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    Russellism covers the changing viewpoints of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell is generally credited with being one of the founders of Analytic Philosophy, and he also produced a body of work that covers logic, the philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics, ethics and epistemology.

    Philosophical Beliefs[edit | edit source]

    Logic and Mathematics[edit | edit source]

    Russell had a major impact on modern mathematical logic. His work greatly influenced thinkers like Willard Quine. Russell's early book, "An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry," was inspired by Kant but later abandoned. He explored number theory, studying the works of Boole, Cantor, and De Morgan. He attended the International Congress of Philosophy in Paris in 1900, where he learned from Giuseppe Peano and developed his own logical definitions. Russell and Gottlob Frege independently arrived at similar definitions for numbers, now known as the Frege-Russell definition. However, Russell's work led to the discovery of a paradox known as Russell's paradox, which exposed flaws in naive set theory. His theory of types addressed this paradox and laid the foundation for modern axiomatic set theory. Russell also defended logicism, the idea that mathematics can be reduced to logic, and co-authored "Principia Mathematica" with Alfred North Whitehead, a groundbreaking work in mathematical logic. Despite his immense contributions, Russell's later work, "Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy," was overshadowed by his anti-war activities during World War I.

    Russell's Paradox[edit | edit source]

    Russell's paradox demonstrates that in set theory, any system with unrestricted comprehension leads to contradictions. It arises when considering the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. If this set does not contain itself, it must contain itself, and vice versa, leading to a contradiction.

    Russell also demonstrated that this paradox undermines attempts to reduce mathematics to logic, as seen in Frege's axiomatic system. Two solutions emerged in 1908: Russell's type theory and Zermelo's set theory, which restricted the comprehension principle. Zermelo's ideas, expanded by Fraenkel, evolved into the standard Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory (ZFC), differing from Russell's approach by modifying set theory's axioms rather than the logical language itself.

    Language[edit | edit source]

    Russell emphasized the importance of language in philosophy, influencing thinkers like Wittgenstein, Ryle, Austin, and Strawson. He believed in clarity of expression. One of his significant contributions was the theory of descriptions, which addresses the meaning of sentences like "The present King of France is bald." Russell's solution involved breaking down the sentence into parts to show its logical form and meaning. Despite criticism, his theory clarified how definite descriptions function in language. While Russell disagreed with Wittgenstein's later work, he still admired his early contributions to philosophy of language. He criticized the influence of Wittgenstein's later ideas and the "Oxford school" of ordinary language philosophy, but recognized Wittgenstein's early brilliance. Russell's belief that philosophy should go beyond examining ordinary language remains influential.

    Logical Atomism[edit | edit source]

    Russell's philosophy of logical atomism, outlined in his lectures "The Philosophy of Logical Atomism" in 1918, proposes an ideal language that mirrors the world. He suggests that all knowledge can be broken down into atomic propositions and their combinations. This approach, influenced by radical empiricism, emphasizes that meaningful propositions should directly relate to objects we are familiar with. Russell believed that the world comprises independent facts, and our knowledge relies on our direct experiences of these facts. While he later questioned aspects of logical atomism, he maintained that philosophy should strive to simplify complex ideas, even if reaching ultimate simplicity might be unattainable.

    Epistemology[edit | edit source]

    Russell's beliefs about how we gain knowledge evolved over time. He started as a philosophical realist, emphasizing direct experiences as the main source of knowledge. He introduced the concept of "knowledge by acquaintance" versus "knowledge by description," suggesting that we directly experience some things while others we infer or reason about. He initially thought we only directly experienced sense data like colors and sounds, and everything else was inferred. Later, he rejected the idea of an intermediate sense datum.

    In his later philosophy, Russell adopted neutral monism, which suggests that the distinctions between the material and mental worlds are arbitrary. He believed both could be reduced to a neutral property. This view resembled ideas from William James and Baruch Spinoza, whom Russell admired. He described our initial perceptions as "events," similar to the philosophy of his teacher, Whitehead.

    Ethics[edit | edit source]

    Russell wrote extensively about ethics but didn't see it as strictly within the realm of philosophy. Initially, he was influenced by G.E. Moore's idea that moral facts were objective but known through intuition. Later, he agreed with David Hume that ethical terms dealt with subjective values, not verifiable facts. This influenced the logical positivists, who believed ethical propositions were meaningless expressions of preferences. However, Russell saw ethics as vital for civil discourse and believed reason should be guided by ethical considerations. He considered himself a utilitarian in terms of his normative ethical beliefs, especially in his early years.

    Religion and Theology[edit | edit source]

    Bertrand Russell believed that religion was largely harmful, promoting fear and dependency while impeding knowledge. He struggled with labeling himself as either an atheist or an agnostic, but generally leaned towards agnosticism, admitting uncertainty about the existence of God. Despite once accepting the ontological argument for God's existence, he later rejected it and became an atheist. Russell critically analyzed religious arguments and concluded that religion was primarily based on fear and wishful thinking. He advocated for knowledge, kindness, and courage over religious dogma, emphasizing the importance of free inquiry and rational thought.

    Political Beliefs[edit | edit source]

    Activism[edit | edit source]

    Russell was highly active in politics and social causes throughout his long life, alongside his prolific writing on a wide array of topics. Even in his later years, he remained politically engaged, corresponded with world leaders, and supported various causes. However, towards the end of his life, some critics suggest that he may have given too much freedom to his younger followers, who used his name for purposes he may not have endorsed. This became apparent when he dismissed his private secretary, Ralph Schoenman, who was associated with radical leftist activities.

    Pacifism, War, and Nuclear Weapons[edit | edit source]

    Russell was initially a Liberal Imperialist but later became an anti-imperialist and pacifist, opposing specific wars as contrary to civilization. His activism against British participation in World War I led to fines, imprisonment, and loss of academic positions. He advocated for the abolition of private ownership of land and capital as a step towards world peace. Despite his pacifist beliefs, he acknowledged the necessity of war in extreme circumstances, such as against Hitler during World War II. Russell consistently opposed nuclear weapons but once suggested a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union for diplomatic leverage. He later advocated for mutual disarmament and formed the Committee of 100 for nuclear disarmament. Russell's efforts for peace also led to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the establishment of the World Academy of Art and Science. He criticized the official account of JFK's assassination and founded the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to promote peace, human rights, and social justice.

    Communism, Anarchism, and Socialism[edit | edit source]

    Before becoming a socialist, Russell was a Georgist. He supported the Socialists, believing they were the hope of the world, and expressed admiration for guild socialism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eduard Bernstein. While he initially had hope for the Communist experiment, his visit to the Soviet Union in 1920 and meeting with Lenin left him unimpressed. He criticized the system in his tract "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism," describing Lenin as cold and lacking love of liberty. Later in life, Russell completely rejected Marxism and communism, criticizing Marx for being muddle-headed and driven by hatred. He ran as a Labour Party candidate in the 1922 and 1923 general elections but knew he wouldn't win in a Conservative stronghold. Russell strongly criticized Stalin's regime, attributing millions of deaths to him. He advocated for democracy and world government, but doubted the feasibility of an anarchist society despite finding Kropotkin's ideas persuasive.

    Women's Suffrage[edit | edit source]

    As a young man, Russell supported the Liberal Party and advocated for women's suffrage. In 1910, he wrote a pamphlet called "Anti-Suffragist Anxieties," where he discussed men's fears that granting women the right to vote would limit their freedom to harm women. In 1907, Russell ran for Parliament in Wimbledon as a candidate supporting women's suffrage, but he wasn't elected.

    Sexuality[edit | edit source]

    Russell challenged Victorian moral standards in his book "Marriage and Morals" (1929). He argued that love between unmarried couples isn't necessarily wrong and proposed the idea of "trial marriages" where young people could have sexual relationships without a long-term commitment or children. This sparked strong protests during his visit to the United States. Russell also supported open sex education, contraception, and easy divorce, but only if there were no children involved. He believed parents should stay together but tolerate each other's infidelity for the sake of their children. Russell was also a supporter of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and called for changes in laws against male homosexual practices, which were partially legalized in 1967 while he was still alive.

    Race[edit | edit source]

    Russell's views on race evolved over time, much like his views on religion. By 1951, he strongly advocated for racial equality and intermarriage. He rejected the idea that racial mixing was biologically harmful or that Black people were inherently less intelligent. Early writings suggested support for birth control as a means to address racial issues, anticipating later population control movements. In his book "Marriage and Morals" (1929), he initially mentioned race superiority but later clarified that it referred to environmental factors, not inherent differences. By 1932, he condemned the assumption of Black inferiority. In a 1964 response, he affirmed that he never considered Black people inherently inferior and withdrew ambiguous statements from later editions of his work.

    Eugenics[edit | edit source]

    In his book "Marriage and Morals," Russell discussed eugenics, agreeing with the basic idea but criticizing certain aspects held by eugenicists, especially their strong class bias. He supported forced sterilization for "mental defectives" but warned against overly broad laws. Russell emphasized the need for eugenics policies to align with scientific evidence, like not attributing all criminal behavior to genetics when psychology suggested otherwise. Regarding positive eugenics, he suggested providing free education only to the professional classes based on parental merits, to allow children more time for family-building. Russell recognized the challenge of defining desirable traits and acknowledged potential trade-offs, such as prioritizing strength over intelligence. He mentioned the idea of selecting a group solely for breeding in the future, finding it distasteful but possibly effective. Regarding "race" eugenics, he saw racist views as excuses for chauvinism and rejected concerns about white people being outbred by East Asians. He attributed some peoples' inferiority to environmental factors. Russell predicted that in the future, people might choose partners for procreation based on eugenic considerations voluntarily. While he acknowledged the repugnance of some eugenic ideas and the risk of scientific tyranny, he believed it preferable to religious tyranny.

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