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Bertrand Russell – Temporarily lost his job for advocating peace

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Photo Wikipedia)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a Welsh philosopher, mathematician and activist.

Russell taught at Cambridge in 1895, published Principles of Mathematics (1903) and, with A. N. Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13).

He was let go from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1916 for advocating pacifism during World War I. This was scandalous even at the time because most of his Fellows opposed his firing.¹ Jailed in 1918 for six months, Russell eventually revoked his support for pacifism with the rise of Fascism.

Soon after his Fellowship was restored.

In the 1920’s he lectured and wrote widely. In 1927 he founded an experimental school with his second wife, Dora, a woman of achievement in her own right. And he toured the Soviet Union and lectured in China and America.

Russell’s best known publications are The Problems of Philosophy (1912), On Education (1926), An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), History of Western Philosophy (1945), and Human Knowledge (1948). He also wrote probing essays on a variety of topics, such as Why I am not a Christian (1927).

After World War II Russell advocated a ban on nuclear weapons and corresponded with leading politicians around the world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and authored a three-volume Autobiography (1967-9).

English: Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behi...

Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behind bust of Bertrand Russell (by Marcelle Quinton 1980) in Red Lion Square the entrance to Conway Hall can be seen with Royal Mail van parked outside. (Photo: Wikipedia)

¹ Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m posting this revision on Good Friday. Seems a lot of people run into bad luck for advocating peace. †

Related » Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Alfred North Whitehead

Principia Mathematica to *56

Principia Mathematica to *56 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a British philosopher, logician and Cambridge-trained mathematician who worked with Bertrand Russell. Their coauthored Principia Mathematica (1910-13) argued that mathematics is essentially logic, a view critiqued by Kurt Gödel.

Despite Gödel’s important critique, Principia Mathematica has been rated 23rd among the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the twentieth century.¹

Whitehead saw the world as an organic, interactive whole. He rallied against the so-called “Newtonian” worldview where the universe ticks away like a clock or machine.

At least, this view of Newton is something taught by hack professors in undergraduate university courses. In reality, it’s a gross simplification. A purely mechanistic interpretation of Sir Isaac Newton‘s work is a common bias that has little bearing on the fullness of his oeuvre.²

Whitehead also did important work on perception, showing that at the extremes it is anything but ‘clear and distinct.’ A good example of this is peripheral vision.

William A. Beardslee sums up some of the philosophical implications of Whitehead’s view of perception and reality:

Whitehead showed that the error of Hume and Kant was to take clear and distinct ideas or percepts as the model for knowing. Instead, he held, our direct knowledge is indistinct, loaded with feeling, and imprecise, while our clear perceptions are indirect projections upon reality. Whitehead termed these two modes of perception causal efficacy and presentational immediacy respectively. The two modes of perception are connected by “symbolic reference”; that is, the basic perceptual symbols function in both modes of perception, so that our indistinct but direct knowledge by “causal efficacy” is connected (though not infallibly) with our clear perceptions in “presentational immediacy.” The net result of this theory is to affirm that we can and do know things about the world as it is, for all the contributions of our minds in shaping our perceptions.³

Whitehead’s influence on contemporary thought does not stop there. His Process and Reality (1929) is usually credited with laying the philosophical foundations for Process Theology.


² See

³ William A. Beardslee, “Whitehead and Hermeneutic,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 47, No. 1, (Mar., 1979: 31-37), p. 32.

Related Posts » Platonism, Charles Hartshorne


Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein 2

Ludwig Wittgenstein 2 (Photo credit: Christiaan Tonnis)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Josef Johann, 1889-1951) was an Austrian-born British philosopher.

Wittgenstein studied mathematics at Cambridge under Bertrand Russell, who spoke highly of his alleged genius. While serving in the Austrian army during WW I, he argued in Tractatus Logico-philosophicus that any sentence is a representation of a fact and any kind of thought is a sentence.

In 1953 he rejected these ideas presented in Tractatus, coming to believe that linguistic meaning relates to the use of expressions. This involves certain “language games” that inform and are informed by expressions. At one point in his career he apparently believed that his philosophy had figured everything out.

To be honest, I don’t find him terribly interesting. He had extremely narrow-minded views about music, which apparently “came to a full stop with Brahms.” He continued to say that “even in Brahms I can begin to hear the noise of machinery.”¹ One can only wonder what he’d think about EDM!

Related Posts » Linguistics, Semiology

¹ But clearly, many do find Wittgenstein intriguing. See the lengthy Wikipedia entry if interested, and also for the above quotations >>