Notes on Introduction to Philosophy -- Phil A201

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 16

Bertrand Russell

A LIBERAL DECALOGUE

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

 

Donít be too certain!

 

The question is how to arrive at your opinions and not what your opinions are. The thing in which we believe is the supremacy of reason. If reason should lead you to orthodox conclusions, well and good; you are still a Rationalist. To my mind the essential thing is that one should base one's arguments upon the kind of grounds that are accepted in science, and one should not regard anything that one accepts as quite certain, but only as probable in a greater or a less degree. Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.

 

Sin and the Bishops

 

As you may know, I got into great trouble in the United States solely because, on some practical issues, I considered that the ethical advice given in the Bible was not conclusive, and that on some points one should act differently from what the Bible says. On this ground it was decreed by a Law Court that I was not a fit person to teach in any university in the United States, so that I have some practical ground for preferring Rationalism to other outlooks.

 

Persecution

 

One must remember that some things are very much more probable than others and may be so probable that it is not worth while to remember in practice that they are not wholly certain, except when it comes to questions of persecution. If it comes to burning somebody at the stake for not believing it, then it is worth while to remember that after all he may be right, and it is not worth while to persecute him.

 

Russell on the Future of Science

 

Science enables the holders of power to realize their purposes more fully than they could otherwise do. If their purposes are good, this is a gain; if they are evil, it is a loss. In the present age, it seems that the purposes of the holders of power are in the main evil, in the sense that they involve a diminution, in the world at large, of the things men are agreed in thinking good. Therefore, at present, science does harm by increasing the power of rulers. Science is no substitute for virtue; the heart is as necessary for a good life as the head.

 

Russell on Peace

 

The powers must learn that peace is the paramount interest of everybody. To cause this to be realized by governments should be the supreme aim. It is impossible to imagine a more dramatic and horrifying combination of scientific triumph with political and moral failure than has been shown to the world in the destruction of Hiroshima.

 

On Denoting (instead of meaning)

 

A phrase is denoting solely in virtue of its form. We may distinguish three cases:

A phrase may be denoting, and yet not denote anything; e.g., `the present King of France'.

A phrase may denote one definite object; e.g., `the present King of England' denotes a certain man.

A phrase may denote ambiguously; e.g. Ďa maní denotes not many men, but an ambiguous man.

 

The notion of the variable as fundamental

 

I use 'C(x)' to mean a proposition in which x is a constituent, where x, the variable, is essentially and wholly undetermined. Then we can consider the two notions `C(x)' is always true' and `C(x)'is sometimes true'. Then everything and nothing and something (which are the most primitive of denoting phrases) are to be interpreted as follows:

C (everything) means `C (x) is always true'; C (nothing) means  `C (x) is false' is always true; C (something) means `It is false that `C (x) is false' is always true.

 

Russell's paradox and the theory of types

 

We can avoid reference to S (the set of all sets which are not members of themselves) by arranging all sentences into a hierarchy. This hierarchy will consist of sentences about individuals at the lowest level, sentences about sets of individuals at the next lowest level, sentences about sets of sets of individuals at the next lowest level, etc. It is then possible to refer to all objects for which a given condition (or predicate) holds only if they are all at the same level or of the same type.

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