Logic and Knowledge

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

1924
LOGICAL ATOMISM

One of the things that philosophy finally is learning is how to state problems in such a manner that they are not, on the face of them, nonsensical, insoluble, or muddled. This is an achievem entthat does not appear to be impressive, but, in fact, represents the culmination of constructive philosophic tendencies that began with Socrates. A result of this general desire for clarification has been that a considerable amount of philosophical writing that, in time, is not very old, has come to be regarded as belonging to a remote period before the force of scientific criticism became generally felt.

In 1924–25 when Professor J. H. Muirhead issued the two series of essays entitled CONTEMPORARY BRITISH PHILOSOPHY the dominant figure among the thinkers of the day was F. H. Bradley, whose idealism was a statement of the 'position' which most of the contributors defended in one way or another. This viewpoint reflected the conviction that the humanist had access to Truth in a higher and nobler form than any group of 'uncultured button-pushers and knob-twiddlers' (the phrase, as one might expect, comes from the Oxford Holy of Holies, All Souls', but is of 1956 rather than 1920 vintage), from which it followed that the speculative philosopher could make statements about what was ultimately the case, could 'interpret' the findings of empirical investigations to meet his personal ends, and could reserve the right to speak of real reality to those who had pondered over Hegel and mastered Greek.

Russell's essay in this volume shows him, philosophically, mid-way between THE ANALYSIS OF MIND (1921) and THE ANALYSIS OF MATTER (1927). He still feels some influence from Wittgenstein, but Wittgenstein's views are now wholly assimilated into his own and have taken a form which we know Wittgenstein would not have approved. He is, however, still somewhat on the defensive, and his philosophy, which now is (I feel) generally seen to represent the most important tendencies of the period, was then by no means so well regarded and most certainly lacked the high prestige of the work of the leading idealists. Mr. Bradley probably thought he was writing for the ages, and it is interesting to speculate on how he would have reacted if some unusually competent soothsayer had given him a glimpse of his eventual reputation. 'Bad philosophy has always been

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