32
BERTRAND RUSSELL

Bertrand Russell was born in England in 1872, the godson of John Stuart Mill. His parents died when he was three and he was brought up by his deeply religious grandmother. He studied mathematics and philosophy, and later taught at Cambridge University. He traveled widely, to China and Russia, as well as to the United States, where he taught for a brief period. His work covers virtually all areas of philosophical inquiry, from logic through philosophy of religion and philosophy of mind to ethics. He made major contributions to logic, especially with his Principia Matematica (written with Alfred North Whitehead), philosophy of language, and epistemology.

Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Though he never was a doctrinaire pacifist, Russell's opposition to World War I and the Vietnam War, which he regarded as senseless slaughters, led to loss of his Cambridge fellowship and two imprisonments—on the last occasion at the age of ninetyfour. An agnostic, he debated the Jesuit philosopher, Father F. C. Copleston on the existence of God. He was asked what he would say to God, when, after death, he was asked by God why he didn't believe in Him. Russell replied, “God, why did you make the evidence for your existence so insufficient?” He died in 1970 at the age of ninetyseven.

Our first reading, from The Problems of Philosophy, is one of the most succinct, insightful outlines of the central notions of epistemology. Russell wrote in his preface, “In the following pages I have confined myself in the main to those problems of philosophy in regard to which I thought it possible to say something positive and constructive, since merely negative criticism seemed out of place. For this reason, theory of knowledge occupies a larger space than metaphysics in the present volume, and some topics much discussed by philosophers are treated very briefly, if at all.” In the first few chapters Russell defends a Lockean (see John Locke, Chapter 19) or representationalist view of sense perception, holding that there is a real world but that we never know it directly. Of special importance is his defense of the Correspondence theory of truth (chapter XII), which may be contrasted with William James's Pragmatic theory of truth (see James, Chapter 31).

In our last selection, “A Free Man's Worship,” Russell attempts to find meaning and morality in a life or world without God or a transcendental being. The world, Russell laments, is an absurd, godless tragedy, in which nature, omnipotent but blind, has brought forth rational, purposeful children who are superior to their mother, and as such can discover moral ideals with which to sustain themselves in this ultimately meaningless existence. Morality doesn't need religion for legitimation.

-1100-

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Classics of Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Time Line xi
  • Part One - The Ancient Period 1
  • 1: The Pre-Socratics 3
  • 2: Plato 20
  • 3: Aristotle 240
  • 4: Epicurus 357
  • 5: Epictetus 363
  • 6: Sextus Empiricus 374
  • 7: Plotinus 391
  • Part Two - The Medieval Period 405
  • 8: Augustine 407
  • 9: Boethius 447
  • 10: Avicenna 455
  • 11: Anselm and Gaunilo 458
  • 12: Thomas Aquinas 462
  • 13: William of Ockham 486
  • Part Three - The Modern Period 493
  • 14: RenÉ Descartes 495
  • 15: Thomas Hobbes 525
  • 16: Blaise Pascal 566
  • 17: Baruch Spinoza 570
  • 18: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 618
  • 19: John Locke 652
  • 20: George Berkeley 690
  • 21: William Paley 723
  • 22: David Hume 726
  • 23: Immanuel Kant 819
  • 24: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 914
  • 25: SØren Kierkegaard 922
  • 26: Mary Wollstonecraft 935
  • 27: John Stuart Mill 942
  • 28: Friedrich Nietzsche 1030
  • Part Four - The Contemporary Period 1059
  • 29: W. K. Clifford 1061
  • 30: Charles Sanders Peirce 1066
  • 31: William James 1076
  • 32: Bertrand Russell 1100
  • 33: G. E. Moore 1142
  • 34: Ludwig Wittgenstein 1150
  • 35: Edmund Husserl 1168
  • 36: Martin Heidegger 1185
  • 37: Jean-Paul Sartre 1207
  • 38: A. J. Ayer 1225
  • 39: Thomas Nagel 1234
  • 40: Philippa Foot 1242
  • 41: Nelson Goodman 1249
  • 42: John Rawls 1254
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