Russell, Bertrand Arthur William
(1872–1970)
English philosopher. Russell was born into the liberal and aristocratic family descended from the Prime Minister, John Russell, and educated first at home, and then from 1890 at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. From an early age, and especially after meeting the mathematician G. Peano (1848–1932) in 1900, his interests were devoted to the foundations of mathematics. The Principles of Mathematics was published in 1902, a year after the discovery of Russell's paradox . After a period spent wrestling with the problem, Russell propounded the theory of definite descriptions and the theory of types, which were central elements in his own solution. From 1907 to 1910 he worked in collaboration with Whitehead for ten to twelve hours a day for eight months of the year on Principia Mathematica, published in three volumes, 1910–13. During this period he also laid the foundations of his life as a radical, active, liberal intellectual, beginning by standing as a suffragist candidate for Parliament. During the First World War he was imprisoned for six months for publishing the statement that American soldiers would be employed as strike-breakers in Britain, ‘an occupation to which they were accustomed when in their own country’.
After the war, Russell visited Russia and lived for a period in China. During the 1920s his principal philosophical works included The Analysis of Mind (1921) and The Analysis of Matter (1927), although he also published a large number of popular and semi-popular works on social and moral issues. He opened and ran a school, but from 1938 to 1944 taught at a number of American universities, including Chicago and the university of California at Los Angeles. He was however denied employment by the City university of New York, on the grounds that his works were ‘lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fiber’. During the Second World War he wrote the History of Western Philosophy (1945). Human Knowledge: its Scope and Limits (1948) is Russell's last important philosophical book, but by this time he was a world-famous symbol of philosophy and its radical potential. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, and as the unmistakable patriarch of the liberal academic world spent the rest of his life actively campaigning for nuclear disarmament.
Russell's philosophy is generally felt to have reached its peak in the first two decades of the 20th century. The seminal work on the foundations of mathematics is accompanied by lucid work on truth and its basis in experience; the theory of definite descriptions provided the logical background to an epistemology based on the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description, although the restricted role that Russell allows to acquaintance is generally thought to be problematic. By the time of Our Knowledge of the External World (1914), Russell was convinced that scientific philosophy required analysing many objects of belief as ‘ logical construction s’ or ‘logical fictions’, and the programme of analysis that this inaugurated dominated the subsequent philosophy of logical atomism, and then the work of Carnap and the logical positivists . In The Analysis of Mind, the mind itself is treated, in a fashion reminiscent of Hume, as no more than the collection of neutral perceptions or sense data that make up the flux of conscious experience, and that looked at another way also make up the external world ( neutral monism ). In his early period Russell is content with extending his realism to universals, but An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940) represents a more empiricist approach to the problem.
In his general philosophical approach Russell was not only a realist, but also, perhaps in continued opposition to the monolithic nature of absolute idealism, a pluralist and foundationalist, intent upon bringing the resources of modern logic to a basic empiricism. He had little sympathy with any movement away from those ideas, as, for instance, it developed from the later work of Wittgenstein . Russell was a gifted raconteur, and as well as his philosophical works wrote an entertaining three-volume Autobiography (1967–9).

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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