Christopher James's Reviews > The Problems of Philosophy

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
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's review
Oct 25, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: philosophy
Read from October 25 to December 14, 2011

This book was published 100 years ago, and was intended as a primer for philosophy undergraduates. It functions best as a summary of 'Classical' philosophy. Metaphysics, epistemology, a bit of ethics, that sort of thing. No existentialism here. No deconstruction-ism. No conciousness theory, hard or soft problem. In fact, it kind of misses out all of my favourite bits of modern philosophy. So why is it relevant? Why bother reviewing it? Well, there is a clue in the quote over there on the bottom of my home page...

I am something of a fan of Russell. I like the way he thinks and writes. This book is a great example of his intellectual lucidity and human compassion. Take for example his chapter on idealism. In about four pages he takes on Berkley and just wipes the floor with him. In the end, he almost apologises. Beautiful thinking, beautiful writing, which he maintains for the whole, brief, 94 pages.

This book does fulfil it's brief well. It introduces philosophical thought and method coherently and concisely. But, most importantly for me, gives an insight into Russell's world. For him, the universe was an untimely sensible place. Effect follows cause. When one knows all the parameters, the right thing to do will present itself clearly. Avoiding error and remaining ever logical is the best possible course of action.

I referred to this as 'Classical' philosophy, because of it's similarity to classical physics. The Newtonian clock work world works perfectly well in most cases, but does not bear up well under close scrutiny. There is chaos in the universe. In fact, if it were not for random fluctuations, there would be no universe at all. Human thought and perception works, in part at least, on a quantum level. We are, by nature, random and unpredictable. There are no absolutes.

By his own admission, most of Russell's mathematical and philosophical work was in error. His number theory, though almost perfect, was fatally flawed. He was also an early adaptor of behaviourism, which had a disasterous effect on his family.

Yet, in terms of his political and social activism, this basic, sensible outlook served him well. He was, consistently, a beacon of humanism and rationality at times when those precious things were in very short supply. As a legacy, that is something we can all aspire to.

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message 1: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Looking forward to it.

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