Basic writings of Existentialism Sparknotes

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1 MY RELIGIOUS REMINISCENCES My parents, Lord and Lady Amberley, were considered shocking in their day on account of their advanced opinions in politics, theology, and morals. When my mother died in 1874 she was buried without any religious cere- mony in the grounds of their house in the Wye Valley. My father intended to be buried there also, but when he died in 1876 his wishes were disregarded, and both were removed to the family vault at Chenies. By my father’s will my brother and I were to have been in the guardianship of two friends of his who shared his opinions, but the will was set aside and we were placed by the Court of Chancery in the care of my grandparents. My grandfather, the statesman, died in 1878, and it was his widow who decided the manner of my education. She was a Scotch Presbyterian, who gradually became a Unitarian. I was taken on alternate Sundays to the Parish Church and to the Presbyterian Church, while at home I was taught the tenets of Unitarianism. Eternal punishment and the literal truth of the Bible were not inculcated, and there was no Sabbatarianism beyond a suggestion of avoiding cards on Sunday for fear of shocking the servants. But in other respects morals were austere, and it was held to be certain that conscience, which is the voice of God, is an infallible guide in all practical perplexities. My childhood was solitary, as my brother was seven years older than I was, and I was not sent to school. Consequently I had abundant leisure for reflec- tion, and when I was about fourteen my thoughts turned to theology. During the four following years I rejected, successively, free will, immortality, and belief in God, and believed that I suffered much pain in the process, though when it was completed I found myself far happier than I had been while I remained in doubt. I think, in retrospect, that loneliness had much more to do with my unhappiness than theological difficulties, for throughout the4 the basic writings of bertrand russell whole time I never said a word about religion to anyone, with the brief exception of an Agnostic tutor, who was soon sent away, presumably because he did not discourage my unorthodoxy. What kept me silent was mainly the fear of ridicule. At the age of fourteen I became convinced that the fundamental principle of ethics should be the promotion of human happiness, and at first this appeared to me so self- evident that I supposed it must be the universal opinion. Then I discovered, to my surprise, that it was a view regarded as unorthodox, and called Utilitarian- ism. I announced, no doubt with a certain pleasure in the long word, that I was a Utilitarian; but the announcement was received with derision. My grandmother for a long time missed no opportunity of ironically submitting ethical conundrums to me, and challenging me to solve them on Utilitarian principles. To my surprise I discovered, in preparing the Amberley Papers, that she had subjected an uncle of mine, in his youth, to the same treatment on the same topic. The result in my case was a determination to keep my thoughts to myself; no doubt in his it was similar. Ridicule, nominally amus- ing but really an expression of hostility, was the favourite weapon—the worst possible, short of actual cruelty, in dealing with young people. When I became interested in philosophy—a subject which, for some reason, was anathema—I was told that the whole subject could be summed up in the saying: ‘What is mind?—No matter. What is matter?—Never mind.’ At the fifteenth or sixteenth repetition of this remark it ceased to be amusing. Nevertheless on most topics the atmosphere was liberal. For instance, Darwinism was accepted as a matter of course. I had at one time, when I was thirteen, a very orthodox Swiss tutor, who, in consequence of something I had said, stated with great earnestness: ‘If you are a Darwinian I pity you, for one cannot be a Darwinian and a Christian at the same time.’ I did not then believe in the incompatibility, but I was already clear that, if I had to choose, I would choose Darwin. Until I went to Cambridge I was almost wholly unaware of contemporary movements of thought. I was influenced by Darwin, and then by John Stuart Mill, but more than either by the study of dynamics; my outlook, in fact, was more appropriate to a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century Cartesian than to a post-Darwinian. It seemed to me that all the motions of matter were deter- mined by physical laws, and that in all likelihood this was true of the human body as well as of other matter. Being passionately interested in religion and unable to speak about it, I wrote down my thoughts in Greek letters in a book which I headed ‘Greek Exercises’, in which, to make concealment more complete, I adopted an original system of phonetic spelling. In this book, when I was fifteen, I wrote: ‘Taking free will first to consider, there is no clear dividing line between man and the protozoon. Therefore, if we give free will to man we must give it also to the protozoon. This is rather hard to do.5 my religious reminiscences Therefore, unless we are willing to give free will to the protozoon we must not give it to man. This, however, is possible, but it is difficult to imagine. If, as seems to me probable, protoplasm only came together in the ordinary course of nature without any special Providence from God, then we and all animals are simply kept going by chemical forces and are nothing more wonderful than a tree (which no one pretends has free will), and if we had a good enough knowledge of the forces acting on any one at any time, the motives pro and con, the constitution of his brain at any time, then we could tell exactly what he would do.’ Until the age of eighteen I continued to believe in a Deist’s God, because the First-Cause argument seemed to me irrefutable. Then in John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography I found that James Mill had taught him the refutation of that argument—namely, that it gives no answer to the question ‘Who made God?’ It is curious that Mill should have had so much influence on me, for he was my father’s and mother’s close friend and the source of many of their opin- ions, but I did not know this until a much later date. Without being aware that I was following in my father’s footsteps, I read, before I went to Cambridge, Mill’s Logic and Political Economy, and made elaborate notes in which I practised the art of expressing the gist of each paragraph in a single sentence. I was already interested in the principles of mathematics, and was profoundly dissatisfied with his assimilation of pure mathematics to empirical science—a view which is now universally abandoned. Throughout adolescence I read widely, but as I depended mainly on my grandfather’s library few of the books I read belonged to my own time. They were a curious collection. I remember, as having been important to me, Milman’s History of Christianity, Gibbon, Comte, Dante, Machiavelli, Swift, and Carlyle; but above all Shelley—whom, however, though born in the same month as my grandfather, I did not find on his shelves. It was only at Cambridge that I became aware of the modern world—I mean the world that was modern in the early ’nineties: Ibsen and Shaw, Flaubert and Pater, Walt Whitman, Nietzsche, etc. But I do not think any of these men had much influence on me, with the possible exception of Ibsen. The men who changed my opinions at that time were two: first McTaggart in one direction, and then, after I had become a Fellow, G. E. Moore in the opposite direction. McTaggart made me a Hegelian, and Moore caused me to revert to the opinions I had had before I went to Cambridge. Most of what I learnt at Cambridge had to be painfully unlearnt later; on the whole, what I had learnt for myself from being left alone in an old library had proved more solid. The influence of German idealism in England has never gone much beyond the universities, but in them, when I was young, it was almost completely dominant. Green and Caird converted Oxford, and Bradley and6 the basic writings of bertrand russell Bosanquet—the leading British philosophers in the ’nineties—were more in agreement with Hegel than with anyone else, though, for some reason unknown to me, they hardly ever mentioned him. In Cambridge Henry Sidgwick still represented the Benthamite tradition, and James Ward was a Kantian; but the younger men—Stout, Mackenzie, and McTaggart—were, in varying degrees, Hegelians. Very different attitudes towards Christian dogma were compatible with acceptance of Hegel. In his philosophy nothing is held to be quite true, and nothing quite false; what can be uttered has only a limited truth, and, since men must talk, we cannot blame them for not speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The best we can do, according to Bradley, is to say things that are ‘not intellectually corrigible’—further progress is only pos- sible through a synthesis of thought and feeling, which, when achieved, will lead to our saying nothing. Ideas have degrees of truth, greater or less accord- ing to the stage at which they come in the dialectic. God has a good deal of truth, since He comes rather late in the dialectic; but He has not complete truth, since He is swallowed up in the Absolute Idea. The right wing among Hegelians emphasized the truth in the concept of God, the left wing the falsehood, and each wing was true to the Master. A German Hegelian, if he was taking orders, remembered how much truer the concept of God is than, e.g. that of gods; if he was becoming a civil servant, he remembered the even greater truth of the Absolute Idea, whose earthly copy was the Prussian State. In England teachers of philosophy who were Hegelians almost all belonged to the left wing. ‘Religion’, says Bradley, ‘is practical, and therefore still is dominated by the idea of the Good; and in the essence of this idea is contained an unsolved contradiction. Religion is still forced to maintain unreduced aspects, which, as such, cannot be united; and it exists, in short, by a kind of perpetual oscillation and compromise.’ Neither Bradley nor Bosanquet believed in personal immortality. Mackenzie, while I was reading philosophy, stated in a paper which I heard that ‘a personal God is, in a sense, a contradiction in terms’: he was subsequently one of my examiners. The attitude of these men to religion was thus not one of which the orthodox could approve, but it was by no means one of hostility: they held religion to be an essential ingredient in the truth, and defective only when taken as the whole truth. The sort of view that I had previously held, ‘either there is a God or there is not, and probably the latter’, seemed to them very crude; the correct opinion, they would say, was that from one point of view there is a God and from another there is not, but from the highest point of view there neither is nor is not. Being myself naturally ‘crude’, I never succeeded in reaching this pitch of mellowness. McTaggart, who dominated the philosophical outlook of my generation at Cambridge, was peculiar among Hegelians in various ways. He was more7 my religious reminiscences faithful than the others to the dialectic method, and would defend even its details. Unlike some of the school, he was definite in asserting certain things and denying others; he called himself an Atheist, but firmly believed in personal immortality, of which he was convinced that he possessed a logical demonstration. He was four years senior to me, and in my first term was President of the Union. He and I were both so shy that when, about a fortnight after I came up, he called on me, he had not the courage to come in and I had not the courage to ask him in, so that he remained in the doorway about five minutes. Soon, however, the conversation got on to philosophy, and his shyness ceased. I found that all I had thought about ethics and logic and metaphysics was considered to be refuted by an abstruse technique that completely baffled me; and by this same technique it was to be proved that I should live for ever. I found that the old thought this nonsense, but the young thought it good sense, so I determined to study it sympathetically, and for a time I more or less believed it. So, for a short time, did G. E. Moore. But he found the Hegelian philosophy inapplicable to chairs and tables, and I found it inapplicable to mathematics; so with his help I climbed out of it, and back to common sense tempered by mathematical logic. The intellectual temper of the ’nineties was very different from that of my father’s youth: in some ways better, but in many ways worse. There was no longer, among the abler young men, any preoccupation with the details of the Christian faith; they were almost all Agnostics, and not interested in discussions as to the divinity of Christ, or in the details of Biblical criticism. I remember a feeling of contempt when I learned that Henry Sidgwick as a young man, being desirous of knowing whether God exists, thought it neces- sary, as a first step, to learn Semitic languages, which seemed to me to show an insufficient sense of logical relevance. But I was willing, as were most of my friends, to listen to a metaphysical argument for or against God or immortality or free will; and it was only after acquiring a new logic that I ceased to think such arguments worth examining. The non-academic heroes of the ’nineties—Ibsen, Strindberg, Nietzsche, and (for a time) Oscar Wilde—differed very greatly from those of the previ- ous generation. The great men of the ’sixties were all ‘good’ men: they were patient, painstaking, in favour of change only when a detailed and careful investigation had persuaded them that it was necessary in some particular respect. They advocated reforms, and in general their advocacy was success- ful, so that the world improved very fast; but their temper was not that of rebels. I do not mean that no great rebels existed; Marx and Dostoievsky, to mention only two, did most of their best work in the ’sixties. But these men were almost unknown among cultured people in their own day, and their influence belongs to a much later date. The men who commanded respect in England in the ’sixties—Darwin, Huxley, Newman, the authors of Essays and8 the basic writings of bertrand russell Reviews, etc.—were not fundamentally at war with society; they could meet, as they did in the ‘Metaphysical Society’, to discuss urbanely whether there is a God. At the end they divided; and Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff, on being asked afterwards whether there is a God, replied: ‘Yes, we had a very good majority.’ In those days democracy ruled even over Heaven. But in the ’nineties young men desired something more sweeping and passionate, more bold and less bland. The impulse towards destruction and violence which has swept over the world began in the sphere of literature. Ibsen, Strindberg, and Nietzsche were angry men—not primarily angry about this or that, but just angry. And so they each found an outlook on life that justified anger. The young admired their passion, and found in it an outlet for their own feelings of revolt against parental authority. The assertion of freedom seemed sufficiently noble to justify violence; the violence duly ensued, but freedom was lost in the process. (The Rationalist Annual, 1938, published by C. A. Watts & Co., Ltd.)2 MY MENTAL DEVELOPMENT My mother having died when I was two years old, and my father when I was three, I was brought up in the house of my grandfather, Lord John Russell, afterwards Earl Russell. Of my parents, Lord and Lady Amberley, I was told almost nothing—so little that I vaguely sensed a dark mystery. It was not until I was twenty-one that I came to know the main outlines of my parents’ lives and opinions. I then found, with a sense of bewilderment, that I had gone through almost exactly the same mental and emotional development as my father had. It was expected of my father that he should take to a political career, which was traditional in the Russell family. He was willing, and was for a short time in Parliament (1867–68); but he had not the temperament or the opinions that would have made political success possible. At the age of twenty-one he decided that he was not a Christian, and refused to go to church on Christmas Day. He became a disciple, and afterwards a friend, of John Stuart Mill, who, as I discovered some years ago, was (so far as is possible in a non-religious sense) my godfather. My parents accepted Mill’s opinions, not only such as were comparatively popular, but also those that still shocked public senti- ment, such as women’s suffrage and birth control. During the general elec- tion of 1868, at which my father was a candidate, it was discovered that, at a private meeting of a small society, he had said that birth control was a matter for the medical profession to consider. This let loose a campaign of vilifica- tion and slander. A Catholic bishop declared that he advocated infanticide; he was called in print a ‘filthy foul-mouthed rake’; on election day, cartoons were exhibited accusing him of immorality, altering his name to ‘Vice-count Amberley’, and accusing him of advocating ‘The French and American sys- 1 tem’. By these means he was defeated. The student of comparative sociology10 the basic writings of bertrand russell may be interested in the similarities between rural England in 1868 and urban New York in 1940. The available documents are collected in The Amberley Papers, by my wife and myself. As the reader of this book will see, my father was shy, studious, and ultra-conscientious—perhaps a prig, but the very opposite of a rake. My father did not give up hope of returning to politics, but never obtained another constituency, and devoted himself to writing a big book, Analysis of Religious Belief, which was published after his death. He could not, in any case, have succeeded in politics, because of his very exceptional intellectual integ- rity; he was always willing to admit the weak points on his own side and the strong points on that of his opponents. Moreover his health was always bad, and he suffered from a consequent lack of physical vigour. My mother shared my father’s opinions, and shocked the ’sixties by addressing meetings in favour of equality for women. She refused to use the phrase ‘women’s rights’, because, as a good Utilitarian, she rejected the doctrine of natural rights. My father wished my brother and me to be brought up as free-thinkers, and appointed two free-thinkers as our guardians. The Court of Chancery, however, at the request of my grandparents, set aside the will, and I enjoyed the benefits of a Christian upbringing. In 1876, when after my father’s death I was brought to the house of my grandparents, my grandfather was eighty-three and had become very feeble. I remember him sometimes being wheeled about out-of-doors in a bath- chair, sometimes in his room reading Hansard (the official report of debates in Parliament). He was invariably kind to me, and seemed never to object to childish noise. But he was too old to influence me directly. He died in 1878, and my knowledge of him came through his widow, my grandmother, who revered his memory. She was a more powerful influence upon my general outlook than anyone else, although, from adolescence onward, I disagreed with very many of her opinions. My grandmother was a Scotch Presbyterian, of the border family of the Elliots. Her maternal grandfather suffered obloquy for declaring, on the basis of the thickness of the lava on the slopes of Etna, that the world must have been created before 4004 b.c. One of her great-grandfathers was Robertson, the historian of Charles V. She was a Puritan, with the moral rigidity of the Covenanters, despising comfort, indifferent to food, hating wine, and regarding tobacco as sinful. Although she had lived her whole life in the great world until my grand- father’s retirement in 1866, she was completely unworldly. She had that indifference to money which is only possible to those who have always had enough of it. She wished her children and grandchildren to live useful and virtuous lives, but had no desire that they should achieve what others would11 my mental development regard as success, or that they should marry ‘well’. She had the Protestant belief in private judgement and the supremacy of the individual conscience. On my twelfth birthday she gave me a Bible (which I still possess), and wrote her favourite texts on the fly-leaf. One of them was ‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil’; another, ‘Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whither- soever thou goest’. These texts have profoundly influenced my life, and still seemed to retain some meaning after I had ceased to believe in God. At the age of seventy, my grandmother became a Unitarian; at the same time, she supported Home Rule for Ireland, and made friends with Irish Members of Parliament, who were being publicly accused of complicity in murder. This shocked people more than now seems imaginable. She was passionately opposed to imperialism, and taught me to think ill of the Afghan and Zulu wars, which occurred when I was about seven. Concerning the occupation of Egypt, however, she said little, as it was due to Mr Gladstone, whom she admired. I remember an argument I had with my German govern- ess, who said that the English, having once gone into Egypt, would never come out, whatever they might promise, whereas I maintained, with much patriotic passion, that the English never broke promises. That was sixty years ago, and they are there still. My grandfather, seen through the eyes of his widow, made it seem impera- tive and natural to do something important for the good of mankind. I was told of his introducing the Reform Bill in 1832. Shortly before he died, a delegation of eminent Nonconformists assembled to cheer him and I was told that fifty years earlier he had been one of the leaders in removing their political disabilities. In his sitting-room there was a statue from Italy, pre- sented to my grandfather by the Italian Government, with an inscription: ‘A Lord John Russell, L’Italia Riconoscente’; I naturally wished to know what this meant, and learnt, in consequence, the whole saga of Garibaldi and Italian unity. Such things stimulated my ambition to live to some purpose. My grandfather’s library, which became my schoolroom, stimulated me in a different way. There were books of history, some of them very old; I remember in particular a sixteenth-century Guicciardini. There were three huge folio volumes called L’Art de vérifier les dates. They were too heavy for me to move, and I speculated as to their contents; I imagined something like the tables for finding Easter in the Prayer Book. At last I became old enough to lift one of the volumes out of the shelf, and I found, to my disgust, that the only ‘art’ involved was that of looking up the date in the book. Then there were The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters, in which I read about the men who went to Ireland before the Flood and were drowned in it; I wondered how the Four Masters knew about them, and read no further. There were also more ordin- ary books, such as Machiavelli and Gibbon and Swift, and a book in four12 the basic writings of bertrand russell volumes that I never opened: The Works of Andrew Marvell Esq. M.P. It was not till I grew up that I discovered Marvell was a poet rather than a politician. I was not supposed to read any of these books; otherwise I should probably not have read any of them. The net result of them was to stimulate my interest in history. No doubt my interest was increased by the fact that my family had been prominent in English history since the early sixteenth century. I was taught English history as the record of a struggle against the King for consti- tutional liberty. William Lord Russell, who was executed under Charles II, was held up for special admiration, and the inference was encouraged that rebellion is often praiseworthy. A great event in my life, at the age of eleven, was the beginning of Euclid, which was still the accepted textbook of geometry. When I had got over my disappointment in finding that he began with axioms, which had to be accepted without proof, I found great delight in him. Throughout the rest of my boyhood, mathematics absorbed a very large part of my interest. This interest was complex: partly mere pleasure in discovering that I possessed a certain kind of skill, partly delight in the power of deductive reasoning, partly the restfulness of mathematical certainty; but more than any of these (while I was still a boy) the belief that nature operates according to mathematical laws, and that human actions, like planetary motions, could be calculated if we had sufficient skill. By the time I was fifteen, I had arrived at a theory very similar to that of the Cartesians. The movements of living bodies, I felt convinced, were wholly regulated by the laws of dynamics; therefore free will must be an illusion. But, since I accepted consciousness as an indubitable datum, I could not accept materialism, though I had a certain hankering after it on account of its intellectual simplicity and its rejection of ‘nonsense’. I still believed in God, because the First-Cause argument seemed irrefutable. Until I went to Cambridge at the age of eighteen, my life was a very solitary one. I was brought up at home, by German nurses, German and Swiss governesses, and finally by English tutors; I saw little of other children, and when I did they were not important to me. At fourteen or fifteen I became passionately interested in religion, and set to work to examine successively the arguments for free will, immortality, and God. For a few months I had an Agnostic tutor with whom I could talk about these problems, but he was sent away, presumably because he was thought to be undermining my faith. Except during these months, I kept my thoughts to myself, writing them out in a journal in Greek letters to prevent others from reading them. I was suffering the unhappiness natural to lonely adolescence, and I attributed my unhappiness to loss of religious belief. For three years I thought about religion, with a determination not to let my thoughts be influenced by my desires. I discarded first free will, then immortality; I believed in God until I was just eighteen, when I found in Mill’s Autobiography the sentence: ‘My13 my mental development father taught me that the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question “Who made God?” ’ In that moment I decided that the First-Cause argument is fallacious. During these years I read widely, but as my reading was not directed, much of it was futile. I read much bad poetry, especially Tennyson and Byron; at last, at the age of seventeen, I came upon Shelley, whom no one had told me about. He remained for many years the man I loved most among great men of the past. I read a great deal of Carlyle, and admired Past and Present, but not Sartor Resartus. ‘The Everlasting Yea’ seemed to me sentimental nonsense. The man with whom I most nearly agreed was Mill. His Political Economy, Liberty, and Subjection of Women influenced me profoundly. I made elaborate notes on the whole of his Logic, but could not accept his theory that mathematical propositions are empirical generalizations, though I did not know what else they could be. All this was before I went to Cambridge. Except during the three months when I had the Agnostic tutor mentioned above, I found no one to speak to about my thoughts. At home I concealed my religious doubts. Once I said that I was a Utilitarian, but was met with such a blast of ridicule that I never again spoke of my opinions at home. Cambridge opened to me a new world of infinite delight. For the first time I found that, when I uttered my thoughts, they seemed to be accepted as worth considering. Whitehead, who had examined me for entrance scholar- ships, had mentioned me to various people a year or two senior to me, with the result that within a week I met a number who became my life-long friends. Whitehead, who was already a Fellow and Lecturer, was amazingly kind, but was too much my senior to be a close personal friend until some years later. I found a group of contemporaries, who were able, rather earnest, hard-working, but interested in many things outside their academic work— poetry, philosophy, politics, ethics, indeed the whole world of mental adven- ture. We used to stay up discussing till very late on Saturday nights, meet for a late breakfast on Sunday, and then go for an all-day walk. Able young men had not yet adopted the pose of cynical superiority which came in some years later, and was first made fashionable in Cambridge by Lytton Strachey. The world seemed hopeful and solid; we all felt convinced that nineteenth- century progress would continue, and that we ourselves should be able to contribute something of value. For those who have been young since 1914 it must be difficult to imagine the happiness of those days. Among my friends at Cambridge were McTaggart, the Hegelian phil- osopher; Lowes Dickinson, whose gentle charm made him loved by all who knew him; Charles Sanger, a brilliant mathematician at college, afterwards a14 the basic writings of bertrand russell barrister, known in legal circles as the editor of Jarman on Wills; two brothers, Crompton and Theodore Llewelyn Davies, sons of a Broad Church clergyman most widely known as one of ‘Davies and Vaughan’, who trans- lated Plato’s Republic. These two brothers were the youngest and ablest of a family of seven, all remarkably able; they had also a quite unusual capacity for friendship, a deep desire to be of use to the world, and unrivalled wit. Theodore, the younger of the two, was still in the earlier stages of a brilliant career in the government service when he was drowned in a bathing acci- dent. I have never known any two men so deeply loved by so many friends. Among those of whom I saw most were the three brothers Trevelyan, great- nephews of Macaulay. Of these the oldest became a Labour politician and resigned from the Labour Government because it was not sufficiently social- istic; the second became a poet and published, among other things, an admirable translation of Lucretius; the third, George, achieved fame as an historian. Somewhat junior to me was G. E. Moore, who later had a great influence upon my philosophy. The set in which I lived was very much influenced by McTaggart, whose wit recommended his Hegelian philosophy. He taught me to consider British empiricism ‘crude’, and I was willing to believe that Hegel (and in a lesser degree Kant) had a profundity not to be found in Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, or in my former pope, Mill. My first three years at Cambridge, I was too busy with mathematics to read Kant or Hegel, but in my fourth year I concen- trated on philosophy. My teachers were Henry Sidgwick, James Ward, and G. F. Stout. Sidgwick represented the British point of view, which I believed myself to have seen through; I therefore thought less of him at that time than I did later. Ward, for whom I had a very great personal affection, set forth a Kantian system, and introduced me to Lotze and Sigwart. Stout, at that time, thought very highly of Bradley; when Appearance and Reality was published, he said it had done as much as is humanly possible in ontology. He and McTaggart between them caused me to become a Hegelian; I remember the precise moment, one day in 1894, as I was walking along Trinity Lane, when I saw in a flash (or thought I saw) that the ontological argument is valid. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco; on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air, and exclaimed as I caught it: ‘Great Scott, the ontological argument is sound.’ I read Bradley at this time with avidity, and admired him more than any other recent philosopher. After leaving Cambridge in 1894, I spent a good deal of time in foreign countries. For some months in 1894, I was honorary attaché at the British Embassy in Paris, where I had to copy out long dispatches attempting to persuade the French Government that a lobster is not a fish, to which the French Government would reply that it was a fish in 1713, at the time of the15 my mental development Treaty of Utrecht. I had no desire for a diplomatic career, and left the Embassy in December 1894. I then married, and spent most of 1895 in Berlin, study- ing economics and German Social Democracy. The Ambassador’s wife being a cousin of mine, my wife and I were invited to dinner at the Embassy; but she mentioned that we had gone to a Socialist meeting, and after this the Embassy closed its doors to us. My wife was a Philadelphia Quaker, and in 1896 we spent three months in America. The first place we visited was Walt Whitman’s house in Camden, n.j. ; she had known him well, and I greatly admired him. These travels were useful in curing me of a certain Cambridge provincialism; in particular, I came to know the work of Weierstrass, whom my Cambridge teachers had never mentioned. After these travels, we settled down in a workman’s cottage in Sussex, to which we added a fairly large workroom. I had at that time enough money to live simply without earning, and I was therefore able to devote all my time to philosophy and mathemat- ics, except the evenings, when we read history aloud. In the years from 1894 to 1898, I believed in the possibility of proving by metaphysics various things about the universe that religious feeling made me think important. I decided that, if I had sufficient ability, I would devote my life to philosophy. My fellowship dissertation, on the foundations of geom- etry, was praised by Ward and Whitehead; if it had not been, I should have taken up economics, at which I had been working in Berlin. I remember a spring morning when I walked in the Tiergarten, and planned to write a series of books in the philosophy of the sciences, growing gradually more concrete as I passed from mathematics to biology; I thought I would also write a series of books on social and political questions, growing gradually more abstract. At last I would achieve a Hegelian synthesis in an encyclo- paedic work dealing equally with theory and practice. The scheme was inspired by Hegel, and yet something of it survived the change in my phil- osophy. The moment had had a certain importance: I can still, in memory, feel the squelching of melting snow beneath my feet, and smell the damp earth that promised the end of winter. During 1898, various things caused me to abandon both Kant and Hegel. I read Hegel’s Greater Logic, and thought, as I still do, that all he says about mathematics is muddle-headed nonsense. I came to disbelieve Bradley’s arguments against relations, and to distrust the logical bases of monism. I disliked the subjectivity of the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’. But these motives would have operated more slowly than they did, but for the influence of G. E. Moore. He also had had a Hegelian period, but it was briefer than mine. He took the lead in rebellion, and I followed, with a sense of emancipation. Bradley argued that everything common sense believes in is mere appearance; we reverted to the opposite extreme, and thought that everything is real that common sense, uninfluenced by philosophy or theology, supposes real. With16 the basic writings of bertrand russell a sense of escaping from prison, we allowed ourselves to think that grass is green, that the sun and stars would exist if no one was aware of them, and also that there is a pluralistic timeless world of Platonic ideas. The world, which had been thin and logical, suddenly became rich and varied and solid. Mathematics could be quite true, and not merely a stage in dialectic. Some- thing of this point of view appeared in my Philosophy of Leibniz. This book owed its origin to chance. McTaggart, who would, in the normal course, have lectured on Leibniz at Cambridge in 1898, wished to visit his family in New Zealand, and I was asked to take his place for this course. For me, the accident was a fortunate one. The most important year in my intellectual life was the year 1900, and the most important event in this year was my visit to the International Congress of Philosophy in Paris. Ever since I had begun Euclid at the age of eleven, I had been troubled about the foundations of mathematics; when, later, I came to read philosophy, I found Kant and the empiricists equally unsatisfactory. I did not like the synthetic a priori, but yet arithmetic did not seem to consist of empirical generalizations. In Paris in 1900, I was impressed by the fact that, in all discussions, Peano and his pupils had a precision which was not possessed by others. I therefore asked him to give me his works, which he did. As soon as I had mastered his notation, I saw that it extended the region of mathematical precision backwards towards regions which had been given over to philosophical vagueness. Basing myself on him, I invented a notation for relations. Whitehead, fortunately, agreed as to the importance of the method, and in a very short time we worked out together such matters as the definitions of series, cardinals, and ordinals, and the reduction of arithmetic to logic. For nearly a year, we had a rapid series of quick successes. Much of the work had already been done by Frege, but at first we did not know this. The work that ultimately became my contribution to Principia Mathematica presented itself to me, at first, as a parenthesis in the refutation of Kant. In June 1901, this period of honeymoon delight came to an end. Cantor had a proof that there is no greatest cardinal; in applying this proof to the universal class, I was led to the contradiction about classes that are not mem- bers of themselves. It soon became clear that this is only one of an infinite class of contradictions. I wrote to Frege, who replied with the utmost gravity that ‘die Arithmetik ist ins Schwanken geraten’. At first, I hoped the matter was trivial and could be easily cleared up; but early hopes were succeeded by something very near to despair. Throughout 1903 and 1904, I pursued will-o’-the- wisps and made no progress. At last, in the spring of 1905, a different problem, which proved soluble, gave the first glimmer of hope. The problem was that of descriptions, and its solution suggested a new technique. Scholastic realism was a metaphysical theory, but every metaphysical17 my mental development theory has a technical counterpart. I had been a realist in the scholastic or Platonic sense; I had thought that cardinal integers, for instance, have a time- less being. When integers were reduced to classes of classes, this being was transferred to classes. Meinong, whose work interested me, applied the arguments of realism to descriptive phrases. Everyone agrees that ‘the golden mountain does not exist’ is a true proposition. But it has, apparently, a subject, ‘the golden mountain’, and if this subject did not designate some object, the proposition would seem to be meaningless. Meinong inferred that there is a golden mountain, which is golden and a mountain, but does not exist. He even thought that the existent golden mountain is existent, but does not exist. This did not satisfy me, and the desire to avoid Meinong’s unduly populous realm of being led me to the theory of descriptions. What was of importance in this theory was the discovery that, in analysing a significant sentence, one must not assume that each separate word or phrase has signifi- cance on its own account. ‘The golden mountain’ can be part of a significant sentence, but is not significant in isolation. It soon appeared that class- symbols could be treated like descriptions, i.e. as non-significant parts of significant sentences. This made it possible to see, in a general way, how a solution of the contradictions might be possible. The particular solution offered in Principia Mathematica had various defects, but at any rate it showed that the logician is not presented with a complete impasse. The theory of descriptions, and the attempt to solve the contradictions, had led me to pay attention to the problem of meaning and significance. The definition of ‘meaning’ as applied to words and ‘significance’ as applied to sentences is a complex problem, which I tried to deal with in The Analysis of Mind (1921) and An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940). It is a problem that takes one into psychology and even physiology. The more I have thought about it, the less convinced I have become of the complete independence of logic. Seeing that logic is a much more advanced and exact science than psychology, it is clearly desirable, as far as possible, to delimit the problems that can be dealt with by logical methods. It is here that I have found Occam’s razor useful. Occam’s razor, in its original form, was metaphysical: it was a principle of parsimony as regards ‘entities’. I still thought of it in this way while Principia Mathematica was being written. In Plato, cardinal integers are timeless entities; they are equally so in Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik. The definition of car- dinals as classes of classes, and the discovery that class-symbols could be ‘incomplete symbols’, persuaded me that cardinals as entities are unneces- sary. But what had really been demonstrated was something quite independ- ent of metaphysics, which is best stated in terms of ‘minimum vocabularies’. I mean by a ‘minimum vocabulary’ one in which no word can be defined in terms of the others. All definitions are theoretically superfluous, and18 the basic writings of bertrand russell therefore the whole of any science can be expressed by means of a minimum vocabulary for that science. Peano reduced the special vocabulary of arith- metic to three terms; Frege and Principia Mathematica maintained that even these are unnecessary, and that a minimum vocabulary for mathematics is the same as for logic. This problem is a purely technical one, and is capable of a precise solution. There is need, however, of great caution in drawing inferences from minimum vocabularies. In the first place, there are usually, if not always, a number of different minimum vocabularies for a given subject-matter; for example, in the theory of truth-functions we may take ‘not-p or not-q’ or ‘not-p and not-q’ as undefined, and there is no reason to prefer one choice to the other. Then again there is often a question as to whether what seems to be a definition is not really an empirical proposition. Suppose, for instance, I define ‘red’ as ‘those visual sensations which are caused by wave lengths of such and such a range of frequencies’. If we take this as what the word ‘red’ means, no proposition containing the word can have been known before the undulatory theory of light was known and wave lengths could be measured; and yet the word ‘red’ was used before these discoveries had been made. This makes it clear that in all everyday statements containing the word ‘red’ this word does not have the meaning assigned to it in the above definition. Consider the question: ‘Can everything that we know about colours be known to a blind man?’ With the above definition, the answer is yes; with a definition derived from everyday experience, the answer is no. This prob- lem shows how the new logic, like the Aristotelian, can lead to a narrow scholasticism. Nevertheless, there is one kind of inference which, I think, can be drawn from the study of minimum vocabularies. Take, as one of the most important examples, the traditional problem of universals. It seems fairly certain that no vocabulary can dispense wholly with words that are more or less of the sort called ‘universals’. These words, it is true, need never occur as nouns; they may occur only as adjectives or verbs. Probably we could be content with one such word, the word ‘similar’, and we should never need the word ‘similar- ity’. But the fact that we need the word ‘similar’ indicates some fact about the world, and not only about language. What fact it indicates about the world, I do not know. Another illustration of the uses of minimum vocabularies is as regards historical events. To express history, we must have a means of speaking of something which has only happened once, like the death of Caesar. An undue absorption in logic, which is not concerned with history, may cause this need to be overlooked. Spatio-temporal relativity has made it more difficult to satisfy this need than it was in a Newtonian universe, where points and instants supplied particularity.19 my mental development Thus, broadly speaking, minimum vocabularies are more instructive when they show a certain kind of term to be indispensable than when they show the opposite. In some respects, my published work, outside mathematical logic, does not at all completely represent my beliefs or my general outlook. Theory of knowledge, with which I have been largely concerned, has a certain essential subjectivity; it asks ‘how do I know what I know?’ and starts inevitably from personal experience. Its data are egocentric, and so are the earlier stages of its argumentation. I have not, so far, got beyond the earlier stages, and have therefore seemed more subjective in outlook than in fact I am. I am not a solipsist, nor an idealist; I believe (though without good grounds) in the world of physics as well as in the world of psychology. But it seems clear that whatever is not experienced must, if known, be known by inference. I find that the fear of solipsism has prevented philosophers from facing this prob- lem, and that either the necessary principles of inference have been left vague, or else the distinction between what is known by experience and what is known by inference has been denied. If I ever have the leisure to undertake another serious investigation of a philosophical problem, I shall attempt to analyse the inferences from experience to the world of physics, assuming them capable of validity, and seeking to discover what principles of inference, if true, would make them valid. Whether these principles, when discovered, are accepted as true, is a matter of temperament; what should not be a matter of temperament should be the proof that acceptance of them is necessary if solipsism is to be rejected. I come now to what I have attempted to do in connection with social questions. I grew up in an atmosphere of politics, and was expected by my elders to take up a political career. Philosophy, however, interested me more than politics, and when it appeared that I had some aptitude for it, I decided to make it my main work. This pained my grandmother, who alluded to my investigation of the foundations of geometry as ‘the life you have been lead- ing’, and said in shocked tones: ‘O Bertie, I hear you are writing another book.’ My political interests, though secondary, nevertheless remained very strong. In 1895, when in Berlin, I made a study of German Social Democracy, which I liked as being opposed to the Kaiser, and disliked as (at that time) embody- ing Marxist orthodoxy. For a time, under the influence of Sidney Webb, I became an imperialist, and even supported the Boer War. This point of view, however, I abandoned completely in 1901; from that time onwards, I felt an intense dislike of the use of force in human relations, though I always admit- ted that it is sometimes necessary. When Joseph Chamberlain, in 1903, turned against free trade, I wrote and spoke against him, my objections to his proposals being those of an internationalist. I took an active part in the agitation for Women’s Suffrage. In 1910, Principia Mathematica being practically20 the basic writings of bertrand russell finished, I wished to stand for Parliament, and should have done so if the Selection Committee had not been shocked to discover that I was a free-thinker. The First World War gave a new direction to my interests. The war, and the problem of preventing future wars, absorbed me, and the books that I wrote on this and cognate subjects caused me to become known to a wider pub- lic. During the war I had hoped that the peace would embody a rational determination to avoid future great wars; this hope was destroyed by the Versailles Treaty. Many of my friends saw hope in Soviet Russia, but when I went there in 1920 I found nothing that I could like or admire. I was then invited to China, where I spent nearly a year. I loved the Chinese, but it was obvious that the resistance to hostile militarisms must destroy much of what was best in their civilization. They seemed to have no alternative except to be conquered or to adopt many of the vices of their enemies. But China did one thing for me that the East is apt to do for Europeans who study it with sensitive sympathy: it taught me to think in long stretches of time, and not to be reduced to despair by the badness of the present. Throughout the increas- ing gloom of the past twenty years, this habit has helped to make the world less unendurable than it would otherwise have been. In the years after my return from China, the birth of my two older children caused me to become interested in early education, to which, for some time, I devoted most of my energy. I have been supposed to be an advocate of complete liberty in schools, but this, like the view that I am an anarchist, is a mistake. I think a certain amount of force is indispensable, in education as in government; but I also think that methods can be found which will greatly diminish the necessary amount of force. This problem has both political and private aspects. As a rule, children or adults who are happy are likely to have fewer destructive passions, and therefore to need less restraint, than those who are unhappy. But I do not think that children can be made happy by being deprived of guidance, nor do I think that a sense of social obligation can be fostered if complete idleness is permitted. The question of discipline in childhood, like all other practical questions, is one of degree. Profound unhappiness and instinctive frustration is apt to produce a deep grudge against the world, issuing, sometimes by a very roundabout road, in cruelty and violence. The psychological and social problems involved first occupied my attention during the war of 1914–18; I was especially struck by the fact that, at first, most people seemed to enjoy the war. Clearly this was due to a variety of social ills, some of which were educational. But while individual parents can do much for their individual children, large-scale educational reform must depend upon the state, and therefore upon prior political and economic reforms. The world, however, was moving more and more in the direction of war and dictatorship, and I saw nothing useful that I could do21 my mental development in practical matters. I therefore increasingly reverted to philosophy, and to history in relation to ideas. History has always interested me more than anything else except phil- osophy and mathematics. I have never been able to accept any general schema of historical development, such as that of Hegel or that of Marx. Nevertheless, general trends can be studied, and the study is profitable in relation to the present. I found much help in understanding the nineteenth century from 2 studying the effect of liberal ideas in the period from 1814 to 1914. The two types of liberalism, the rational and the romantic, represented by Bentham and Rousseau respectively, have continued, ever since, their relations of alternate alliance and conflict. The relation of philosophy to social conditions has usually been ignored by professional philosophers. Marxists are interested in philosophy as an effect, but do not recognize it as a cause. Yet plainly every important philosophy is both. Plato is in part an effect of the victory of Sparta in the Peloponnesian war, and is also in part among the causes of Christian theology. To treat him only in the former aspect is to make the growth of the medieval church inexplicable. I am at present writing a history of western philosophy from Thales to the present day, in which every important system is treated equally as an effect and as a cause of social conditions. My intellectual journeys have been, in some respects, disappointing. When I was young I hoped to find religious satisfaction in philosophy; even after I had abandoned Hegel, the eternal Platonic world gave me something non- human to admire. I thought of mathematics with reverence, and suffered when Wittgenstein led me to regard it as nothing but tautologies. I have always ardently desired to find some justification for the emotions inspired by certain things that seemed to stand outside human life and to deserve feelings of awe. I am thinking in part of very obvious things, such as the starry heavens and a stormy sea on a rocky coast; in part of the vastness of the scientific universe, both in space and time, as compared to the life of man- kind; in part of the edifice of impersonal truth, especially truth which, like that of mathematics, does not merely describe the world that happens to exist. Those who attempt to make a religion of humanism, which recognizes nothing greater than man, do not satisfy my emotions. And yet I am unable to believe that, in the world as known, there is anything that I can value outside human beings, and, to a much lesser extent, animals. Not the starry heavens, but their effects on human percipients, have excellence; to admire the uni- verse for its size is slavish and absurd; impersonal non-human truth appears to be a delusion. And so my intellect goes with the humanists, though my emotions violently rebel. In this respect, the ‘consolations of philosophy’ are not for me. In more purely intellectual ways, on the contrary, I have found as much