Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview
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Mathematics and Philosophy

IT is comparatively easy, given a few years and a capacity for reading about twenty million words without blinking, to write a full-length study of Russell's philosophy. In fact, I am doing so now. But it is fantastically difficult, in the course of two chapters for the general reader, to discuss his logical and philosophical discoveries during the early part of this century.

His greatest work was too technical for anyone to grasp thoroughly without specialized training; but to ignore it completely would give a grotesquely false picture of Russell's stature. I am therefore going to plunge ahead, on ground where any sensible person would fear to tread, and attempt to sketch a brief outline of its importance. I must warn the reader that I may do it extremely badly, and that a hundred years hence--or even today--most people may see Russell in some quite different perspective. But, in making my attempt, I am at least fortified by the fact that I could hardly do worse than Russell himself.

Having lived from childhood in the realms of mathematics and abstract thought, he had extraordinary difficulties in understanding why the ordinary man does not understand them; and few students today are brought up, like Russell, on Bradley's philosophy and the old logic. Russell could explain anything else to the man in the street with impeccable lucidity, while remaining incapable of explaining the importance of his own philosophy. When he made one such attempt, in the final chapter of his History of Western Philosophy, a critic commented that he had performed the remarkable achievement of being even more unfair to his own work than he was to Kant's.

There is one preliminary point. I am going to write throughout of ' Russell's philosophy', even though many of his views


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Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography


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