Bertrand Russell Philosophical Essays Correspondence

1. Russell’s Chronology

A short chronology of the major events in Russell’s life is as follows:

  • (1872) Born May 18 at Ravenscroft in Trelleck, Monmouthshire, UK.
  • (1874) Death of mother and sister.
  • (1876) Death of father; Russell’s grandfather, Lord John Russell (the former Prime Minister), and grandmother succeed in overturning Russell’s father’s will to win custody of Russell and his brother, rather than have them raised as free-thinkers.
  • (1878) Death of grandfather; Russell’s grandmother, Lady Russell, supervises Russell’s upbringing at Pembroke Lodge, London.
  • (1883) Receives his first lessons in geometry from his brother Frank.
  • (1890) Enters Trinity College, Cambridge; meets Whitehead.
  • (1893) Awarded first-class B.A. in Mathematics.
  • (1894) Completes the Moral Sciences Tripos (Part II); appointed Honorary British Attaché in Paris; marries Alys Pearsall Smith.
  • (1895) Studies at the University of Berlin.
  • (1896) Appointed lecturer at the London School of Economics; lectures in the United States at Johns Hopkins and Bryn Mawr.
  • (1899) Appointed lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • (1900) Meets Peano at the First International Congress of Philosophy in Paris.
  • (1901) Reappointed lecturer at Cambridge; discovers Russell’s paradox.
  • (1902) Corresponds with Frege.
  • (1905) Develops his theory of descriptions.
  • (1907) Runs for parliament and is defeated.
  • (1908) Elected Fellow of the Royal Society.
  • (1910) Fails to receive Liberal Party nomination for parliament because of his atheism; reappointed lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • (1911) Meets Wittgenstein; elected President of the Aristotelian Society; separates from Alys.
  • (1913) Lectures at the École des Hautes Sociales in Paris.
  • (1914) Visits Harvard and teaches courses in logic and the theory of knowledge; meets T.S. Eliot.
  • (1915) Reappointed lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • (1916) Fined 100 pounds and dismissed from Trinity College as a result of anti-war writings; denied a passport and so unable to lecture at Harvard.
  • (1918) Imprisoned for five months as a result of anti-war writings.
  • (1920) Visits Russia.
  • (1921) Divorce from Alys and marriage to Dora Black; visits China and Japan.
  • (1922) Runs for parliament and is defeated.
  • (1923) Runs for parliament and is defeated.
  • (1924) Lectures in the United States.
  • (1927) Lectures in the United States; opens experimental school with Dora.
  • (1929) Lectures in the United States.
  • (1931) Lectures in the United States; becomes the third Earl Russell upon the death of his brother.
  • (1935) Divorce from Dora.
  • (1936) Marriage to Patricia (Peter) Helen Spence.
  • (1938) Appointed visiting professor of philosophy at Chicago.
  • (1939) Appointed professor of philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles.
  • (1940) Appointment at City College New York revoked prior to Russell’s arrival as the result of public protests and a legal judgment in which Russell was found to be “morally unfit” to teach at the college; delivers the William James Lectures at Harvard.
  • (1941) Appointed lecturer at the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania.
  • (1942) Dismissed from Barnes Foundation, but wins a lawsuit against the Foundation for wrongful dismissal.
  • (1944) Reappointed a Fellow of Trinity College.
  • (1948) Involved in a plane crash en route to Norway, he and other passengers save themselves by swimming in the ocean until help arrives.
  • (1949) Awarded the Order of Merit; elected a Lifetime Fellow at Trinity College.
  • (1950) Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature; visits Australia.
  • (1951) Lectures in the United States.
  • (1952) Divorce from Patricia (Peter) and marriage to Edith Finch.
  • (1955) Releases Russell-Einstein Manifesto.
  • (1957) Elected President of the first Pugwash Conference.
  • (1958) Becomes founding President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
  • (1961) Imprisoned for one week in connection with anti-nuclear protests.
  • (1963) Establishes the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.
  • (1967) Launches the International War Crimes Tribunal.
  • (1970) Dies February 02 at Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales.

Attempts to sum up Russell’s life have been numerous. One of the more famous comes from the Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer. As Ayer writes, “The popular conception of a philosopher as one who combines universal learning with the direction of human conduct was more nearly satisfied by Bertrand Russell than by any other philosopher of our time” (1972a, 127). Another telling comment comes from the Harvard philosopher W.V. Quine: “I think many of us were drawn to our profession by Russell’s books. He wrote a spectrum of books for a graduated public, layman to specialist. We were beguiled by the wit and a sense of new-found clarity with respect to central traits of reality” (1966c, 657).

Despite such comments, perhaps the most memorable encapsulation of Russell’s life and work comes from Russell himself. As Russell tells us,

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness – that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what – at last – I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me. (1967, 3–4)

By any standard, Russell led an enormously full life. In addition to his ground-breaking intellectual work in logic and analytic philosophy, he involved himself for much of his life in politics. As early as 1904 he spoke out frequently in favour of internationalism and in 1907 he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament. Although he stood as an independent, he endorsed the full 1907 Liberal platform. He also advocated extending the franchise to women, provided that such a radical political change would be introduced only through constitutionally recognized means (Wood 1957, 71). Three years later he published his Anti-Suffragist Anxieties (1910).

With the outbreak of World War I, Russell became involved in anti-war activities and in 1916 he was fined 100 pounds for authoring an anti-war pamphlet. Because of his conviction, he was dismissed from his post at Trinity College, Cambridge (Hardy 1942). Two years later, he was convicted a second time, this time for suggesting that American troops might be used to intimidate strikers in Britain (Clark 1975, 337–339). The result was five months in Brixton Prison as prisoner No. 2917 (Clark 1975). In 1922 and 1923 Russell ran twice more for Parliament, again unsuccessfully, and together with his second wife, Dora, he founded an experimental school that they operated during the late 1920s and early 1930s (Russell 1926 and Park 1963). Perhaps not surprisingly, some of Russell’s more radical activities – including his advocacy of post-Victorian sexual practices – were linked in many people’s minds to his atheism, made famous in part by his 1948 BBC debate with the Jesuit philosopher Frederick Copleston over the existence of God.

Although Russell became the third Earl Russell upon the death of his brother in 1931, Russell’s radicalism continued to make him a controversial figure well through middle-age. While teaching at UCLA in the United States in the late 1930s, he was offered a teaching appointment at City College, New York. The appointment was revoked following a series of protests and a 1940 judicial decision which found him morally unfit to teach at the College (Dewey and Kallen 1941, Irvine 1996, Weidlich 2000). The legal decision had been based partly on Russell’s atheism and partly on his fame as an advocate of free love and open marriages.

In 1954 Russell delivered his famous “Man’s Peril” broadcast on the BBC, condemning the Bikini H-bomb tests. A year later, together with Albert Einstein, he released the Russell-Einstein Manifesto calling for the curtailment of nuclear weapons. In 1957 he became a prime organizer of the first Pugwash Conference, which brought together a large number of scientists concerned about the nuclear issue. He became the founding president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 and Honorary President of the Committee of 100 in 1960.

In 1961, Russell was once again imprisoned, this time for a week in connection with anti-nuclear protests. The media coverage surrounding his conviction only served to enhance Russell’s reputation and to further inspire the many idealistic youths who were sympathetic to his anti-war and anti-nuclear message. Beginning in 1963, he began work on a variety of additional issues, including lobbying on behalf of political prisoners under the auspices of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

Interestingly, throughout much of his life, Russell saw himself primarily as a writer rather than as a philosopher, listing “Author” as his profession on his passport. As he says in his Autobiography, “I resolved not to adopt a profession, but to devote myself to writing” (1967, 125). Upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, Russell used his acceptance speech to emphasize themes relating to his social activism.

Over the years, Russell has served as the subject of numerous creative works, including T.S. Eliot’s “Mr Appolinax” (1917), D.H. Lawrence’s “The Blind Man” (1920), Aldous Huxley’s Chrome Yellow (1921), Bruce Duffy’s The World as I Found It (1987) and the graphic novel by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth (2009).

Readers wanting additional information about Russell’s life are encouraged to consult Russell’s five autobiographical volumes: Portraits from Memory and other Essays (A1956b), My Philosophical Development (1959) and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (3 vols, 1967, 1968, 1969). In addition, John Slater’s accessible Bertrand Russell (1994) gives a short but informative introduction to Russell’s life, work and influence. Other sources of biographical information include Ronald Clark’s authoritative The Life of Bertrand Russell (1975), Ray Monk’s two volumes, Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude (1996) and Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness (2000), and the first volume of Andrew Irvine’s Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments (1999).

For a chronology of Russell’s major publications, readers are encouraged to consult the Primary Literature section of the Bibliography below. For a complete, descriptive bibliography, see A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell (3 vols, 1994), by Kenneth Blackwell and Harry Ruja. A less detailed list appears in Paul Arthur Schilpp, The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1944).

For a detailed bibliography of the secondary literature surrounding Russell up to the close of the twentieth century, see Andrew Irvine, Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, Vol. 1 (1999). For a list of new and forthcoming books relating to Russell, see the Forthcoming Books page at the Bertrand Russell Archives.

2. Russell’s Work in Logic

Russell’s main contributions to logic and the foundations of mathematics include his discovery of Russell’s paradox (also known as the Russell-Zermelo paradox), his development of the theory of types, his championing of logicism (the view that mathematics is, in some significant sense, reducible to formal logic), his impressively general theory of logical relations, his formalization of the mathematics of quantity and of the real numbers, and his refining of the first-order predicate calculus.

Russell discovered the paradox that bears his name in 1901, while working on his Principles of Mathematics (1903). The paradox arises in connection with the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. Such a set, if it exists, will be a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself. In his 1901 draft of the Principles of Mathematics, Russell summarizes the problem as follows:

The axiom that all referents with respect to a given relation form a class seems, however, to require some limitation, and that for the following reason. We saw that some predicates can be predicated of themselves. Consider now those … of which this is not the case. … [T]here is no predicate which attaches to all of them and to no other terms. For this predicate will either be predicable or not predicable of itself. If it is predicable of itself, it is one of those referents by relation to which it was defined, and therefore, in virtue of their definition, it is not predicable of itself. Conversely, if it is not predicable of itself, then again it is one of the said referents, of all of which (by hypothesis) it is predicable, and therefore again it is predicable of itself. This is a contradiction. (CP, Vol. 3, 195)

The paradox is significant since, using classical logic, all sentences are entailed by a contradiction. Russell’s discovery thus prompted a large amount of work in logic, set theory, and the philosophy and foundations of mathematics.

Russell’s response to the paradox came between 1903 and 1908 with the development of his theory of types. It was clear to Russell that some form of restriction needed to be placed on the original comprehension (or abstraction) axiom of naïve set theory, the axiom that formalizes the intuition that any coherent condition (or property) may be used to determine a set. Russell’s basic idea was that reference to sets such as the so-called Russell set (the set of all sets that are not members of themselves) could be avoided by arranging all sentences into a hierarchy, beginning with sentences about individuals at the lowest level, sentences about sets of individuals at the next lowest level, sentences about sets of sets of individuals at the next lowest level, and so on. Using a vicious circle principle similar to that adopted by the mathematician Henri Poincaré, together with his so-called “no class” theory of classes (in which class terms gain meaning only when placed in the appropriate context), Russell was able to explain why the unrestricted comprehension axiom fails: propositional functions, such as the function “x is a set,” may not be applied to themselves since self-application would involve a vicious circle. As a result, all objects for which a given condition (or predicate) holds must be at the same level or of the same “type.” Sentences about these objects will then always be higher in the hierarchy than the objects themselves.

Although first introduced in 1903, the theory of types was further developed by Russell in his 1908 article “Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types” and in the three-volume work he co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead, Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913). The theory thus admits of two versions, the “simple theory” of 1903 and the “ramified theory” of 1908. Both versions of the theory came under attack: the simple theory for being too weak, the ramified theory for being too strong. For some, it was important that any proposed solution be comprehensive enough to resolve all known paradoxes at once. For others, it was important that any proposed solution not disallow those parts of classical mathematics that remained consistent, even though they appeared to violate the vicious circle principle. For discussion of related paradoxes, see Chapter 2 of the Introduction to Whitehead and Russell (1910), as well as the entry on paradoxes and contemporary logic in this encyclopedia.

Russell himself had recognized several of these same concerns as early as 1903, noting that it was unlikely that any single solution would resolve all of the known paradoxes. Together with Whitehead, he was also able to introduce a new axiom, the axiom of reducibility, which lessened the vicious circle principle’s scope of application and so resolved many of the most worrisome aspects of type theory. Even so, critics claimed that the axiom was simply too ad hoc to be justified philosophically. For additional discussion see Linsky (1990), Linsky (2002) and Wahl (2011).

Of equal significance during this period was Russell’s defense of logicism, the theory that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic. First defended in his 1901 article “Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics,” and later in greater detail in his Principles of Mathematics and in Principia Mathematica, Russell’s logicism consisted of two main theses. The first was that all mathematical truths can be translated into logical truths or, in other words, that the vocabulary of mathematics constitutes a proper subset of the vocabulary of logic. The second was that all mathematical proofs can be recast as logical proofs or, in other words, that the theorems of mathematics constitute a proper subset of the theorems of logic. As Russell summarizes, “The fact that all Mathematics is Symbolic Logic is one of the greatest discoveries of our age; and when this fact has been established, the remainder of the principles of mathematics consists in the analysis of Symbolic Logic itself” (1903, 5).

Like Gottlob Frege, Russell’s basic idea for defending logicism was that numbers may be identified with classes of classes and that number-theoretic statements may be explained in terms of quantifiers and identity. Thus the number 1 is to be identified with the class of all unit classes, the number 2 with the class of all two-membered classes, and so on. Statements such as “There are at least two books” would be recast as statements such as “There is a book, x, and there is a book, y, and x is not identical to y.” Statements such as “There are exactly two books” would be recast as “There is a book, x, and there is a book, y, and x is not identical to y, and if there is a book, z, then z is identical to either x or y.” It follows that number-theoretic operations may then be explained in terms of set-theoretic operations such as intersection, union, and difference. In Principia Mathematica, Whitehead and Russell were able to provide many detailed derivations of major theorems in set theory, finite and transfinite arithmetic, and elementary measure theory. They were also able to develop a sophisticated theory of logical relations and a unique method of founding the real numbers. Even so, the issue of whether set theory itself can be said to have been successfully reduced to logic remained controversial. A fourth volume on geometry was planned but never completed.

Russell’s most important writings relating to these topics include not only his Principles of Mathematics (1903), “Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types” (1908), and Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913), but also his earlier Essay on the Foundations of Geometry (1897) and his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919a), the last of which was written while Russell was serving time in Brixton Prison as a result of his anti-war activities. Coincidentally, it was at roughly this same time that Ludwig Wittgenstein, Russell’s most famous pupil, was completing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) while being detained as a prisoner of war at Monte Cassino in Italy during World War I.

Anyone needing assistance in deciphering the symbolism found in the more technical of Russell’s writings is encouraged to consult the Notation in Principia Mathematica entry in this encyclopedia.

3. Russell’s Work in Analytic Philosophy

In much the same way that Russell used logic in an attempt to clarify issues in the foundations of mathematics, he also used logic in an attempt to clarify issues in philosophy. As one of the founders of analytic philosophy, Russell made significant contributions to a wide variety of areas, including metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political theory. His advances in logic and metaphysics also had significant influence on Rudolf Carnap and the Vienna Circle.

According to Russell, it is the philosopher’s job to discover a logically ideal language — a language that will exhibit the nature of the world in such a way that we will not be misled by the accidental, imprecise surface structure of natural language. As Russell writes, “Ordinary language is totally unsuited for expressing what physics really asserts, since the words of everyday life are not sufficiently abstract. Only mathematics and mathematical logic can say as little as the physicist means to say” (1931, 82). Just as atomic facts (the association of properties and relations with individuals) combine to form molecular facts in the world itself, such a language will allow for the description of such combinations using logical connectives such as “and” and “or.” In addition to the existence of atomic and molecular facts, Russell also held that general facts (facts about “all” of something) are needed to complete our picture of the world. Famously, he vacillated on whether negative facts are also required.

The reason Russell believes many ordinarily accepted statements are open to doubt is that they appear to refer to entities that may be known only through inference. Thus, underlying Russell’s various projects was not only his use of logical analysis, but also his long-standing aim of discovering whether, and to what extent, knowledge is possible. “There is one great question,” he writes in 1911. “Can human beings know anything, and if so, what and how? This question is really the most essentially philosophical of all questions” (quoted in Slater 1994, 67).

Motivating this question was the traditional problem of the external world. If our knowledge of the external world comes through inferences to the best explanation, and if such inferences are always fallible, what guarantee do we have that our beliefs are reliable? Russell’s response to this question was partly metaphysical and partly epistemological. On the metaphysical side, Russell developed his famous theory of logical atomism, in which the world is said to consist of a complex of logical atoms (such as “little patches of colour”) and their properties and relations. (The theory was crucial for influencing Wittgenstein’s theory of the same name.) Together these atoms and their properties form the atomic facts which, in turn, combine to form logically complex objects. What we normally take to be inferred entities (for example, enduring physical objects) are then understood as logical constructions formed from the immediately given entities of sensation, viz., “sensibilia.”

On the epistemological side, Russell argues that it is also important to show how each questionable entity may be reduced to, or defined in terms of, another entity (or entities) whose existence is more certain. For example, on this view, an ordinary physical object that normally might be thought to be known only through inference may be defined instead

as a certain series of appearances, connected with each other by continuity and by certain causal laws. … More generally, a ‘thing’ will be defined as a certain series of aspects, namely those which would commonly be said to be of the thing. To say that a certain aspect is an aspect of a certain thing will merely mean that it is one of those which, taken serially, are the thing. (1914a, 106–107)

The reason we are able to do this, says Russell, is that

our world is not wholly a matter of inference. There are things that we know without asking the opinion of men of science. If you are too hot or too cold, you can be perfectly aware of this fact without asking the physicist what heat and cold consist of. … We may give the name ‘data’ to all the things of which we are aware without inference. (1959, 23)

We can then use these data (or “sensibilia” or “sense data”) with which we are directly acquainted to construct the relevant objects of knowledge. Similarly, numbers may be reduced to collections of classes; points and instants may be reduced to ordered classes of volumes and events; and classes themselves may be reduced to propositional functions.

It is with these kinds of examples in mind that Russell suggests we adopt what he calls “the supreme maxim in scientific philosophizing,” namely the principle that “Whenever possible, logical constructions,” or as he also sometimes puts it, “logical fictions,” are “to be substituted for inferred entities” (1914c, 155; cf. 1914a, 107, and 1924, 326). Anything that resists construction in this sense may be said to be an ontological atom. Such objects are atomic, both in the sense that they fail to be composed of individual, substantial parts, and in the sense that they exist independently of one another. Their corresponding propositions are also atomic, both in the sense that they contain no other propositions as parts, and in the sense that the members of any pair of true atomic propositions will be logically independent of one another. Russell believes that formal logic, if carefully developed, will mirror precisely, not only the various relations between all such propositions, but their various internal structures as well.

It is in this context that Russell also introduces his famous distinction between two kinds of knowledge of truths: that which is direct, intuitive, certain and infallible, and that which is indirect, derivative, uncertain and open to error (1905, 41f; 1911, 1912, and 1914b). To be justified, every indirect knowledge claim must be capable of being derived from more fundamental, direct or intuitive knowledge claims. The kinds of truths that are capable of being known directly include both truths about immediate facts of sensation and truths of logic. Examples are discussed in The Problems of Philosophy (1912a) where Russell states that propositions with the highest degree of self-evidence (what he here calls “intuitive knowledge”) include “those which merely state what is given in sense, and also certain abstract logical and arithmetical principles, and (though with less certainty) some ethical propositions” (1912a, 109).

Eventually, Russell supplemented this distinction between direct and indirect knowledge of truths with his equally famous distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. As Russell explains, “I say that I am acquainted with an object when I have a direct cognitive relation to that object, i.e. when I am directly aware of the object itself. When I speak of a cognitive relation here, I do not mean the sort of relation which constitutes judgment, but the sort which constitutes presentation” (1911, 209). Later, he clarifies this point by adding that acquaintance involves, not knowledge of truths, but knowledge of things (1912a, 44). Thus, while intuitive knowledge and derivative knowledge both involve knowledge of propositions (or truths), knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description both involve knowledge of things (or objects). This distinction is slightly complicated by the fact that, even though knowledge by description is in part based upon knowledge of truths, it is still knowledge of things, and not of truths. (I am grateful to Russell Wahl for reminding me of this point.) Since it is things with which we have direct acquaintance that are the least questionable members of our ontology, it is these objects upon which Russell ultimately bases his epistemology.

Also relevant was Russell’s reliance upon his so-called regressive method (Irvine 1989, Mayo-Wilson 2011) and his eventual abandoning of foundationalism in favour of a more recognizably coherentist approach to knowledge (Irvine 2004). As Russell puts it, even in logic and mathematics

We tend to believe the premises because we can see that their consequences are true, instead of believing the consequences because we know the premises to be true. But the inferring of premises from consequences is the essence of induction; thus the method in investigating the principles of mathematics is really an inductive method, and is substantially the same as the method of discovering general laws in any other science. (1907, 273–274)

Russell’s contributions to metaphysics and epistemology are also unified by his views concerning the centrality of both scientific knowledge and the importance of there being an underlying methodology common to both philosophy and science. In the case of philosophy, this methodology expresses itself through Russell’s use of logical analysis (Hager 1994, Irvine 2004). In fact, Russell often claims that he has more confidence in his methodology than in any particular philosophical conclusion.

This broad conception of philosophy arose in part from Russell’s idealist origins (Hylton 1990a, Griffin 1991). This is so, even though Russell tells us that his one, true revolution in philosophy came as a result of his break from idealism. Russell saw that the idealist doctrine of internal relations led to a series of contradictions regarding asymmetrical (and other) relations necessary for mathematics. As he reports,

It was towards the end of 1898 that Moore and I rebelled against both Kant and Hegel. Moore led the way, but I followed closely in his footsteps. … [Our rebellion centred upon] the doctrine that fact is in general independent of experience. Although we were in agreement, I think that we differed as to what most interested us in our new philosophy. I think that Moore was most concerned with the rejection of idealism, while I was most interested in the rejection of monism. (1959, 54)

The two ideas were closely connected through the so-called doctrine of internal relations. In contrast to this doctrine, Russell proposed his own new doctrine of external relations:

The doctrine of internal relations held that every relation between two terms expresses, primarily, intrinsic properties of the two terms and, in ultimate analysis, a property of the whole which the two compose. With some relations this view is plausible. Take, for example, love or hate. If A loves B, this relation exemplifies itself and may be said to consist in certain states of mind of A. Even an atheist must admit that a man can love God. It follows that love of God is a state of the man who feels it, and not properly a relational fact. But the relations that interested me were of a more abstract sort. Suppose that A and B are events, and A is earlier than B. I do not think that this implies anything in A in virtue of which, independently of B, it must have a character which we inaccurately express by mentioning B. Leibniz gives an extreme example. He says that, if a man living in Europe has a wife in India and the wife dies without his knowing it, the man undergoes an intrinsic change at the moment of her death. (1959, 54)

This is the type of doctrine Russell opposed, especially with respect to the asymmetrical relations necessary for mathematics. For example, consider two numbers, one of which is found earlier than the other in a given series:

If A is earlier than B, then B is not earlier than A. If you try to express the relation of A to B by means of adjectives of A and B, you will have to make the attempt by means of dates. You may say that the date of A is a property of A and the date of B is a property of B, but that will not help you because you will have to go on to say that the date of A is earlier than the date of B, so that you will have found no escape from the relation. If you adopt the plan of regarding the relation as a property of the whole composed of A and B, you are in a still worse predicament, for in that whole A and B have no order and therefore you cannot distinguish between “A is earlier than B” and “B is earlier than A.” As asymmetrical relations are essential in most parts of mathematics, this doctrine was important. (1959, 54–55)

Thus, by the end of 1898 Russell had abandoned the idealism that he had been encouraged to adopt as a student at Cambridge, along with his original Kantian methodology. In its place he adopted a new, pluralistic realism. As a result, he soon became famous as an advocate of “the new realism” and of his “new philosophy of logic,” emphasizing as he did the importance of modern logic for philosophical analysis. The underlying themes of this revolution included Russell’s belief in pluralism, his emphasis on anti-psychologism and his belief in the importance of science. Each of these themes remained central to his philosophy for the remainder of his life (Hager 1994, Weitz 1944).

Russell’s most important writings relating to these topics include Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description (1911), The Problems of Philosophy (1912a), “Our Knowledge of the External World” (1914a), On the Nature of Acquaintance (1914b, published more completely in Collected Papers, Vol. 7), “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism” (1918, 1919), “Logical Atomism” (1924), The Analysis of Mind (1921), The Analysis of Matter (1927a), Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), and Theory of Knowledge (CP, Vol. 7).

4. Russell’s Theory of Definite Descriptions

Russell’s philosophical method has at its core the making and testing of hypotheses through the weighing of evidence. Hence Russell’s comment that he wished to emphasize the “scientific method” in philosophy. His method also requires the rigorous analysis of problematic propositions using the machinery of first-order logic. It was Russell’s belief that by using the new logic of his day, philosophers would be able to exhibit the underlying “logical form” of natural-language statements. A statement’s logical form, in turn, would help resolve various problems of reference associated with the ambiguity and vagueness of natural language.

Since the introduction of the modern predicate calculus, it has been common to use three separate logical notations (“Px”, “x = y”, and “∃x”) to represent three separate senses of the natural-language word “is”: the is of predication, e.g. “Cicero is wise”; the is of identity, e.g. “Cicero is Tully”; and the is of existence, e.g. “Cicero is”. It was Russell’s suggestion that, just as we use logic to make clear these distinctions, we can also use logic to discover other ontologically significant distinctions, distinctions that should be reflected in the analysis we give of each sentence’s correct logical form.

On Russell’s view, the subject matter of philosophy is then distinguished from that of the sciences only by the generality and a prioricity of philosophical statements, not by the underlying methodology of the discipline. In philosophy, just as in mathematics, Russell believed that it was by applying logical machinery and insights that advances in analysis would be made.

Russell’s most famous example of his new “analytic method” concerns so-called denoting phrases, phrases that include both definite descriptions and proper names. Like Alexius Meinong, Russell had initially adopted the view that every denoting phrase (for example, “Scott,” “the author of Waverley,” “the number two,” “the golden mountain”) denoted, or referred to, an existing entity. On this view, even fictional and imaginary entities had to be real in order to serve as truth-makers for true sentences such as “Unicorns have exactly one horn.” By the time his landmark article, “On Denoting,” appeared in 1905, Russell had modified his extreme realism, substituting in its place the view that denoting phrases need not possess a theoretical unity. As Russell puts it, the assumption that every denoting phrase must refer to an existing entity was the type of assumption that exhibited “a failure of that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies” (1919a, 165).

While logically proper names (words such as “this” or “that” which refer to sensations of which an agent is immediately aware) do have referents associated with them, descriptive phrases (such as “the smallest number less than pi”) should be viewed merely as collections of quantifiers (such as “all” and “some”) and propositional functions (such as “x is a number”). As such, they are not to be viewed as referring terms but, rather, as “incomplete symbols.” In other words, they are to be viewed as symbols that take on meaning within appropriate contexts, but that remain meaningless in isolation.

Put another way, it was Russell’s insight that some phrases may contribute to the meaning (or reference) of a sentence without themselves being meaningful. As he explains,

If “the author of Waverley” meant anything other than “Scott”, “Scott is the author of Waverley” would be false, which it is not. If “the author of Waverley” meant “Scott”, “Scott is the author of Waverley” would be a tautology, which it is not. Therefore, “the author of Waverley” means neither “Scott” nor anything else – i.e. “the author of Waverley” means nothing, Q.E.D. (1959, 85)

If Russell is correct, it follows that in a sentence such as

(1) The present King of France is bald,

the definite description “The present King of France” plays a role quite different from the role a proper name such as “Scott” plays in the sentence

(2) Scott is bald.

Letting K abbreviate the predicate “is a present King of France” and B abbreviate the predicate “is bald,” Russell assigns sentence (1) the logical form

(1′) There is an x such that
  1. Kx,
  2. for any y, if Ky then y=x, and
  3. Bx.

Alternatively, in the notation of the predicate calculus, we write

(1″) ∃x[(Kx & ∀y(Kyy=x)) & Bx].

In contrast, by allowing s to abbreviate the name “Scott,” Russell assigns sentence (2) the very different logical form

(2′) Bs.

This distinction between logical forms allows Russell to explain three important puzzles.

The first concerns the operation of the Law of Excluded Middle and how this law relates to denoting terms. According to one reading of the Law of Excluded Middle, it must be the case that either “The present King of France is bald” is true or “The present King of France is not bald” is true. But if so, both sentences appear to entail the existence of a present King of France, clearly an undesirable result, given that France is a republic and so has no king. Russell’s analysis shows how this conclusion can be avoided. By appealing to analysis (1′′), it follows that there is a way to deny (1) without being committed to the existence of a present King of France, namely by changing the scope of the negation operator and thereby accepting that “It is not the case that there exists a present King of France who is bald” is true.

The second puzzle concerns the Law of Identity as it operates in (so-called) opaque contexts. Even though “Scott is the author of Waverley” is true, it does not follow that the two referring terms “Scott” and “the author of Waverley” need be interchangeable in every situation. Thus, although “George IV wanted to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley” is true, “George IV wanted to know whether Scott was Scott” is, presumably, false.

Russell’s distinction between the logical forms associated with the use of proper names and definite descriptions again shows why this is so. To see this, we once again let s abbreviate the name “Scott.” We also let w abbreviate “Waverley” and A abbreviate the two-place predicate “is the author of.” It then follows that the sentence

(3) s=s

is not at all equivalent to the sentence

(4) ∃x[(Axw & ∀y(Aywy=x)) & x=s].

Sentence (3), for example, is a necessary truth, while sentence (4) is not.

The third puzzle relates to true negative existential claims, such as the claim “The golden mountain does not exist.” Here, once again, by treating definite descriptions as having a logical form distinct from that of proper names, Russell is able to give an account of how a speaker may be committed to the truth of a negative existential without also being committed to the belief that the subject term has reference. That is, the claim that Scott does not exist is false since

(5) ~∃x(x=s)

is self-contradictory. (After all, there must exist at least one thing that is identical to s since it is a logical truth that s is identical to itself!) In contrast, the claim that a golden mountain does not exist may be true since, assuming that G abbreviates the predicate “is golden” and M abbreviates the predicate “is a mountain,” there is nothing contradictory about

(6) ~∃x(Gx & Mx).

Russell’s most important writings relating to his theory of descriptions include not only “On Denoting” (1905), but also The Principles of Mathematics (1903), Principia Mathematica (1910) and Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919). (See too Kaplan 1970, Kroon 2009 and Stevens 2011.)

5. Russell’s Theory of Neutral Monism

Yet another of Russell’s major contributions is his defence of neutral monism, the view that the world consists of just one type of substance which is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical. Like idealism (the view that nothing exists but the mental) and physicalism (the view that nothing exists but the physical), neutral monism rejects dualism (the view that there exist distinct mental and physical substances). However, unlike both idealism and physicalism, neutral monism holds that this single existing substance may be viewed in some contexts as being mental and in others as being physical. As Russell puts it,

“Neutral monism”—as opposed to idealistic monism and materialistic monism—is the theory that the things commonly regarded as mental and the things commonly regarded as physical do not differ in respect of any intrinsic property possessed by the one set and not by the other, but differ only in respect of arrangement and context. (CP, Vol. 7, 15)

To help understand this general suggestion, Russell introduces his analogy of a postal directory:

The theory may be illustrated by comparison with a postal directory, in which the same names come twice over, once in alphabetical and once in geographical order; we may compare the alphabetical order to the mental, and the geographical order to the physical. The affinities of a given thing are quite different in the two orders, and its causes and effects obey different laws. Two objects may be connected in the mental world by the association of ideas, and in the physical world by the law of gravitation. … Just as every man in the directory has two kinds of neighbours, namely alphabetical neighbours and geographical neighbours, so every object will lie at the intersection of two causal series with different laws, namely the mental series and the physical series. ‘Thoughts’ are not different in substance from ‘things’; the stream of my thoughts is a stream of things, namely of the things which I should commonly be said to be thinking of; what leads to its being called a stream of thoughts is merely that the laws of succession are different from the physical laws. (CP, Vol. 7, 15)

In other words, when viewed as being mental, a thought or idea may have associated with it other thoughts or ideas that seem related even though, when viewed as being physical, they have very little in common. As Russell explains, “In my mind, Caesar may call up Charlemagne, whereas in the physical world the two were widely sundered” (CP, Vol. 7, 15). Even so, it is a mistake, on this view, to postulate two distinct types of thing (the idea of Caesar and the man Caesar) that are composed of two distinct substances (the mental and the physical). Instead, “The whole duality of mind and matter, according to this theory, is a mistake; there is only one kind of stuff out of which the world is made, and this stuff is called mental in one arrangement, physical in the other” (CP, Vol. 7, 15).

Russell appears to have developed this theory around 1913, while working on his Theory of Knowledge manuscript and on his 1914 Monist article, “On the Nature of Acquaintance.” Decades later, in 1964, he remarked that “I am not conscious of any serious change in my philosophy since I adopted neutral monism” (Eames 1967, 511). Even so, over the next several decades Russell continued to do a large amount of original work, authoring such important books as The Analysis of Mind (1921), The Analysis of Matter (1927a), An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940) and Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948).

Today several authors, including David Chalmers (1996, 155) and Thomas Nagel (2002, 209), have shown renewed interest in considering Russell’s general approach to the mind.

In addition to the above titles by Russell, Russell’s most influential writings relating to his theories of metaphysics and epistemology include Our Knowledge of the External World (1914a), “The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics” (1914c), “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism” (1918, 1919), “On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean” (1919b) and An Outline of Philosophy (1927b).

6. Russell’s Social and Political Philosophy

Russell’s significant social influence stems from three main sources: his long-standing social activism, his many writings on the social and political issues of his day as well as on more theoretical concerns, and his popularizations of numerous technical writings in philosophy and the natural sciences.

Among Russell’s many popularizations are his two best-selling works, The Problems of Philosophy (1912) and A History of Western Philosophy (1945). Both of these books, as well as his numerous books popularizing science, have done much to educate and inform generations of general readers. His History is still widely read and did much to initiate twentieth-century research on a wide range of historical figures from the presocratics to Leibniz. His Problems is still used as an introductory textbook over a century after it was first published. Both books can be read by the layman with satisfaction. Other popular books, particularly those relating to developments in modern science such as The ABC of Atoms (1923a) and The ABC of Relativity (1925), are now of more historical interest. Even so, they continue to convey something of the intellectual excitement associated with advances in twentieth-century science and philosophy.

Naturally enough, Russell saw a link between education in this broad sense and social progress. As he put it, “Education is the key to the new world” (1926, 83). Partly this is due to our need to understand nature, but equally important is our need to understand each other:

The thing, above all, that a teacher should endeavor to produce in his pupils, if democracy is to survive, is the kind of tolerance that springs from an endeavor to understand those who are different from ourselves. It is perhaps a natural human impulse to view with horror and disgust all manners and customs different from those to which we are used. Ants and savages put strangers to death. And those who have never traveled either physically or mentally find it difficult to tolerate the queer ways and outlandish beliefs of other nations and other times, other sects and other political parties. This kind of ignorant intolerance is the antithesis of a civilized outlook, and is one of the gravest dangers to which our overcrowded world is exposed. (1950, 121)

It is in this same context that Russell is famous for suggesting that a widespread reliance upon evidence, rather than superstition, would have enormous social consequences: “I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration,” says Russell, “a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true” (A1928, 11).

Unlike Russell’s views about the importance of education, the precise connection between Russell’s political activism and his more theoretical work has been more controversial. In part, this has been because Russell himself repeatedly maintained that he saw no significant connection between his philosophical work and his political activism. Others have seen things differently. One of the best summaries is given by Alan Wood:

Russell sometimes maintained, partly I think out of perverseness, that there was no connection between his philosophical and political opinions. … But in fact I think there are perfectly obvious connections between Russell’s philosophical and other views. … To begin with, it is natural enough to find an analytic anti-monist philosopher like Russell upholding the individual against the state, whereas Hegel did the reverse … [In addition, the] whole bent of Russell’s mind in philosophy was an attempt to eliminate the a priori and to accentuate the empirical; and there was exactly the same trend in his political thinking … Unless it is realized that Russell’s approach to political questions was usually empirical and practical, based on the evidence of the moment and not on a priori principles and preconceptions, it is quite impossible to understand why his views appeared to vary so much. This was perfectly legitimate, and even praiseworthy, in a world which never stays the same, and where changing circumstances continually change the balance of arguments on different sides. (Wood 1957, 73–4)

Thus, in addition to Russell’s numerous contributions to the politics of his day, he also contributed significantly to our understanding of the social world around us. Among Russell’s more theoretical contributions were his anticipation of John Mackie’s error theory in ethics, the view that moral judgments are cognitive (that is, they are either true or false), but because of their content they are in fact inevitably false. (Mackie’s paper “The Refutation of Morals” appeared in 1946; Russell’s paper “Is There an Absolute Good?”, although not published until 1988 was first delivered in 1922.)

Russell also anticipated the modern theory of emotivism (as introduced by A.J. Ayer in his 1936 Language, Truth and Logic), arguing that “Primarily, we call something ‘good’ when we desire it, and ‘bad’ when we have an aversion from it” (1927b, 242), a view that “he had been flirting with since 1913” (see the entry on Russell’s Moral Philosophy in this encyclopedia; see too Schilpp 1944, 719f). Even so, Russell remained less than satisfied with his views on meta-ethics for most of his life (CP, Vol. 11, 310).

This dissatisfaction appears not to have extended to his work in political theory. There Russell focused primarily on the notion of power, or what he called “the production of intended effects” (1938, 35). As a result, as V.J. McGill writes, “The concept of power overshadows all of Russell’s political and economic writings” (Schilpp 1944, 581). As Russell summarizes, “The laws of social dynamics are – so I shall contend – only capable of being stated in terms of power in its various forms” (1938, 15). As a result, it is only by understanding power in all its human instantiations that we understand the social world around us.

Russell’s cataloging of the perceived evils of his age are well known. Even so, underlying his criticism of both the political left and the political right lies a common worry: the unequal distribution of power. As McGill sums up, “Evidently he has become convinced that the thirst for Power is the primary danger of mankind, that possessiveness is evil mainly because it promotes the power of man over man” (Schilpp 1944, 581). The problem with this analysis and of Russell’s desire for a more equitable distribution of power is that any proposed solution appears to lead to paradox:

Suppose certain men join a movement to disestablish Power, or to distribute it more equally among the people! If they are successful, they carry out the behest of Power, becoming themselves as powerful, in terms of Mr. Russell’s definition, as any tyrant. Even though they spread the good life to millions, the more successful they are, the more usurpatious and dangerous. (Schilpp 1944, 586)

More than any of his other books, it was Russell’s writings in ethics and politics that brought him to the attention of non-academic audiences. His most influential books on these topics include his Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916), On Education (1926), Why I Am Not a Christian (1927c), Marriage and Morals (1929), The Conquest of Happiness (1930), The Scientific Outlook (1931), and Power: A New Social Analysis (1938).

7. Contemporary Russell Scholarship

Since his death in 1970, Russell’s reputation as a philosopher has continued to grow. This increase in reputation has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in scholarship. Older first-hand accounts of Russell’s life, such as Dora Russell’s The Tamarisk Tree (1975, 1981, 1985), Katharine Tait’s My Father Bertrand Russell (1975) and Ronald Clark’s The Life of Bertrand Russell (1975), have been supplemented by more recent accounts, including Caroline Moorehead’s Bertrand Russell (1992), John Slater’s Bertrand Russell (1994) and Ray Monk’s Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude (1996) and Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Maddness (2000).

This increase in scholarship has benefited greatly from the existence of the Bertrand Russell Archives at McMaster University, where the bulk of Russell’s library and literary estate are housed, and from the Bertrand Russell Research Centre, also housed at McMaster. Books such as Nicholas Griffin’s Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell (1992, 2001), Gregory Landini’s Russell’s Hidden Substitutional Theory (1998) and Bernard Linsky’s The Evolution of Principia Mathematica (2011) have all helped make public archival material that, in the past, has been available only to specialists. Since 1983 the Bertrand Russell Editorial Project, initiated by John Slater and Kenneth Blackwell, has also begun to release authoritative, annotated editions of Russell’s Collected Papers. When complete, this collection will run to over 35 volumes and will bring together all of Russell’s writings, other than his correspondence and previously published monographs.

Recent scholarship has also helped remind readers of the influence Russell’s students had on Russell’s philosophy. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Frank Ramsey especially presented Russell with helpful criticisms of his work and new problems to solve. Both men pushed Russell to develop new theories in logic and epistemology. Despite the fact that Wittgenstein was less than satisfied with Russell’s Introduction to his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Michael Potter’s Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic (2009) and the introductory materials published in Russell’s Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript (CP, Vol. 7) show the extent and fruitfulness of the interaction between teacher and student.

Since Russell’s death, debate has also taken place over the ultimate importance of Russell’s contributions, not just to philosophy, but to other disciplines as well. Advocates of Russell’s inclusion in the canon remind readers that few have done more to advance both formal logic and analytic philosophy. Critics of his inclusion, or at least of his canonization, remind readers of Russell’s early enthusiasm for British imperialism (Russell 1967, 134) and of his controversial comments about eugenics and race (Russell 1929, 259, 266). Others have noted his apparent early antisemitism and his advocacy of a preemptive nuclear war against the Soviet Union following World War II (Hook 1976, Stone 1981, Perkins 1994, Blitz 2002). On the issue of a preemptive war, Russell himself later denied he had ever advocated such a course of action. However, after reviewing carefully the historical record, biographer Ronald Clark comes to a different conclusion. Clark is also unequivocal about Russell’s lack of sincerity on the issue: “If the suggestion that he deliberately tried to conceal his earlier views is repugnant, the record does not really allow any other conclusion to be drawn” (Clark 1975, 530). Perhaps as a result of such observations, many readers remain undecided when attempting to evaluate Russell’s overall contribution to the intellectual life of the twentieth century.

Monk’s two volumes are a significant case in point. In addition to his ground-breaking biographical work, Monk relates Wittgenstein’s humorous suggestion that all of 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” (Monk 2000, 278). Others, such as Peter Stone, have argued that such caricatures are based on “a misunderstanding of the nature of Russell as a political figure” (2003, 89) and that “Whatever one thinks of Russell’s politics, he was one of the few public figures in the west to stand against capitalism without succumbing to illusions about Stalinist Russia. If for no other reason than this, Russell deserves some credit for his political instincts” (2003, 85). (See, for example, Russell 1920 and 1922b.)

How is the ordinary reader to decide between such conflicting evaluations? Unlike the many logical advances Russell introduced, in politics he is still usually understood to be more an advocate than a theoretician. As a result, his reputation as a political thinker has not been as high as his reputation in logic, metaphysics and epistemology.

Even so, regardless of his many particular contributions, Russell’s lasting reputation has also benefited significantly from his constant willingness to abandon unsupported theories and outdated beliefs. To his great credit, when new evidence presented itself, Russell was always among the first to take it into account: “Against my will, in the course of my travels, the belief that everything worth knowing was known at Cambridge gradually wore off. In this respect,” says Russell, “my travels were very useful to me” (1967, 133).

A short anecdote recounted in Russell’s Autobiography is also typical. As a young man, he says, he spent part of each day for many weeks

reading Georg Cantor, and copying out the gist of him into a notebook. At that time I falsely supposed all his arguments to be fallacious, but I nevertheless went through them all in the minutest detail. This stood me in good stead when later on I discovered that all the fallacies were mine. (1967, 127)


Primary Literature

Major Books and Articles by Russell

  • 1896, German Social Democracy, London: Longmans, Green.
  • 1897, An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, Cambridge: At the University Press.
  • 1900, A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, Cambridge: At the University Press.
  • 1901, “Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics,” International Monthly, 4: 83–101; repr. as “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians,” in Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, New York, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1918, 74–96; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 3.
  • 1903, The Principles of Mathematics, Cambridge: At the University Press.
  • 1905, “On Denoting,” Mind, 14: 479–493; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Essays in Analysis, London: Allen and Unwin, 1973, 103–119; and in Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956, 41–56; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 4.
  • 1907, “The Regressive Method of Discovering the Premises of Mathematics,” in Bertrand Russell, Essays in Analysis, London: Allen and Unwin, 1973, 272–283; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 5.
  • 1908, “Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types,” American Journal of Mathematics, 30: 222–262; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge, London: Allen and Unwin, 1956, 59–102; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 5.
  • 1910, 1912, 1913 (with Alfred North Whitehead), Principia Mathematica, 3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2nd edn, 1925 (Vol. 1), 1927 (Vols 2, 3); abridged as Principia Mathematica to *56, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.
  • 1911, “Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 11: 108–128; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, New York, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1918, 209–232; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 6.
  • 1912a, The Problems of Philosophy, London: Williams and Norgate; New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • 1912b, “On the Relations of Universals and Particulars,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 12: 1–24; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge, London: Allen and Unwin, 1956, 105–124; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 6.
  • 1914a, Our Knowledge of the External World, Chicago and London: The Open Court Publishing Company.
  • 1914b, “On the Nature of Acquaintance,” Monist, 24: 1–16, 161–187, 435–453; repr. in Logic and Knowledge, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956, 127–174; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 7.
  • 1914c, “The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics,” Scientia, 16: 1–27; repr. in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, New York, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1918, 145–179; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 8.
  • 1916, Principles of Social Reconstruction, London: George Allen and Unwin; repr. as Why Men Fight, New York: The Century Company, 1917.
  • 1917, Political Ideals, New York: The Century Company.
  • 1918, 1919, “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,” Monist, 28: 495–527; 29: 32–63, 190–222, 345–380; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge, London: Allen and Unwin, 1956, 177–281; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 8.
  • 1919a, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • 1919b, “On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 2: 1–43; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 8.
  • 1920, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
  • 1921, The Analysis of Mind, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • 1922a, “Is There an Absolute Good?”, in Collected Papers, Vol. 9.
  • 1922b, The Problem of China, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
  • 1923a, The ABC of Atoms, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • 1923b, A Free Man’s Worship, Portland, Maine: Thomas Bird Mosher; repr. as What Can A Free Man Worship? Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1927.
  • 1924, “Logical Atomism,” in J.H. Muirhead, Contemporary British Philosophers, London: Allen and Unwin, 1924, 356–383; repr. in Bertrand Russell, Logic and Knowledge, London: Allen and Unwin, 1956, 323–343; also appearing in Collected Papers, Vol. 9.
  • 1925, The ABC of Relativity, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.
  • 1926, On Education, Especially in Early Childhood, London: George Allen and Unwin; repr. as Education and the Good Life, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1926; abridged as Education of Character, New York: Philosophical Library, 1961.
  • 1927a, The Analysis of Matter, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: Harcourt, Brace.
  • 1927b, An Outline of Philosophy, London: George Allen and Unwin; repr. as Philosophy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1927.
  • 1927c, Why I Am Not a Christian, London: Watts; New York: The Truth Seeker Company.
  • 1929, Marriage and Morals, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Horace Liveright.
  • 1930, The Conquest of Happiness, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Horace Liveright.
  • 1931, The Scientific Outlook, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.
  • 1938, Power: A New Social Analysis, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.
  • 1940, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.
  • 1945, A History of Western Philosophy, New York: Simon and Schuster; London: George Allen and Unwin, 1946; rev. edn, 1961.
  • 1948, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • 1949a, Authority and the Individual, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • 1949b, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota; repr. as Russell’s Logical Atomism, D.F. Pears (ed.), Oxford: Fontana/Collins, 1972.
  • 1954, Human Society in Ethics and Politics, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • 1959, My Philosophical Development, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • 1961, Has Man a Future?, London: Allen and Unwin.
  • 1963, Unarmed Victory, London: Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • 1967, 1968, 1969, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vols, London: George Allen and Unwin; Boston: Little Brown and Company (Vols 1 and 2), New York: Simon and Schuster (Vol. 3).
  • 1967a, War Crimes in Vietnam, London: Allen and Unwin; New York: Monthly Review Press.

Major Anthologies of Russell’s Writings

  • A1910, Philosophical Essays, London: Longmans, Green.
  • A1918, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, New York, London: Longmans, Green & Co.; repr. as A Free Man’s Worship and Other Essays, London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1976.
  • A1928, Sceptical Essays, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.
  • A1935, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.
  • A1950, Unpopular Essays, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • A1956a, Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901–1950, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • A1956b, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • A1957, Why I am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • A1961a, The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903–1959, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • A1961b, Fact and Fiction, London: Allen and Unwin; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.
  • A1968, The Art of Philosophizing and Other Essays, New York: Philosophical Library.
  • A1969, Dear Bertrand Russell, London: George Allen and Unwin; Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • A1973, Essays in Analysis, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • A1992, The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1, London: Allen Lane, and New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • A1999a, Russell on Ethics, London: Routledge.
  • A1999b, Russell on Religion, London: Routledge.
  • A2001, The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 2, London: Routledge.
  • A2003, Russell on Metaphysics, London: Routledge.

The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell

In Print
  • CP, Vol. 1, Cambridge Essays, 1888–99, London, Boston, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
  • CP, Vol. 2, Philosophical Papers, 1896–99, London and New York: Routledge, 1990.
  • CP, Vol. 3, Toward the Principles of Mathematics, 1900–02, London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • CP, Vol. 4, Foundations of Logic, 1903–05, London and New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • CP, Vol. 5, Toward Principia Mathematica, 1905–08, London and New York: Routledge, in press.
  • CP, Vol. 6, Logical and Philosophical Papers, 1909–13, London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • CP, Vol. 7, Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript, London, Boston, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1984; paperbound, 1992.
  • CP, Vol. 8, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism and Other Essays, 1914–19, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1986.
  • CP, Vol. 9, Essays on Language, Mind and Matter, 1919–26, London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.
  • CP, Vol. 10, A Fresh Look at Empiricism, 1927–42, London and New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • CP, Vol. 11, Last Philosophical Testament, 1943–68, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • CP, Vol. 12, Contemplation and Action, 1902–14, London, Boston, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.
  • CP, Vol. 13, Prophecy and Dissent, 1914–16, London: Unwin Hyman, 1988.
  • CP, Vol. 14, Pacifism and Revolution, 1916–18, London and New York: Routledge, 1995.
  • CP, Vol. 15, Uncertain Paths to Freedom: Russia and China, 1919–22, London and New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • CP, Vol. 21, How to Keep the Peace: The Pacifist Dilemma, 1935–38, London and New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • CP, Vol. 28, Man’s Peril, 1954–55, London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • CP, Vol. 29, Détente or Destruction, 1955–57, London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Vol. 16, Labour and Internationalism, 1922–25.
  • Vol. 17, Authority versus Enlightenment, 1925–27.
  • Vol. 18, Behaviourism and Education, 1927–31.
  • Vol. 19, Science and Civilization, 1931–33.
  • Vol. 20, Fascism and Other Depression Legacies, 1933–34.
  • Vol. 22, The CCNY Case, 1938–40.
  • Vol. 23, The Problems of Democracy, 1941–44.
  • Vol. 24, Civilization and the Bomb, 1944–47.
  • Vol. 25, Defense of the West, 1948–50.
  • Vol. 26, Respectability—At Last, 1950–51.
  • Vol. 27, Culture and the Cold War, 1952–53.
  • Vol. 30, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1957–59.
  • Vol. 31, The Committee of 100, 1960–62.
  • Vol. 32, A New Plan for Peace and Other Essays, 1963–64.
  • Vol. 33, The Vietnam Campaign, 1965–66.
  • Vol. 34, International War Crimes Tribunal, 1967–70.
  • Vol. 35, Newly Discovered Papers.
  • Vol. 36, Indexes.

Secondary Literature

  • Ayer, A.J., 1971, Russell and Moore, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • –––, 1972a, “Bertrand Russell as a Philosopher,” Proceedings of the British Academy, 58: 127–151; repr. in A.D. Irvine (ed.) (1999) Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, London: Routledge, vol. 1, 65–85.
  • –––, 1972b, Russell, London: Fontana/Collins.
  • Blackwell, Kenneth, 1983, “‘Perhaps You will Think Me Fussy …’: Three Myths in Editing Russell’s Collected Papers,” in H.J. Jackson (ed.), Editing Polymaths, Toronto: Committee for the Conference on Editorial Problems, 99–142.
  • –––, 1985, The Spinozistic Ethics of Bertrand Russell, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • –––, and Harry Ruja, 1994, A Bibliography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vols, London: Routledge.
  • Blitz, David, 2002, “Did Russell Advocate Preventive Atomic War Against the USSR?” Russell, 22: 5–45.
  • Bostock, David, 2012, Russell’s Logical Atomism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Broad, C.D., 1973, “Bertrand Russell, as Philosopher,” Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society, 5: 328–341; repr. in A.D. Irvine (ed.) (1999) Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, London: Routledge, vol 1, 1–15.
  • Burke, Tom, 1994, Dewey’s New Logic: A Reply to Russell, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Carnap, Rudolf, 1931, “The Logicist Foundations of Mathematics,” Erkenntnis, 2: 91–105; repr. in Paul Benacerraf, and Hilary Putnam (eds), Philosophy of Mathematics, 2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, 41–52; repr. in E.D. Klemke (ed.), Essays on Bertrand Russell, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970, 341–354; and repr. in David F. Pears (ed.), Bertrand Russell: A Collection of Critical Essays, Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972, 175–191.
  • Chalmers, David J., 1996, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Chomsky, Noam, 1971, Problems of Knowledge and Freedom: The Russell Lectures, New York: Vintage.
  • Church, Alonzo, 1974, “Russellian Simple Type Theory,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 47: 21–33.
  • –––, 1976, “Comparison of Russell’s Resolution of the Semantical Antinomies with That of Tarski,” Journal of Symbolic Logic, 41: 747–760; repr. in A.D. Irvine, Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, vol. 2, New York and London: Routledge, 1999, 96–112.
  • Clark, Ronald William, 1975, The Life of Bertrand Russell, London: Jonathan Cape and Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • –––, 1981, Bertrand Russell and His World, London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Copi, Irving, 1971, The Theory of Logical Types, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Demopoulos, William, 2013, Logicism and Its Philosophical Legacy, London and New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dewey, John, and Horace M. Kallen (eds.), 1941, The Bertrand Russell Case, New York: Viking.
  • Doxiadis, Apostolos, and Christos Papadimitriou, 2009, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, New York: St Martin’s Press.
  • Duffy, Bruce, 1987, The World as I Found It, New York: Ticknor & Fields.
  • Eames, Elizabeth R., 1967, “The Consistency of Russell’s Realism,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 27: 502–511.
  • –––, 1969, Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • –––, 1989, Bertrand Russell’s Dialogue with his Contemporaries, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Eliot, T.S., 1917, “Mr Apollinax”, Prufrock and Other Observations, London: Egoist Press.
  • Feinberg, Barry, and Ronald Kasrils (eds.), 1969, Dear Bertrand Russell, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • –––, 1973, 1983, Bertrand Russell’s America, 2 vols, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • Gabbay, Dov M., and John Woods (eds.), 2009, Handbook of the History of Logic: Volume 5 — Logic From Russell to Church, Amsterdam: Elsevier/North Holland.
  • Galaugher, Jolen, 2013, Russell’s Philosophy of Logical Analysis, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gandon, Sébastien, 2012, Russell’s Unknown Logicism, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gandy, R.O., 1973, “Bertrand Russell, as Mathematician,” Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society, 5: 342–348; repr. in A.D. Irvine, Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, vol. 1, New York and London: Routledge, 1999, 16–23.
  • Gödel, Kurt, 1944, “Russell’s Mathematical Logic,” in Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, 3rd edn, New York: Tudor, 1951, 123–153; repr. in Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (eds), Philosophy of Mathematics, 2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, 447–469; repr. in David F. Pears (ed.) (1972) Bertrand Russell: A Collection of Critical Essays, Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 192–226; and repr. in A.D. Irvine (ed.) Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, vol. 2, New York and London: Routledge, 1999, 113–134.
  • Grattan-Guinness, I., 1977, Dear Russell, Dear Jourdain: A Commentary on Russell’s Logic, Based on His Correspondence with Philip Jourdain, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • –––, 2000, The Search for Mathematical Roots, 1870–1940, Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • Griffin, Nicholas, 1991, Russell’s Idealist Apprenticeship, Oxford: Clarendon.
  • ––– (ed.), 2003, The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • ––– (ed.), 2014, Bertrand Russell, A Pacifist at War: Letters and Writings 1914–1918, Nottingham: Spokesman Books.
  • –––, and Dale Jacquette (eds), 2009, Russell vs. Meinong: the Legacy of “On Denoting”, New York: Routledge.
  • –––, and Bernard Linsky (eds.), 2013, The Palgrave Centenary Companion to Principia Mathematica, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • –––, and Bernard Linsky and Kenneth Blackwell (eds.), 2011, Principia Mathematica at 100, Hamilton, ON: Bertrand Russell Research Centre; also published as Special Issue vol. 31, no. 1 of Russell.
  • Hager, Paul J., 1994, Continuity and Change in the Development of Russell’s Philosophy, Dordrecht: Nijhoff.
  • Hardy, Godfrey H., 1942, Bertrand Russell and Trinity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
  • Hintikka, Jaakko, 2009, “Logicism”, in A.D. Irvine (ed.), Philosophy of Mathematics, Amsterdam: Elsevier/North Holland, 271–290.
  • Hochberg, Herbert, 2001, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein, New York: Hansel-Hohenhausen.
  • Hook, Sidney, 1966, “Lord Russell and the War Crimes Trial”, The New Leader, 49 (24 October); repr. in A.D. Irvine (ed.) (1999) Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, London: Routledge, vol. 4, 181.
  • –––, 1976, “Bertrand Russell the Man”, Commentary, July 1976, 52–54.
  • Huxley, Aldous, 1921, Chrome Yellow, London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Hylton, Peter W., 1990a, Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon.
  • –––, 1990b, “Logic in Russell’s Logicism,” in David Bell and Neil Cooper (eds), The Analytic Tradition: Philosophical Quarterly Monographs, Vol. 1, Cambridge: Blackwell, 137–172.
  • Ironside, Philip, 1996, The Social and Political Thought of Bertrand Russell: The Development of an Aristocratic Liberalism, London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Irvine, A.D., 1989, “Epistemic Logicism and Russell’s Regressive Method,” Philosophical Studies, 55: 303–327.
  • –––, 1996, “Bertrand Russell and Academic Freedom,” Russell, 16: 5–36.
  • ––– (ed.), 1999, Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, London: Routledge.
  • –––, 2004, “Russell on Method,” in Godehard Link (ed.), One Hundred Years of Russell’s Paradox, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 481–500.
  • ––– (ed.), 2009, Philosophy of Mathematics, Amsterdam: Elsevier/North Holland.
  • –––, and G.A. Wedeking (eds.), 1993, Russell and Analytic Philosophy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Jager, Ronald, 1972, The Development of Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy, London: George Allen and Unwin.
  • Kaplan, David, 1970, “What is Russell’s Theory of Descriptions?” in Wolfgang Yourgrau and Allen D. Breck, (eds), Physics, Logic, and History, New York: Plenum, 277–288; repr. in David F. Pears (ed.), Bertrand Russell: A Collection of Critical Essays, Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972, 227–244.
  • Klement, Kevin C., 2001, “Russell’s Paradox in Appendix B of the Principles of Mathematics: Was Frege’s Response Adequate?” History and Philosophy of Logic, 22: 13–28.
  • –––, 2003, “Russell’s 1903–05 Anticipation of the Lambda Calculus,” History and Philosophy of Logic, 24: 15–37.
  • –––, 2010, “The Functions of Russell’s No Class Theory,” Review of Symbolic Logic, 3–4: 633–664.
  • –––, 2012, “Neo-logicism and Russell’s Logicism,” Russell, 32: 127–59.
  • Klemke, E.D. (ed.), 1970, Essays on Bertrand Russell, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Korhonen, Anssi, 2013, Logic as Universal Science: Russell’s Early Logicism and Its Philosophical Context, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kreisel, Georg, 1973, “Bertrand Arthur William Russell, Earl Russell: 1872–1970,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 19, 583–620; repr. in A.D. Irvine (ed.) (1999) Bertrand Russell: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, London: Routledge, vol. 1, 24–64.
  • Kroon, Fred W., 2006, “Russellian Descriptions and Meinongian Assumptions,” in A. Bottani and R. Davies (eds), Modes of Existence: Papers in Ontology and Philosophical Logic, Heusenstamm: Ontos Verlag, 83–106.
  • –––, 2009, “Existence in the Theory of Definite Descriptions,” Journal of Philosophy, 106: 365–389.
  • Landini, Gregory, 1998, Russell’s Hidden Substitutional Theory, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 2011, Russell, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Leithauser, Gladys Garner, and Nadine Cowan Dyer, 1982, “Bertrand Russell and T.S. Eliot: Their Dialogue,” Russell, 2: 7–28.
  • Link, Godehard (ed.), 2004, One Hundred Years of Russell’s Paradox

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (May 18, 1872 – February 2, 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. In 1950, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.

See also:
The Problems of Philosophy (1912)
Political Ideals (1917)
Marriage and Morals (1929)
The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
Mortals and Others (1931-35)
A History of Western Philosophy (1945)
Unpopular Essays (1950)
The Impact of Science on Society (1952)
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967-1969)



  • I do wish I believed in the life eternal, for it makes me quite miserable to think man is merely a kind of machine endowed, unhappily for himself, with consciousness.
    • Greek Exercises (1888); at the age of fifteen, Russell used to write down his reflections in this book, for fear that his people should find out what he was thinking.
  • I should like to believe my people's religion, which was just what I could wish, but alas, it is impossible. I have really no religion, for my God, being a spirit shown merely by reason to exist, his properties utterly unknown, is no help to my life. I have not the parson's comfortable doctrine that every good action has its reward, and every sin is forgiven. My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.
    • Greek Exercises (1888), written two days after his sixteenth birthday.


  • I am looking forward very much to getting back to Cambridge, and being able to say what I think and not to mean what I say: two things which at home are impossible. Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1893); published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1: The Private Years (1884–1914), edited by Nicholas Griffin
  • Thee will find out in time that I have a great love of professing vile sentiments, I don’t know why, unless it springs from long efforts to avoid priggery.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1894). Smith was a Quaker, thus the archaic use of "Thee" in this and other letters to her.
  • Thee might observe incidentally that if the state paid for child-bearing it might and ought to require a medical certificate that the parents were such as to give a reasonable result of a healthy child – this would afford a very good inducement to some sort of care for the race, and gradually as public opinion became educated by the law, it might react on the law and make that more stringent, until one got to some state of things in which there would be a little genuine care for the race, instead of the present haphazard higgledy-piggledy ways.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1894); published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1: The Private Years (1884–1914), edited by Nicholas Griffin. It should be noted that in his talk of "the race", he is referring to "the human race". Smith married Russell in December 1894; they divorced in 1921.


  • Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. We start, in pure mathematics, from certain rules of inference, by which we can infer that if one proposition is true, then so is some other proposition. These rules of inference constitute the major part of the principles of formal logic. We then take any hypothesis that seems amusing, and deduce its consequences. If our hypothesis is about anything, and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
  • [Unlike the] utilitarian... I judge pleasure and pain to be of small importance compared to knowledge, the appreciation and contemplation of beauty, and a certain intrinsic excellence of mind which, apart from its practical effects, appears to me to deserve the name of virtue. [For] many years it seemed to me perfectly self-evident that pleasure is the only good and pain the only evil. Now, however, the opposite seems to me self-evident.
    What first turned me away from utilitarianism was the persuasion that I myself ought to pursue philosophy, although I had (and have still) no doubt that by doing economics and the theory of politics I could add more to human happiness. It appeared to me that the dignity of which human existence is capable is not attainable by devotion to the mechanism of life, and that unless the contemplation of eternal things is preserved, mankind will become no better than well-fed pigs. But I do not believe that such contemplation on the whole tends to happiness. It gives moments of delight, but these are outweighed by years of effort and depression.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902
  • It seems to me now that mathematics is capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater; not because the pleasure it gives (although very pure) is comparable, either in intensity or in the number of people who feel it, to that of music, but because it gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect and yet true.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902
  • Again, in regard to actual human existence, I have found myself giving honour to those who feel its tragedy, who think truly about Death, who are oppressed by ignoble things even when they are inevitable; yet these qualities appear to me to militate against happiness, not only to the possessors, but to all whom they affect. And, generally, the best life seems to me one which thinks truly and feels greatly about human things, and which, in addition, contemplates the world of beauty and of abstract truths. This last is, perhaps, my most anti-utilitarian opinion: I hold all knowledge that is concerned with things that actually exist – all that is commonly called Science – to be of very slight value compared to the knowledge which, like philosophy and mathematics, is concerned with ideal and eternal objects, and is freed from this miserable world which God has made.
    [Utilitarians] have been strangely anxious to prove that the life of the pig is not happier than that of the philosopher – a most dubious proposition...
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902
  • What a monstrous thing that a University should teach journalism! I thought that was only done at Oxford. This respect for the filthy multitude is ruining civilisation.
    • Letter to Lucy Martin Donnely, July 6, 1902
  • Only in thought is man a God; in action and desire we are the slaves of circumstance.
    • Letter to Lucy Donnely, November 25, 1902
  • Philosophy seems to me on the whole a rather hopeless business.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, December 28, 1902
  • Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form “p implies q,” where p and q are propositions containing one or more variables, the same in the two propositions, and neither p nor q contains any constants except logical constants. And logical constants are all notions definable in terms of the following: Implication, the relation of a term to a class of which it is a member, the notion of such that, the notion of relation, and such further notions as may be involved in the general notion of propositions of the above form. In addition to these, mathematics uses a notion which is not a constituent of the propositions which it considers, namely the notion of truth.
  • The fact that all Mathematics is Symbolic Logic is one of the greatest discoveries of our age; and when this fact has been established, the remainder of the principles of mathematics consists in the analysis of Symbolic Logic itself.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. I: Definition of Pure Mathematics, p. 5
  • I may as well say at once that I do not distinguish between inference and deduction. What is called induction appears to me to be either disguised deduction or a mere method of making plausible guesses.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. II: Symbolic Logic, p. 11
  • What does not exist must be something, or it would be meaningless to deny its existence; and hence we need the concept of being, as that which belongs even to the non-existent.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), p. 450
  • Arithmetic must be discovered in just the same sense in which Columbus discovered the West Indies, and we no more create numbers than he created the Indians.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), p. 451
  • I have been merely oppressed by the weariness and tedium and vanity of things lately: nothing stirs me, nothing seems worth doing or worth having done: the only thing that I strongly feel worth while would be to murder as many people as possible so as to diminish the amount of consciousness in the world. These times have to be lived through: there is nothing to be done with them.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, March 21, 1903
  • It is true that numerous instances are not always necessary to establish a law, provided the essential and relevant circumstances can easily be disentangled. But, in history, so many circumstances of a small and accidental nature are relevant, that no broad and simple uniformities are possible. Where our main endeavour is to discover general laws, we regard these as intrinsically more valuable than any of the facts which they inter-connect. In astronomy, the law of gravitation is plainly better worth knowing than the position of a particular planet on a particular night, or even on every night throughout a year. There are in the law a splendour and simplicity and sense of mastery which illuminate a mass of otherwise uninteresting details... But in history the matter is far otherwise... Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.
  • The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death's hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. ...On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.
  • A logical theory may be tested by its capacity for dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose as is served by experiments in physical science.
    • "On Denoting", Mind, Vol. 14, No. 56 (October 1905), pp. 479–493; as reprinted in Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901–1950, (1956)
  • All's well that ends well; which is the epitaph I should put on my tombstone if I were the last man left alive.
    • Letter to Lucy Donnely, April 22, 1906
  • We tend to believe the premises because we can see that their consequences are true, instead of believing the consequences because we know the premises to be true. But the inferring of premises from consequences is the essence of induction; thus the method in investigating the principles of mathematics is really an inductive method, and is substantially the same as the method of discovering general laws in any other science.
    • "The Regressive Method of Discovering the Premises of Mathematics" (1907), in Essays in Analysis (1973), pp. 273–274
  • Take the question whether other people exist. ...It is plain that it makes for happiness to believe that they exist – for even the greatest misanthropist would not wish to be deprived of the objects of his hate. Hence the belief that other people exist is, pragmatically, a true belief. But if I am troubled by solipsism, the discovery that a belief in the existence of others is 'true' in the pragmatist's sense is not enough to allay my sense of loneliness: the perception that I should profit by rejecting solipsism is not alone sufficient to make me reject it. For what I desire is not that the belief in solipsism should be false in the pragmatic sense, but that other people should in fact exist. And with the pragmatist's meaning of truth, these two do not necessarily go together. The belief in solipsism might be false even if I were the only person or thing in the universe.
    • "William James's Conception of Truth" [1908], published in Philosophical Essays (London, 1910)
  • Ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth.
    • Quoted in The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal, Vol. 209 (1909), p. 387

A Free Man's Worship (1903)[edit]

  • That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
  • In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.
  • In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellowmen, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death.
  • Indignation is a submission of our thoughts, but not of our desires.
  • Freedom comes only to those who no longer ask of life that it shall yield them any of those personal goods that are subject to the mutations of time.
  • The slave is doomed to worship time and fate and death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour.
  • The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.
  • Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.

"The Study of Mathematics" (November 1907)[edit]

  • To those who inquire as to the purpose of mathematics, the usual answer will be that it facilitates the making of machines, the travelling from place to place, and the victory over foreign nations, whether in war or commerce. … The reasoning faculty itself is generally conceived, by those who urge its cultivation, as merely a means for the avoidance of pitfalls and a help in the discovery of rules for the guidance of practical life.
  • Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement.
  • Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.
  • The rules of logic are to mathematics what those of structure are to architecture.
  • Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.


  • The number of syllables in the English names of finite integers tends to increase as the integers grow larger, and must gradually increase indefinitely, since only a finite number of names can be made with a given finite number of syllables. Hence the names of some integers must consist of at least nineteen syllables, and among these there must be a least. Hence "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" must denote a definite integer; in fact, it denotes 111, 777. But "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" is itself a name consisting of eighteen syllables; hence the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables can be named in eighteen syllables, which is a contradiction. This contradiction was suggested to us by Mr. G. G. Berry of the Bodleian Library.
  • I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe – because, like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return.
    • Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, March, 1912, as quoted in Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2012), p. 1318
      The above proposition is occasionally useful.
  • Life seems to me essentially passion, conflict, rage... It is only intellect that keeps me sane; perhaps this makes me overvalue intellect against feeling.
    • Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell in 1912, as quoted in Clark The life of Bertrand Russell (1976), p. 174
  • The above proposition is occasionally useful.
    • Comment after the proof that 1+1=2, completed in Principia Mathematica, Volume II, 1st edition (1912), page 86
  • When people begin to philosophize they seem to think it necessary to make themselves artificially stupid.
    • Theory of Knowledge (1913)
  • People are said to believe in God, or to disbelieve in Adam and Eve. But in such cases what is believed or disbelieved is that there is an entity answering a certain description. This, which can be believed or disbelieved is quite different from the actual entity (if any) which does answer the description. Thus the matter of belief is, in all cases, different in kind from the matter of sensation or presentation, and error is in no way analogous to hallucination. A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.
    • On the Nature of Acquaintance: Neutral Monism (1914)
  • In the revolt against idealism, the ambiguities of the word “experience” have been perceived, with the result that realists have more and more avoided the word. It is to be feared, however, that if the word is avoided the confusions of thought with which it has been associated may persist.
    • On the Nature of Acquaintance: Neutral Monism (1914)
  • Of all evils of war the greatest is the purely spiritual evil: the hatred, the injustice, the repudiation of truth, the artificial conflict.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 27
  • No nation was ever so virtuous as each believes itself, and none was ever so wicked as each believes the other.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 70
  • Righteousness cannot be born until self-righteousness is dead.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 192
  • It seems clear to me that marriage ought to be constituted by children, and relations not involving children ought to be ignored by the law and treated as indifferent by public opinion. It is only through children that relations cease to be a purely private matter.
    • Letter to Ottoline Morrell, January 30, 1916
  • I don't care for the applause one gets by saying what others are thinking; I want actually to change people's thoughts. Power over people's minds is the main personal desire of my life; and this sort of power is not acquired by saying popular things.
    • Letter to Lucy Martin Donnelly, February 10, 1916
  • I don't like the spirit of socialism – I think freedom is the basis of everything.
    • Letter to Constance Malleson (Colette), September 29, 1916
  • [One] must look into hell before one has any right to speak of heaven.
    • Letter to Colette O'Niel, October 23, 1916; published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970, p. 87
  • I hate the world and almost all the people in it. I hate the Labour Congress and the journalists who send men to be slaughtered, and the fathers who feel a smug pride when their sons are killed, and even the pacifists who keep saying human nature is essentially good, in spite of all the daily proofs to the contrary. I hate the planet and the human race – I am ashamed to belong to such a species.
    • Letter to Colette, December 28, 1916.
      It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.
  • How much good it would do if one could exterminate the human race.
    • A characteristic saying of Russell, reported in a letter of 8 October 1917 to Lady Ottoline Morrell, by Aldous Huxley (p. 395); Bibliography of Bertrand Russell (Routledge, 2013)
  • It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.
    • Principles of Social Reconstruction (1917)
  • The principal source of the harm done by the State is the fact that power is its chief end.
    • Principles of Social Reconstruction (1917)
  • That I, a funny little gesticulating animal on two legs, should stand beneath the stars and declaim in a passion about my rights – it seems so laughable, so out of all proportion. Much better, like Archimedes, to be killed because of absorption in eternal things...
    There is a possibility in human minds of something mysterious as the night-wind, deep as the sea, calm as the stars, and strong as Death, a mystic contemplation, the "intellectual love of God." Those who have known it cannot believe in wars any longer, or in any kind of hot struggle. If I could give to others what has come to me in this way, I could make them too feel the futility of fighting. But I do not know how to communicate it: when I speak, they stare, applaud, or smile, but do not understand.
    • Letter to Miss Rinder, July 30, 1918
  • What a queer work the Bible is.
    ...Some texts are very funny. Deut. XXIV, 5: "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken." I should never have guessed "cheer up" was a Biblical expression. Here is another really inspiring text: "Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen." St Paul on marriage: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." This has remained the doctrine of the Church to this day. It is clear that the Divine purpose in the text "it is better to marry than to burn" is to make us all feel how very dreadful the torments of Hell must be.
    • Letter to Colette, August 10, 1918
  • In the visible world, the Milky Way is a tiny fragment; within this fragment, the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and of this speck our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water, of complicated structure, with somewhat unusual physical and chemical properties, crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded. They divide their time between labour designed to postpone the moment of dissolution for themselves and frantic struggles to hasten it for others of their kind.
  • No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until he has allowed himself to see his own littleness.

The Problems of Philosophy (1912)[edit]

Main article: The Problems of Philosophy

  • Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?
  • Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.
  • Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.
  • For example, a man who had seen a great many white swans might argue, by our principle, that on the data it was probable that all swans were white, and this might be a perfectly sound argument. The argument is not disproved by the fact that some swans are black, because a thing may very well happen in spite of the fact that some data render it improbable. In the case of the swans, a man might know that colour is a very variable characteristic in many species of animals, and that, therefore, an induction as to colour is peculiarly liable to error. But this knowledge would be a fresh datum, by no means proving that the probability relatively to our previous data had been wrongly estimated. The fact, therefore, that things often fail to fulfill our expectations is no evidence that our expectations will not probably be fulfilled in a given case or a given class of cases. Thus our inductive principle is at any rate not capable of being disproved by an appeal to experience. The inductive principle, however, is equally incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience.

Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)[edit]

  • The conception of the necessary unit of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of the imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the straitwaistcoated benevolent institution which idealism palms off as the totality of being.
  • The true function of logic … as applied to matters of experience … is analytic rather than constructive; taken a priori, it shows the possibility of hitherto unsuspected alternatives more often than the impossibility of alternatives which seemed prima facie possible. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.
  • In fact the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or confutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists, in the last analysis, of agreement with other beliefs no less instinctive. Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realms, it is insight that first arrives at what is new.
  • Every philosophical problem, when it is subjected to the necessary analysis and justification, is found either to be not really philosophical at all, or else to be, in the sense in which we are using the word, logical.
  • We are thus led to a somewhat vague distinction between what we may call "hard" data and "soft" data. This distinction is a matter of degree, and must not be pressed; but if not taken too seriously it may help to make the situation clear. I mean by "hard" data those which resist the solvent influence of critical reflection, and by " soft " data those which, under the operation of this process, become to our minds more or less doubtful.
  • Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.

Why Men Fight (1917)[edit]

  • There are three forces on the side of life which require no exceptional mental endowment, which are not very rare at present, and might be very common under better social institutions. They are love, the instinct of constructiveness, and the joy of life. All three are checked and enfeebled at present by the conditions under which men live—not only the less outwardly fortunate, but also the majority of the well-to-do. Our institutions rest upon injustice and authority: it is only by closing our hearts against sympathy and our minds against truth that we can endure the oppressions and unfairnesses by which we profit. The conventional conception of what constitutes success leads most men to live a life in which their most vital impulses are sacrificed, and the joy of life is lost in listless weariness. Our economic system compels almost all men to carry out the purposes of others rather than their own, making them feel impotent in action and only able to secure a certain modicum of passive pleasure. All these things destroy the vigor of the community, the expansive affections of individuals, and the power of viewing the world generously. All these things are unnecessary and can be ended by wisdom and courage. If they were ended, the impulsive life of men would become wholly different, and the human race might travel towards a new happiness and a new vigor.
  • The power of the State may be brought to bear, as it often is in England, through public opinion rather than through the laws. By oratory and the influence of the Press, public opinion is largely created by the State, and a tyrannous public opinion is as great an enemy to liberty as tyrannous laws. If the young man who will not fight finds that he is dismissed from his employment, insulted in the streets, cold-shouldered by his friends, and thrown over with scorn by any woman who may formerly have liked him, he will feel the penalty quite as hard to bear as a death sentence. A free community requires not only legal freedom, but a tolerant public opinion, an absence of that instinctive inquisition into our neighbors' affairs which, under the guise of upholding a high moral standard, enables good people to indulge unconsciously a disposition to cruelty and persecution. Thinking ill of others is not in itself a good reason for thinking well of ourselves. But so long as this is not recognized, and so long as the State can manufacture public opinion, except in the rare cases where it is revolutionary, public opinion must be reckoned as a definite part of the power of the State.
  • Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

Political Ideals (1917)[edit]

Main article: Political Ideals

  • Political ideals must be based upon ideals for the individual life. The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good as possible.
  • The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the largest part and the possessive impulses the smallest.

The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918)[edit]

  • An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalization would be just as well founded as the generalization which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.
  • The process of philosophizing, to my mind, consists mainly in passing from those obvious, vague, ambiguous things, that we feel quite sure of, to something precise, clear, definite, which by reflection and analysis we find is involved in the vague thing that we start from, and is, so to speak, the real truth of which that vague thing is a sort of shadow.
  • I do not pretend to start with precise questions. I do not think you can start with anything precise. You have to achieve such precision as you can, as you go along.
  • My desire and wish is that the things I start with should be so obvious that you wonder why I spend my time stating them. This is what I aim at because the point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.
  • The reason that I call my doctrine logical atomism is because the atoms that I wish to arrive at as the sort of last residue in analysis are logical atoms and not physical atoms. Some of them will be what I call "particulars" – such things as little patches of color or sounds, momentary things – and some of them will be predicates or relations and so on.
  • To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.
  • In a logically perfect language, there will be one word and no more for every simple object, and everything that is not simple will be expressed by a combination of words, by a combination derived, of course, from the words for the simple things that enter in, one word for each simple component.

Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)[edit]

  • Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • The facts of science, as they appeared to him [Heraclitus], fed the flame in his soul, and in its light, he saw into the depths of the world.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • The theoretical understanding of the world, which is the aim of philosophy, is not a matter of great practical importance to animals, or to savages, or even to most civilized men.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • A truer image of the world, I think, is obtained by picturing things as entering into the stream of time from an eternal world outside, than from a view which regards time as the devouring tyrant of all that is.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • A process which led from the amœba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress – though whether the amœba would agree with this opinion is not known.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • Those who forget good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
  • In science men have discovered an activity of the very highest value in which they are no longer, as in art, dependent for progress upon the appearance of continually greater genius, for in science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it.
    • Ch. 2: The Place of Science in a Liberal Education
  • A life devoted to science is therefore a happy life, and its happiness is derived from the very best sources that are open to dwellers on this troubled and passionate planet.
    • Ch. 2: The Place of Science in a Liberal Education
  • Such... but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
    • Ch. 3: A Free Man's Worship
  • The scientific attitude of mind involves a sweeping away of all other desires in the interests of the desire to know—it involves suppression of hopes and fears, loves and hates, and the whole subjective emotional life, until we become subdued to the material, able to see it frankly, without preconceptions, without bias, without any wish except to see it as it is, and without any belief that what it is must be determined by some relation, positive or negative, to what we should like it to be, or to what we can easily imagine it to be.
  • Every great study is not only an end in itself, but also a means of creating and sustaining a lofty habit of mind.
    • Ch. 4: The Study of Mathematics
  • The Calculus required continuity, and continuity was supposed to require the infinitely little; but nobody could discover what the infinitely little might be.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians
  • If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians
  • Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians
  • An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalisation would be just as well founded as the generalisation which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy.
      Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
  • Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy
  • Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy
  • The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.
    • Ch. 9: On the Notion of Cause

Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)[edit]

  • The great majority of men and women, in ordinary times, pass through life without ever contemplating or criticising, as a whole, either their own conditions or those of the world at large. They find themselves born into a certain place in society, and they accept what each day brings forth, without any effort of thought beyond what the immediate present requires. Almost as instinctively as the beasts of the field, they seek the satisfaction of the needs of the moment, without much forethought, and without considering that by sufficient effort the whole conditions of their lives could be changed.
  • My own opinion—which I may as well indicate at the outset—is that pure Anarchism, though it should be the ultimate ideal, to which society should continually approximate, is for the present impossible, and would not survive more than a year or two at most if it were adopted. On the other hand, both Marxian Socialism and Syndicalism, in spite of many drawbacks, seem to me calculated to give rise to a happier and better world than that in which we live. I do not, however, regard either of them as the best practicable system. Marxian Socialism, I fear, would give far too much power to the State, while Syndicalism, which aims at abolishing the State, would, I believe, find itself forced to reconstruct a central authority in order to put an end to the rivalries of different groups of producers. The best practicable system, to my mind, is that of Guild Socialism, which concedes what is valid both in the claims of the State Socialists and in the Syndicalist fear of the State, by adopting a system of federalism among trades for reasons similar to those which are recommending federalism among nations.
  • Whatever bitterness and hate may be found in the movements which we are to examine, it is not bitterness or hate, but love, that is their mainspring. It is difficult not to hate those who torture the objects of our love. Though difficult, it is not impossible; but it requires a breadth of outlook and a comprehensiveness of understanding which are not easy to preserve amid a desperate contest. If ultimate wisdom has not always been preserved by Socialists and Anarchists, they have not differed in this from their opponents; and in the source of their inspiration they have shown themselves superior to those who acquiesce ignorantly or supinely in the injustices and oppressions by which the existing system is preserved.
  • [T]he plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income, as much larger as might be warranted by the total amount of commodities produced, should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful.
    • Ch. IV: Work and Pay, discussing Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • [Freedom] is the greatest of political goods. I do not say freedom is the greatest of all goods: the best things come from within—they are such things as creative art, and love, and thought. Such things can be helped or hindered by political conditions, but not actually produced by them; and freedom is, both in itself and in its relation to these other goods the best thing that political and economic conditions can secure.
    • Ch. V: Government and Law, p. 75
  • Many of the actions by which men have become rich are far more harmful to the community than the obscure crimes of poor men, yet they go unpunished because they do not interfere with the existing order.
    • Ch. V: Government and Law
  • If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 97
  • I believe that the abolition of private ownership of land and capital is a necessary step toward any world in which the nations are to live at peace with one another.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 99
  • A world full of happiness is not beyond human power to create; the obstacles imposed by inanimate nature are not insuperable. The real obstacles lie in the heart of man, and the cure for these is a firm hope, informed and fortified by thought.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 106
  • Those who have been inspired to action by the doctrine of the class war will have acquired the habit of hatred, and will instinctively seek new enemies when the old ones have been vanquished. But in actual fact the psychology of the working man in any of the Western democracies is totally unlike that which is assumed in the Communist Manifesto. He does not by any means feel that he has nothing to lose but his chains, nor indeed is this true. The chains which bind Asia and Africa in subjection to Europe are partly riveted by him. He is himself part of a great system of tyranny and exploitation. Universal freedom would remove, not only his own chains, which are comparatively light, but the far heavier chains which he has helped to fasten upon the subject races of the world.
    • Ch. VI: International Relations
  • One of the most horrible things about commercialism is the way in which it poisons the relations of men and women. The evils of prostitution are generally recognized, but, great as they are, the effect of economic conditions on marriage seems to me even worse. There is not infrequently, in marriage, a suggestion of purchase, of acquiring a woman on condition of keeping her in a certain standard of material comfort. Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from. The whole basis of these evils is economic. Economic causes make marriage a matter of bargain and contract, in which affection is quite secondary, and its absence constitutes no recognized reason for liberation. Marriage should be a free, spontaneous meeting of mutual instinct, filled with happiness not unmixed with a feeling akin to awe: it should involve that degree of respect of each for the other that makes even the most trifling interference with liberty an utter impossibility, and a common life enforced by one against the will of the other an unthinkable thing of deep horror.
    • Ch VIII: The World As It Could Be Made, p. 129-130
  • Government by majorities can be made less oppressive by devolution, by placing the decision of questions primarily affecting only a section of the community in the hands of that section, rather than of a Central Chamber. In this way, men are no longer forced to submit to decisions made in a hurry by people mostly ignorant of the matter in hand and not personally interested.
    • Ch VIII: The World As It Could Be Made

Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919)[edit]

  • The method of "postulating" what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.
    • Ch. 7: Rational, Real and Complex Numbers
  • The question of "unreality," which confronts us at this point, is a very important one. Misled by grammar, the great majority of those logicians who have dealt with this question have dealt with it on mistaken lines. They have regarded grammatical form as a surer guide in analysis than, in fact, it is. And they have not known what differences in grammatical form are important.
  • For want of the apparatus of propositional functions, many logicians have been driven to the conclusion that there are unreal objects. It is argued, e.g., by Meinong, that we can speak about "the golden mountain," "the round square," and so on; we can make true propositions of which these are the subjects; hence they must have some kind of logical being, since otherwise the propositions in which they occur would be meaningless. In such theories, it seems to me, there is a failure of that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies. Logic, I should maintain, must no more admit a unicorn than zoology can; for logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as zoology, though with its more abstract and general features.
  • In obedience to the feeling of reality, we shall insist that, in the analysis of propositions, nothing "unreal" is to be admitted. But, after all, if there is nothing unreal, how, it may be asked, could we admit anything unreal? The reply is that, in dealing with propositions, we are dealing in the first instance with symbols, and if we attribute significance to groups of symbols which have no significance, we shall fall into the error of admitting unrealities, in the only sense in which this is possible, namely, as objects described.
  • So much of modern mathematical work is obviously on the border-line of logic, so much of modern logic is symbolic and formal, that the very close relationship of logic and mathematics has become obvious to every instructed student. The proof of their identity is, of course, a matter of detail: starting with premisses which would be universally admitted to belong to logic, and arriving by deduction at results which as obviously belong to mathematics, we find that there is no point at which a sharp line can be drawn, with logic to the left and mathematics to the right. If there are still those who do not admit the identity of logic and mathematics, we may challenge them to indicate at what point, in the successive definitions and deductions of Principia Mathematica, they consider that logic ends and mathematics begins. It will then be obvious that any answer must be quite arbitrary.
    • Ch. 18: Mathematics and Logic


  • People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.
    • Letter to Ottoline Morrell, 17 December, 1920
  • I must confess that I am unable to appreciate the merits of Confucius. His writings are largely occupied with trivial points of etiquette, and his main concern is to teach people how to behave correctly on various occasions. When one compares him, however, with the traditional religious teachers of some other ages and races, one must admit that he has great merits, even if they are mainly negative. His system, as developed by his followers, is one of pure ethics, without religious dogma; it has not given rise to a powerful priesthood, and it has not led to persecution. It certainly has succeeded in producing a whole nation possessed of exquisite manners and perfect courtesy. Nor is Chinese courtesy merely conventional; it is quite as reliable in situations for which no precedent has been provided. And it is not confined to one class; it exists even in the humblest coolie. It is humiliating to watch the brutal insolence of white men received by the Chinese with a quiet dignity which cannot demean itself to answer rudeness with rudeness. Europeans often regard this as weakness, but it is really strength, the strength by which the Chinese have hitherto conquered all their conquerors.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XI: Chinese and Western Civilization Contrasted
  • The typical Westerner wishes to be the cause of as many changes as possible in his environment; the typical Chinaman wishes to enjoy as much and as delicately as possible.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XII: The Chinese Character
  • Nine-tenths of the activities of a modern Government are harmful; therefore the worse they are performed, the better.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XII: The Chinese Character
  • The Chinese are a great nation, incapable of permanent suppression by foreigners. They will not consent to adopt our vices in order to acquire military strength; but they are willing to adopt our virtues in order to advance in wisdom. I think they are the only people in the world who quite genuinely believe that wisdom is more precious than rubies. That is why the West regards them as uncivilized.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XIII: Higher education in China
  • Mystery is delightful, but unscientific, since it depends upon ignorance.
  • There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.
    • The Analysis of Mind (1921), Lecture IX: Memory, p. 159
  • The supreme maxim in scientific philosophising is this: wherever possible, logical constructions are to be substituted for inferred entities.
    • Quoted in Hawes The Logic of Contemporary English Realism (1923), p. 110; cf. Ockham's maxim: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
      Most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.
  • All traditional logic habitually assumes that precise symbols are being employed. It is therefore not applicable to this terrestial life but only to an imagined celestial existence... logic takes us nearer to heaven than other studies.
    • 'Vagueness', first published in The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, 1 June, 1923
  • It seems to me that science has a much greater likelihood of being true in the main than any philosophy hitherto advanced (I do not, of course, except my own). In science there are many matters about which people are agreed; in philosophy there are none. Therefore, although each proposition in a science may be false, and it is practically certain that there are some that are false, yet we shall be wise to build our philosophy upon science, because the risk of error in philosophy is pretty sure to be greater than in science. If we could hope for certainty in philosophy, the matter would be otherwise, but so far as I can see such a hope would be chimerical.
  • We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.
    • The ABC of Relativity (1925), p. 166
      • Variant: "Most people would rather die than think; many do."
  • Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult, it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when widespread, produce social disaster.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 2: The Aims of Education, p. 36.
      No one gossips about other people's secret virtues.
  • The instinctive foundation of the intellectual life is curiosity, which is found among animals in its elementary forms. Intelligence demands an alert curiosity, but it must be of a certain kind. The sort that leads village neighbours to try to peer through curtains after dark has no very high value. The widespread interest in gossip is inspired, not by a love of knowledge but by malice: no one gossips about other people's secret virtues, but only about their secret vices. Accordingly most gossip is untrue, but care is taken not to verify it. Our neighbour's sins, like the consolations of religion, are so agreeable that we do not stop to scrutinise the evidence closely.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 2: The Aims of Education, p. 50
  • An irrational fear should never be simply let alone, but should be gradually overcome by familiarity with its fainter forms.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 4: Fear
  • Written words differ from spoken words in being material structures. A spoken word is a process in the physical world, having an essential time-order; a written word is a series of pieces of matter, having an essential space-order.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.4 Language (1927)
  • Our words tend to conceal what is private and particular in our impressions, and to make us believe that different people live in a common world to a greater extent than is in fact the case.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • The tendency of our perceptions is to emphasise increasingly the objective elements in an impression, unless we have some special reason, as artists have, for doing the opposite.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • It must not be supposed that the subjective elements are any less 'real' than the objective elements; they are only less important... because they do not point to anything beyond ourselves...
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • The camera is as subjective as we are.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • There is a connected set of events (light-waves) travelling outward from a centre... there are some respects in which all events are alike, and others in which they differ... We must not think of a light-wave as a 'thing', but as a connected group of rhythmical events. The mathematical characteristics of such a group can be inferred by physics, but the intrinsic character of the component events cannot be inferred.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • Modern physics... reduces matter to a set of events which proceed outward from a centre. If there is something further in the centre itself, we cannot know about it, and it is irrelevant to physics.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • I went to Salt Lake City and the Mormons tried to convert me, but when I found they forbade tea and tobacco I thought it was no religion for me.
    • Letter to C. P. Sanger, 23 December, 1929

The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920)[edit]

  • I believe that Communism is necessary to the world, and I believe that the heroism of Russia has fired men's hopes in a way which was essential to the realization of Communism in the future. Regarded as a splendid attempt, without which ultimate success would have been very improbable, Bolshevism deserves the gratitude and admiration of all the progressive part of mankind.
  • A fundamental economic reconstruction, bringing with it very far-reaching changes in ways of thinking and feeling, in philosophy and art and private relations, seems absolutely necessary if industrialism is to become the servant of man instead of his master. In all this, I am at one with the Bolsheviks; politically, I criticize them only when their methods seem to involve a departure from their own ideals.
My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.
Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.
Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.
To realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.
Freedom is the greatest of political goods.
Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from.
Mystery is delightful, but unscientific, since it depends upon ignorance.

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