Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bertrand Russell

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was born on this day in 1872.

As a philosopher, mathematician, educator, social critic and political activist, Russell authored over 70 books and thousands of essays and letters addressing a myriad of topics. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, "Bertie" was a fine literary stylist, one of the foremost logicians ever, and a gadfly for improving the lives of men and women.

Born in 1872 into the British aristocracy and educated at Cambridge University, Russell gave away much of his inherited wealth. But in 1931 he inherited and kept an earldom. His multifaceted career centered on work as a philosophy professor, writer, and public lecturer.

Russell was an author of diverse scope. His first books were German Social Democracy, An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, and A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. His last books were War Crimes in Vietnam and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Among his other especially noteworthy titles are Principia Mathematica (with A.N. Whitehead), Sceptical Essays, The Conquest of Happiness, and A History of Western Philosophy.

He was arguably one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century and the greatest logician since Aristotle. Analytic philosophy, the dominant philosophy of the twentieth century, owes its existence more to Russell than any other philosopher. And the system of logic developed by Russell and A.N. Whitehead, and based on earlier work by Frege and Peano, finally broke logic out of its Aristotelian straitjacket. He was also one of the century's leading public intellectuals, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".

Russell was involved, often passionately, in numerous social and political controversies of his time. For example, he supported suffragists, free thought in religion and morals, and world government; he opposed World War I and the Vietnam War, nationalism, and political persecution. He was jailed in 1918 for anti-war views and in 1961 for his anti-nuclear weapons stance.

He was married 4 times and had 3 children. With Dora Russell, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill School. He knew or worked with many of the most prominent figures in late 19th and 20th century philosophy, mathematics, science, literature, and politics.

Active as a political and social critic until his end, Russell died in 1970 at the age of 97.

(Source: Bertrand Russell Society)

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