A New Leaf

Last day of 2018, and I’ve just dug out a new read to start 2019.

“To some who know a little of Russell’s philosophy, it might seem strange to speak of him being engaged in metaphysics. He is often depicted as standing squarely in the empiricist tradition that had, on the whole, rejected metaphysics and was concerned primarily with the theory of knowledge or epistemology. If this book has but one aim, it is to relieve its readers of that misconception. Russell was a metaphysician.”

writes Stephen Mumford in his “Russell on Metaphysics”

It seems I am exactly that target audience.

In my case, more in contrast to Wittgentstein, I see Russell as the analytic philosopher, a pure logician, so wedded to empiricism and logical positivism that his epistemology so constrained his implied realist ontology, that he simply “didn’t get it” when Wittgenstein made his linguistic-turn from the analytic logic of his Tractatus to the word-games of his “Investigations“. So much so, that I often cast the Tractatus itself as one long joke at Russell’s expense; a joke that he sadly didn’t get and which led to Wittgenstein’s withdrawal from the game until he had found the incentive and a new way to express the point he had been trying to make all along.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Russell as a thoughtful public intellectual – a philosopher to most in everyday terms, as Mumford notes – for his commitment to real moral questions and campaigns of the day, not least humanism and rationalism. An inspiration to many. But always seeming to be limited by his narrow grasp of reality – an impression reinforced by the rarefied conceptual detail of his “Principia Mathematica“, as Mumford also notes in his introduction.

For me this is further undermined by the likes of Riemann and Gödel. Exhibit A:

OK, so anyway, you got me banged to rights. This sceptical cynic will have to read-on and report back.

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