Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Seventeen
Bertrand Russell and the Quest for Philosophical Certainty

When you penned what you thought
You were cast out and sought
A retreat oversea
From aroused enmity;
So it always will be,
Yea Xenophanes!

-- Thomas Hardy, Xenophanes, The Monist of Colophon

B ertrand Russell was a younger contemporary of Freud, Pavlov, Durkheim, Weber, Dewey, Bergson, Husserl, Mead and Santayana, all of whom he outlived by many years. He was born in 1872 and died in 1970. Unlike Dewey, who, in his life and philosophy achieved a harmonious integration of feeling, thinking and doing, Russell's private and public postures were an ever-changing battleground reflecting the conflicts and contradictions of his times. To study Russell's life and ideas is to trace the roots of, and the wreckage wrought by, most of the powerful ideologies of the twentieth century.

A gifted logician whose early dedication to reason and evidence had forced him to relinquish religious beliefs, Russell sought philosophical certainty with the determination of his aristocratic British forebears in quest of the Holy Grail. Too often his romantic yearnings propelled him precipitously into sexual liaisons and political commitments, each of which he pursued for a time with dogmatic fervour. But the honest empiricist and logician in him allowed no resting place, and always the agnosticism resurfaced, and the search went on.


A life of private passions and public battles

There is probably no other modern life as comprehensively documented as that of Bertrand Russell. Few readers will be unacquainted with at least the outlines of his ultra-Victorian childhood as a fledgling member of England's

References for this chapter are on p. 309.

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