Bernard Russell is now being commonly referred to, as one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers. Such his status appears thoroughly justified, because it is not only that Russell succeeded in discovering a number of principles, which define the way of how language relates to the objective reality’s emanations, but he also elevated the Western paradigm of logic to an entirely new level.
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Probably the main philosophical idea, with which Russell is now being closely associated, is that, in order for people to be able to gain an in-depth insight into the very fabric of the objective reality, they must strive to adjust the workings of their minds to be consistent with how the universe actually works.
In its turn, this idea is based on the philosopher’s assumption that the way, in which people go about reflecting on the particulars of the surrounding environment, cannot be discussed outside of what this environment really is. Therefore, it represents the matter of a crucial importance for people to be able to build logical constructions in such a manner, so that the concerned predicates would never cease being discursively valid.
After all, the structural characteristics of one’s cognition/language create preconditions for the conveyed ideas to deviate from the actual subject matter, which they supposedly denote.
As the philosopher’s namesake Russell pointed out, “Logical construction is the substitution of a symbol whose denotation is given in sense-experience or is continuous with and similar to something given in sense-experience for a symbol whose denotation is neither given in sense-experience nor is similar to and continuous with something given in sense-experience but is postulated as an unempirical inferred entity” (1945, p. 175).
In its turn, this has led Russell to suggest that it is specifically the language of a mathematical logic, which should be used, in order to ensure the integrity of the reality’s verbal descriptions. Russell’s rationale, in this respect, can be outlined as follows: In the reality, there are no ‘molecular’ substances, which may be consistent with the ‘molecular’ manner of how one goes about constructing phrases.
All that we perceive, as the reality, consists of what Russell used to refer to as the ‘atomistic facts’ – the universe’s most elemental blocks. It is understood, of course, that these blocks do interrelate. However, the way in which we tend to reflect upon the concerned interrelationships linguistically, is essentially misleading, because it presupposes the factor of a perceptual biasness, on our part.
The Russell’s realization of this fact, allowed him to formulate the famous paradox, christened after the philosopher’s name.
This paradox is concerned with, “The contradiction that seems to result from considering the class w, consisting of all propositions that state the logical product of a class m in which they are not included, along with the proposition r stating the logical product of w, and asking the question of whether r is in the class w” (Klement, 2001, p. 13).
The paradox in question can be illustrated by the fact that there is simply no way to provide any answer (assertive of negative) to the question: As a result being omnipotent, can God limit his own omnipotence?
Russell considered the earlier mentioned paradox’s actual origin the fact that, the manner, in which people connect ‘atomistic facts’ together, is inconsistent with how these facts happened to be interconnected in the realm of metaphysics.
The Russell’s solution to this is as follows: inconsistencies within the ‘molecular’ descriptions, to which we resort, while trying to ensure the spatial integrity of our perceptions of the universe, can be eliminated by the mean of reformulating the logical structure of the descriptions in question.
For example, instead of coming up with the suggestion that ‘there is no happiness in life’; one should state: ‘the integral components of one’s life do no constitute happiness’.
Nevertheless, I personally believe that despite the sheer sophistication of the Russell’s insight, in this respect, it cannot be referred to as such that represents an undisputed truth-value.
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The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the so-called Theorem of Incompleteness by Kurt Godel, according to which, “No axiomatic system can ever be proved to be fully coherent and consistent from within its own rules and postulates” (Gorman, Sokol & Wayne, 1995, p. 1053).
The concerned theorem shows that, contrary to the Russell’s assumption that, if properly constructed, the logic-based definitions can indeed be considered thoroughly objective; just about any logically formulated idea is based upon the maxims (assumptions), which cannot be proven ‘truthful’, by definition.
The reason for this is that, in order for us to be able to realize the actual essence of the semantically formulated defined denotations, as ‘things in themselves’, we would have to address the task within the methodological framework of a qualitatively different denotation-system.
That is, regardless of how hard we try to ensure the structural integrity of the logical constructions; these constructions are doomed to remain utterly subjective and consequently – inconsistent with the actual subject matter they are supposed to denote.
This simply could not be otherwise, because while in the process of reflecting upon the surrounding reality, we do it within the boundaries of our perceptual apparatus, which in turn deploys language, as the instrument of providing denotations.
What it means is that there is only one way to gain an insight into the fundamental significance of the logic-based linguistic contractions – assessing them outside of the provisions of a conventional logic.
This, however, is impossible by definition – as the representatives of Homo Sapiens species, we are predetermined to assess the surrounding reality’s manifestations in terms of logic, as the foremost precondition that ensures our physical survival.
The philosophy of Bernard Russell can also be criticized on the account of its inconsistency with the revolutionary breakthroughs in the field of physics, which took place during the course of the 20th century. After all, as it was implied earlier, this philosophy is based upon the assumption that, due to being thoroughly objective, the physical reality can be adequately assessed in terms of a ‘thing in itself’.
However, as today’s physicists are well aware of, this is far from being the actual case. For example, according to the so-called Principle of Uncertainty, discovered in 1927 by Werner Heisenberg, it is impossible for us to be simultaneously aware of the elementary particle’s location and its speed.
After all, the principle’s formula suggests that, once we are being aware of the independent variable of the particle’s location, the depended variable of its speed would be projected into the infinity, and vice versa (Heelan, 1975, p. 125).
What it means is that the reason why we cannot possess a complete information about the concerned particle (its speed and location) is not that there is an insufficiency to the methodology of how we go about extracting the actual data, but that there is no such information to be found, in the first place.
In its turn, this implies that the universe’s workings are unpredictable, because the universe itself is composed out of the thoroughly unpredictable ‘bricks’ – atoms. Yet, it is specifically the assumption that the ’atomistic facts’ are objective and therefore could be measured/evaluated, which serves as the Russell philosophy’s methodological foundation.
In other words, Russell’s idea that it is indeed possible to gain the awareness of what constitutes the universe’s actual fabric; by the mean of ensuring the structural adequateness of the linguistic idioms, concerned with describing the qualitative essence of how causes and effects interrelate, is conceptually fallacious.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that, as it was illustrated earlier, we can no longer consider the philosophy of Russell scientifically valid, it nevertheless continues to represent a great historical value.
The same can be said about the significance of the philosopher’s socio-political views – having been endowed with the prophetic talent, Russell was able to define what will constitute the actual nature of the social dynamics in the future.
After all, the currently ongoing process of Globalization, which results in the affected people growing progressively more open-minded, is indeed fully consistent with the Russell’s idea that, as time goes on; it is only natural for humans to become increasingly enlightened, as to the counterproductive nature of a variety of religion-based moralistic/discursive dogmas.
Thus, it will only be appropriate, on our part, to conclude this paper by suggesting that the philosophical legacy of Bernard Russell will continue to remain greatly appreciated.
Gorman, D., Sokol, B. J. & Wayne, D. (1995). Gödel’s Theorem. PMLA, 110 (5), 1053-1056.
Heelan, P. (1975). Heisenberg and radical theoretic change. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 6 (1), 113-136.
Klement, K. (2001). Russell’s paradox in appendix B of the Principles of Mathematics: Was Frege’s response adequate? History & Philosophy of Logic, 22 (1), 13-28.
Russell, L.J. (1945). The philosophy of Bertrand Russell. Philosophy, 20 (76), 172-182.