some extent arbitrary. I have chosen 1913 because at this point the influence of Wittgenstein on Russell becomes important, which greatly complicates the story; and because after this point Russell ceases, for a time, to work on the issues which are, by his own account, philosophically most fundamental. My later discussions allude to Russell's 1918 lectures, 'The Philosophy of Logical Atomism', where he returns to such issues; but this work is not considered in detail. The book might be thought of as dealing with the background to Russell's Logical Atomism or, in part, to Wittgenstein's Tractatus. My concern is entirely with theoretical philosophy—metaphysics, logic, epistemology, and so on—and not at all with practical


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