Bertrand Russell

Bertrand  Russell

Signature of Bertrand Russell

Born: May 18, 1872 in Ravenscroft, Trelleck, Monmouthshire, Wales

Died: Feb 2, 1970 in Penrhyndeudraeth, Merioneth, Wales.


Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, logician, essayist, and social critic, best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, is the twentieth century’s most important thinker. Many consider him to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. He was born into an aristocratic family in 1872 at the zenith of Britain’s economic and political dominance, and died in 1970 when Britain’s power had been obscured in fairy tales subsequent to world wars. John Stuart Mill was his godfather. He was one of the world’s most influential critics of nuclear weapons and the American war in Vietnam.

His parents died when he was three years old. Russell's father had arranged custody of his two sons to two atheists but after his death in 1876 Russell’s grandfather who had served twice as Prime Minister under Queen Victoria had no difficulty in getting Russell's father's will overturned. After the death of his grandfather in 1878, Russell was brought up by his grandmother, Lady Russell.

Russell was at first educated privately at home and later went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a brilliant student of mathematics and philosophy. Russell obtained degrees both in mathematics and in the moral science.

In 1900, Russell became acquainted with the work of the Italian mathematician Peano, which inspired him to write "The Principles of Mathematics (1903)" and later this work expanded into three volumes of Principia Mathematica (1910-13) in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead. The research, which Russell did during this period, establishes him as one of the founding fathers of modern analytical philosophy. His Principia Mathematica coauthored with A. N. Whitehead, is one of the monumental works in the history of logic.

Russell was elected to the Royal Society in 1908. In 1916, after his pacifist activities had brought him into conflict with the government, he was found guilty and fined for antiwar activities. As a result, he was dismissed from the College but was reelected a Fellow in 1946 after returned to Trinity in 1944. Two years later Russell was convicted a second time but this time he spent six months in prison. It was while in the prison that he wrote "Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919)".

In 1920, Russell traveled in Russia. Also in 1920 and much of 1921 he visited China, analyzing the strength and weaknesses of that ancient civilization attempting to industrialize, and warned of the dangers of imperial powers interfering in China’s affairs. He also taught philosophy at Peking for a year.

Married four times (Alys Pearsall Smith, Dora Black, Patricia Spence, Edith Finch) and many affairs from 1914 on, arguing for the liberation of men and women form sexual repression. Lady Ottoline Momell became his mistress and remained his close friend and confidant until her death in 1938.  

During 1903-04, Russell engaged himself in political campaigns, notably those in favor of free trade and during 1906-10, he took in political campaigns in favor of women’s suffrage. He fought for women’s right to vote in political elections. He ran as the candidate for the national union of women’s suffrage societies in the Wimbledon by-election. Russell ran unsuccessfully for Parliament, in 1907, 1922, and 1923.

During the late 1920's and early 1930s, together his second wife Dora Russell, he opened and ran an experimental school at Beacon Hill in an attempt to transform education so as to eliminate possessiveness and warlike mentality or way of thinking. Upon the death of his brother in 1931 Russell became the third Earl Russell.

Russell went to United States in 1938 and taught there for several years at various universities. While teaching in the United States in the late 1930s, Russell was offered a teaching appointment at City College, New York. His appointment was revoked following the fury of bigots of all denominations and a judicial decision, in 1940, which stated that he was morally unfit to teach at the College on the grounds that his works were "lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irrelevant, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fiber". Nine years later, in 1949, he was awarded the Order of Merit. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He is the only philosopher to have received both the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Russell became an inspiration to youth as a result of his continued anti-war and anti-nuclear protests. In 1955, Russell released the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Together with Albert Einstein, he demanded for the reduction of nuclear weapons. In 1957, he was a major  organizer of the first Pugwash Conference, which brought together scientists concerned about the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons. In 1958, he became the founding president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1961, he was once again locked up for two months in the connection with anti-nuclear protests. Upon the appeal his sentence was reduced to one week in the prison hospital.

Throughout his life Russell has also been an extremely outspoken and aggressive moralist in the rationalist tradition of Locke and Hume. His many essays on moral are written in a terse, vivid and provocative style. Conspicuous qualities of his books are the firm direction of the course of ideas, his ability to continue or check a discussion according to his principal intention, and particularly his easy humor and his devastating irony. His greatest literary achievement has been his History of Western Philosophy (1946). Over the course of his long career, Russell made significant contributions, not just to logic and philosophy, but to a broad range of other subjects including education, politics, history, religion and science. He stayed a well-known figure until his death at the age of 97.


A Chronology of Bertrand Russell's Life


Selected Writings by Bertrand Russell

What I have Lived For  (Preface to Autobiography)
Knowledge and Wisdom
The Twilight of Science
A Free Man's Worship (1903)
"On Denoting", Mind (1905)
The Philosophical Importance of Mathematical Logic (1911)
Vagueness (1923)
Icarus, or the Future of Science (1924)
Theory of Knowledge  (1926)  Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th ed.
Philosophical Consequences of Relativity (1926) Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th ed.
Why I am not a Christian (1927)
What is the Soul? (1928)
Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization? (1930)
On Youthful Cynicism (1930)
In Praise of Idleness (1932)
Education and Discipline From In Praise of Idleness
Chapter XXX1 of  "A History of Western Philosophy" (1945)
The Bomb and Civilization (1945) -- Russell's first anti-nuclear writing.    
Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? (1947)
Philosophy for Laymen (1950)
What Desires are Politically Important? (1950)  -- Nobel prize acceptance speech.
Ideas that have harmed Mankind (1950) -- Unpopular Essays.
Ideas that have helped Mankind  (1950) -- Unpopular Essays.
A Liberal Decalogue (1951)
Is there a God? (1952)
What is an Agnostic? (1953)
Josef Stalin's Nightmare (may be 1954) (short story)
Death as the Final Event of the Self (1957)  from 'Why I am not a Christian'
The Divorce between Science and Culture (1958)
Science and Ethics (1961) (From the book Religion and Science)
The Theologian's Nightmare (1961) (short story)
Mysticism (1961) (From the book Religion and Science)
Sixteen Questions on the Assassination (1964) (after JFK assassination)
The Doctrine of Extermination
A Free Man's Worship
How I Write
On the Value of Scepticism
An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish
Why I Am A Rationalist  
Last Essay (1967)


Hearst Newspaper Columns:

Of Co-operation (18-05-1932)
On Sales Resistance (22-06-1932)
On Modern Uncertainty (20-07-1932)
On Astrologers (28-09-1932)
How to become a Man of Genius (28-12-1932)


Books by Bertrand Russell




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