Thursday, May 19, 2005

It has been said that man is a rational animal.

“I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.” Bertrand Russell
(From “Introduction: On the Value of Scepticism”, Sceptical Essays [London: Allen & Unwin, 1928])

Yesterday was Bertrand Russell's birthday. In my opinion Russell was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. His writings encompassed nearly every facet of philosophy and he approached philosophy with little regard for the ridicule he recieved in response to many of his views. In fact, he was imprisoned for his anti-war stance during WWI. As well as being a great philosopher Russell was a master mathematician, a Nobel Laureate in Literature (he never wrote fiction but the story is they wanted to recognize him for his contributions in academia as well as his extensive humanitarian efforts), and a great humanitarian. I attribute my own passion for philosophy, in great part, to reading Russell early on in my academic career.

Russell had a very clear, elegant, and understandable writing style and I encourage anyone interested to read his work (given the broad range of topics covered by his writings I can almost guarantee you will find something that suits your own personal interests). Agree with him or not, Russell's ideas are always well stated and always thought provoking.

2 Comments:

Blogger Nate J said...

It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.

Although I do not have the credentials to comment on the subversive nature of Russell’s doctrine it does seem to follow the most basic kind of reason; logic. Our laws are loosely based, or if not based on, at least derived from the naked truth displayed in the statement. There should be more than blind faith guiding your decisions, marking your beliefs and guiding your hand. A flaming sword of justice can easily become State’s evidence.

In a hostile climate, take today for instance; there are those willing to abandon all reason in exchange for a comfy state of mind and a bliss brought on by a willful ignorance. Are these people less than others in some cognitive capacity or has the quest for some truth simply left them beaten against the rocks of a lifetime? I admit, the crushing waves of day-to-day monotony are not easy to navigate and the instinct is to give in; let the waves sweep you away and the water fill your lungs; a sweet release embraced in the depths of unimaginable darkness.

Perhaps we live in a world of zombies (I’m not breaking from the ocean metaphor yet, just wait)? Dragged down, gasping for breath but not scared. In the unknown sleeps a truth that is so profound to these drowning hoards that it is worth giving up on truth. It is worth not breathing. It has its appeal becoming the living dead, especially when there are so many others, floating docile with welcoming, grasping, hands.

The waters have swelled with the dead, my friend. The oceans can no longer contain them and we are trapped on the beach watching a tsunami fiercer than anything we have ever dreaded. When the waves flush us out to sea, will we be able to make it back to shore to fight off the living dead? Will we succumb to the waters or make it back to shore only to have our brains devoured?

Ciao
Nate.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I prefer the slightly re-worded opening line in “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” (by the way — Greatest Title Ever) by Russell:

Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told.

Anyway, I agree with you. No one got me fired up like Russell. He always made passionate yet logically valid arguments. And probably the last of the Renaissance-type men.

I recommend “The Conquest of Happiness” to anyone who's curious about how to lead a happy life. There's very little, if any, heavy philosophy. He just zeroes in on what philosophy is really all about and gives it a go.

As far as Russell's “wildly paradoxical and subversive” doctrine, well, yes. It does seem a little paradoxical and subversive. Regardless of whatever irony he intended there. I'd have to read it. My main question concerns what constitutes lack of ground for believing.

6:23 PM  

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