Logic and Knowledge

By Bertrand Russell; Robert Charles Marsh | Go to book overview

1914
ON THE NATURE OF ACQUAINTANCE

On the Nature of Acquaintance

In the spring of 1914 Russell was Lecturer in Philosophy at Harvard University, and while there he delivered under the Lowell Institute the lectures which were to appear later that year as OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD. The themes which appear in those lectures and the three papers (first printed in THE MONIST) which follow here were not new in philosophy or Russell's published work. The distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description is found in a clear and well developed form in St. Augustine's DE MAGISTRO; Russell had given a full exposition of it in THE PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY (1912). What makes these papers of interest is that they show us Russell engaged in philosophical debate with some of the leading American philosophers of the day, and they provide us with his arguments against neutral monism, a position that he later adopted in THE ANALYSIS OF MIND (1921) and gradually abandoned, apparently for reasons similar to those given here.

The months at Harvard put Russell in direct contact with James, Perry, Sheffer, and Demos of the 'new realist' school which, except for some of its pragmatic overtones, Russell could regard as a close relative of the Cambridge philosophy which was growing out of his own work. Indeed, Russell's praise for Sheffer's 'new and very powerful method in mathematical logic' caused Russell to 'recommend' to him the re-writing of the PRINCIPIA. 'since what has so far been published by him is scarcely sufficient to enable others to undertake the necessary reconstruction'.*

In 1916 President Lowell of Harvard invited Russell to return as a permanent member of the philosophical faculty, an invitation which must have been especially appealing, since he had just been dismissed from his lectureship at Trinity College, Cambridge, because of his first conviction under the Defence of the Realm Act. He was prevented

*Principia Mathematica, Introduction to the Second Edition, Vol. I,
Cambridge, 1925, p. xv. Russell's praise was an important factor in
Sheffer's appointment to a chair in logic at Harvard; but the reconstruc-
tion Russell wished to see never took place, and Sheffer probably pub-
lished less than any other professor in the university, his total writings in
the Church bibliography coming to less than twenty-one pages.

-125-

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