Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (May 18, 1872 - February
2, 1970) was one of the most influential mathematicians, philosophers
and logicianss working (mostly) in the 20th century, an important political
liberal, activist and a populariser of philosophy. Millions looked up
to Russell as a sort of prophet of the creative and rational life; at
the same time, his stance on many topics was extremely controversial.
He was born in 1872, at the height of Britain's economic and political
ascendancy, and died of influenza in 1970, when Britain's empire had
all but vanished and her power had been drained in two victorious but
debilitating world wars. At his death, however, his voice still carried
moral authority, for he was one of the world's most influential critics
of nuclear weapons and the American war in Vietnam.
In 1950, Russell
was made Nobel Laureate in Literature "in recognition of his varied
and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and
freedom of thought".
philosophical and logical work
logic, Russell established Russell's paradox, which exposed an inconsistency
in naïve set theory and led directly to the creation of modern axiomatic
set theory. It also crippled Gottlob Frege's project of reducing mathematics
to logic. Nonetheless, Russell defended logicism (the view that mathematics
is in some important sense reducible to logic) and attempted this project
himself, along with Alfred North Whitehead, in the Principia Mathematica,
a clean axiomatic system on which all of mathematics can be built, but
which was never fully completed. Although it did not fall prey to the
paradoxes in Frege's approach, it was later proven by Kurt Gödel that—for
exactly that reason—neither Principia Mathematica nor any other
consistent logical system could prove all mathematical truths, and hence
Russell's project was necessarily incomplete.
Philosophy of Language
most significant contribution to philosophy of language is his theory of descriptions. It is normally illustrated
using the phrase "the present King of France", as in "The
present king of France is bald." What object is this sentence about,
given that there is not, at present, a king of France? Alexius Meinong had suggested that we must posit a
realm of "nonexistent entities" that we can suppose we are
referring to when we use expressions like this; but this would be a
strange theory, to say the least. Frege seemed to think we could dismiss
as nonsense any sentences whose words apparently referred to objects
that didn't exist. Among other things, the problem with this solution
is that some such sentences, such as "If the
present king of France is bald, then the present king of France
has no hair on his head," not only do not seem nonsensical but
appear to be obviously true. Roughly the same problem would arise if
there were two kings of France at present: which of them does "the
king of France" denote?
The problem is general
to what are called "definite descriptions." Normally this includes
all terms beginning with "the", and sometimes includes names,
like "Walter Scott." (This point is quite contentious: Russell
sometimes thought that the latter terms shouldn't be called names at
all, but only "disguised definite descriptions," but much
subsequent work has treated them as altogether different things.) What
is the "logical form" of definite descriptions: how, in Frege's
terms, could we paraphrase them in order to show how the truth of the
whole depends on the truths of the parts? Definite descriptions appear
to be like names that by their very nature denote exactly one thing,
neither more or less. What, then, are we to say about the sentence as
a whole if one of its parts apparently isn't working right?
was, first of all, to analyze not the term alone but the entire sentence
that contained a definite description. "The present king of France
is bald," he then suggested, can be reworded to "There is
an x such that x is a present king of France, nothing other than x is
a present king of France, and x is bald." Russell claimed that
each definite description in fact contains a claim of existence and
a claim of uniqueness which give this appearance, but these can be broken
apart and treated separately from the predication that is the obvious
content of the sentence they appear in. The sentence as a whole then
says three things about some object: the definite description contains
two of them, and the rest of the sentence contains the other. If the
object does not exist, or if it is not unique, then the whole sentence
turns out to be false, not meaningless.
One of the major
complaints against Russell's theory, due originally to P. F. Strawson,
is that definite descriptions do not claim that their object exists,
they merely presuppose that it does.
went through many phases, most of which have since fallen by the wayside
in philosophy. Nonetheless, his influence lingers on in the distinction
between two ways in which we can be familiar with objects: "knowledge
by acquaintance" and "knowledge by description." 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 reasoned to--known by description--and not known directly.
But the distinction has gained much wider application.
Influence on Philosophy
Russell is generally
recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy. Alongside
G. E. Moore he was largely responsible for the "revolt against
Idealism" in British philosophy at the beginning of the twentieth
century (which was echoed, thirty years later in Vienna, by the logical
positivists' "revolt against metaphysics"). Russell and Moore
strove to eliminate what they saw as meaningless and incoherent philosophy,
and to seek clarity and precision in argument. Russell's logical work
with Whitehead continued this project. Ludwig Wittgenstein was his student
between 1911 and 1914, and he was responsible for having Wittgenstein's
Tractatus published and for securing the latter a position
at Cambridge and several fellowships. However, he came to disagree with
Wittgenstein's later approach to philosophy, while Wittgenstein came
to think of Russell as "superficial and glib." Russell's influence
also lies heavily on the work of W. V. Quine, Karl Popper, and a number
was an outspoken
pacifist. He opposed British participation in World War I and as a result was first fined, then lost
his professorship at Trinity College of Cambridge University and was later imprisoned
for six months. In the years leading to World War II, he supported the policy of appeasement, but later acknowledged that Hitler had to be defeated.
Russell called his
stance "Relative Pacifism"—he held that war was always a great
evil, but in some particularly extreme circumstances (such as when Hitler
threatened to take over Europe) it might be a lesser of multiple evils.
On November 20,
1948, in a public speech at Westminster School, addressing a gathering
arranged by the New Commonwealth, Russell shocked some of his less careful
listeners by seeming to advocate a preemptive nuclear strike on the
Soviet Union. Russell argued that war between the United States and
the Soviet Union seemed inevitable, so it would be a humanitarian gesture
to get it over with quickly. Currently, Russell argued, humanity could
survive such a war, whereas a full nuclear war after both sides had
manufactured large stockpiles of more destructive weapons was likely
to result in the extinction of the human race. Russell later relented
from this stance, instead arguing for mutual disarmament by the nuclear
Starting in the
1950s, Russell became a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons. With the
Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs he released the Russell-Einstein
Manifesto with Albert Einstein and organized several conferences. In
1961, he was imprisoned for a week in connection with his nuclear disarmament
protests. He opposed the Vietnam War and along with Jean-Paul Sartre
organized a tribunal intended to expose U.S. war crimes; this came to
be known as the Russell Tribunal.
Russell wrote against
Victorian notions of morality. His early writings expressed
his opinion that sex between a man and woman who are not married to
each other is not necessarily immoral if they truly love one another.
This might not seem extreme by today's standards, but it was enough
to raise vigorous protests and denunciations against him during his
first visit to the United States. (Russell's private life was rather more
hedonistic than his published writings revealed, but that was not yet
well known at the time.)
He was an early
critic of the official story in the John F. Kennedy assassination; his "16 Questions
on the Assassination" from 1964 is still considered a good summary of the apparent inconsistencies
in that case.
In matters of religion,
Russell classified himself as a philosophical agnostic and a practical
atheist. He wrote that his attitude towards the Christian God was the
same as his attitude towards the Greek gods: strongly convinced that
they don't exist, but not able to rigorously prove it. His position
is explained in the essays Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?
and Why I am not a Christian ISBN 0671203231.
Politically he envisioned
a kind of benevolent democratic socialism. He was extremely critical
of the totalitarianism exhibited by Stalin's regime. But perhaps paradoxically, he was also
an early advocate of social engineering:
''The social psychologists
of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom
they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction
that snow is black. Various results will be arrived at. First, that
the influence of the home is obstructive. Second, that not much can
be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that
verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth,
that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste
this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined
to the governing class. The population will not be allowed to know how
its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected,
every government that has been in charge of education for a generation
will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies
-- , 1951, The
Impact of Science on Society
was from an aristocratic
English family. His paternal grandfather Lord John Russell had been a prime
minister in the 1840s, and was himself the second son of the 6th Duke
of Bedford, of a leading Whig/ Liberal family. His mother Viscountess
Amberley (who died when he was 2) was herself from an aristocratic family,
and was the sister of Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle. His parents were
extremely radical for their times; his father Viscount Amberley (who
died when Bertrand was 4) was an atheist who had consented to his wife's
affair with their children's tutor. His godfather was Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. His early years were spent at Pembroke
Lodge in Richmond Park.
Despite this eccentric
background, Russell's childhood was relatively conventional. After his
parents' death, Russell and his older brother Frank (the future 2nd
Earl) were raised by their stauchly Victorian grandparents - the Earl
and Countess Russell (Lord John Russell and his second wife
Lady Frances Elliot). However, Russell departed from his grandparents'
expectations of him starting with his marriage.
Russell first met
the American Quaker, Alys Pearsall Smith, when he
was seventeen years old. He fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded
Alys who was connected to several educationists and religious activists,
and married her in December 1894. Their marriage was ended by separation
in 1911. Russell had never been faithful; he had passionate affairs
with, among others, Lady Ottoline Morrell (half-sister of the 6th Duke of Portland) and the actress Lady Constance Malleson.
philosophy and logic at Cambridge University, starting in 1890. He
became a fellow of Trinity College in 1908. In 1920, Russell
travelled to Russia and subsequently lectured in Peking on philosophy for one year.
In 1921, after Russell
had lost his professorship, he divorced Alys and married Dora Russell nee Dora Black. Their children were John Conrad Russell (who briefly
succeeded his father as 4th Earl Russell) and Lady Katherine Russell,
now Lady Katherine Tait). Russell supported himself during this time
by writing popular books explaining matters of physics, ethics and education
to the layman. Together with Dora, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill school in 1927.
Upon the death of
his elder brother in 1931, Russell became 3rd Earl Russell. It is, however,
quite rare for him to be referred to by this title.
marriage to Dora broke up over her adultery with an American journalist,
in 1936 he took as his third wife, an Oxford undergraduate named Patricia ("Peter")
Spence. She had been his children's governess in the summer of 1930.
Russell and Peter had one son, Conrad.
In the spring of
1939, Russell moved to Santa Barbara to lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He was appointed professor at the City College of New York shortly thereafter,
but after public outcries, the appointment was annulled by the courts:
his radical opinions made him "morally unfit" to teach at
the college. He returned to Britain in 1944 and rejoined the faculty
of Trinity College.
In 1952, Russell
divorced Peter and married his fourth wife, Edith (Finch). They had
known each other since 1925. Edith had lectured in English at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia.
wrote his three
volume autobiography in the late 1960s and died in 1970 in Wales. His ashes were scattered over the Welsh mountains.
He was succeeded
in his titles by his son by his second marriage to Dora Russell Black,
and then by his younger son (by his third marriage to Peter). His younger
son Conrad, 5th Earl Russell, is an elected hereditary peer to the British
House of Lords, and a respected British academic.
A Chronology of Russell's
short chronology of the major events in Russell's life is as follows:
Born May 18 at Ravenscroft, Wales.
Death of mother and sister.
Death of father; Russell's grandfather, Lord John Russell (the former
Prime Minister), and grandmother succeed in overturning his father's
will to win custody of Russell and his brother.
Death of grandfather; Russell's grandmother, Lady Russell, supervises
Enters Trinity College, Cambridge.
Awarded first class B.A. in Mathematics.
Completed the Moral Sciences Tripos (Part II)
Marries Alys Pearsall Smith.
Meets Peano at International Congress in Paris.
Discovers Russell's paradox.
Corresponds with Frege.
Elected Fellow of the Royal Society.
Fined 110 pounds and dismissed from Trinity College as a result
of anti-war protests.
Imprisoned for five months as a result of anti-war protests.
Divorce from Alys and marriage to Dora Black.
Opens experimental school with Dora.
Becomes the third Earl Russell upon the death of his brother.
Divorce from Dora.
Marriage to Patricia (Peter) Helen Spence.
Appointment at City College New York revoked following public protests.
Dismissed from Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania.
Awarded the Order of Merit.
Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature.
Divorce from Peter and marriage to Edith Finch.
Releases Russell-Einstein Manifesto.
Organizes the first Pugwash Conference.
Becomes founding President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Imprisoned for one week in connection with anti-nuclear protests.
Dies February 02 at Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born at Trelleck
on 18th May, 1872. His parents were Viscount Amberley and Katherine,
daughter of 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley. At the age of three he was
left an orphan. His father had wished him to be brought up as an agnostic;
to avoid this he was made a ward of Court, and brought up by his grandmother.
Instead of being sent to school he was taught by governesses and tutors,
and thus acquired a perfect knowledge of French and German. In 1890
he went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge,
and after being a very high Wrangler and obtaining a First Class with
distinction in philosophy he was elected a fellow of his college in
1895. But he had already left Cambridge in the summer of 1894 and for
some months was attaché at the British embassy at Paris.
December 1894 he married Miss Alys Pearsall Smith. After spending some
months in Berlin studying social democracy, they went to live near Haslemere,
where he devoted his time to the study of philosophy. In 1900 he visited
the Mathematical Congress at Paris. He was impressed with the ability
of the Italian mathematician Peano and his pupils, and immediately studied
Peano's works. In 1903 he wrote his first important book, The Principles
of Mathematics, and with his friend Dr. Alfred Whitehead proceeded
to develop and extend the mathematical logic of Peano and Frege. From
time to time he abandoned philosophy for politics. In 1910 he was appointed
lecturer at Trinity College. After the first World War broke out, he
took an active part in the No Conscription fellowship and was fined
£ 100 as the author of a leaflet criticizing a sentence of two years
on a conscientious objector. His college deprived him of his lectureship
in 1916. He was offered a post at Harvard university, but was refused
a passport. He intended to give a course of lectures (afterwards published
in America as Political Ideals, 1918) but was prevented by the
military authorities. In 1918 he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment
for a pacifistic article he had written in the Tribunal. His
Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919) was written in
prison. His Analysis of Mind (1921) was the outcome of some lectures
he gave in London, which were organized by a few friends who got up
a subscription for the purpose.
1920 Russell had paid a short visit to Russia to study the conditions
of Bolshevism on the spot. In the autumn of the same year he went to
China to lecture on philosophy at the Peking university.
On his return in Sept. 1921, having been divorced by his first wife,
he married Miss Dora Black. They lived for six years in Chelsea during
the winter months and spent the summers near Lands End. In 1927 he and
his wife started a school for young children, which they carried on
until 1932. He succeeded to the earldom in 1931. He was divorced by
his second wife in 1935 and the following year married Patricia Helen
Spence. In 1938 he went to the United States and during the next years
taught at many of the country's leading universities. In 1940 he was
involved in legal proceedings when his right to teach philosophy at
the College of the City of New York was questioned because of his views
on morality. When his appointment to the college faculty was cancelled,
he accepted a five-year contract as a lecturer for the Barnes foundation,
Merion, Pa., but the cancellation of this contract was announced in
Jan. 1943 by Albert C. Barnes, director of the foundation.
was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1908, and re-elected a
fellow of Trinity College in 1944. He was awarded the Sylvester medal
of the Royal Society, 1934, the de Morgan medal of the London Mathematical
Society in the same year, the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1950.
a paper "Logical Atomism" (Contemporary British Philosophy.
Personal Statements, First series. Lond. 1924) Russell exposed his
views on his philosophy, preceded by a few words on historical development.1