[Wittrs] Re: Is Russell Overrated?

  • From: Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 8 Mar 2011 10:06:14 -0800 (PST)

I can confess to having reviewed Russell's work on descriptions, logical 
atomism, and the correspondence theory of truth beginning a couple years ago. 
Sainsbury's book on Russell and Neale's book on Descriptions, I think, offer a 
pretty compelling story about his lasting contributions to philosophy. I didn't 
have that much regard for Russell before embarking on this project, but at the 
end, he was pretty high on my list.
For all its rough edges and impenetrable syntax and icky type theory, Principia 
Mathematica did show for the first time that all of mathematics was, in 
principle, reducible to "logic", plus a few nifty axioms from set theory. It 
wasn't what Russell and Whitehead (and Frege) had hoped for, but it did avoid 
the paradoxes and it did show that arithmetic and real analysis could be 
founded rigorously on the basis of logic and set theory. That's where we are 
today, in fact. Mathematics reduces to the notion of abstraction--as modeled by 
the concept of giving a name to a set of objects and identifying such 
collections by the elements that they contain. It's amazing that abstraction is 
this powerful, isn't it?
The wikipedia page on Principia Mathematica points out that the editorial board 
of the Modern Library ranked PM 23rd on its list of the 100 greatest 
non-fiction books of the 20th century. It's the highest of the philosophical 
works on the list (I'm not counting Wm. James's Varieties as philosophy). Oh, 
you might browse to the Mod Lib website and see the Readers' list, which, 
hmm..., puts something by Ayn Rand in the numero uno slot. Yeah, right: You 
almost get the impression that there was a libertarian web campaign behind this 
surprising tally.
Thanks & best regards, --Ron

--- On Tue, 3/8/11, walto <walterhorn@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: walto <walterhorn@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Wittrs] Re: Is Russell Overrated?
To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 4:02 AM

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Sean Wilson <whoooo26505@...> wrote:
> One of the things that I can't quite understand is what Bertrand Russell did 
> in
> philosophy that stood the test of time. Other than his theory of descriptions,
> what did history validate that belonged solely to him? His
> Wittgensteinian-influenced conception of logical atomism was problematic, his
> Principea Mathematica was flawed, etc. Outside of the theory of descriptions,
>  I'm wondering what Russell actually left us?

Hans-Johann Glock (a Witt devotee) has written:

"Some contemporary practitioners believe that the hallmark of analytic 
philosophy is its preoccupation with knockdown arguments.  This picture is 
lopsided.  Like Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein, Quine and Davidson are great 
analytic philosophers, not because they have provided a series of indisputable 
demonstrations, but because they have questioned deep-seated assumptions in a 
way that is striking, innovative and illuminating."

Russell's writings on acquaintance, "logical construction" and vagueness are 
more areas in which I think he said things that hadn't been said before.


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