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An Unconventional Philosopher


K.R. Acharya

THE LIFE OF BERTRAND RUSSELL
By Ronald W. Clark
Jonathan Cape, London and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975, 766, 6.95

VOLUME I NUMBER 2 April - June 1976

Bertrand Russell was born in 1872 and died in 1970 at the ripe old age of ninety-seven. Mathematician, philosopher, pacifist during World War I, advocate of war on Russia soon after World War II, campaigner for nuclear disarmament towards the end of his life, and prolific writer on a variety of topics, Russell was a pro­minent figure among the intellectual elite of England for well over three quarters of a century. An intimate and detailed account of Russell's multifaceted personality and his achievements is now available in the book by Ronald Clark, biographer of Einstein, J.B.S.Haldane, the Huxleys and Tizard. Though born a member of the establishment which regarded itself as ordained by God to rule the country—his grandfather was twice Prime Minister of England—Russell chose the academic life. Orphaned at the age of three, he was brought up by his grandmother and educated privately by governesses and tutors until he was eighteen when he entered Trinity College, Cambridge to study mathematics and philosophy. He obtained a I class degree and was elected a fellow of his college in 1895 at the age of twenty-three. His fellowship thesis on the foundations of geometry and The Principles of Mathematics which he wrote during the next few years established Russell's standing as a mathematician while A Critical Exposition of the Philo­sophy of Leibniz published in 1900 made his reputation as a philosopher. In 1911, Trinity College appointed him to a lec­turership in logic and the principles of mathematics. Among his teachers at Cambridge, Whitehead was the first to recognize Russell's genius and collaborated with him in producing the three volumes of Principia Mathe­matica (published during the years 1910-1913) which explored the logical foundations of mathematics and which Russell himself considered his magnum opus. During his stay at Cambridge, Russell came in contact with a galaxy of brilliant men: Whitehead, Lowes Dickinson, Moore, McTaggurt, Keynes, Lytton Strachey and others. Robert Wiener, later famous as the father of cybernetics, was among Russell's students at Cambridge. Wiener was a youthful prodigy who had received a Ph. D. in mathematics from Harvard at the age of eighteen but Russell's first impression of him was not favourable, he thought the infant phenomenon ‘more infant than phenomenon’. Another student was the wayward Austrian, Wittgenstein, whose Tractus Logico-philosophicus later brought about a revolution in logic and philosophy. Wittgentein’s comment on Wiener is worth quoting: ‘...


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