Sunday, 28 February 2016

News in the Profession



We may be in a golden age in philosophy, doing better work than ever before. There is an article on this (I found it on the beautiful Daily Nous)

Rumfitt Moves! THe philosopher Ian Rumfitt has changed universities. (Thanks Brian!)

Rudolf Carnap is the best philosopher of science since 1945, which also came from Leiter Reports.

A great new piece of philosophy from Philpapers:

forthcoming articles
    Michela BettaSelf and Others in Team-Based Learning: Acquiring Teamwork Skills for Business.
    Team-based learning (TBL) was applied within a third-year unit of study about ethics and management with the aim of enhancing students’ teamwork skills. A survey used to collect students’ opinions about their experience with TBL provided insights about how TBL helped students to develop an appreciation for teamwork and team collaboration. The team skills acquired through TBL could strengthen job readiness for business.
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  2. ALSO: Someone in Dialectica published a paper with nothing in it and there has even been a reply!
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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bertrand Russell - Founding Giant of Analytic Philosophy - Vol. 1 (Pilos Profiles)

Bertrand Russell was born in Victorian England in 1872. The son of an aristocratic and modern family, he unfortunately lost his parents at a very young age and was sent to live with his grandmother. His parents were very progressive and his mother had sexual relations with a dying scientist, purely for his own sake. The father did not mind. Later, after they had sadly died, Bertrand's grandmother found out about this and was mortified. 

Living his grandmother and assorted strange family members proved a difficult and claustrophobic environment for the young philosopher, who was not allowed to talk about his religious doubts at the dinner table, so that he carried on discussions with himself in a journal marked "Greek Exercises' so that no one would find them. There we see him wrestling with theism, and philosophizing at an already sophisticated level for such a young person. His brother taught him some geometry and he was hooked. Never did he think there could be anything so sublime. This sense of what could be achieved in mathematics profoundly influenced the young Russell's mind. He still remembered proving the pons asinorum years later.

Once he made it out to Cambridge, everything changed. He could say whatever he thought and people not only tolerated it, but encouraged him. 'Go on Bert, talk philosophy!' They said. They read Nietzsche and had exciting conversations about sex and the death of God. There was also a more moral element at Cambridge though, and G.E. Moore (defender of common sense) was at the centre of it. The young Moore was something to behold, and he greatly impressed Russell. The two would have a long and sometimes strained relationship, but they always respected each other, and together form a part of history: together they rejected the British Idealism which then dominated at Cambridge. 

While initially a Hegelian, Russell found this an intellectual straitjacket and was dismayed when he read actual Hegel and found it to 'consist mainly of puns', as he later wittily put it. Armed with a new Realist theory of mind and world which he developed together with Moore (defender of common sense, already mentioned above), they were soon to take philosophy by storm.

Russell once said to Moore that he never lied. Moore denied this, and Russell said that this was the only lie Moore had ever told. He also once asked Moore 'You don't like me do you?'. Moore paused, said no, and they went on talking about philosophy.

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His early work was on geometry, but he was always a broad student and his first book was actually on politics. He also had a book on Liebniz. Things were happening in his personal life, and he met an American girl called Alys, from Quaker stock, whom he promptly married after kissing her on a long walk. They would write letters incessantly, and she was a teetotaler.

As the years wore on Russell became interested in mathematical logic. He was one of the first people to really appreciate Gottlob Frege, another great father of philosophy. He discovered Russell's paradox around this time: there are some things which belong to classes. There are classes which are members of themselves, such as the class of all classes of horses. But now what about the classes that contain all the classes not members of themselves? He sent this to Frege and Frege was absolutely bowled over; everything was ruined and would have to be painstakingly put back together again. But how?

Around 1910 a new figure came on the scene, full of ideas. This was Ludwig Wittgenstein, a famous philosopher in his own right. Full of ideas for how to solve the paradox, he did not think Russell's own solution, the Theory of Types, was satisfactory. Meanwhile, Russell had worked out an exciting new theory of the word 'the' which he would forever say was his greatest achievement in philosophy. Ramsey later called it a 'paradigm of philosophy'. The golden mountain does not exist. But what is this thing, the golden mountain, which doesn't exist? We seem to have a problem here. Russell suggested that what this really means is that there is a golden mountain, and that everything which i s a golden mountain is identical to that thing. Together with Whitehead they used this theory as part of a logical edifice designed to derive all of modern mathematics, in an effort to show that mathematics is logic.

Wittgenstein and Russell had a wonderful friendship before the war broke out. This is where we have to break of our story and wait until next time. Russell had a long and eventful life and one blog post is simply not enough to cover all of it.

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