18 January 2008
The Problems of Philosophy - Bertrand Russell
Imagine if you will if Marv Albert, the famous sportscaster, was also, himself, a great athlete. Or if you will, imagine if Wayne Gretzky suddenly replaced Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada. Should either of these scenarios be true, you would start to get an idea of the massive stature that Bertrand Russell held in 20th Century philosophy. A philosopher himself, he is best known for his epic didactic anthology, The History of Western Philosophy. As I was not quite up to take that tome on, I decided to start with the much shorter Problems of Philosophy.
As no one would mistake me for Plato, I have to put my confidence in cogito ergo sum; as such, I will presently give my best rendering of this text. At the time of this writing, Russell’s philosophical outlook was governed by empiricism, which is the belief that all human knowledge is derived from our sensory experience of the external world. Essentially, both the book and philosophy in general share the same search for what we can know for certain and how do we know it? Russell goes on to investigate these questions and more through his analytic approach to philosophy – that is to say, with a sceptical view towards thoughts and posits, while using logic to analyse the particulars.
I’m already feeling sort of like little red riding hood in the forest – lost, scarred, anxious to get to grandma’s and would rather be eating cookies than watching out for wolves. All this to say that I am not at all comfortable trying to summarize a book that none of you will read. However, I would urge you to consider the following question, which the book ostensibly attempts to answer: Is there any knowledge in the world, which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?
Talk amongst yourselves.
If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body.