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Russel's bloated lecture notes
on 9 August 2013
The philosopher, Brian Magee, writes that Bertrand Russell based this book on lecture notes for mature students he was teaching at a local college. Even though he was friends with Bertrand Russell, Magee didn't like his History of Western Philosophy. The trouble isn’t that the chapters feel like hand-outs, or that Russell didn’t read the philosopher he was rubbishing, but the problem is that Bertrand Russell is a very good writer and talks directly to the reader and so the reader thinks there is something there and because Bertrand Russell was so conceited, this cock-sure manner will only lead the student astray. We find this problem with charismatic minds all the time.
My favourite introduction to modern philosophy is found in Schopenhauer’s Parerga, titled ‘Sketch of the Ideal and the Real’. Here Arthur Schopenhauer is doing what Adi Shankara did in India, and independently. He is enquiring on the nature of subjectivity and how we mix up the transitory with the eternal, which is in us. In Schopenhauer’s second volume of his main work, the chapter titled ‘Fundamental view of Idealism’ is excellent. These won’t be understood by dabblers. Even though Schopenhauer writes in a crystal clear way, the Indians say that we are blinded by ‘avidya’ or what Westerners call ‘realism’.
Schopenhauer writes that to Awaken, we have to read his main work twice, and only then will avidya fall off like cataracts’ being removed. But the average reader doesn’t even notice the cataracts! This is the problem, though it isn’t a problem also… Modern civilisation is happy with technology, so the brightest and the best don’t even suspect that the unborn is looking and no one is at all bothered with enlightenment. The world has moved on from the sage with beard down to the ankles.
In ancient India, a Brahmin kid will have to study hard for a few decades, and only then will he get the proper teaching.
Now Arthur Schopenhauer claimed that if a teenaged Bertrand Russell sat down and read The World as Will and Idea, twice, this will lead to his enlightenment, and without a guru or the Upanishad. But the Indian will say ‘NO’, this isn’t the way. The Indian will say that only a middle aged Bertrand Russell, at the peak of his powers, will have to read The World as Will and Idea twice, and only then, immortality.
But this isn’t ancient India. Modern man can never change his mind. Even today, if you tried talking to a proper celebrity philosopher, say, Roger Scruton or AC Grayling, it will be like talking to hardened wax. They will never take up Schopenhauer’s challenge.
It was Plato who wrote that once you reach middle age, your mind hardens like wax. Plato didn’t go to India.