BNC Text KS3

Lecture on philosophy. Sample containing about 9682 words speech recorded in educational context

1 speakers recorded by respondent number C875

PS6JS X u (jc, age unknown) unspecified

1 recordings

  1. Tape 139401 recorded on unknown date.


jc (PS6JS) [1] If any of you happen to be professional philosophers, you will certainly have had this experience in your, in society, you're asked what you do, and if you make that admission, a slightly lunatic thing happens.
[2] That you're greeted in the first place with erm either silence or some vague and not singularly hopeful mutter, but more importantly with a curious facial expression mingled between erm dread and contempt, sort of thing you'd expect as if you'd said you were a sorcerer.
[3] [laugh] I find myself the only thing is to change the subject.
[4] This erm reaction to the disclosure I think's exaggerated but on the other hand there's something in it.
[5] Because although the problems in which philosophers begin are fairly easy to state and quite straightforward, erm certainly when they begin they end up in some rather strange regions.
[6] Philosophy always has begun from Athens on from a recognition of the extraordinary facts of the diversity of human belief and attitude, on moral questions, on questions of social organization, on questions as to the ultimate nature of the universe, the destiny of man, and all such things, the most astonishing diversity of belief and attitude has prevailed and still does prevail amongst people.
[7] That, however, together with the fact that each and all of us, I think, individually, entertain fairly strong confidence about the rationality, about the rightness of our own position.
[8] It's this combination of diversity and conviction which presents such a peculiar problem.
[9] If we all agreed and erm shared, then erm the fact that we were confident wouldn't perhaps matter too much.
[10] Or if we all disagreed, but we treated it all, to use Russell's favourite example, like disagreements about the taste of oysters, it wouldn't matter very much either.
[11] But what's so striking is that this great diversity of belief is accompanied by strong convictions of rationality and rectitude.
[12] And the effect of this, over the last two thousand years odd, upon the intelligent observer, has been to produce a mood, or even a philosophy, of scepticism.
[13] Because if, on matters seemingly of great importance for mankind, different people can entertain with great conviction radically conflicting beliefs, it strongly suggests that nobody really knows what they are talking about, and that the confidence of all of them is misplaced, and perhaps that nobody knows upon what general principles one ought to settle questions of these kinds.
[14] Scepticism in these circumstances is a very tempting position in which to rest.
[15] But when you think of it, it's not really a possible position in which to rest.
[16] Because the sceptic is in the nature of things, if he's really consistent and systematic, committed to tolerating, well, all these other opinions, to tolerating all sorts of preposterous absurdities and monstrous attitudes.
[17] The sceptic is I suppose really the arch-conservative.
[18] Whatever is, is.
[19] And he signs himself off from systematic criticism.
[20] And so you find yourself forced, not merely to note the diversity of belief and the strength of individual confidence, and to be a bit sceptical, but to search around for principles of adjudication, for ways of trying to sort out what beliefs are reasonable and acceptable, and what not.
[21] The pain of, the fault of that, the penalty is, that you will find yourself tolerating every absurdity of superstition and the like.
[22] So the philosopher begins his search for some conceivable agreed ways of adjudicating these tangled controversial issues.
[23] Russell once said, ‘It is not by delusion that mankind can prosper, but only by unswerving courage in the pursuit of truth.’
[24] In that remark, several of his convictions are already present.
[25] He recognizes, and indeed one is forced to recognize, from the mere fact that so many strong beliefs are contradictory, that very much in human belief is delusion.
[26] Present also, in that statement, is his conviction, which is suggested by the word ‘unswerving courage’, that the pursuit of truth may be difficult, that it may lead one to call in question things that one doesn't want to give up and which it is painful to surrender.
[27] But he argues that this is the fundamental thing to go by.
[28] There is truth, it is possible at least to advance towards it, we mustn't sit down in what Hume called ‘a forlorn scepticism’, erm it will require great courage to pursue it, but only by pursuing it shall mankind prosper.
[29] The phases of Russell's pursuit of truth are roughly these: as a boy, as a youth, he had an intense battle over traditional religious belief.
[30] That occupied the eighties.
[31] In the nineties, when he was at Cambridge, he had another struggle with German idealism, embodied as it then was in the English universities.
[32] In the nineteen hundreds, he was concerned with the foundations of mathematics, and then for the remainder of his life, roughly between nineteen-ten and nineteen-fifty, or indeed to the very end of his life, he was concerned with two sets of knowledge, erm problems in the theory of knowledge, and problems about social organization and personal conduct.
[33] So I'll take things in that order.
[34] Russell was born of liberal, free-thinking parents, who died when he was an infant, and thereafter he was brought up by his grandmother, Lady Russell, the wife, though shortly the widow, of Lord John Russell, who was erm a Presbyterian who gradually moved over to Unitarianism and who, as Russell put it later, preached quote ‘virtue at the expense of intellect, health, happiness and every mundane good.’
[35] In fact he was subjected to a very stiff, puritanical and doctrinal regime, only mitigated by the fact that he was educated by a long sequence of tutors, and seemed to have access to a lot of books.
[36] Even as a child, Russell describes himself as having found this intellectual, religious background as intolerable, and he says that he spent endless hours meditating on the supposed rational grounds for Christianity.
[37] And between the ages of fourteen and eighteen came gradually the disbelief, first in free will, then in immortality, and finally in God.
[38] In the first chapter of his autobiography, we have an interesting record of this struggle, which he wrote down in English words but in Greek characters, in order that his thoughts erm shouldn't be accessible to his family.
[39] What roughly he says is that he is committed to the following scientific arguments, arguments based upon scientific principles, regardless of any pain that may be caused to him or to others by so doing.
[40] And he then tries to show in detail how this caused him, first of all, to disbelieve in free will on account of a commitment to universal determinism, then in immortality, and finally in God.
[41] And although much of this was, by the record that he gives, painful, at the very end of it he says, quote, ‘I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject’.
[42] erm And he obviously thought at least that he had shaken off religion for good.
[43] But the interesting thing is that, although he was certainly done with Christianity, erm and done with doctrinal religion, done with theism, done with all normally erm accepted Christian beliefs, he certainly wasn't done with religion itself.
[44] There was throughout his life a long conflict between what may ... one may call a sort of scientific naturalism in his attitude to the world, and the impulse to hypostatize his ideals, to create out of his ideals erm ideal beings of some kind, and so to worship.
[45] The great bulk of his writing about religion, however, is strongly negative.
[46] He didn't claim to be an atheist.
[47] He took the view that erm religious beliefs are highly improbable if not demonstrably false, as judged from the scientific standpoint.
[48] If you approach God's existence as you would approach any scientific hypothesis, you're forced to recognize, he says, that it's highly improbable.
[49] He didn't take a positivistic line and argue that the sentence ‘God exists’ is literally meaningless, but he did at least think that it was, expressed a proposition which no reasonable person would accept.
[50] And if you abandon scientific evidence, it's no good looking to feeling.
[51] You can't make any inferences from how you feel about the world or any emotional experiences that you may have, to what is there in reality.
[52] And if you look at what religions, organized religions exhibit, you will find, and very numerous essays and chapters in his books hammer away at these themes, that organized religions are inhuman, they are obscurantist, they are reactionary, they are based on fear and hatred of other people, ignorance of the way the world works, and conceit.
[53] Conceit, because they tend to attribute to human beings a position in the world to which, a position of importance in the world, to which they're not entitled.
[54] Nothing, in other words, could be sharper than Russell's condemnation of traditional Christianity.
[55] Not, however, that there's anything original in it.
[56] All those things had been said time and again erm by various thinkers in the eighteenth century and before and after.
[57] It wasn't original, but what it was, as always with Russell, was something expressed with uncommon verve and humour and a persistent, sinister, undermining irony, in which he excelled.
[58] But although he took this very stiff line about theism and organized religion, it's not true that Russell himself was void of religious feelings and interests.
[59] He repeatedly expresses himself as awestruck by nature and by the contemplation of truth, and as having a, a desire to worship something outside himself.
[60] He found humanism, which posits no values outside human beings, very hard to swallow, although he could see no case against it.
[61] And more positively, he found in mysticism, besides metaphysical delusions, which he is the first to castigate, yet an affirmation of the possibility of universal love and joy which is the apex of human achievement.
[62] This is a side of Russell which people perhaps don't know about, erm so well as the others, so if I may, I'll read some passages and paraphrase it.
[63] About mysticism he says, ‘While its theories seem to me to be mistaken, I yet believe that by sufficient restraint, there is an element of wisdom to be learned from the mystical way of feeling, which does not seem to be attainable in any other manner.
[64] If this is the truth, mysticism is to be commended as an attitude towards life, not as a creed about the world.
[65] The metaphysical creed, I shall maintain, is a mistaken outcome of the emotion, although this emotion, as colouring and informing all other thoughts and feelings, is the inspirer of whatever is best in man.
[66] Even the cautious and patient investigation of truth by science, which seems to be the very antithesis of the mystic's swift certainty, may be fostered and nourished by that very spirit of reverence in which mysticism lives and moves.
[67] What is, in all cases, ethically characteristic of mysticism, is absence of indignation or protest, acceptance with joy, disbelief in the ultimate truth of the division into two hostile camps, the good and the bad.
[68] This attitude is a direct outcome of the nature of the mystical experience, with its sense of unity is associated a feeling of infinite peace.
[69] Indeed, it may be suspected that the feeling of peace produces, as feelings do in dreams, the whole system of associated beliefs which make up the body of mystic doctrine.’
[70] Again, ‘The possibility of this universal love and joy in all that exists is of supreme importance for the conduct and happiness of life, and gives inestimable value to the mystic emotion, apart from any creeds which may be built upon it.
[71] But if we are not to be led into false beliefs, it is necessary to realize exactly what the mystic emotion reveals.
[72] It reveals a possibility of human nature, a possibility of a nobler, freer, happier life than could otherwise be achieved.
[73] But it does not reveal anything about the non-human or about the nature of the universe in general.
[74] Good and bad, and even the higher good that mysticism finds everywhere, are the reflections of our own emotions on other things, not part of the substance of things as they are in themselves.’
[75] For the rest of Russell's life there was a constant tug of war between the very real religious sentiments which he expresses in passages like those and his sceptical attitude towards established religions.
[76] I think I shall be able to show you that this religious attitude underlay some of the most striking aspects of Russell's life: his pacifism, and his deep concern with human misfortune and misery.
[77] The second big battle that Russell had in his unswerving pursuit of truth was with German idealism, mainly Hegelian idealism, which by a very curious aberration from the standard empiricism of the British people, took root in Oxford and Cambridge in the last half of the last century, and was almost for a time unchallenged.
[78] Russell first read mathematics at Cambridge and then, in the second half of his tripos, philosophy, and he then came strongly under this influence.
[79] I must say I've been seriously wondering, during this lecture, whether I was going to have the courage or not, to attempt to give you a thumbnail exposition of Hegelian metaphysics.
[80] [laugh] To tell the honest truth I'm still dithering.
[81] In the days when I used to drink alcohol I'd have said it was possible to do it only on the basis of several glasses of sherry.
[82] Now that I'm a teetotaller it's become even harder.
[83] But ... broadly speaking, however, and this will do, I think, the principle as far as Russell's concerned is this: that according to this way, this way of thinking is monistic.
[84] It believes that everything in the world is related to everything else in such an intimate way that only the whole is, can be said to be real, and only by seeing everything in its associated network of the whole to which it belongs, of the complete whole to which it belongs, can it be understood.
[85] Piecemeal understanding of the world, bit by bit, is not on.
[86] Therefore all understanding, in any way worthy the name, has to begin from the whole of reality as such, and proceed outwards from there to the details of the world as we know it.
[87] That's one.
[88] Two is that there, in some sense, some perhaps rather extended and difficult sense, this totality of everything which we have to take by storm directly if any detail of the world is every to be understood, can be said to be mental.
[89] erm At least it can be more nearly said to be mental than anything else.
[90] In a real sense, our mind or at least, our mind as it truly is, our mind as it would be if it were purged of all individuality, partiality, incompleteness, confusion, emotion and what not, is identical with the total absolute which the business of philosophy is to study.
[91] And thirdly, in order to unravel the totality of things that are and see how it is inwardly articulated and how it emanates into the diversity of the world as we experience in the ordinary way, your thought has to follow a special kind of logic, dialectical logic, which exhibits the process of thought and simultaneously the process of reality as one that proceeds by things being or things being said, and these giving rise to their opposites, to contradictions, and these contradictory moments or items being taken up in a greater, synthesizing whole.
[92] If one thinks dialectically, so Hegel believed, it was possible, for the ... it was possible, he had done it, it's set out in the Encyclopedia, his Encyclopedia, [laugh] to see the whole system of reality as one articulated, logical system in which everything has its orderly and appointed place.
[93] Russell was taken up in this for a time, he even wrote wonderful piece on the foundations of geometry couched in erm a sort of vaguely dialectical form, which in later life he erm pronounced as being complete rubbish.
[94] He says of himself that he was, that there was a curious pleasure in making oneself believe that time and space are unreal, that matter is an illusion, and that the world really exists, consists of nothing but mind.
[95] And he certainly did enter into it with erm vigour for a short period.
[96] But only very for a very short period.
[97] And then, under the influence of G.
[98] E.
[99] Moore, he rocketed off to the very opposite of metaphysical extremes.
[100] He came, towards the end of the nineties, to believe that there are erm there must be things which are in the strictest possible sense non-mental, and which would be what they were, even if there had never been any minds that were conscious of them.
[101] Moreover, erm the world can be broken down into elements, into simples, which you can perceive or grasp conceptually as what they are quite independently of the system as a whole to which they belong.
[102] Hence philosophical analysis can and must proceed by erm philosophical thinking must proceed by analysis, by breaking down complex wholes into their simple parts and building them up by construction out of these simple parts, a conviction to which Russell remained true for the rest of his life.
[103] Thenceforward, Russell was consistently what I called earlier a scientific naturalist.
[104] He allowed himself, or claimed to allow himself, no beliefs about the world which couldn't be justified if, if, even if only in a very loose sense, by scientific canons of procedure.
[105] Nature is an ... reality independent of mind, man is in fact only a small cog in the machine.
[106] ‘I see nothing,’ he says, ‘nothing impossible, in a universe devoid of experience.’
[107] And looking back on his emergence from absolute idealism, he says of himself that he came to hate the stuffiness of supposing that space and time were only in the mind.
[108] And I fancy that erm a large part of his animus against latterday Oxford philosophy was that he suspected it of covert idealism, erm a preoccupation simply with the knowing mind, insufficient attention to the facts of the world as presented by science.
[109] And yet, although he was a scientific naturalist and although in frequent essays he reminds us of the insignificance and unimportance of man in the whole scheme of things, it's plain that, from the beginning, and as I hope I shall be able to show you, right down to the end, he found something emotionally hard to bear, I was going to say, in fact, intolerable, in this situation.
[110] You will see what I mean if you read a very strange piece ... called ‘A Free Man's Worship’, which he wrote in nineteen-hundred and three.
[111] Strange because it is, as he later admitted and I'm sure he was later very embarrassed by it, erm histrionic and emotional in the most extreme way.
[112] erm He apparently is adopting the position of a scientific naturalist, and yet all the ways in which he talks about nature are ways which personify it.
[113] Nature is grinding down man, or will grind down man, has no regard to him, is cruel, all this kind of language is used of nature, and he depicts the only posture of the rational man as a kind of, if such a thing is possible, a rather emotional Stoicism.
[114] But if you read that rather strange, moving document, you will see very well what I mean, when I refer to Russell's emotional difficulty in accepting what commended itself so strongly to his intellect, a purely naturalistic, scientific account of what things are.
[115] In the year nineteen hundred, nineteen hundred and one, Russell then underwent a double revolution, a moral revolution and an intellectual one.
[116] The moral revolution, which is very strikingly described in his autobiography, arose out of a visit that he and his wife paid to the Whitehead family, which were then undergoing a family tribulation of some kind, and Russell was deeply moved by their plight.
[117] And, as he describes it in a very striking page, suddenly had what he calls a, a very acute sense of unendurable individual loneliness of man, the acute, an acute sense of the pathos of the situation of the human individual, somehow inherently lonely, shut up within himself, undefended, ... against the blows of fate.
[118] This led him to see that, that only one thing which can begin to come to the rescue of human beings in this situation, and that is universal love, and on that basis he saw, almost instantaneously, that war, that violence, that coldness in personal relations even, are morally intolerable.
[119] ‘At the end of those five minutes, he said, I had become a completely different person.’
[120] As he describes himself he had been, during the nineties at Cambridge and afterwards, a rather worldly, flippant creature, erm but after this experience something changed within him, and he says, and I suppose, I think we must believe that it is true, that it was on account of this sort of moral mystical experience that his whole attitude to the world was changed, and he was provided with the peculiar moral strength to fight the battles, as he later did fight, against war and other such things.
[121] But — and it's this sort of complication that makes him I think such a remarkable man — although that did happen then, for the next ten, twelve years, he was entirely preoccupied, almost entirely preoccupied with something else, and this something else erm originates from the other revolution that he underwent at this time, a revolution that occurred after a visit to an international mathematical congress in Paris, where he met the Italian mathematician Peano.
[122] To try and explain this one is almost as bad as to try and explain Hegel erm my ignorance is even more crying in this case than in the other.
[123] But the broad gist of the point I think is this.
[124] Like very many other people, and this theme runs right through the length of European intellectual life, Russell was, he was delighted with mathematics when he first encountered it, erm immensely impressed by the certainty of its propositions, as so many other people had been, erm troubled a bit by the logical inadequacy of much of the mathematics that he was presented with, especially at Cambridge, and investing mathematics with a kind of Platonic aura.
[125] His immense desire to have something outside himself that he could look up to and worship expressed itself not merely in that idealistic phase that he'd just gone through, but in his attitude towards mathematical truth.
[126] With Russell at this stage, as with Plato, mathematics assumed a semi-religious aspect.
[127] As he said, ‘I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which most people want religious faith.
[128] I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere.
[129] I set out with a more or less religious belief in a Platonic, eternal world, in which mathematics shares with a beauty, shines, I'm sorry, with a beauty of that of the last cantos of the Paradiso.’
[130] What Peano and then the German mathematicians with whom he had previously not been acquainted did for him, was to suggest ... an astonishing idea.
[131] A mathematical system is distinguished by the fact that it seeks to derive a large number of very complex conclusions from a small number of primitive propositions, employing a small number of primitive ideas.
[132] What Peano had suggested was that it might be possible, not to take the simple ideas with which people had hitherto operated in mathematics as ultimate, but to derive them from something simpler still.
[133] You might think that you could hardly have anything much simpler than the idea of zero or unity, or even perhaps the notion of number, ... erm sorry, but what, zero or unity, what Peano was proposing to do was to define these basic arithmetical ideas in terms of ideas simpler still.
[134] And Russell thought that this could be generalized even further.
[135] He thought that he could defined the, the simplest concepts to which Peano claimed to reduce arithmetical ideas, to classes and relations between classes, and even perhaps in terms of something still simpler, quite purely in logical conceptions like that of implication.
[136] What he would achieve if he could do this was twofold.
[137] He would show that mathematics could be reduced to something even more simple, more general, more basic than had hitherto been supposed, to logical concepts, and, moreover, at the same time, he would be able to exhibit the internal logical structure of mathematics in a much more rigorous way.
[138] In this way erm starting from logical indefinables of maximum simplicity, and by rigorous logical construction of the rest of its contents on that basis, he'd be able to exhibit the whole of mathematics as a perfectly systematic and unquestionable structure.
[139] The very paradigm of knowledge.
[140] This immensely ambitious programme was what he started out on in the early nineteen hundreds and it was this which, with the assistance of A.
[141] N.
[142] Whitehead, eventually emerged in his great treatise Principia Mathematica.
[143] This work eventually encountered various great technical difficulties which, it seems, could only be resolved by what most people have regarded as unsatisfactory expedients, and so that the, the system in many ways that he evolved as an answer to this programme has not been commonly held to be entirely satisfactory.
[144] But yet there's no doubt at all that despite the technical shortcomings of his work in subsequent judgement, erm Russell by this work became, I suppose, the main founder of modern logic, the main founder of this kind of logic which by the much more sophisticated symbolic apparatus erm is able to panelize a much wider range of logical phenomena, and hence to reveal the structure in a way which had not been possible before.
[145] Of this Russell was the principle founder, and this I think is his greatest claim to intellectual fame.
[146] But as the work progressed, one thing at least went by the board, and that was his original Platonic outlook.
[147] Partly for technical reasons, partly for temperamental reasons, Russell came to very different conclusions to the Platonic ones with which he began.
[148] He came to the conclusion, as he puts it, ‘that the eternal world is trivial, and that mathematics is only the art of saying the same thing in different words.’
[149] Not thereby an unimportant art, but not an art which yields something which could be a proper object of worship.
[150] There's one other aspect, I think, of this period, this immensely important and fertile period in Russell's life, which is worth emphasis.
[151] He says little about it, but I don't think that there is very much doubt that intellectually he did exhaust himself.
[152] He describes this period of work as one of, of terrible strain, it was also a period in which he was personally very unhappy, and I get the impression that he really did use the best of his mind on this problem, and that for the rest of his life he found it difficult to press his thinking home with the kind of ruthlessness that many of the problems that he then assumed required.
[153] And in my opinion, and in that of many other people, is the philosophical analysis to which he then proceeded, often bears the mark of a certain superficiality.
[154] He tends not to formulate and face the difficulties that he encounters sufficiently rigorously, and erm to on the whole get away with difficulties by the skilful way in which he writes about them and by his wit.
[155] He, in the, in the early nineteen-fifties he once came to, he came to Oxford, and there was a meeting at which erm all my colleagues threw at him very sophisticated objections to his philosophical position.
[156] Listening to this I on the whole thought that in a real sense he never really quite answered them, on the other hand he made every single person look silly.
[157] He had a way of dealing with objections which, even if he didn't face them, made it appear absolutely ridiculous to maintain the opposite position.
[158] It's basically a literary more than a philosophical gift, but it was fantastically effective.
[159] And it seems to me that in his written work likewise, he tends to rely rather heavily upon this remarkable dexterity.
[160] What however he did seek to do, starting from about nineteen-hundred erm and ten, or nineteen-twelve, was to apply the same methodological procedures which he'd applied in mathematics, to a range of philosophical problems.
[161] I go on much too long.
[162] [laugh] ... I shall have to think about that as I proceed, shan't I?
[163] ... The problem is basically this, that he then faced: We're all perfectly well aware that the world consists of a lot of different things, files, bottles of water and the like, but we're also aware of, that there are more radical differences between the kinds of things that compose the world.
[164] For example, that the images that I now call up in my mind as I look at the front door of my house, this is something quite real, but it's real in a much more radically different, in a radically different sense, there's a, somehow a radically difference in the kind of reality which that image enjoys, to the reality that that bottle enjoys.
[165] And, likewise, if I conceive the very, the minute particles of which, according to physics, the bottle is ultimately composed, and I start thinking about electrons, then it begins to become plain that these also are real in some much more radically different sense than that in which the bottle and the glass are different from one another.
[166] And the problem which Russell faced is, supposing now we do concede that there are these radical differences of the, of the kinds of things of which the world is filled, how can we examine their relations?
[167] What relationship is there between our beliefs about the sense experiences and the images that we have, our beliefs in ordinary material things like jugs and bottles, our belief in the theoretical objects of physics?
[168] And his programme was to try to show that really ultimately the only things that can be accepted are our own sense experiences, and to try to exhibit everything else, ordinary material objects, and then of course, physical objects in turn, as constructions, as logical constructions out of these.
[169] So that, erm just as you can construct a house out of bricks and mortar, and really, although the house looks very different from just bricks and mortar, it is just bricks and mortar arranged in a certain way, so the glass, the bottle, erm although it looks a very different thing from a sense experience, is really nothing more than a very complicated pattern of actual and possible sense experiences.
[170] He formulated a new version of Occam's razor in the words, ‘Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities, for inferences to unknown entities.’
[171] And he wanted to do this because he thought that if it were possible, if we could start just from our own sense experiences, then a great simplification would have been achieved.
[172] With Descartes he felt that our own sense experiences are the one things about which we can be absolutely certain.
[173] That at a given moment I seem to be seeing a brown patch — this I cannot conceivably doubt.
[174] You can be sceptical about everything else, but not about one's immediate sense experiences.
[175] And so if we could start from these unquestionable little bits of reality, and build everything out of this by pure logical construction, we would have shown that the world is coherent and logical, and we would have shown that ordinary beliefs erm were not open to doubt, were rational and certain.
[176] I don't know what I think [laugh] in view of what you say, Mary, go into to great detail as to what went wrong with this, erm because I can cut that short because the fact is that Russell eventually admitted that this programme simply wasn't viable.
[177] At the time he reached his last book, Human Knowledge, he had abandoned the claim that you could show that the world could be logically constructed out of sense experiences, and adopted a much more Kantian outlook, in which, while he erm said that all our inferences about the world must begin from sense experiences, all that the philosopher can do, is to make explicit the premises that are required in order to infer from the transitory data of my own experiences to the enduring existence of material things and the much more sophisticated kinds of existence which their minute constituents have.
[178] I think it's therefore fair to say that perhaps even in Russell's own eyes, his original epistemological programme, which occupied a great deal of his time and writing, between erm nineteen-twelve and erm the thirties, in fact broke down.
[179] And I think it partly broke down because he was insufficiently ruthless in examining the question that he had asked.
[180] All the same, what's attractive about Russell is his readiness to admit failures, and to try and suggest new solutions.
[181] He was marvellously undogmatic, very open-minded, prepared always to have another go, if it became obvious that something wouldn't work.
[182] erm This is a quality I think which philosophers have all too seldom, and which he had in a very high degree.
[183] And I think there is a deeper sense in which erm one mustn't conceive the breakdown of a philosophical enterprise, like this one of Russell's, as being a failure.
[184] ... It is something I, I think inherent in the nature of philosophical questions, that probably the very best a philosopher can do is to test some way of seeking to formulate the nature of human knowledge and the relation of the thinking man to the world, erm test some way in which one seeks to render that explicit and self-conscious, to destruction.
[185] I rather suspect that it's inherent in the very human situation that it's impossible to give a final and satisfactory account of the relation between the individuality of the individual's experience and the world.
[186] Perhaps because it is of the very essence of human beings that they transcend any situation into which they come or bring about.
[187] It's the very essence of human beings to call in question every form of life, every form of thought, and to raise the possibility of thinking and living in some other way, and perhaps just for this very reason, some final and definitive formulation of the, of human nature, of human knowledge, of human conduct, is in principle unobtainable, and that the best that the philosopher can ever hope to do, is to show that this formulation, that formulation or the other won't work.
[188] Because by showing that it won't work, it liberates people for some other and perhaps more comprehensive and satisfactory possibility.
[189] So, although it's one of the most standard reproaches against philosophy, that it's inconclusive, I think this probably springs from a misconception of what human beings are, and what the possibilities of human intellectual self-consciousness can really be.
[190] After he had finished with his mathematical work and he was embarking upon that epistemological work, Russell, partly through his, the internal evolution of his character, and partly through the onset of the First World War, became much more deeply engaged in practical affairs.
[191] He had been on the fringes of politics in the nineteen-hundreds, he had sought erm to get adopted as a parliamentary candidate, he had erm taken part in the movement for female emancipation, erm on one occasion the police were only prevailed upon to save him from being mobbed by an angry crowd by being told that he was the brother of an Earl [laugh] erm But it was with the First World War that his practical activities really began.
[192] From the beginning and maintained this position rigorously to the end despite very heavy pressures.
[193] The war, in his view, was entirely irrational.
[194] erm That's to say, nothing in the programmes of any of the powers could possibly warrant or justify the measure that they were adopting.
[195] And it was also at this time, erm partly under the influence of war, partly no doubt under the influence of Freud, he began to become very much more conscious of the ugly, destructive patterns of unconscious motivation, which underlie the decorous surface of civilized life.
[196] He became eventually a conscientious objector.
[197] He lost or failed to be finally appointed to a position in Trinity.
[198] He was sent to prison and, like every other conscientious objector in that war, was brought under very, very heavy moral pressure.
[199] One of the most endearing of Russell's characteristics was his courage.
[200] erm He drew from the Bible at least one maxim, I think his grandmother was also in favour of it but he certainly was, ... ‘Do not, or is it, Never follow a multitude to do evil.’
[201] erm This was one of his strongest principles, and few people I think have lived up to it so consistently.
[202] And from this point on, erm he, having given away a substantial erm amount of his private fortune, I think that T.
[203] S.
[204] Eliot was one of the beneficiaries, erm he supported himself almost entirely by the advocacy of various kinds of reform in all aspects of human affairs.
[205] Before looking at some of the erm details of those practical programmes [laugh] I would like to tell you something about the principles upon which his mind worked in approaching practical affairs.
[206] Because of course it may seem, and very many people objected to him, that, if you adopt his sort of subjectivist views, erm you are perhaps deprived of any rational basis upon which you can criticize and condemn the actual way in which human beings conduct their affairs and organize their society.
[207] erm He says, ‘Just as what we think good, what we should like, has no bearing on whatever on what is, so it is for us to determine the good life.
[208] Not for Nature, not even for Nature personified as God.
[209] Outside human desires, there is no moral standard.’
[210] Again, ‘Insistence on belief in an external realization of the good is a form of self-assertion which, while it cannot secure the external good which it desires, can seriously the impair the inward good which lies within our power, and destroy that reverence towards fact which constitutes both what is valuable in humility and what is fruitful in the scientific temper.’
[211] Parenthetically, erm he says somewhere in his autobiography that the one thing that consoled him in the nineteen-hundreds when he was so miserable with his wife and his mathematics, was the devising of, was the devising of prose rhythms.
[212] ... And he did indeed, did he not, develop a beautiful ear.
[213] That was one sentence which I read, and it is perfect.
[214] ... So what he's got to do, erm if he rejects ... theism, if, on the basis of the diversity of human moral opinion, he has no faith in conscience or any form of moral intuition or any form of religious revelation, he's got to find some way of ... arguing that there can be another rational basis for the criticism of moral and social systems.
[215] And it's no good saying, ‘It is for us to determine the good life.
[216] erm Outside human desires there is no moral standard.’
[217] It's no good saying that and no more, because of course, human desires are very diverse, and we, Heaven knows, just don't agree.
[218] He's got to do better than that.
[219] So what does he do?
[220] What he does is to appeal to what he believed to be certain facts of human nature.
[221] And in all this he follows very closely Hume and Mill.
[222] There's nothing original in this, but it is all the same, it seems to me, important and interesting.
[223] In the first place he draws our attention to the fact that not all our desires are for our own future states of affairs, desires can be impersonal.
[224] And moreover that there is latent in every human being this desire, a desire for the welfare of others.
[225] It's latent in every human being and can be called to the fore.
[226] And he talks of the, and plainly in that erm sort of mystical experience that he had with the Whiteheads, he did in, as it were, come to realize for the first time that there was in himself this desire to lead a life erm inspired by love and guided by knowledge, and to see others leading it.
[227] And he thought that this is a motive which is operative in every human being, and can be called out.
[228] It's there in people, but it can, it is only there potentially.
[229] And therefore the very first task of the philosopher is to try to awaken this deeper desire.
[230] Only if you can do so, only if you can waken a deep concern with other human beings, is there any possible basis for moral argument.
[231] And this is the sort of thing that he says, and he says this kind of thing very frequently.
[232] ‘The world in which we find ourselves is one where great hopes and appalling fears are equally justified by the possibilities.
[233] The fears are very generally felt, and are tending to produce a world of listless gloom.
[234] The hopes, since they involve imagination and courage, are less vivid in most men's minds.
[235] It's only because they are not vivid that they seem utopian.
[236] Only a kind of mental laziness stands in the way.
[237] If this can be overcome, mankind has a new happiness within his grasp.’
[238] Or again: ‘If you try to make yourself content with the happiness of the pig, your suppressed potentialities will make you miserable.
[239] True happiness for human beings is possible only to those who develop their godlike potentialities to the utmost.’
[240] This then is his first task and erm he devotes many pages to that theme of awakening people to the potentialities inside them, which, if they deny them, will make only themselves miserable and other people too.
[241] But, even supposing we do begin to awaken these sentiments in ourselves and other people, erm major problems are still ahead.
[242] Because human development is, in one of the many senses, dialectical.
[243] That's to say that men embody themselves in partial versions of themselves, and then, in order to realize themselves more fully, they have to overcome by many kinds of struggle this previous realization.
[244] For example, in order to realize their inward potentialities, men project upon the world a belief in God, a belief in divine commands, and at a certain point in history no doubt this was progressive, this was a way in which people could see what Russell calls their potentialities.
[245] But, once it exists, it can become a shackle rather than an inspiration, and when it does do so, one has to seek to destroy it, and thence the animus of Russell's attacks on organized religion.
[246] And so Russell, looking round the world, inspired by that feeling and conscious of the way in which old human artefacts can hem in the expansion of human power of love and knowledge, he seeks to identify what in the world of his time are the main obstacles.
[247] Economic weakness, the relative poverty and inefficiency of our societies, but still more importantly, the inequality of power.
[248] Ignorance and obscurantism.
[249] Mere unthinking conservatism.
[250] Rationalization.
[251] Self-centred, unbounded, destructive desires.
[252] Faulty education.
[253] So what the philosopher has to do is to look at these, all these various factors and begin to try and make people conscious of the inadequacies of the way in which they live, and of the new possibilities which are open to them, if they will only project their minds outside the established bounds.
[254] And he traversed the whole spectrum really of practical life.
[255] Some of his best writings are about socialism in the nineteen-eighteen, nineteen-twenty.
[256] In many ways one of his best books is one difficult to obtain, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, based on a visit to Russia in nineteen-twenty in which he had, amongst other things, a conversation with Lenin.
[257] It's a very striking book because while on the one hand he admires the Bolsheviks very greatly for the hope that they have given to man, for the feeling that they have given to the world that new potentialities are there to be realized if only we had enough courage, yet on the other hand, even at that point, he was acutely conscious that the Bolsheviks' attitude towards the equality of power was leading them in a fatal direction, and long before Stalinism began to take shape, he described in advance what he expected to come.
[258] Acting on that basis, the kind of socialism that he advocated was then, was guild socialism, or more popularly nowadays, workers' control, and what he would have hoped to see was something which, most mysteriously, doesn't yet even now seem to be coming to the fore, the use of industrial power by the workers not merely for economic advantage but for political ends.
[259] This is what he hoped for, and one the many things that tended to dispirit him was the fact that it was so little forthcoming.
[260] He tackled marriage.
[261] Here again he sees all sorts of factors dating from the distant past as limiting and distorting potentialities.
[262] New things had happened, the spread of the scientific temper, erm reasonably effective and cheap methods of contraception, the emancipation of women due to the development of industry, the decay of Christianity, all these various factors made the old conception of marriage out of date, and so he takes it in hand, he pillories it, and he suggests new possibilities, of which one seems to be nowadays obtaining favour, that's trial marriage, i.e. that people should experiment with living together erm so long as they don't intend at that stage to have children, before they finally decide to marry and settle down.
[263] erm The other expedient which he suggested, so far as I know, although I don't believe there's been any sociological research into this, is that people should become more tolerant of adultery, and that occasional adventures should be able to be reconciled with monogamous marriage.
[264] This seems to have encountered erm deeper objections, to judge at least by my friends and acquaintances.
[265] [laugh] ... Education.
[266] One of this best books was written on this.
[267] erm To take just one point out of it, much influenced by Freud, he emphasizes the enormous importance to transcend the morality of repression and self-control which leads to cruelty and obsession, and fear in the name of virtue, and to cultivate instead a much more open-minded self-knowledge.
[268] ... Again, he tackles, in The Conquest of Happiness, the roots of human unhappiness, and sees them in an excessive introversion, in an excessive concern with the mechanisms of one's own mind, and proposes various ways in which people can seek to extract themselves from this introverted obsession with their own mechanisms.
[269] But the most important, I suppose, in all our minds, the most important illustration of Russell's practical battles, was with war.
[270] In politics just as in morals there can be obsessions with old forms of life which are now out of date.
[271] War may once upon a time have been a reasonably satisfactory, or at least not utterly unsatisfactory way of securing certain kinds of social change.
[272] Now it's completely out of date.
[273] He says erm addressing the statesmen of the world and ordinary citizens too, that his arguments have nothing whatever to do with merits or demerits of Communism or democracy.
[274] They are concerned solely with the welfare of the human species as a whole.
[275] What he's trying to do is always to get outside ideological systems, and to present arguments which are simply in terms of what we must all desire.
[276] He compares war in modern circumstances with a plague, and tries to make us see that we have exactly the same universal common interest in transcending military conflict that we have in getting plague under control, and that it's necessary to use all our intelligence and imagination to break the millennial connection of intersocial change with war, and then he goes on to make practical proposals.
[277] It's easy, it's easy when one looks at what has happened, since the days of CND, to treat this step, whole agitation as a failure.
[278] Once again he went to prison for a short time.
[279] But I don't think that he himself would see it as a failure at all.
[280] What he thought himself to be doing, he, was simply to focus public attention on this matter.
[281] He didn't believe that he could start a movement which would lead directly to the abolition of British erm armaments, the rejection of the atomic bomb or anything of that kind.
[282] What he wanted to do was to publicize erm the whole issue, and it was for this purpose that he joined in these campaigns.
[283] I think he realized that what he might call the party of reason, that's to say the party of those who don't see things in terms of ideological shibboleths, but in terms of the long-run interests of humanity, can't become a party of action.
[284] What he hoped to build up, to activate, was a climate of opinion throughout the world in which the armaments of the powers, based upon ideological arguments, would appear to be absurd.
[285] And it was a, a fabulous tribute to his personality, and the, the sharpness of his mind, that he was able to get, at one time, Dulles on the one hand and Khrushchev on the other, to answer him with open letters in a debate upon this issue.
[286] It is remarkable, when you think of what most of us philosophers are like, that he should have had the sheer ability and integrity to elicit such a response from people of such political eminence.
[287] Looking back on all this, is one to judge him as having been a success or a failure?
[288] Obviously it's terribly difficult, in a matter of such controversiality as philosophy, to find any criteria by which success or failure can be assessed.
[289] As far as his moral and social criticism are concerned, one can at least say, that in very many points to do with education and marriage and the like, his side has won.
[290] There are no means that I know of, perhaps some social scientists present could suggest some, by means of which you could actually assess just what sort of a contribution he made.
[291] One rough index, however, is the success of his books.
[292] All of them, as you can say, reprinted a very large number of times, even when they seemed to be dated, over the last three decades.
[293] His epistemology, I have suggested, was even in his own terms a failure, but I've suggested also that failure isn't to be judged there in a naive way.
[294] There's no doubt that by revivifying the programme of Descartes and Hume in an extremely forceful and effective way, and arming it with new logical weapons, he did make a very substantial contribution to the theory of knowledge and activated the thinking of a lot of other people.
[295] I don't think he introduced any really new ideas, and what he did suggest hasn't lasted, but still, in its way, it was effective.
[296] In mathematics and logic, as I have suggested, his work was one of real and permanent originality, which nobody can question.
[297] How then, finally, about his work on religion and morality?
[298] Of all things, I suppose this is the most difficult to assess, just because the standards for measuring are so controversial.
[299] One can ask at least, did he succeed by his own standards?
[300] And I suppose that means, did he manage to live his ideas out?
[301] And, at least as far as morality is concerned, I think, yes.
[302] erm He had just the qualities that he advocated.
[303] He was extraordinarily courageous and zestful, extremely generous, ready to pursue his convictions to the limit, even at great cost to himself.
[304] erm A loyal friend, as well as an extremely amusing one, he seems to me to have lived remarkably well up to the standards that he set himself.
[305] But finally, erm how about his erm religious history?
[306] In a remarkable letter which he wrote in nineteen-eighteen, he said, ‘I must, before I die, find some way to say the essential thing that is in me, that I have never said yet, a thing that is not love, or hate, or pity, or scorn, but the very breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vastness and the fearful passionless force of non-human things.’
[307] Well, did he ever find a way of doing that?
[308] You will notice that there is, in the wording of that letter, something curious.
[309] ‘The breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vastness and the fearful passionless force of non-human things.’
[310] ‘Fearful’, ‘fierce’.
[311] And frequently, at the end of his life as much as in A Free Man's Worship, you find him talking about nature in these highly personalized terms.
[312] Did he ever transcend this somewhat romanticized attitude towards the universe, which did conflict with his own avowed scientific naturalism?
[313] Did he ever come not merely to see as a possibility but actually to possess a conviction of what can be called the benign indifference of the universe?
[314] Personally, I don't think that he ever did.
[315] And I think that in this sense his life was a failure, that he was never able to live up to his scientific naturalism, that he was never able to integrate his romantic nature with his view of the nature of the universe.
[316] In a conversation with the wife of his biographer, Alan Wood, erm who had drawn his attention to some injustice in the world, he said, ‘But the universe is unjust.’
[317] There he is, saying the universe is unjust.
[318] What can that mean, if you really believe in scientific naturalism?
[319] ‘The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible.
[320] You must feel it deeply and not brush it aside, you must feel it right here, and then you can start being happy again.’
[321] He is still personalizing the universe.
[322] And if I think you were to read the first two pages of his autobiography, there's a dedicatory verse on another page, I can't help feeling that you will agree with me that, in a, there's something embarrassing about them.
[323] It seems extraordinary to say, but it's as if his emotions were still erm sort of adolescent, as if there was something in him which was never able to reconcile with his intellectual attitudes.
[324] Now, of course, here is Russell personalizing this impersonal universe.
[325] What are we to say?
[326] Is that success or failure?
[327] Plainly, your attitude will depend on who you are and what you believe.
[328] If you're a theist, you will say, ‘Well, here is Russell's deeper conviction of the true nature of things bursting through the false, restrictive, scientific intellectualism into which he endeavoured to confine it, and so what we have here, when he calls the world unjust, or fearful, or whatever it may be, are his true, his ultimate convictions peeping through.’
[329] That would be the theist's view.
[330] But, supposing we look at the same material from the standpoint of, say the authors of the Upanishads, with whom as a matter of fact I happen to agree.
[331] On this point.
[332] [laugh] Now, from their standpoint the thing would look quite otherwise.
[333] They believe that it is possible for man, and that it is indeed his highest intellectual and emotional task, to survey his own being, to call into the forefront of his mind every attitude and habit of mind, of emotion, of passion and feeling, to penetrate down beneath these superficial layers, to deeper and deeper and ever more tranquil, untroubled generalized forms of the self, until eventually you come within sight of some inner absolutely undisturbed pool which every person has within himself, and which if he finds it removes him finally from the distracting passions of ordinary life, and with this rider, that in proportion as you get there and find this thing, this true self within yourself, you find that it isn't just something subjective and peculiar to you, it is something identical with the world, so that in solving your own problems in one sense, you do it by transcending your ordinary nature.
[334] If you take that kind of view, then of course Russell's persistent emotionality and his characterization of the world in these personal terms is a failure, erm something that he was never able to overcome, something for all his passionate moral convictions prevented him from really seeing himself at one with other people.
[335] And one of the things which always disturbs me most about Russell is his emphasis upon pity, what moves him so is the emotion of pity for other people.
[336] [...] if I were in real distress, and I was told, Mary, that you pitied me, it wouldn't cheer me up at all.
[337] There's something terribly patronizing about pity erm and from this it seems to me Russell never quite freed himself.
[338] And so, judged from my standpoint, erm which is that of other ancient and distinguished editions, I would say that in this respect he did ultimately fail, but failed in the most lovable, eloquent and memorable manner.
[339] erm Three concluding remarks.
[340] I don't understand Russell's philosophy of mathematics, erm my treatment of his religious attitudes is still in the state of hypothesis.
[341] I would need to read the whole of that alarming corpus over again before I was quite sure of it, and I apologize for this extra quarter of an hour.