2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Philosophers
20th century philosophy
Russell in 1907
|Full name||Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell
|Birth|| May 18, 1872
Trellech, Monmouthshire, UK
|Death|| February 2, 1970 (aged 97)
Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales, UK
|School/tradition|| Analytic philosophy
Nobel Prize in Literature
|Main interests||Ethics, epistemology, logic, mathematics, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, religion|
|Notable ideas||Logical atomism, theory of descriptions, knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description, Russell's paradox, Russell's teapot.|
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS ( 18 May 1872– 2 February 1970), was a philosopher, historian, logician, mathematician, advocate for social reform, and pacifist. Although usually regarded as English, he was born in Wales.
A prolific writer, he was a populariser of philosophy and a commentator on a large variety of topics. Continuing a family tradition in political affairs, he was a prominent anti-war activist, championing free trade between nations and anti-imperialism. He wrote the essay On Denoting and was co-author (with Alfred North Whitehead) of Principia Mathematica, an attempt to ground mathematics on the laws of logic. Both works have had a considerable influence on logic, set theory, linguistics and analytic philosophy.
Bertrand Russell was born at the height of Britain's economic and political ascendancy. When he died almost a century later, the British Empire had all but vanished, its power had been dissipated by two world wars and its imperial system had been brought to an end. Among his post–Second World War political activities, Russell was a vigorous proponent of nuclear disarmament, antagonist to communist totalitarianism and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. Previously he had been imprisoned and deprived of his Fellowship of Trinity College because of his activity as a vigorous peace campaigner and opponent of conscription during the First World War. In 1920, Russell visited the emerging Soviet Union which subsequently met with his disapproval, but he also campaigned vigorously against Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.
In 1950, Lord Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".
His paternal grandfather, John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, was the second son of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, and had twice been asked by Queen Victoria to form a government, serving her as Prime Minister in the 1840s and 1860s.
The Russells had been prominent in Britain for several centuries before this, coming to power and the peerage with the rise of the Tudor dynasty. They established themselves as one of Britain's leading Whig (Liberal) families, and participated in every great political event from the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536-40 to the Glorious Revolution in 1688-89 to the Great Reform Act in 1832.
Russell's mother Katherine Louisa (1844 - 1874) was the daughter of Edward Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley, and was the sister of Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle.
Russell's parents were quite radical for their times—Russell's father, Viscount Amberley, was an atheist and consented to his wife's affair with their children's tutor, the biologist Douglas Spalding. Both were early advocates of birth control at a time when this was considered scandalous.
Childhood and adolescence
Russell had two siblings: Frank (nearly seven years older than Bertrand), and Rachel (four years older). In June 1874 Russell's mother died of diphtheria, followed shortly by Rachel, and in January 1876 his father also died of bronchitis following a long period of depression. Frank and Bertrand were placed in the care of their staunchly Victorian grandparents, who lived at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park. John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, his grandfather, died in 1878, and was remembered by Russell as a kindly old man in a wheelchair. As a result, his widow, the Countess Russell (née Lady Frances Elliot), was the dominant family figure for the rest of Russell's childhood and youth.
The countess was from a Scottish Presbyterian family, and successfully petitioned a British court to set aside a provision in Amberley's will requiring the children to be raised as agnostics. Despite her religious conservatism, she held progressive views in other areas (accepting Darwinism and supporting Irish Home Rule), and her influence on Bertrand Russell's outlook on social justice and standing up for principle remained with him throughout his life — her favourite Bible verse, 'Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil' ( Exodus 23:2), became his mantra. However, the atmosphere at Pembroke Lodge was one of frequent prayer, emotional repression and formality; Frank reacted to this with open rebellion, but the young Bertrand learned to hide his feelings.
Russell's adolescence was thus very lonely, and he often contemplated suicide. He remarked in his autobiography that his keenest interests were in sex, religion and mathematics, and that only the wish to know more mathematics kept him from suicide. He was educated at home by a series of tutors, and he spent countless hours in his grandfather's library.
His brother Frank introduced him to the work of Euclid, which transformed Russell's life.
University and first marriage
Russell won a scholarship to read for the Mathematics Tripos at Trinity College, Cambridge, and commenced his studies there in 1890. He became acquainted with the younger G.E. Moore and came under the influence of Alfred North Whitehead, who recommended him to the Cambridge Apostles. He quickly distinguished himself in mathematics and philosophy, graduating with a B.A. in the former subject in 1893 and adding a fellowship in the latter in 1895.
Russell first met the American Quaker Alys Pearsall Smith when he was seventeen years old. He became a friend of the Pearsall Smith family—they knew him primarily as 'Lord John's grandson' and enjoyed showing him off—and travelled with them to the continent; it was in their company that Russell visited the Paris Exhibition of 1889 and was able to climb the Eiffel Tower soon after it was completed.
He soon fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded Alys, who was a graduate of Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, and, contrary to his grandmother's wishes, he married her on 13 December 1894. Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was out on his bicycle, that he no longer loved her. She asked him if he loved her and he replied that he didn't. Russell also disliked Alys's mother, finding her controlling and cruel. It was to be a hollow shell of a marriage and they finally divorced in 1921, after a lengthy period of separation. During this period, Russell had passionate (and often simultaneous) affairs with a number of women, including Lady Ottoline Morrell and the actress Lady Constance Malleson.
Russell began his published work in 1896 with German Social Democracy, a study in politics that was an early indication of a lifelong interest in political and social theory. In 1896, he taught German social democracy at the London School of Economics, where he also lectured on the science of power in the autumn of 1937. He was also a member of the Coefficients dining club of social reformers set up in 1902 by the Fabian campaigners Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
In 1905 he wrote the essay On Denoting, which was published in the philosophical journal Mind. Russell became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1908. The first of three volumes of Principia Mathematica, written with Whitehead, was published in 1910, which, along with the earlier The Principles of Mathematics, soon made Russell world famous in his field. In 1911, he became acquainted with the Austrian engineering student Ludwig Wittgenstein, whom he viewed as a genius and a successor who would continue his work on logic. He spent hours dealing with Wittgenstein's various phobias and his frequent bouts of despair. The latter was often a drain on Russell's energy, but he continued to be fascinated by him and encouraged his academic development, including the publication of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1922.
Between the wars, and second marriage
In August 1920, Russell traveled to Russia as part of an official delegation sent by the British government to investigate the effects of the Russian Revolution. During the course of his visit, he met Lenin and had an hour-long conversation with him. (In his autobiography, he mentions that he found Lenin rather disappointing, and that he sensed an "impish cruelty" in him.) He also cruised down the Volga on a steam-ship. Russell's lover Dora Black also visited Russia independently at the same time — she was enthusiastic about the revolution, but Russell's experiences destroyed his previous tentative support for it.
Russell subsequently lectured in Beijing on philosophy for one year, accompanied by Dora. While in China, Russell became gravely ill with pneumonia, and incorrect reports of his death were published in the Japanese press. When the couple visited Japan on their return journey, Dora notified the world that "Mr. Bertrand Russell, having died according to the Japanese press, is unable to give interviews to Japanese journalists." The press were not amused and did not appreciate the sarcasm.
On the couple's return to England on 26 August 1921, Dora was six months pregnant, and Russell arranged a hasty divorce from Alys, marrying Dora six days after the divorce was finalised, on 27 September 1921. Their children were John Conrad Russell, 4th Earl Russell, born on 16 November 1921 and Katharine Jane Russell (now Lady Katharine Tait) born on 29 December 1923. Russell supported himself during this time by writing popular books explaining matters of physics, ethics, and education to the layman. Some scholars have suggested that at this point he had an affair with Vivien Eliot, wife of T. S. Eliot.
Together with Dora, he also founded the experimental Beacon Hill School in 1927. After he left the school in 1932, Dora continued it until 1943.
Upon the death of his elder brother Frank, in 1931, Russell became the 3rd Earl Russell. He once said that his title was primarily useful for securing hotel rooms.
Russell's marriage to Dora grew increasingly tenuous, and it reached a breaking point over her having two children with an American journalist, Griffin Barry. They separated in 1932 and finally divorced. On 18 January 1936, Russell married his third wife, an Oxford undergraduate named Patricia ("Peter") Spence, who had been his children's governess since the summer of 1930. Russell and Peter had one son, Conrad Sebastian Robert Russell, 5th Earl Russell, who became a prominent historian and one of the leading figures in the Liberal Democrat party.
Second World War
After the Second World War, Russell taught at the University of Chicago, later moving on to Los Angeles to lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was appointed professor at the City College of New York in 1940, but after a public outcry, the appointment was annulled by a court judgement: his opinions (especially those relating to sexual morality, detailed in Marriage and Morals ten years earlier) made him "morally unfit" to teach at the college. The protest was started by the mother of a student who would not have been eligible for his graduate-level course in mathematical logic. Many intellectuals, led by John Dewey, protested his treatment. Dewey and Horace M. Kallen edited a collection of articles on the CCNY affair in The Bertrand Russell Case. He soon joined the Barnes Foundation, lecturing to a varied audience on the history of philosophy; these lectures formed the basis of A History of Western Philosophy. His relationship with the eccentric Albert C. Barnes soon soured, and he returned to Britain in 1944 to rejoin the faculty of Trinity College.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Russell participated in many broadcasts over the BBC, particularly the Third Programme, on various topical and philosophical subjects. By this time in his life, Russell was world famous outside of academic circles, frequently the subject or author of magazine and newspaper articles, and was called upon to offer up opinions on a wide variety of subjects, even mundane ones. En route to one of his lectures in Trondheim, Russell was one of 24 survivors (among a total of 43 passengers) in a plane crash in Hommelvik in October 1948. A History of Western Philosophy (1945) became a best-seller, and provided Russell with a steady income for the remainder of his life.
In the King's Birthday Honours of June 9, 1949, Russell was awarded the Order of Merit, and the following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. When he was given the Order of Merit, King George VI was affable but slightly embarrassed at decorating a former jailbird, saying that "You have sometimes behaved in a manner that would not do if otherwise adopted." Russell merely smiled, but afterwards claimed that the reply "That's right, just like your brother" immediately came to mind.
In 1952, Russell was divorced by Peter, with whom he had been very unhappy. Conrad, Russell's son by Peter, did not see his father between the time of the divorce and 1968 (at which time his decision to meet his father caused a permanent breach with his mother).
Russell married his fourth wife, Edith Finch, soon after the divorce, on December 15, 1952. They had known each other since 1925, and Edith had taught English at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sharing a house for twenty years with Russell's old friend Lucy Donnelly. Edith remained with him until his death, and, by all accounts, their marriage was a happy, close, and loving one. Russell's eldest son, John, suffered from serious mental illness, which was the source of ongoing disputes between Russell and John's mother, Russell's former wife, Dora. John's wife Susan was also mentally ill, and eventually Russell and Edith became the legal guardians of their three daughters (two of whom were later diagnosed with schizophrenia).
Russell spent the 1950s and 1960s engaged in various political causes, primarily related to nuclear disarmament and opposing the Vietnam war (see also Russell Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal). The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was a document calling for nuclear disarmament and was signed by 11 of the prominent nuclear physicists and intellectuals of the time. He wrote a great many letters to world leaders during this period. He was in contact with Lionel Rogosin while the latter was filming his anti-war film Good Times, Wonderful Times in the 1960's. He also became a hero to many of the youthful members of the New Left. During the 1960s, in particular, Russell became increasingly vocal about his disapproval of what he felt to be the American government's near-genocidal policies. In 1963 he became the inaugural recipient of the Jerusalem Prize, an award for writers concerned with the freedom of the individual in society. In October 1965 he tore up his Labour Party card because he feared the party was going to send soldiers to support the Vietnam War.
Final years and death
Russell published his three-volume autobiography in 1967, 1968, and 1969. Although he became frail, he remained lucid and clear thinking up to the day of his death. On 23 November 1969 he wrote to the Times newspaper saying that the preparation for show trials in Czechoslovakia was "highly alarming". Also during that month, he appealed to Secretary General U Thant of the United Nations to support an international war crimes commission to investigate alleged "torture and genocide" by the Americans in South Vietnam. Then a month after that, he protested to Alexei Kosygin over the expulsion of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from the Writers Union.
|“||The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was "given" by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their numbers increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East. We are frequently told that we must sympathise with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. […] What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy.||”|
The next day, 1 February, he spent at his home, Plas Penrhyn, in Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, Wales quietly. However, on the morning of 2 February Russell said he didn't feel well and remained in bed until just before noon. That evening, whilst reading, he suddenly fell ill. His wife and nurse, after calling his doctor, got him to bed and gave him oxygen, but it was to no avail. Bertrand Russell died of influenza before the doctor arrived.
Upon his death, his peerages descended on his eldest son, John, Viscount Amberley, who thence became the fourth Earl.
Russell was cremated at Colwyn Bay on 5 February 1970. There was no religious ceremony, as Russell had dictated in his will. His ashes were scattered over the Welsh mountains later that year.
Russell is generally credited as being one of the founders of analytic philosophy but he also produced a body of work that covers logic, the philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics, ethics and epistemology.
Influence on philosophy
Russell had a major influence on modern philosophy, especially in the English-speaking world. While others were also influential, notably Frege, Moore, and Wittgenstein, Russell made analysis the dominant methodology of professional philosophy. The various analytic movements throughout the last century all owe something to Russell's earlier works.
Wittgenstein's own influence on Russell, for example, in leading him to conclude, much to his regret, that mathematical truths were purely tautological truths, is a matter of debate. What is certain is that in 1901 Russell's own reflections on the issues raised by the paradox that takes his name Russell's Paradox, formalised 30 years later by Kurt Gödel's 'Undecidability' Theorems, led him to doubt the certainty of mathematics. This doubt was perhaps Russell's most important 'influence' on mathematics, and was spread throughout the European universities, even as Russell himself laboured (with Whitehead) in a futile attempt to find a solution to the Paradox.
Russell wrote (in Portraits from Memory, 1956) of his reaction to Gödel's 'Theorems of Undecidability':
"I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith. I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere. But I discovered that many mathematical demonstrations, which my teachers wanted me to accept, were full of fallacies ... I was continually reminded of the fable about the elephant and the tortoise. Having constructed an elephant upon which the mathematical world could rest, I found the elephant tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise to keep the elephant from falling. But the tortoise was no more secure than the elephant, and after some twenty years of arduous toil, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge indubitable."
Evidence of Russell's influence on Wittgenstein can be seen throughout the Tractatus, which Russell was instrumental in having published. Russell also helped to secure Wittgenstein's doctorate and a faculty position at Cambridge, along with several fellowships along the way. However, as previously stated, he came to disagree with Wittgenstein's later linguistic and analytic approach to philosophy dismissing it as "trivial," while Wittgenstein came to think of Russell as "superficial and glib," particularly in his popular writings. Russell's influence is also evident in the work of A. J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, Alonzo Church, Kurt Gödel, David Kaplan, Saul Kripke, Karl Popper, W. V. Quine, John R. Searle, and a number of other philosophers and logicians.
Some see Russell's influence as mostly negative, primarily those who have been critical of Russell's emphasis on science and logic. Russell often characterized his moral and political writings as lying outside the scope of philosophy, however Russell's admirers and detractors are often more acquainted with his pronouncements on social and political matters, or what some (e.g., biographer Ray Monk) have called his " journalism," than they are with his technical, philosophical work. There is a marked tendency to conflate these matters, and to judge Russell the philosopher on what he himself would certainly consider to be his non-philosophical opinions. Russell often cautioned people to make this distinction.
Russell left a large assortment of writing. From his adolescent years, Russell wrote about 3,000 words a day, with relatively few corrections; his first draft nearly always was his last draft, even on the most complex, technical matters. His previously unpublished work is an immense treasure trove, and scholars are continuing to gain new insights into Russell's thought.
Political and social activism occupied much of Russell's time for most of his long life, which makes his prodigious and seminal writing on a wide range of technical and non-technical subjects all the more remarkable.
Russell remained politically active to almost literally the end of his life, writing and exhorting world leaders and lending his name to various causes. Some maintain that during his last few years he gave his youthful followers too much license and that they used his name for some outlandish purposes that a more attentive Russell would not have approved. There is evidence to show that he became aware of this when he fired his private secretary, Ralph Schoenman, then a young firebrand of the radical left.
Pacifism, war and nuclear weapons
Despite the ready image still provided by popular culture, Russell was never a complete pacifist. He resisted specific wars, protesting against them in specific ways, on the grounds that they were contrary to the interests of civilization, and thus immoral. Indeed, in his 1915 article on " The Ethics of War", he defended wars of colonization on the same utilitarian grounds: he felt conquest was justified if the side with the more advanced civilization could put the land to better use. So, when it is said, rightly, that Russell opposed nearly all wars between modern nations, it must be understood in this sense.
Russell's activism against British participation in World War I led to fines, a loss of freedom of travel within Britain, and the non-renewal of his fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was attacked as a 'traitor' in the press, treated like a security risk by his own government, and many of his closest friends deserted him. He was eventually sentenced to prison in 1918 on the tenuous grounds that he had interfered in British Foreign Policy — he had argued that British workers should be wary of the United States Army, for it had experience in strike-breaking. He was released after serving six months, but was still closely supervised until the end of the war.
In 1943 Russell called his stance towards warfare "relative political pacifism"—he held that war was always a great evil, but in some particularly extreme circumstances (such as when Adolf Hitler threatened to take over Europe) it might be a lesser of multiple evils. In the years leading to World War II, he supported the policy of appeasement; but by 1940 he acknowledged that in order to preserve democracy, Hitler had to be defeated. This same reluctant value compromise was shared by his acquaintance A.A. Milne.
Russell was fairly consistently opposed to the continued existence of nuclear weapons from the time of their first use. However, on November 20, 1948, in a public speech at Westminster School, addressing a gathering arranged by the New Commonwealth, Russell shocked some observers with comments that seemed to suggest a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union might be justified. Russell apparently argued that the threat of war between the United States and the Soviet Union would enable the United States to force the Soviet Union to accept the Baruch Plan for international atomic energy control. (Earlier in the year he had written in the same vein to Walter W. Marseille.) Russell felt this plan "had very great merits and showed considerable generosity, when it is remembered that America still had an unbroken nuclear monopoly." (Has Man a Future?, 1961). However Nicholas Griffin of McMaster University, in his book The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970, has claimed (after obtaining a transcript of the speech) that Russell's wording implies he didn't advocate the actual use of the atom bomb, but merely its diplomatic use as a massive source of leverage over the actions of the Soviets. Griffin's interpretation was disputed by Nigel Lawson, the former British Chancellor, who was present at the speech, claims it was quite clear that Russell was advocating an actual First Strike. Whichever interpretation is correct, Russell later relented, instead arguing for mutual disarmament by the nuclear powers, possibly linked to some form of world government.
In 1955 Russell released the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, co-signed by Albert Einstein and nine other leading scientists and intellectuals, a document which led to the first of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in 1957. In 1958, Russell became the first president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He resigned two years later when the CND would not support civil disobedience, and formed the Committee of 100. In September 1961 he was imprisoned for a week for inciting civil disobedience, when he took part in a huge ban-the-bomb demonstration at the Ministry of Defence but the sentence was quashed on account of his age.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis Russell sent telegrams to Kennedy, Khrushchev, the UN Secretary-General U Thant and British prime minister Macmillan, which may have helped to prevent further escalation and a possible nuclear war. Khrushchev replied with a long letter, published by the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, which was mainly addressed to Kennedy and the Western world.
Increasingly concerned about the potential danger to humanity arising from nuclear weapons and other scientific discoveries, he also joined with Einstein, Oppenheimer, Rotblat and other eminent scientists of the day to establish the World Academy of Art and Science which was formally constituted in 1960.
The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation began work in 1963, in order to carry forward Russell's work for peace, human rights and social justice. He began public opposition to U.S. policy in Vietnam with a letter to the New York Times dated March 28, 1963. By the autumn of 1966 he had completed the manuscript of "War Crimes in Vietnam". Then, using the American justifications for the Nuremberg Trials, Russell, along with Jean-Paul Sartre, organised what he called an international War Crimes Tribunal, a.k.a the Russell Tribunal.
Russell was an early critic of the official story in the John F. Kennedy assassination; his " 16 Questions on the Assassination" from 1964 is still considered a good summary of the apparent inconsistencies in that case.
Russell made a cameo appearance playing himself in the anti-war Bollywood film " Aman" which was released in India in 1967. This was Russell's only appearance in a feature film.
Communism and socialism
Russell initially expressed great hope in "the Communist experiment". However, when he visited the Soviet Union and met Lenin in 1920, he was unimpressed with the system in place. On his return he wrote a critical tract, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. He was "infinitely unhappy in this atmosphere—stifled by its utilitarianism, its indifference to love and beauty and the life of impulse." He believed Lenin to be similar to a religious zealot, cold and possessing "no love of liberty."
In the United Kingdom general election, 1922 and UK general election, 1923 Russell stood as a Labour Party candidate in the Chelsea constituency, but only on the basis that he knew he was extremely unlikely to be elected in such a safe Conservative seat, and he was not on either occasion.
Politically, Russell envisioned a kind of benevolent, libertarian socialism, similar in some ways to, yet possessing important differences from, the conception promoted by the Fabian Society. He was strongly critical of Stalin's regime, and of the practices of states proclaiming Marxism and Communism generally. Russell was a consistent enthusiast for democracy and world government, and advocated the establishment of a democratic international government in some of the essays collected in In Praise of Idleness (1935), and also in Has Man a Future? (1961).
|“||One who believes as I do, that free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism as much as to the Church of Rome. The hopes which inspire communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically and are as likely to do as much harm.||”|
|“||For my part, while I am as convinced a Socialist as the most ardent Marxian, I do not regard Socialism as a gospel of proletarian revenge, nor even, primarily, as a means of securing economic justice. I regard it primarily as an adjustment to machine production demanded by considerations of common sense, and calculated to increase the happiness, not only of proletarians, but of all except a tiny minority of the human race.||”|
|“||Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for the others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever.||”|
As a young man, Russell was a member of the Liberal Party and wrote in favour of free trade and women's suffrage. In his 1910 pamphlet, Anti-Suffragist Anxieties, Russell wrote that some men opposed suffrage because they "fear that their liberty to act in ways that are injurious to women will be curtailed". In May 1907 Russell stood for Parliament as a Woman's suffrage candidate in Wimbledon, but was not elected.
Russell wrote against Victorian notions of morality. Marriage and Morals (1929) expressed his opinion that sex between a man and woman who are not married to each other is not necessarily immoral if they truly love one another, and advocated "trial marriages" or "companionate marriage," formalised relationships whereby young people could legitimately have sexual intercourse without being expected to remain married in the long term or to have children (an idea first proposed by Judge Ben Lindsey). This might not seem extreme by today's standards, but it was enough to raise vigorous protests and denunciations against him during his visit to the United States shortly after the book's publication. Russell was also ahead of his time in advocating open sex education and widespread access to contraception. He also advocated easy divorce, but only if the marriage had produced no children — Russell's view was that parents should remain married but tolerant of each other's sexual infidelity, if they had children. This reflected his life at the time — his second wife Dora was openly having an affair, and would soon become pregnant by another man, but Russell was keen for their children John and Kate to have a "normal" family life.
Russell was also active within the Homosexual Law Reform Society, being one of the signatories of Anthony Edward Dyson's letter calling for a change in the law regarding homosexual practices, which were legalised in 1967, when Russell was still alive.
As with his views on religion, which developed considerably throughout his long life, Russell's views on the matter of race did not remain fixed. By 1951, Russell was a vocal advocate of racial equality and intermarriage; he penned a chapter on "Racial Antagonism" in New Hopes for a Changing World (1951), which read:
|“||It is sometimes maintained that racial mixture is biologically undesirable. There is no evidence whatever for this view. Nor is there, apparently, any reason to think that Negroes are congenitally less intelligent than white people, but as to that it will be difficult to judge until they have equal scope and equally good social conditions.||”|
Passages in some of his early writings support birth control. On 16 November 1922, for instance, he gave a lecture to the General Meeting of Dr. Marie Stopes's Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress on "Birth Control and International Relations," in which he described the importance of extending Western birth control worldwide; his remarks anticipated the population control movement of the 1960s and the role of the United Nations.
|“||This policy may last some time, but in the end under it we shall have to give way--we are only putting off the evil day; the one real remedy is birth control, that is getting the people of the world to limit themselves to those numbers which they can keep upon their own soil… I do not see how we can hope permanently to be strong enough to keep the coloured races out; sooner or later they are bound to overflow, so the best we can do is to hope that those nations will see the wisdom of Birth Control…. We need a strong international authority.||”|
Another passage from early editions of his book Marriage and Morals (1929), which Russell later clarified as referring only to the situation as resulting from environmental conditioning, and which he had removed from later editions, reads:
|“||In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another…. There is no sound reason to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from questions of humanity) would be highly undesirable.||”|
Russell later criticized eugenic programs for their vulnerability to corruption, and, in 1932, he condemned the "unwarranted assumption" that "Negroes are congenitally inferior to white men" (Education and the Social Order, Chap. 3).
Responding in 1964 to a correspondent's enquiry, "do you still consider the Negroes an inferior race, as you did when you wrote Marriage and Morals?", Russell replied:
|“||I never held Negroes to be inherently inferior. The statement in Marriage and Morals refers to environmental conditioning. I have had it withdrawn from subsequent editions because it is clearly ambiguous.||”|
- The Hon. Bertrand Russell (1872-1931)
- Bertrand, The Earl Russell / Lord Russell (1931-1970)
|Peerage of the United Kingdom|
| Earl Russell
|NAME||Russel, Bertrand Arthur William, 3rd Earl Russell|
|SHORT DESCRIPTION||philosopher, logician, and mathematician|
|DATE OF BIRTH||18 May 1872|
|PLACE OF BIRTH||Trellech, Monmouthshire, United Kingdom|
|DATE OF DEATH||2 February 1970|
|PLACE OF DEATH||Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales, United Kingdom|