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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What It Says On the Can, 6 Mar 2011
Myself and Ray Monk seem to be the only two to think so to date, but this is a Philosophical Classic; much neglected in my view. Parly because, I think, the style is easy and light and this does not fit to well with the dense and overly technical modern Analytic approach. Also Russell has no time for the 'later' Wittgenstein and this probably caused this book, along with much else he wrote to be ignored during the dire post war 'Linguistic Philosophy' or 'Common Sense' period of Britsh-American Philosophy. Russell's concerns are, however, those central to the Analytic school which, in fact, he founded: this caused him to be overlooked by opponents of that school and what one might call 'continental' thinkers, though he covers in some detail his break from Hegel and some lines in that school of thought. This unfortunate set of contingencies probably did this book no favors. Forget all you prejudices though and get a guided tour of the main points of modern philosophy by one of its major founders.

The language is light and clear but the thoughts behind them will take one a considerable time to assimilate; the central points about the nature of mathematics are, I think, about at the limit of what I, for one, can think about and hold my own thoughts in front of me for any time at all. He introduces one of the central themes, the philosophical disaster, as he sees it, that has ensued historically from the confusion of the number One with 'Being' as he puts it; i.e. that what counts as 'one' can equally well count as 'many'... I leave it to the reader to discover the massive upshot of this simple claim in the book. This leads him to a simple and yet adequate account of what he considers Philosophical Analysis to be. It is the best account of this that I know of and one which avoids the common error, an error followed by many academics by the way, of confusing philosophical analysis with features of words and language as such.

The Chapter on Wittgenstein is of considerable interest and, frankly, devastating to Wittegenstein acolytes; The Wittgenstein of the Blue Books he considers to have abandoned Philosophy, he makes a good case for this view, ultimately,for Russell, Philosophy is there to help us understand the World and our place in it in a cogent fashion not to hairsplit on the one hand about 'What we normally mean when we say x, y or z', or, on the other, to abandon thought for the lazy doctrine of 'meaning as use' as much of the Philosophy that followed him would have it.

Russell writes almost 'off the top of his head' and this is refreshing and clear, though the Philosophy is none-the-less difficult. The chapter on his Theory of Descriptions should be read by all Philo. 101 undergrads as it is the best account of it I know of. Russell makes one mistep in exposition though, especially in light of modern views which tend to take the Theory of Descriptions, as simply an account of linguistic usage; Russell simply neglects to explain his main point when he says almost off-handeldly "This was the first step towards resolving the Class Paradoxes". This is very hard to understand unless one realizes that the point of the Theory of Descriptions is to show how certain words in sentences do not need to refer to entities in the World and hence that 'sets', 'classes' and similar mathematical terms might be, as he elsewhere says, 'logical fictions' and hence replaceable and that the paradoxes might be resolved this way. In fact I would be inclined to preface future editions with this point; the line of thought is obviously so clear to Russell himself that it hardly needs mention and he is as interested in his amusing and ironical points about the fate of his theory as anything else almost at this point in his writing.

This is, indeed, my all time 'Desert Island' Book; it is, by the way, strictly for those who want to REALLY think Philosophicaly! In short he fast forwards us through Seventy years of some of the deepest Philosophical thinking Britain or the World has ever produced
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I felt an aching compassion for young men embarking in troop trains to be slaughtered, 13 Oct 2009
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Bertrand Russell was an utmost clinical analyzer of the scriptures of his colleague-philosophers. With his penetrating mathematical insights he could easily translate their often dark and contorted formulations into plain comprehensible sentences and expose the real meaning and/or the inner contradictions of their highbrow wordings.

In this book, he exposes harshly the morass of linguistics and Wittgenstein's `Philosophical Investigations', demolishes William James, tells how he destroyed unintentionally Frege's life work and gives insightful comments on Tarski, Ryle and his own struggle with induction.

Astonishingly, the main influence on his life as a philosopher was not a philosophic problem, but World War I: `One effect of that war was to make it impossible for me to go on living in a world of abstraction.' It turned him away from pure mathematics.

Morass of linguistics
Bertrand Russell had no `sympathy with those who treat language as an autonomous province.' For him, `the essential thing about language is that it has meaning, that it is related to something non-linguistic.'
As Karl Popper said, linguistics is nothing more than cleaning one's spectacles.

Wittgenstein
Bertrand Russell was extremely harsh for Wittgenstein's second philosophical period (the `Philosophical Investigations'), where `we are now told that it is not the world that we are to try to understand but only sentences', nor the separation of `what may count as knowledge from what must be rejected as unfounded opinion.'
`The positive doctrines seem to me trivial and its negative doctrines unfounded.'

William James
B. Russell explains that for William James, `a belief is rendered true by the excellence of its effects'. More, William James `says that what he means is not that the consequences of the belief are good, but that the believer thinks they will be.'!

Ryle, Tarski
B. Russell doesn't agree with Ryle (`philosophy cannot be fruitful if divorced from empirical science'), but he agrees with Tarski `that truth consists in one sort of relation to facts, while falsehood consists in another sort of relation.'

In his characteristic sarcastic and vitriolic style, Bertrand Russell torpedoes in this book big chunks of modern `philosophy'. It is a must read for all those interested in philosophy and the way of the world.
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My Philosophical Development
My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell (Hardcover - Dec 1959)
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