Betrand Russell: the Problems of Philosophy

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  • Topic: Bertrand Russell, Logic, Gottlob Frege
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Betrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy

The value of Philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of Philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from the convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation of his deliberate reason. Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy.

Philosophy is commonly thought of as an activity reserved for Oxbridge high- brows; or a sort of intellectual table-tennis indulged in by the Ancient Greeks to while the time away before television came along. Russell suggests that it may actually serve a purpose for everyone.

In the first line, Russell is clearly contrasting his own belief in the inherent uncertainty of philosophy with the attitude of those people who dedicate their lives to a search for the "right" theory, in an attempt to understand the "truth" about human nature. He argues that, were a philosopher to write the perfect, unanswerable theory, the solution to life, the universe and everything, then philosophy would itself become responsible for inducing the very mental laziness which it should help us to avoid.

Disagreement and debate between the adherents of rival theories is, moreover, essential to the health of philosophy. Just as many major advances of science are catalysed by war, so the great intellectual insights are sparked by discussion. If there were universal agreement on one philosophical theory, then all further thought would be rendered useless. (See p.319, Small World by David Lodge: "…what matters in the field of critical practice is not truth but difference. If everybody were convinced by your arguments, they would have to do the same as you and then there would be no satisfaction in doing it.")

Russell talks of three different factors involved in the formation of prejudice. Each is considered in detail below.

The first type...
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