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The Scientific Outlook (Routledge Classics) Paperback – 17 Feb 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (17 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415474620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415474627
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 362,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


'A scientific opinion is one which there is some reason to believe is true; an unscientific opinion is one which is held for some reason other than its probable truth.' - Bertrand Russell

About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was one of the most formidable thinkers of the modern era. A philosopher, mathematician, educational innovator, champion of intellectual, social and sexual freedom, and a campaigner for peace and human rights, he was also a prolific writer of popular and influential books, essays and lectures on an extensive range of subjects.

Considered to be one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell is widely renowned for his provocative writings. These definitive works offer profound insights and forward-thinking perspectives on a changing western society progressively shaped, most significantly, by two world wars, the decline of British imperialism and an evolving moral landscape.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book. Extremely well written and insightful.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science meets Philosophy (again) 21 Mar. 2005
By C. M. Stahl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a series of essays grouped together into three sections. Scientific Knowledge is a primer on how the role it plays in overall thinking and philosophy. There is more to establishing an ideology than science and it needs to work in conjunction with the arts for example. The second section is the "How To" of the Scientific Method and the third is a scary portrayal of how a purely scientific world society might end up. It was originally published about the same time as 1984 and Brave New World all three of these writers obviously saw the potential risk of what Russell describes as science for power's sake rather than for the love of knowledge and learning.

Many years ago I read much if not all of these essays about the value of the Scientific Method (or Technique as he says). I was won over and as a student of Social Sciences I attempted to use the method to the best of my ability. I also appreciated his socially liberal outlook that can be seen throughout. Years hence, upon re-reading the book I find that I still appreciate the writing but I have been inured in my thinking that the world will be a better place with the Scientific Method playing a larger role in policy making.

Some of Russell's sentiment of 1931 does not play that well today, such as his tempered admiration for the USSR but many others should his prescient thinking. Those incident's were many but I will only present one and that is because I saw it as true but funny in a melancholy way. In the third section he describes how people in the scientific world society will have no wars and therefore will have to have death defying games in order for those personality types to be able to vent there lust. Today we have reality television.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most influential science fiction source of all time? 26 Jan. 2003
By ericross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Unlike the many other great literary inspirations of the science fiction writers of the of the twentieth century, this book is not a work of science fiction.
As its name suggests, The Scientific Outlook, is an attempt to predict the next developments in science as seen from the perspective of the early 1930's.
The contents of this book were so outrageous and shocking in their time that they were best appreciated by those people who saw it as their business to show our destiny taking an unexpected turn, painting a picture of a time to come when things contrast radically with our current circumstances.
There are instances where such predictive storytelling is intended as a warning, attempting to offer an insight into how seemingly innocuous trends and apparently insignificant contemporary changes portend unforeseen (but not unforeseeable) catastrophic longer term outcomes.
Science fiction writing has a major category called 'technological extrapolation' in which the above occurs, and within that genre there is a subcategory called 'dystopia' which uses such crystal gazing to present a kind of 'negative utopia' where 'it all ends in tears'.
The two most famous twentieth century dystopias, two 'worlds turned upside down', are Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and '1984' by George Orwell.
Both of these great works have very strong connections to this book, the former being substantially derived from it.
Aldous Huxley was Russell's student and published Brave New World a year after The Scientific Outlook.
Orwell was strongly influenced in '1984' by Burnham's 1940 classic 'The Managerial Revolution' which has strong parallels with 'The Scientific Outlook' (although Russell claims no direct influence on Burnham, he points out the similarity of Burnham's material, which was published nearly a decade after Russell's book).
Even if the similarity to the predictions in `The Managerial Revolution' was a freakish coincidence, the connection to Brave New world is unquestionable and the shared dystopian derivations are `of a piece' with 1984 to the extent where, if you want to `go back to the source' in an easily readable form (Russell's writing is razor sharp and witty, with all the historical context you could wish for in a popular science book) you could not ask for a better starting point in terms of understanding the technological roots of those two great novels.
An enjoyable and insightful read, essential for anyone trying to get to grips with the recent history and philosophy of science, especially in the highly controversial field of medical ethics, where it is possible to see eugenics from a standpoint which preceded its post-war ethical and political denunciation.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good book with interesting conclusion 15 April 2012
By Anthony Marinelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book written by the nobel prize winning writer,is interesting! I wont go into what the book is about but he does go into how science developed,and how it progressed and the type of scientific world we have today and he offers a surprising conclusion,but not for readers who are used to him. As a philosopher Russell is a writer i read from my early youth,and he is someone whoose papers i believe are now in mcmaster in hamilton, who is quite different. The type of scientific world he describes,is a world where science is manipulated by people,and if those aims are good all is fine and if those aims are bad the opposite is true? Whether our world is heading towards a world of aldous huxley or george orwell is for others to judge. There is an old maxim that as the world becomes one in nature and as science advances this will be true,the advances of society must be felt at the community level,since that is the world of science we experience. An important point he mentions is people dont really try to study or research before they begin they manipulate things to their or some perceived advantage...science are best
advanced by people he sais at books end filled with love,the poetic or mystic mind,not the manipulator who before he begins his procedure already has in mind what he wants to do,to the advantage of this or that. Of course that view has nothing to do with science,it is a result of all that was going wrong in life...at the beginning of the book he states all people even adults,have child like or scientific minds,there really is not a middling ground. I do believe given the development of society,the absence of religious consciousness is sorely felt throughout our world,to those worlds ultimate demise,and thats my christian view..the writer admits the attempt to build a scientific society based on reason even love has failed...so i dont know where the future of the world will go...but
the world each year is increasingly orwellian...and my own view is the departure from a christian consciousness...as the author says science goes through and is interpreted through a persons mind,and its best practiced by those
filled with love...not be those who manipulate and interfere with the scientic process...manipulators just confirm their own conclusions
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Not all wisdom is new, nor is all folly out of date" 9 Feb. 2010
By R. Pokkyarath - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This work is an attempt to define the characteristics of the scientific process, identify the techniques as in the application of it to various disciplines and finally Russell makes certain conjectures about how a scientific society might eventually end up.

The book is divided into 3 main sections,
- Scientific Knowledge
- Scientific Technique
- Scientific Society

The part that I liked the most is 'Scientific Knowledge'; especially the discussion pertaining to science, metaphysics and religion. In addition to identifying the characteristics of the scientific process (observation, inductive and deductive reasoning, experimentation, approximation etc) Russell provides a nice explanation about the limitations of this process. Topics such as the validity of the inductive reasoning, inference and the questions/concerns about the abstractness of theoretical physics is discussed in a very interesting manner. In the chapter 'Science and Religion' Russell takes on Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans for speculating the possibility of the existence of a creator; Russell replies to Eddington's use of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to imply the lack of causality and James Jeans thesis of "God as a Mathematician" get a fair amount of dressing down with Russell finally remarking "one does not quite see what can have been gained by creating so such muddle-headedness"

I'm not sure if I gained anything much from the section 'Scientific Technique'. When Russell wrote this book the application of science to biology, physiology and psychology was in its infancy; it does, however, give a snapshot of those early days.

The third section speculates about how a scientific society might look like in the future - a recurring theme in many of his writings; it talks about the ruling oligarchies employing science to gain control. Topics touched upon here include education, eugenics and others. The book ends with a nice chapter entitled 'Science and Values' where Russell looks down upon "power science" and says "Thus it is only in so far as we renounce the world as its lovers that we can conquer it as its technicians"

Overall, a nice book; if you have read Russell's other books related to science and society you will notice quite a bit of an overlap.
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Unknown Binding
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was an influential British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and political activist. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his many books such as A History of Western Philosophy, The Problems of Philosophy, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, The Analysis of Mind, Our Knowledge of the External World, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, Mysticism and Logic, etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1931 book, "In considering the effect of science upon human life we have therefore three more or less separate matters to examine. The first is the nature and scope of scientific knowledge, the second the increased power or manipulation derived from scientific technique, and the third the changes in social life and in traditional institutions which must result from the new forms of organization that scientific technique demands... In the following pages we will be concerned with science rather than with wisdom. It is well to remember, however, that this preoccupation is one-sided and needs to be corrected if a balanced view of human life is to be achieved."

He suggests, "the theory of evolution might have been admitted by some people without too great a struggle, but in the popular mind Darwinism became identified with the hypothesis that men are descended from monkeys. This was painful to our human conceit... As it is, people have always been able to defend their self-esteem, under the impression that they were defending religion. Moreover, we know that men have souls, whereas monkeys have none. If men developed gradually out of monkeys, at what moment did they acquire a soul? The problem is really not any worse than the problem as to the particular stage at which the fetus develops a soul, but new difficulties always seem worse than old ones..." (Pg. 43)

He states, "The limitations of scientific method may be collected under three heads: (1) doubts as to the validity of induction; (2) the difficulty of drawing inferences from what is experienced to what is not experienced; and (3) even allowing that there can be inference to what is not experienced, the fact that such inference must be of an extremely abstract character, and gives, therefore, less information than it appears to do when ordinary language is employed." (Pg. 74)

He asserts, "It is easy to invent a metaphysic which will have as a consequence that induction is valid, and many men have done so; but they have not shown any reason to believe in their metaphysic except that it was pleasant. The metaphysic of Bergson, for example, is undoubtedly peasant: like cocktails, it enables us to see the world as a unity without sharp distinctions, and all of it vaguely agreeable, but it has no better claim than cocktails have to be included in the technique for the pursuit of knowledge." (Pg. 76)

He explains, "In metaphysics my creed is short and simple. I think that the external world may be an illusion, but if it exists, it consists of events, short, small and haphazard. Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions just as truly as are catalogues and encyclopedias. But human inventions can, within limits, be made to prevail in our human world, and in the conduct of our daily life we may with advantage forget the realm of chaos and old night by which we are perhaps surrounded." (Pg. 98)

He comments, "[Sir James] Jeans argues [in The Mysterious Universe] that the world must have been created by a mathematician for the pleasure of seeing these laws in operation... if God were as pure a pure mathematician as His knightly champion supposes, He would have no wish to give a gross external existence in His thoughts... The world, {Jeans] tells us, consists of thoughts; of these there are three grades: the thoughts of God, the thoughts of men when they are awake, and the thoughts of men when they are asleep and have bad dreams. One does not quite see what the two latter kinds of thought add to the perfection of the universe, since clearly God's thoughts are the best, and one does not quite see what can have been gained by creating so much muddle-headedness." (Pg. 112-113)

He argues, `I think we ought provisionally to accept the hypothesis that the world had a beginning at some definite, though unknown, date. Are we to infer from this that the world was made by a Creator? Certainly not, if we are to adhere to the canons of valid scientific inference. There is no reason whatever why the universe should not have begun spontaneously, , except that it seems odd that is should do so; but there is no law of nature to the effect that things which seem odd to us must not happen. To infer a Creator is to infer a cause, and causal inferences are only admissible in science when they proceed from observed causal laws. Creation out of nothing is an occurrence which has not been observed. There is, therefore, no better reason to suppose that the world was caused by a Creator than to suppose that it was uncaused; either equally contradicts the causal laws that we can observe." (Pg. 118)

He continues, "The purely intellectual argument on this point may be put in a nutshell: Is the Creator amenable to the laws of physics or is He not? If He is not, He cannot be inferred from physical phenomena, since no physical causal law can lead to Him; if He is, we shall have to apply the second law of thermodynamics to Him and suppose that He also had to be created at some remote period. But in that case he has lost his raison d'être." (Pg. 119)

He contends, "At present, within wide limits, any man who has money to invest may invest it as he chooses. This freedom was defended during the heyday of laissez faire on the ground that the business which paid best was almost the most socially useful. Few men nowadays would dare to maintain such a doctrine... consider the immense sums of money that are spent on advertising. It cannot possibly be maintained that these bring any but the most meagre return to the community. The principle of permitting each capitalist to invest his money as he chooses is not, therefore, socially defensible." (Pg. 218-219)

Although Russell often comments on scientific matters in his many books, it is delightful to see an entire book of his learned and witty commentary.
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