Published Online: 1 FEB 2013
Copyright © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.
The International Encyclopedia of Ethics
How to Cite
Pigden, C. 2013. Russell, Bertrand. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .
- Published Online: 1 FEB 2013
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), third Earl Russell, aristocrat, activist, journalist, mathematician and philosopher, survives in philosophical memory mainly for his technical achievements. He was one of the founding fathers of analytic philosophy, a pioneer of logicism in the philosophy of mathematics, and one of the co-creators of symbolic logic. Indeed, the dominant tone of analytic philosophy, with its keen interest in science and its casual use of logical notation, largely derives from Russell. But philosophy as conceived and practiced by Russell is an elite pursuit. It requires a good deal of background knowledge, both of science and of logic (though as a dedicated popularizer Russell was keen to diffuse the necessary knowledge as widely as possible). And the questions it addresses – “Can mathematics be reduced to logic?” “Is our knowledge of the external world based solely on experience?” – are of interest only to a few. “Philosophers,” says Marx, “have only interpreted the world in various ways: the point, however is to change it” (Marx and Engels 1976: 620; see Marx, Karl). Russell disagreed, not about the need to change the world, but about the point of philosophy as an intellectual enterprise. Interpreting the world is indeed the chief purpose of philosophy, which means that if, as a citizen, you are trying to change the world (or even to stop it getting worse), you are probably not doing philosophy.
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