The book also holds great relevance for us in today's world. Our education systems today focus largely on making us ready for employment. There are very few courses which delve into the inner workings of our minds and help us to engage with the fundamental aspects of our lives. In The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell presents readers with some of the issues that philosophers have grappled with throughout the ages. He then presents these through his own viewpoints and breaks them down to their core principles. Most Western and Eastern philosophical questions have been centered around the issues of personal and public experiences, identity, the consciousness of self and the awareness of others, time and space relationships and finally the question of knowledge itself.
Extremely prolific and influential, he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in No The Problems of Philosophy was written in as an early attempt by its author to create a brief and accessible guide to the problems of philosophy. Not only was he a leading philosopher with a long and distinguished career, but during his life he was a prominent figure in various political and social causes, such as nuclear disarmament. He remained politically active almost to the end of his life, writing to and exhorting world leaders to actions, and lending his name to various causes. He was a passionate and remarkable man with a huge intellect.
But was he the best person to write an introduction to philosophy for the novice? Bertrand Russell was a philosopher, not a teacher. Ironically, he may perhaps have been just too interested in his subject to write a "primer" in philosophy. This work seems to fall between several stools. In part it is a survey of western philosophy, briefly summarising those philosophers he considers to have contributed the most to philosophy. He starts by introducing the crux of the important philosophical theories of Bishop George Berkeley , who posed the question, what is the difference between appearance and reality?
Russell maintains that we must differentiate between sensation, sense-data and matter, to be clear. But the question posed by Berkeley was, "Is there any such thing as matter? They maintained that all our knowledge is derived from experience. Berkeley's primary achievement was the advancement of the theory he called "immaterialism" or "idealism" , considering that the physical world only exists while it is being perceived.
The reason for Russell to begin this book here, is clearly historical. Berkeley forms the basis for much of present-day philosophical enquiry. But it must be said that his conclusions which Russell kindly goes on to point out are flawed seem very alien to a modern mind. In a later section Russell details what he calls "Bishop Berkeley's fallacy". He says that there is a confusion between the 2 meanings of "idea". Berkeley makes the word to refer both to the acts of apprehension, and also to the things apprehended.
It is vitally important to make a distinction between the act and the object, Russell says, claiming that, "This is the true analysis of Berkeley's argument and the ultimate fallacy upon which it rests. The theories seem to be becoming even more abstruse and drifting off into the realms of metaphysics rather than introducing us to develop a clear method of thought and analysis. Perhaps that too was in Russell's mind, as he skims lightly through Leibniz's theories, reminding both himself and the reader of his primary task with this book, "Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we would wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.
He invented the "method of systematic doubting". Russell says of Descartes, "He would believe nothing which he did not see quite clearly and distinctly to be true. His contention was that the most subjective things, are the most certain, "I think, therefore I am. They claimed that in addition to what we know by experience, there are certain "innate ideas" and "innate principles" , which we know independently of experience.
The Problems of Philosophy - Wikipedia
Russell again lets us know what he thinks, saying that logical principles are an example of this, being known to us and not provable by experience, since all proof presupposes them. In this, he says, the rationalists were in the right. He then moves on to Immanuel Kant a German Prussian philosopher, who took the rationalists views and developed them further. Before Kant, all knowledge was thought to be analytic, in that the predicate is obtained by merely analysing the subject.
All a priori judgements were thought to be like this. The "law of contradiction" that something can not at the same time have and not have a certain property covered everything. Hume, who preceded Kant, had disagreed, saying that many so-called "analytic" cases - especially cause and effect - were really "synthetic".
Whereas the rationalists had thought that the effect could be logically deduced from the cause if only we had sufficient knowledge, Hume maintained that this is not so. He thought nothing could therefore be known a priori about the connection of cause and effect.
Kant took this a step further. Not only cause and effect, but but all arithmetic and geometry he considered is "synthetic", not analytic. This is because no analysis of the subject will reveal the predicate. But 7 and 5 have to be put together to make The idea of "12" is not contained in them, and neither is it contained in the idea of putting them together. Therefore all pure Maths, although a priori, is "synthetic. We are told that when Kant came along his theories were a reversal in the philosophical orthodoxy.
A relationship had previously been thought to pertain between the object analysed, and the subject that analyses it. Truth or reality, was in the external world. Kant differentiated between the "physical object" - or what he termed "the thing in itself" and our own nature - what Russell called the "sense-data". The difference came when Kant regarded the material of sensation as due to the object.
Russell explains that he thought, "What we supply is the arrangement in space and time". So all our sense-data, he thought, result from our own natures. The "thing in itself" is essentially unknowable. What is known is our experience of the object, which Kant calls the "phenomenon" , or a joint product of us and the thing in itself.
In this way he tried to harmonise the rationalists with the empiricists. Russell says, relations relationships are different from physical objects, from our minds and also from sense-data.
This conceptual link leads him back to Plato's theory of ideas, or "forms" - the idea of finding the pure essence of something, eg "whiteness". They are not in a mind - but just an idea eg "justice".
Russell says, "It is eternally itself, immutable and indestructible. Russell says that, "The only true world for Plato is the world of ideas". This has been developed into many mystical theories, which Russell does not go into, having decided that they are beyond the scope of this book. Plato's theory of forms, he says led to later theories of universals. Russell calls abstract ideas "universals.
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He further subdivides knowledge by acquaintance into acquaintance by sense-data, memory, introspection, and probably, he says by self, or that which is aware of these things. Then there is acquaintance with universals, or general ideas. A universal of which we are aware he calls a "concept". He differentiates between universals and "particulars" , saying that descriptions always start from particulars with which we are acquainted, but, "In logic, on the contrary, where we are concerned not merely with what does exist, but with whatever might or could exist or be, no reference to actual particulars is involved.
In this way, knowledge by descriptions enables us to pass beyond the limits of our private experience. Although Hume did a lot of work on inductive reasoning, and the theory dates back to ancient times, Russell seems to have abandoned telling the reader the the historical background to these theories, and is keen to go into the logical analysis of them. When applying the principle of induction, we make a series of observations and infer a new claim based on them. It is to do with the number of times something has been observed to be associated with something else, but never found separately, dissociated from that thing.
The greater the number of cases in which two have been associated, the greater the probability that they will be associated in a new case in which one of them is known to be present.
He goes on to observe that in our daily lives we tend to apply the inductive principle as a matter of course. The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life. The inductive principle is a logical principle, but so are self-evident logical principles which we employ in our laws of thought.
These are the "law of identity" whatever is, is , the "law of contradiction" , nothing can both be and not be , and the "law of excluded middle" everything must either be or not be. He also takes account of intuitive knowledge, if it is consistently verifiable by the inductive principle and coherence, although he makes the point that it can easily merge into probable opinion. What we firmly believe, if it is not true, is called error. What we firmly believe, if it is neither knowledge not error, and also what we believe hesitatingly, because it is, or is derived from, something which has not the highest degree of self-evidence, may be called probable opinion.
Thus the greater part of what would commonly pass as knowledge is more or less probable opinion. Hegel's view was that everything short of "the whole" is fragmentary, and incapable of existing without the complement supplied by the rest of the world. A metaphysician can see the whole of reality in outline from one piece or fragment of it. To a reader, this may feel as though we are back where we started, with Berkeley. Hegel asserts that if we think of something, its incompleteness provides us with questions. Then by hypothesising and forming a new, more complete theory which answers these or at least presents fewer contradictions this is the synthesis of the original idea and its antithesis.
This will still not be wholly complete, so the process is repeated, until the "absolute idea" is revealed, which describes "absolute reality" as one views the "whole". God sees an eternal perfect unchanging spiritual unity. Russell says, "Hegel reaches the conclusion that Absolute Reality forms one single harmonious system, not in space or time, not in any degree evil, wholly rational, and wholly spiritual. Any appearance to the contrary, in the world we know, can be proved logically Frustratingly though, as soon as Russell attempts to present a simple version of other philosophers' views, he cannot help but put his own slant on their views.
Sometimes this is overt, and he will happily say where in his opinion the earlier philosopher got it right - or wrong - and why. But he frequently forgets his audience. As well as struggling with the new definitions and new concepts, the reader is trying to disentangle what is an earlier view and what Russell's. In the course of his overview of historical philosophical standpoints, Russell observes, "Whoever wishes to become a philosopher must learn not to be frightened by absurdities.
In many ways this book represented the philosophical orthodoxy at the time of writing, but some early theories must have seemed almost as remote to readers then as they are to us now. When a reader keeps being distracted by doubts, to think that they don't understand a position such as Berkeley's "Mind of God", the truth may well be that they just don't agree with it!
But it can be the hardest discipline for this reason, that the budding philosopher has to continually suspend their "disbelief" in a theory. But in general, as a first attempt to get to grips with an unfamiliar and intellectually rigorous subject, this historical focus is a distraction.
What a newcomer needs is the tools for the job. Philosophy, like any other academic discipline, has its own terminology. Also, words such as "innate" which have a meaning in psychology, have an entirely different meaning in philosophy. Russell tries to introduce the correct approach to tackling philosophical problems; to both define the terms and the analytical method to lay the foundations for further philosophical studies.
However, he has to spend an inordinate amount of time in defining his terms, explaining the nice and extremely subtle distinctions before any headway can be made. He uses simplistic words such as "so-and-so", and the sentences end up as incredibly convoluted, with many clauses and subclauses. Several times a diagrammatic representation would have made something a lot clearer. His search for clarity is a big part of why Russell's writing in this volume seems so convoluted and wordy.
Because of Russell's enthusiasm for his subject, he delights in presenting his own viewpoint at every turn. The reader might find that Russell has forgotten that he is dealing with newcomers to the field, and presupposes a greater knowledge, forgetting that he has never used a term such as "synthetic" in its philosophical sense before. The reader may feel by the end that they have read the book a dozen times, back and forth, to accurately abstract its meaning Basically, Russell is trying to come at the problem from two different angles, and covering too much ground.
He mistakenly thinks that by interjecting an overview of the main philosophical movements, that will make the book more interesting. It does not; it is overly ambitious. It makes it even more dense, and should probably have been a completely separate work.
The Problems of Philosophy
It is clear that Russell is trying very hard to make the book accessible, as he is doing when he puts in his little jokes about earwigs and breakfast. But simplicity is the key. The final chapters of the book make Russell's own case for studying philosophy as an academic discipline. There is no reason to doubt the existence of external objects simply because of sense data. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the book. For the concept, see unsolved problems in philosophy. The Problems of Philosophy.
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