Logic and Knowledge

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

1936
ON ORDER IN TIME

This paper was written in 1935 and read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society in March of 1936. It first appeared in their PROCEEDINGS. What is known elsewhere as philosophy is Moral Science at Cambridge, and to avoid confusion it is worth noting that it was a scientific organization to which this paper was addressed, not a philosophical one in the usual sense.

Writing of this paper, Russell has told me that he felt it might prove to be important in physics to show that, although instants are generally regarded as mathematical constructions, 'the kind of assumptions one would naturally make do not prove that instants can be constructed'.

Although closely related to another essay of 1936, 'Determinism and Physics' this paper stands apart from Russell's other works of the period. In 1934 he had published FREEDOM AND ORGANIZATION 1814–1914, which, although one of his finest books, failed at first to make the impression it deserved. In RELIGION AND SCIENCE (1935) Russell's argument seems weakened by excessive scepticism and positivism of the overtly narrow sort, while WHICH WAY TO PEACE? (1936) showed him returning to social philosophy to ask the question that dominated the thought of millions of Europeans. It, and the short 'Auto-Obituary' that appeared in the same year (reprinted hi UNPOPULAR ESSAYS, 1950), reflect the mood of the times. In 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt told his countrymen they had a 'rendezvous with destiny' and as European politics moved toward the September days at Munich, two years ahead, the nature of that rendezvous became increasingly clear.

The last thing one might have expected from Russell in 1936 was a technical paper on a mathematical subject, but this is, in fact, a serious and but little-known work with strong ties to his most productive years of mathematical studies. Those who feel inclined to remark that Russell abandoned mathematical philosophy in the twenties are advised to read it with particular diligence.

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