Logic and Knowledge

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

1950
LOGICAL POSITIVISM

Logical Positivism

Few philosophers have altered the thought of their own times as powerfully and directly as Russell, and this has sometimes placed him in the anomalous position of being simultaneously a classic from the antiquity prior to the 1914–18 war and an active and controversial contemporary. His great achievement, the PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA was written (with Whitehead) while Russell was, by conventional standards, a young man; he was only forty-one at the time of the appearance of its final volume in 1913. Borrowing from an old joke, we have been obliged in the past three decades to distinguish between the great philosopher Bertrand Russell, whom we all respect, and Mr. B*rtr*nd R*ss*ll, with whom we frequently disagree.

The whole character of modern British philosophy {and that portion of recent American philosophy which shows its influence) goes back to the revolutionary consequences of the thought of Russell and Moore at Cambridge in the nineties. The concept of philosophy, its problems and methods, developed by Russell and Moore was provided with a rigorous procedure by the formulation, by Russell and Whitehead, of a new logic of greater power and scope than any known previously.

The life-cycles of philosophers are interesting. There are those, such as Hume, who do their greatest work as young men and turn, in later years, to other things; while others, such as Kant, are undistinguished in their youth and only in middle life reveal the unquestionable marks of genius. As Russell grew older his thoughts and writings introduce themes quite removed from those on which he centred his attention in the early years of the century, and many of the ideas he advanced in the years before 1920 were, in the long run, developed by others than himself. The essay on logical positivism reprinted here from the REVUE DES MATHÉMATIQUES is therefore of considerable interest, since it surveys the chief philosophic tendencies of this century from the vantage point of one who, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for them all.

Portions of this paper were included in the text of HUMAN KNOWLEDGE: ITS SCOPE AND LIMITS (1948). This is the first republication of the full text.

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