Who Was Bertrand Russell?

The British are distinguished among the nations of modern Europe, on the one hand by the excellence of their philosophers, and on the other hand by their contempt for philosophy. In both respects they show their wisdom.

- Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world. In his important book The Principles of Mathematics, he sought to reduce mathematics to logic. Its revolutionary ideas include Russell's Paradox, a problem which inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to pursue philosophy. Russell's most significant and famous idea, the theory of descriptions, had profound consequences for the discipline.

In addition to his academic work, Russell played an active role in many social and political campaigns. He supported women's suffrage, was imprisoned for his pacifism during World War I and was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a number of books aimed at the general public, including The History of Western Philosophy which became enormously popular, and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Russell's many appearances on the BBC also helped to promote the public understanding of ideas.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Bertrand Russell

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Bertrand Russell was an intellectual giant of the 20th century who bore witness to his generation's painful transition from Victorian optimism to postwar trauma. He always believed that ideas could change the world. He was closely involved in many of the events that shaped world politics during the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Controversially, he opposed the first world war, and was a prominent peace activist.

In academic circles he is best known for his pioneering work in mathematics, philosophical logic and epistemology. As well as bequeathing several important ideas and theories to later generations of scholars, Russell inaugurated a style of thinking now known as analytic philosophy, which is still taught in most British philosophy departments...

Continue reading Clare Carlisle's article: Bertrand Russell: philosopher, mathematician and optimist 

Further Reading

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy. His most influential contributions include his championing of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), his refining of Gottlob Frege’s predicate calculus (which still forms the basis of most contemporary systems of logic), his defense of neutral monism (the view that the world consists of just one type of substance which is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical), and his theories of definite descriptions, logical atomism and logical types.

Together with G.E. Moore, Russell is generally recognized as one of the main founders of modern analytic philosophy. His famous paradox, theory of types, and work with A.N. Whitehead on Principia Mathematica reinvigorated the study of logic throughout the twentieth century...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Bertrand Russell by Andrew David Irvine 

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Related Topics

If you’re interested in Bertrand Russell, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 The History of PhilosophyHume | LogicMathematicsNumbers | ParadoxesWittgenstein

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