Bertrand Russell - Biographical
Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born at Trelleck on 18th May, 1872. His parents were Viscount Amberley and Katherine, daughter of 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley. At the age of three he was left an orphan. His father had wished him to be brought up as an agnostic; to avoid this he was made a ward of Court, and brought up by his grandmother. Instead of being sent to school he was taught by governesses and tutors, and thus acquired a perfect knowledge of French and German. In 1890 he went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, and after being a very high Wrangler and obtaining a First Class with distinction in philosophy he was elected a fellow of his college in 1895. But he had already left Cambridge in the summer of 1894 and for some months was attaché at the British embassy at Paris.
In December 1894 he married Miss Alys Pearsall Smith. After spending some months in Berlin studying social democracy, they went to live near Haslemere, where he devoted his time to the study of philosophy. In 1900 he visited the Mathematical Congress at Paris. He was impressed with the ability of the Italian mathematician Peano and his pupils, and immediately studied Peano's works. In 1903 he wrote his first important book, The Principles of Mathematics, and with his friend Dr. Alfred Whitehead proceeded to develop and extend the mathematical logic of Peano and Frege. From time to time he abandoned philosophy for politics. In 1910 he was appointed lecturer at Trinity College. After the first World War broke out, he took an active part in the No Conscription fellowship and was fined £ 100 as the author of a leaflet criticizing a sentence of two years on a conscientious objector. His college deprived him of his lectureship in 1916. He was offered a post at Harvard university, but was refused a passport. He intended to give a course of lectures (afterwards published in America as Political Ideals, 1918) but was prevented by the military authorities. In 1918 he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for a pacifistic article he had written in the Tribunal. His Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919) was written in prison. His Analysis of Mind (1921) was the outcome of some lectures he gave in London, which were organized by a few friends who got up a subscription for the purpose.
In 1920 Russell had paid a short visit to Russia to study the conditions of Bolshevism on the spot. In the autumn of the same year he went to China to lecture on philosophy at the Peking university. On his return in Sept. 1921, having been divorced by his first wife, he married Miss Dora Black. They lived for six years in Chelsea during the winter months and spent the summers near Lands End. In 1927 he and his wife started a school for young children, which they carried on until 1932. He succeeded to the earldom in 1931. He was divorced by his second wife in 1935 and the following year married Patricia Helen Spence. In 1938 he went to the United States and during the next years taught at many of the country's leading universities. In 1940 he was involved in legal proceedings when his right to teach philosophy at the College of the City of New York was questioned because of his views on morality. When his appointment to the college faculty was cancelled, he accepted a five-year contract as a lecturer for the Barnes foundation, Merion, Pa., but the cancellation of this contract was announced in Jan. 1943 by Albert C. Barnes, director of the foundation.
Russell was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1908, and re-elected a fellow of Trinity College in 1944. He was awarded the Sylvester medal of the Royal Society, 1934, the de Morgan medal of the London Mathematical Society in the same year, the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1950.
In a paper "Logical Atomism" (Contemporary British Philosophy. Personal Statements, First series. Lond. 1924) Russell exposed his views on his philosophy, preceded by a few words on historical development.1
|German Social Democracy, 1896|
|Foundations of Geometry, 1897|
|A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, 1900|
|Principles of Mathematics, vol. 1, 1903|
|Philosophical Essays, 1910|
|(with Dr. A. N. Whitehead) Principia mathematica, 3 vols, 1910-13|
|The Problems of Philosophy, 1912|
|Our Knowledge of the External World as a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy, 1944|
|Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1916|
|Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, 1918|
|Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, 1918|
|Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, 1919|
|The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, 1920|
|The Analysis of Mind, 1921|
|The Problem of China, 1922|
|The ABC of Atoms, 1923|
|(with Dora Russell) The Prospects of Industrial Civilisation, 1923|
|Logical Atomism, 1924|
|The ABC of Relativity, 1925|
|On Education, 1926|
|The Analysis of Matter, 1927|
|An Outline of Philosophy, 1927|
|Sceptical Essays, 1928|
|Marriage and Morals, 1929|
|The Conquest of Happiness, 1930|
|The Freedom and Organisation 1814-1914, 1934|
|In Praise of Idleness, 1935|
|Which Way to Peace?, 1936|
|(with Patricia Russell editor of) The Amberley Papers, 2 vols, 1937|
|Power: a new Social Introduction to its Study, 1938|
|An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, 1941|
|History of Western Philosophy, 1946|
|Human Knowledge, its Scope and Limits, 1948|
|Authority and the Individual, 1949|
|Unpopular Essays, 1950|
1) The matter for this sketch is taken from general English reference books.
From Les Prix Nobel en 1950, Editor Arne Holmberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1951
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
For more updated biographical information, see:
Russell, Bertrand, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. (3 vols.) Allen & Unwin: London, 1967-1969.
Bertrand Russell died on February 2, 1970.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1950
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Russell begins his essay, "The Future of Mankind," with three possible scenarios for the future. Note that Russell wrote this essay after World War II and during the rise of the Cold War. (The Cold War defined the antagonism between the Soviet Union, and their allies, and the United States, and their allies. The Cold War followed World War II - 1947 - and lasted until 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.)
Given that a third world war, erupting from the Cold War, was one of Russell's greatest concerns, his prospects for the future dealt with the possibility of such a war (atomic, no less) or some way to avoid such a war. If such a war were to occur, Russell supposed the destruction of human life, and possibly all life, on the planet. Atomic bombs and their after-effects (radiation clouds, disease, etc.) would decimate and/or eliminate all life.
Russell's second scenario is that the world would revert to a state of barbarism. This too could result from a widespread atomic world war. The only solace is that such outcome leaves open the possibility that humans could return to a civilized state. Russell compares this possibility to the fall of Rome which was followed by a relatively more barbaric time (notably the Dark Ages) but was followed by a Renaissance and eventually a more technological and organized world.
Russell's third scenario is the unification of the world under one united power. Russell adds that such a united power is the most preferable outcome (a more powerful and all-encompassing authority than, say, the United Nations). Russell notes that as long as there at least two supremely powerful states (Soviet Union and United States), the threat of an atomic world war is always possible. And as technology increases, the destructive power of such a war increases. In other words, the more technologically advanced the world becomes, the more destructive our wars become; therefore, Russell believed that a unified world state becomes more and more necessary in order to avoid such a catastrophic war.
Russell hoped that a united world state could be achieved by negotiation and/or the threat of force but he feared that force would be necessary. He also clearly preferred an American victory rather than a Russian victory - whether that be the result of diplomatic relations or the result of a war. He even added that if America were communist and Russia were capitalist, he would still prefer an American victory because there was more intellectual and social freedom in America.
Although a united world state does have problems, Russell believes that under such a state, the threat of war will be lessened or eliminated, leaving humans to put more attention on human happiness. Although Russell presents gloomy potentials for the future, he believes that an immeasurably good outcome can emerge from the third scenario:
What the world most needs is effective laws to control international relations. The first and most difficult step in the creation of such law is the establishment of adequate sanctions, and this is only possible through the creation of a single armed force in control of the whole world.