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Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell transparent bg.png
Born (1872-05-18)18 May 1872
Trellech, Monmouthshire, UK
Died 2 February 1970(1970-02-02) (aged 97)
Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales, UK
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western philosophy

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was one of the world's best-known intellectuals. He was a philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was born in Wales, but spent most of his life in England. He worked mostly in the 20th century.

Bertrand Russell wrote a lot. He also tried to make philosophy popular. He gave his opinion on many topics. He wrote the essay, "On Denoting", which has been described as one of the most influential essays in philosophy in the 20th Century. He wrote on very serious issues as well as everyday things. Continuing his family's tradition of being involved in politics, he was a well known 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. Russell's voice carried enormous moral authority, even into his early 90s. Russell supported nuclear disarmament a lot, but did not support the American war in Vietnam even when it was popular.

In 1950, 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". He died of influenza.

What people said about Russell

As a man

"Bertrand Russell would not have wished to be called a saint of any description; but he was a great and good man."
— A.J. Ayer, Bertrand Russell, NY: Viking Press, 1972.

As a philosopher

"It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Russell's thought dominated twentieth century analytic philosophy: virtually every strand in its development either originated with him or was transformed by being transmitted through him. Analytic philosophy itself owes its existence more to Russell than to any other philosopher."
— Nicholas Griffin, The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

As a writer and his place in history

"Russell's prose has been compared by T.S. Eliot to that of David Hume's. I would rank it higher, for it had more color, juice, and humor. But to be lucid, exciting and profound in the main body of one's work is a combination of virtues given to few philosophers. Bertrand Russell has achieved immortality by his philosophical writings."
— Sidney Hook, Out of Step, An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century, NY: Carol & Graff, 1988.
"Russell's books should be bound in two colours, those dealing with mathematical logic in red — and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue — and no one should be allowed to read them."
— Ludwig Wittgenstein quoted in Rush Rhees, Recollections of Wittgenstein, Oxford Paperbacks, 1984.

As a mathematician and logician

Of the Principia: "...its enduring value was simply a deeper understanding of the central concepts of mathematics and their basic laws and interrelationships. Their total translatability into just elementary logic and a simple familiar two-place predicate, membership, is of itself a philosophical sensation."
— W.V. Quine, From Stimulus to Science, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

As an activist

"Oh, Bertrand Russell! Oh, Hewlett Johnson! Where, oh where, was your flaming conscience at that time?"
— Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Harper & Row, 1974.

As a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature

In other words, it was specifically not for his incontestably great contributions to philosophy — The Principles of Mathematics, 'On Denoting' and Principia Mathematica — that he was being honoured, but for the later work that his fellow philosophers were unanimous in regarding as inferior.
— Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell, The Ghost of Madness, p. 332.

From a daughter

"He was the most fascinating man I have ever known, the only man I ever loved, the greatest man I shall ever meet, the wittiest, the gayest, the most charming. It was a privilege to know him, and I thank God he was my father."
— Katharine Tait, My Father Bertrand Russell, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, p. 202.

Quotations

  • "War does not determine who is right. Only who is left." (Often attributed to Russell, but no sources exist.)
  • "The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible." (Source: Alan Wood, Bertrand Russell, the Passionate Sceptic, 1957)
  • "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." (Source?)
  • "You could tell by his [Aldous Huxley] conversation which volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica he'd been reading. One day it would be Alps, Andes and Apennines, and the next it would be the Himalayas and the Hippocratic Oath." (Source: Parris, M., Scorn: With Added Vitriol, London: Penguin, 1996, quoting Russell's 1963 letter to Ronald W. Clark)

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