Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell

I am reading a wonderful book called My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell - I picked up a 1959 first edition in a wonderful second hand bookshop, Trinity Books in Carrick On Shannon.  This is like a beginners guide to Russell by himself and, in it he traces his thinking down through the years.
There is a particularly poignant section where Russell reproduces copies of his notes from his teenage years.  He writes (p280): Just before and just after my 16th birthday, I wrote down my beliefs and unbeliefs, using Greek letters and phonetic spelling for the purposes of concealment.
What Russell was at pains to conceal at this young age were his doubts about religion and the existence of God.   What troubled him was not necessarily the social consequences but rather, the intellectual consequences.
Here is is entry of April 29th 1988:
In all things I have made a vow to follow reason, not the instincts inherited partly from my ancestors and gained gradually by selection and partly due to my education.  How absurd it would be to follow these in the questions of right and wrong.  For as I observed before, the inherited part can only be principles leading to the preservation of the species, or of that particular section of the species to which I belong.  The part due to education is good or bad according to the individual education.  Yet this inner voice, this God-given conscience which made Bloody Mary burn the Protestants, this is what we reasonable beings are to follow.  I think this idea mad, and I endeavour to go by reason as far as possible.  What I take as my ideal is that which ultimately produces greatest happiness of greatest number.  Then I can apply reason to find out the course more conducive to this...

Not bad for a sixteen year old.
Seventy one years later, in 1959 the following occurred: Allen and Unwin published the book, Russell recorded a television interview included below and (of no relevance to Russell) I was born. 
Fifty years after that, as a consequence of my bookshop brousing in Leitrim, I reproduce the thoughts of a teenager writing in a personal blog: I have made a vow to follow reason.  
 Yes you did Bertrand, yes indeed!

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