Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell Picture

Bertrand Russell ranks among the notable British philosophers, logicians, mathematicians, historians and social critics. His pioneering work has laid down the foundations of analytic philosophy. Russell was an enthusiastic anti-war activist, and he was among the very few who openly raised voice against Adolf Hitler and criticized Stalinist totalitarianism. His literary contributions have led to the evolution of the disciplines of logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, philosophy of language, epistemology and metaphysics.

Bertrand Russell was born as Bertrand Arthur William Russell, the third Earl Russell on May 18, 1872, to parents Viscount Amberley and Katharine Louisa, at Ravenscroft, Trellech, Monmouth shire, Wales. Russell hailed from a liberal aristocratic family, which had an influential role to play in major political happenings. In 1874, Russell’s mother and sister died of diphtheria, and soon after, in 1876, his father, too, died of bronchitis. Bertrand, along with his brother Frank, was placed under the guardianship of his Victorian grandparents, who lived at the Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park. His grandfather passed away shortly after, and his grandmother took over the upbringing of the two boys.

Russell was not enrolled in a school, instead he was schooled at home under the supervision of several tutors. Russell’s childhood was marked by seclusion, and this isolation made him a depressed teenager, who often tried to commit suicide. However, soon he came across the work of Euclid, which marked a great turning point in his life. He began educating himself in the works of eminent philosophers and thinkers, Percy Bysshe Shelley was a particular favourite of his. Bertrand was offered a scholarship to read for the Mathematical Tripos at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1890, he began studying there. At Cambridge, Russell encountered Alfred North Whitehead, who introduced him to the Cambridge Apostles. In a brief period of time, Russell gained incredible prowess in mathematics and philosophy, and in 1893, he graduated as a High Wrangler. In 1895, he was appointed a Fellow in Philosophy at the university.

In 1896, Russell began publishing his work on German Social Democracy, a political treatise that turned out to be lifelong engrossment in social and political theory. The same year, he began teaching German Social Democracy at the London School of Economics. Russell was accepted as a member at the “Coefficients Dining Club”, a society of social reformers established in 1902, by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the Fabian campaigners. At Trinity College, Russell devoted his time to mathematical quest of knowledge, and he began to formulate a “Russell’s Paradox”, that challenged the basis of the set theory. In 1903, he published his first book dealing with mathematical logic, titled “The Principles of Mathematics”. The book described mathematics as a science based on very few principles and largely tied together through logic and reasoning.

In 1905, he published his highly praised essay, “On Denoting”, in the philosophical journal, Mind. In 1908, he was made a member of the Royal Society. Russell, in collaboration with Whitehead, began composing the book “Principia Mathematica”, the first three volumes of this treatise were published in 1910. These books garnered immense critical and global recognition, and firmly established Russell as a prominent mathematician and philosopher. In 1910, Russell accepted the position of lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

During the WWI, Russell was among the very few philosophers who were actively involved in pacifist activities. Due to his opinions, in 1916, he was forced to resign from Trinity College, and under the ‘Defence of the Realm Act’, he was also fined 100 pounds. On his denial to pay the fine, his books were sold off in an auction to raise money. In 1919, Russell was offered his position back, he accepted but resigned again, a year later. In 1926, he was appointed as a Tarner Lecturer, and later in 1944, he was made a Fellow again. Russell was accused of lecturing against the US’s entry in the war to aid Britain in public, he was subjected to six months in Brixton prison. He was released in September 1918.

In 1920, Russell visited Russia as a part of an official delegation commissioned by the British government to probe and examine the effects of the Russian Revolution. He wrote a book on the experiences of his trip to Russia, titled “The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism”. Russell has been the recipient of several awards and accolades, such as the Order of Merit, the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Jerusalem Prize among others.

He passed away on February 2, 1970 in Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, Wales. According to the directions laid down by his will, his ashes were spread over the Welsh mountains and no religious ceremony took place.

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