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First of all: what is work? The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two different bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.

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Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. These are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might, therefore, be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is rendered possible only by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.

From the beginning of civilization until the industrial revolution a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard and his children added their labor as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by priests and warriors.

In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until , and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago, when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War.

Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technic has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery. It is obvious that, in primitive communities, peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more.

At first sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness.

Quotations by Bertrand Russell

By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses were diminished. To this day ninety-nine per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the King should not have a larger income than a working man. The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than their own.

Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was rendered possible only by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good.

And with modern technic it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization. Modern technic has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor necessary to produce the necessaries of life for every one. This was made obvious during the War. At that time all the men in the armed forces, all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the War were withdrawn from productive occupations.

In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance; borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist.

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The War showed conclusively that by the scientific organization of production it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If at the end of the War the scientific organization which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work had been preserved, and the hours of work had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that, the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed.

Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry. This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration.

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Suppose that at a given moment a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working say eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price.

In a sensible world everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work.

There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. When meddlesome busy-bodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes.

Bertrand Russell: philosopher, mathematician and optimist | Clare Carlisle | Opinion | The Guardian

Previous Page Next Page 1 of 3 You are currently viewing this article as a guest. Continuing a family tradition in political affairs, he was a prominent liberal as well as a socialist and anti-war activist for most of his long life. Millions looked up to Russell as a prophet of the creative and rational life; at the same time, his stances on many topics were extremely controversial. Born at the height of Britain's economic and political ascendancy, he died of influenza nearly a century later when the British Empire had all but vanished; its Power dissipated in two victorious, but debilitating world wars.

As one of the world's best-known intellectuals, Russell's voice carried enormous moral authority, even into his early 90s. Among his other political activities, Russell was a vigorous proponent of nuclear disarmament and an outspoken critic of the American war in Vietnam. In , Russell was made a Nobel Laureate in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought". The Russells had been prominent for several centuries in Britain, and were one of Britain's leading Whig Liberal families.

Russell's mother Kate nee Stanley was also from an aristocratic family, and was the sister of Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle. Russell's parents were quite radical for their times- Russell's father, Viscount Amberley, was an atheist and consented to his wife's affair with their children's tutor, the biologist Douglas Spalding.

Both were early advocates of birth control at a time when this was considered scandalous. John Stuart Mill, the Utilitarian philosopher, was Russell's godfather. Russell had two siblings: Frank nearly seven years older than Bertrand , and Rachel four years older. In June Russell's mother died of diphtheria, followed shortly by Rachel, and in January his father died of bronchitis following a long period of depression. Frank and Bertrand were placed in the care of their staunchly Victorian grandparents, who lived at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park.

The first Earl Russell died in , and his widow the Countess Russell nee Lady Frances Elliot was the dominant family figure for the rest of Russell's childhood and youth. The countess was from a Scottish Presbyterian family, and successfully petitioned a British court to set aside a provision in Amberley's will requiring the children to be raised as agnostics. Despite her religious conservatism, she held progressive views in other areas accepting Darwinism and supporting Irish Home Rule , and her influence on Bertrand Russell's outlook on social justice and standing up for principle remained with him throughout his life.

However, the atmosphere at Pembroke Lodge was one of frequent prayer, emotional repression and formality- Frank reacted to this with open rebellion, but the young Bertrand learned to hide his feelings. Russell's adolescence was very lonely, and he often contemplated suicide. He remarked in his autobiography that his keenest interests were in sex, religion and mathematics, and that only the wish to know more mathematics kept him from suicide. He was educated at home by a series of tutors, and he spent countless hours in his grandfather's library.

His brother Frank introduced him to Euclid, which transformed Russell's life. Russell won a scholarship to read mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge University, and commenced his studies there in He became acquainted with the younger G. Moore and came under the influence of Alfred North Whitehead, who recommended him to the Cambridge Apostles.

He quickly distinguished himself in mathematics and philosophy, graduating with a B. He fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded Alys, who was connected to several educationists and religious activists, and, contrary to his grandmother's wishes, he married her in December Their marriage began to fall apart in when Russell realised he no longer loved her; they divorced nineteen years later. During this period, Russell had passionate and often simultaneous affairs with, among others, Lady Ottoline Morrell and the actor Lady Constance Malleson.

Alys pined for him for these years and continued to love Russell for the rest of her life. Russell began his published work in with German Social Democracy , a study in politics that was an early indication of a lifelong interest in political and social theory. In he taught German social democracy at the London School of Economics, where he also lectured on the science of power in the autumn of Russell became a fellow of the Royal Society in The first of three volumes of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in During the First World War, Russell engaged in pacifist activities, and in he was dismissed from Trinity College following his conviction under the Defence of the Realm Act.


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A later conviction resulted in six months' imprisonment in Brixton prison. In , Russell travelled to Russia as part of an official delegation sent by the British government to investigate the effects of the Russian Revolution. Russell's lover Dora Black also visited Russia independently at the same time- she was enthusiastic about the revolution, but Russell's experiences destroyed his previous tentative support for it.

Russell subsequently lectured in Peking on philosophy for one year, accompanied by Dora. While in China, Russell became gravely ill with pneumonia, and incorrect reports of his death were published in the Japanese press. When the couple visited Japan on their return journey, Dora notified journalists that "Mr Bertrand Russell, having died according to the Japanese press, is unable to give interviews to Japanese journalists".

On the couple's return to England in , Dora was five months pregnant, and Russell arranged a hasty divorce from Alys, marrying Dora six days after the divorce was finalised. Russell supported himself during this time by writing popular books explaining matters of physics, ethics and education to the layman. Together with Dora, he also founded the experimental Beacon Hill School in After he left the school in , Dora continued it until Upon the death of his elder brother Frank, in , Russell became the 3rd Earl Russell.

He once said that his title was primarily useful for securing hotel rooms. Russell's marriage to Dora grew increasingly tenuous, and it reached a breaking point over her having two children with an American journalist, Griffin Barry. In , he took as his third wife an Oxford undergraduate named Patricia "Peter" Spence, who had been his children's governess since the summer of Russell and Peter had one son, Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell, later to become a prominent historian, and one of the leading figures in the Liberal Democrat party.

He was appointed professor at the City College of New York in , but after public outcries, the appointment was annulled by the courts: his radical opinions made him "morally unfit" to teach at the college. The protest was started by the mother of a student who would not have been eligible for his graduate-level course in abstract, mathematical logic. Many intellectuals, led by John Dewey, protested his treatment. Dewey and Horace M. He soon joined the Barnes Foundation, lecturing to a varied audience on the history of philosophy- these lectures formed the basis of A History Of Western Philosophy.

His relationship with the eccentric Albert C. Barnes soon soured, and he returned to Britain in to rejoin the faculty of Trinity College. During the s and s, Russell participated in many broadcasts over the BBC on various topical and philosophical subjects. By this time in his life, Russell was world famous outside of academic circles, frequently the subject or author of magazine and newspaper articles, and was called upon to offer up opinions on a wide variety of subjects, even mundane ones.

A History of Western Philosophy became a best-seller, and provided Russell with a steady income for the remainder of his life. Along with his friend Albert Einstein, Russell had reached superstar status as an intellectual. In , Russell was divorced by Peter, with whom he had been very unhappy.

Conrad, Russell's son by Peter, did not see his father between the time of the divorce and at which time his decision to meet his father caused a permanent breach with his mother. Russell married his fourth wife, Edith Finch, soon after the divorce. They had known each other since , and Edith had lectured in English at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, sharing a house for twenty years with Russell's old friend Lucy Donnelly.

Edith remained with him until his death, and, by all accounts, their relationship was close and loving throughout their marriage.

Bertrand Russell

Russell's eldest son, John, suffered from serious mental illness, which was the source of ongoing disputes between Russell and John's mother, Russell's former wife, Dora. John's wife Susan was also mentally ill, and eventually Russell and Edith became the legal guardians of their three daughters two of whom were later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Russell spent the s and s engaged in various political causes, primarily related to nuclear disarmament and opposing the Vietnam War.

He wrote a great many letters to world leaders during this period. He also became a hero to many of the youthful members of the New Left. During the s, in particular, Russell became increasingly vocal about his disapproval of the American government's policies. In he became the inaugural recipient of the Jerusalem Prize, an award for writers concerned with the freedom of the individual in society. Bertrand Russell published his three-volume autobiography in the late s. While he grew frail, he remained lucid until the end, when, in , he died in his home, Plas Penrhyn, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merioneth, Wales.

His ashes, as his will directed, were scattered. Russell's philosophical work Analytic philosophy Russell is generally recognised as one of the founders of analytic philosophy, indeed, even of its several branches. At the beginning of the 20th century, alongside G. Moore, Russell was largely responsible for the British "revolt against Idealism", a philosophy greatly influenced by Georg Hegel and his British apostle, F. This revolt was echoed 30 years later in Vienna by the logical positivists' "revolt against metaphysics". Russell was particularly appalled by the idealist doctrine of internal relations, which held that in order to know any particular thing, we must know all of its relations.

Russell showed that this would make space, time, science and the concept of number unintelligible. Russell's logical work with Whitehead continued this project. Russell and Moore strove to eliminate what they saw as meaningless and incoherent assertions in philosophy, and they sought clarity and precision in argument by the use of exact language and by breaking down philosophical propositions into their simplest components.

Russell, in particular, saw logic and science as the principal tools of the philosopher.

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Indeed, unlike most philosophers who preceded him and his early contemporaries, Russell did not believe there was a separate method for philosophy. He believed that the main task of the philosopher was to illuminate the most general propositions about the world and to eliminate confusion. In particular, he wanted to end what he saw as the excesses of metaphysics. Russell adopted William of Ockham's principle against multiplying unnecessary entities, Occam's Razor, as a central part of the method of analysis.

Epistemology Russell's epistemology went through many phases. Once he shed neo-Hegelianism in his early years, Russell remained a philosophical realist for the remainder of his life, believing that our direct experiences have primacy in the acquisition of knowledge. While some of his views have lost favour, his influence remains strong in the distinction between two ways in which we can be familiar with objects: "knowledge by acquaintance" and "knowledge by description". For a time, Russell thought that we could only be acquainted with our own sense data-momentary perceptions of colours, sounds, and the like- and that everything else, including the physical objects that these were sense data of, could only be inferred, or reasoned to- i.

This distinction has gained much wider application, though Russell eventually rejected the idea of an intermediate sense datum. In his later philosophy, Russell subscribed to a kind of neutral monism, maintaining that the distinctions between the material and mental worlds, in the final analysis, were arbitrary, and that both can be reduced to a neutral property- a view similar to one held by the American philosopher, William James, and one that was first formulated by Baruch Spinoza, whom Russell greatly admired.

Instead of James' "pure experience", however, Russell characterised the stuff of our initial states of perception as "events", a stance which is curiously akin to his old teacher Whitehead's process philosophy. Ethics While Russell wrote a great deal on ethical subject matters, he did not believe that the subject belonged to philosophy or that when he wrote on ethics that he did so in his capacity as a philosopher.

In his earlier years, Russell was greatly influenced by G. Moore's Principia Ethica. Along with Moore, he then believed that moral facts were objective, but only known through intuition, and that they were simple properties of objects, not equivalent e. In time, however, he came to agree with his philosophical hero, David Hume, who believed that ethical terms dealt with subjective values that cannot be verified in the same way that matters of fact are.

Coupled with Russell's other doctrines, this influenced the logical positivists, who formulated the theory of emotivism, which states that ethical propositions along with those of metaphysics were essentially meaningless and nonsensical or, at best, little more than expressions of attitudes and preferences. Notwithstanding his influence on them, Russell himself did not construe ethical propositions as narrowly as the positivists, for he believed that ethical considerations are not only meaningful, but that they are a vital subject matter for civil discourse.

Indeed, though Russell was often characterised as the patron saint of rationality, he agreed with Hume, who said that reason ought to be subordinate to ethical considerations. Russell wrote some books about practical ethical issues such as marriage. His opinions on this field are liberal. He argues that sexual relationships outside of marriages are acceptable. In his book, Human Society In Ethics and Politics , he advocates in favor of the view that we should see moral issues from the point of view of the desires of individuals.

Individuals are allowed to do what they desire, as long as there are no conflicting desires among different individuals. Desires are not bad, in and of themselves, but on occasion, their potential or actual consequences are. Russell also writes that punishment is important only in an instrumental sense. Thus we should not punish someone solely for the sake of punishment. Logical atomism Perhaps Russell's most systematic, metaphysical treatment of philosophical analysis and his empiricist-centric logicism is evident in what he called Logical atomism, which is explicated in a set of lectures, "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism," which he gave in In these lectures, Russell sets forth his concept of an ideal, isomorphic language, one that would mirror the world, whereby our knowledge can be reduced to terms of atomic propositions and their truth-functional compounds.

Logical atomism is a form of radical empiricism, for Russell believed the most important requirement for such an ideal language is that every meaningful proposition must consist of terms referring directly to the objects with which we are acquainted, or that they are defined by other terms referring to objects with which we are acquainted. Russell excluded certain formal, logical terms such as all, the, is, and so forth, from his isomorphic requirement, but he was never entirely satisfied about our understanding of such terms.

One of the central themes of Russell's atomism is that the world consists of logically independent facts, a plurality of facts, and that our knowledge depends on the data of our direct experience of them. In his later life, Russell came to doubt aspects of logical atomism, especially his principle of isomorphism, though he continued to believe that the process of philosophy ought to consist of breaking things down into their simplest components, even though we might not ever fully arrive at an ultimate atomic fact. Logic and philosophy of mathematics Russell had great influence on modern mathematical logic.

The American philosopher and logician Willard Quine said Russell's work represented the greatest influence on his own work. This work was heavily influenced by Immanuel Kant. Russell soon realised that the conception it laid out would have made Albert Einstein's schema of space-time impossible, which he understood to be superior to his own system. Thenceforth, he rejected the entire Kantian program as it related to mathematics and geometry, and he maintained that his own earliest work on the subject was nearly without value. Peirce and Ernst Schroder. He became convinced that the foundations of mathematics were tied to logic, and following Gottlob Frege took an extensionalist approach in which logic was in turn based upon set theory.

In he attended the first International Congress of Philosophy in Paris where he became familiar with the work of the Italian mathematician, Giuseppe Peano. He mastered Peano's new symbolism and his set of axioms for arithmetic. Peano was able to define logically all of the terms of these axioms with the exception of 0, number, successor, and the singular term, the. Russell took it upon himself to find logical definitions for each of these. Between and he published several articles applying Peano's notation to the classical Boole-Schroder algebra of relations, among them On the Notion of Order, Sur la logique des relations avec les applications a la theorie des series, and On Cardinal Numbers.

Russell eventually discovered that Gottlob Frege had independently arrived at equivalent definitions for 0, successor, and number, and the definition of number is now usually referred to as the Frege-Russell definition.

It was largely Russell who brought Frege to the attention of the English-speaking world. He did this in , when he published The Principles Of Mathematics , in which the concept of class is inextricably tied to the definition of number. The appendix to this work detailed a paradox arising in Frege's application of second- and higher-order functions which took first-order functions as their arguments, and he offered his first effort to resolve what would henceforth come to be known as the Russell Paradox. In writing Principles, Russell came across Cantor's proof that there was no greatest cardinal number, which Russell believed was mistaken.

The Cantor Paradox in turn was shown for example by Crossley to be a special case of the Russell Paradox. This caused Russell to analyze classes, for it was known that given any number of elements, the number of classes they result in is greater than their number. In turn, this led to the discovery of a very interesting class, namely, the class of all classes, which consists of two kinds of classes: classes that are members of themselves, and classes that are not members of themselves, which led him to find that the so-called principle of extensionality, taken for granted by logicians of the time, was fatally flawed, and that it resulted in a contradiction, whereby Y is a member of Y, if and only if, Y is not a member of Y.