The Bertrand Russell Society
39th Annual Meeting, 2012
Plymouth State University, New Hampshire
Co-sponsored by the PSU Department of History and Philosophy
Host: Ray Perkins
Registered So Far
Steve Maragides, Chad Trainer (d), Kris Notaro (d), Katrina Bresnahan (d), Ed McClenathan (d), Nancy Mitchell (d), James McWilliams (d), Russell Wahl, Dave Henehan, Katarina Perovic (d), Stephen Reinhardt (d), Jolen Galaugher (d), Peter Pelka (d), David White (d), Linda White (d), John Lenz (d), Dan O'Leary (d), Linda Egendorf, John Ongley (d), Rosalind Carey (d), Thomas Riggins (d), David Blitz (d), Michael Stevenson, Mike Berumen, Tim Madigan, Alan Schwerin (d), Helen Schwerin (d), Ray Perkins, Jr., Karen Perkins, Phil Ebersole (d), Stefan Andersson (d), Ken Blackwell (d). ("(d)" means dorm.)
Abstracts of Presentations
Papers are of approximately 15-20 min. reading time.
Bertrand Russell Video
A video from the Russell Archives, The Life and Times of Bertrand Russell (BBC, 1964, narrated by Robert Bolt), will follow the banquet.
“ ‘I Congratulate You on Still Upholding Firmly in Sweden Freedom of Speech’: the Swedish Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal in Stockholm May 1967”The legacy of Bertrand Russell walks on four legs: his contributions to logic and the foundations of mathematics, to philosophy in general, to literature, and to his political activism. In my presentation I will limit myself to the last, which for the average person probably will be the most enduring.
The footsoldiers of the Swedish Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal succeeded—within about a week’s notice—in arranging a most urgent and relevant public examination of some facts regarding what was going on in Indochina. On November 25, 1966 Russell sent an inquiring letter to the governments in London, Paris, Geneva and Stockholm regarding the issuing of visas for certain Vietnamese witnesses and asking for an “agreement in principle” to this effect. Tage Erlander did not answer until the 9th of December and politely “urged” Russell “not to choose Sweden as a site for such meeting.” That’s all he said! But it was enough incentive for the Swedes to put together a Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal at the beginning of 1967, and thus Bertie’s congratulations to Erlander in my title quote. Ralph Schoenman, Russell Stetler and other members of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation had been in contact with people in Sweden they thought might support the Russell Tribunal. One who was present that evening was Erik Eriksson, who earlier had been a school teacher but at the time was studying history at the University of Stockholm. He has written a book about his time as a political activist, journalist, photographer, filmmaker and producer. I’ll talk about him and other members of the Swedish Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal in Stockholm.
Stefan Andersson will lead discussion on two videos concerning the 1967 Tribunal in Stockholm. The videos (from the Bertrand Russell Archives) are: a short documentary by Staffan Lamm on the first Tribunal, May 1967; and
William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” program of November 13, 1967, featuring his guest, Ralph Schoenman, discussing the IWCT’s charges of US war crimes in Vietnam and Russell’s recently published book, War Crimes in Vietnam.
“Towards a Centenary Text of The Problems of Philosophy ”
Collation of different editions reveals that Russell, over a 55-year span, occasionally revised the published text of The Problems of Philosophy. Everyone knows about the change(s) in Emperors necessitated by world events, but there were other improvements. What were they and why were they made? Should a centenary edition incorporate them all so that we’re assured of having the best text before us and its history, too?
David Blitz and Tim Madigan
“Teaching Bertrand Russell: the Challenge for the 21st Century”
Russell, as we all know, was among the most significant philosophers of the 20th century, as founder of the analytic approach to metaphysics and epistemology, innovator in mathematical logic, and campaigner for social justice and world peace. Yet we now face a significant challenge: how to teach Russell to students in the 21st century, for whom Facebook and Twitter may be more significant than metaphysics and epistemology. We will discuss possible curricula for a one-semester course, use of internet resources, including a demonstration WordPress website, and audio-visual means as ways of interesting and engaging students in Russell’s work. A possible use of the BRS Bulletin in this regard will also be discussed.
“Russell’s Deep Disagreement with Hobbes in Principles of Social Reconstruction ”
In the Principles of Social Reconstruction, Russell seems to advocate international government on Hobbesian grounds. In that work, Russell also contends that political philosophy has erroneously emphasized self-interested desire as the source of human conduct. Instead, he suggests that a political theory must address the fact that human action and decision is chiefly rooted in impulse. Russell writes: “A political theory, if it is to hold in times of stress, must take account of the impulses that underlie explicit thought: it must appeal to them, and it must discover how to make them fruitful rather than destructive.” I would like to argue that Russell’s notion of human impulse is crucial to understanding the deep divergence of his views from Hobbes’s. On Russell’s account, impulse, which is the key to human action and decision, is not directed toward any object and may be destructive or creative according to the circumstances which influence and shape it. Since the extent to which it can be redirected and reshaped by the institutions in a State is unlimited, the political ends he envisages as the result of institutional changes are fully in keeping with human nature and do not require external reinforcement. Hence, though some political achievements may, as a matter of social fact, be the product of a rational calculation balancing self-interest and self-preservation, this accounts only in small part for the role of politics in human affairs. On Russell’s account, human impulse is not endemically destructive when unchecked by the State, but rather the aims of State expressed at the level of social, economic, and educational institutions misdirect human impulse and render it so (e.g., in promoting nationalism). I shall argue that for Russell, there is thus no necessary relationship between human nature and promoting or strengthening the national interest or between human nature and the powers regularly exercised by the State.
“Was Bertrand Russell a Futurist?”
Bertrand Russell can be said to have been a futurist on a number of important issues. His Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is still having long-lasting effects in the world we live in today and will continue to in the future. The Russell-Einstein Manifesto recognized international Nuclear Disarmament, proclaiming a nuclear war could wipe out the entire human race. Although we surpassed the Cold War there was never a total ban on nuclear weapons which people still advocate today. Futurist think-tanks and organizations such as H+ and The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies are undertaking the need for thoughtful insight into catastrophic risks posed by technologies including nuclear war.
Russell also wrote about sexual morality. Russell was very critical of religious obligations to sexual oppression, especially in light of contraception and agnosticism/atheism. Today the think-tanks mentioned above continue to view the world as atheist and sexually repressive.
Ray Perkins, Jr.
“Russell on Theism: Atheist or Agnostic?”
At various times in his long philosophical career Russell described himself as both an atheist and an agnostic. I wish to explore the senses in which these labels were used by Russell. We shall see that Russell was an agnostic only in a trivial and somewhat pickwickian sense. We shall find that Russell himself believed that relevant empirical evidence was available to warrant disbelief in the existence of the traditional Judeo-Christian God, and we shall sketch two arguments, suggested by Russell himself, which he would likely have defended as sound arguments for the non-existence of God.
“Making Sense of Russell’s Map of the Judgment Complex in His Theory of Knowledge ”
In Theory of Knowledge (1913), at the end of the chapter in which Russell states his multiple relation theory of judgment, he leaves us with a highly puzzling map of a five-term judgment complex. This map is supposed to help clarify what goes on when S understands the sentence “A and B are similar”. With four straight lines, it nicely shows the multiple relation of understanding going from S to A, B, similarity, and the form R(x,y); but on top of this, the map seems to represent further relations with further lines: one relation goes from similarity to A and B, one relation goes from R(x,y) to A and B, and a further relation goes from R(x, y) to similarity. I will try to determine what status these further relations have for Russell and whether they are proper relations at all. I will argue that they cannot all be part of the judging relation, for that would go against everything else that Russell says in the manuscript. It seems to me that they cannot be genuine relating relations either, for if that were the case, the map would represent S’s understanding that A and B are similar as well as the actual complex A being similar to B. Are they non-relating relations then? If that is how Russell thought of them, then these relations cannot be of the same kind as the relation of similarity which is treated and represented just like another term in the judgment complex. I will conclude by arguing that Russell, despite calling them “relations”, does not and cannot take them seriously and that, as a result, his map is fundamentally flawed.
J. Thomas Riggins
“Russell on Spinoza: New Perspectives on the History of Western Philosophy ”
Russell’s classic history remains of enduring interest but may be somewhat outdated due to new ideas and outlooks in the history of philosophy. This paper compares some of these new outlooks, e.g., from Kenny’s New History of Western Philosophy and from recent monographs on Spinoza’s philosophy. I am especially interested in the the relation between Spinoza’s metaphysics and his ethics (the legitimacy of accepting one without the other) and of his monism and its compatibility with modern science, as well as the extent of his influence (was Locke really more influential than Spinoza?).
Michael D. Stevenson
“ ‘I Am Sick of Pontificating’: Bertrand Russell’s 1939 Lecture Tour of the United States”
Bertrand Russell’s American lecture tours in 1924, 1927, 1929, and 1931 have been thoroughly analyzed by scholars, primarily due to the extensive extant correspondence between Russell and his second wife, Dora. A fifth interwar U.S. lecture tour—undertaken by Russell in 1939 when he was living in California after leaving his temporary university position at the University of Chicago—has remained largely undocumented, primarily because of the longstanding embargo on letters sent by Russell during this tour to his third wife, Patricia. Taking advantage of the recent expiry of this embargo, this paper will examine Russell’s nearly four-week speaking tour conducted in April 1939 in cities such as Baton Rouge, Nashville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Baltimore, and Boston. Russell’s tour provides insight into a host of topics of considerable interest, including his views on the natural environment and race relations in the American South, his familial relationships with Patricia, their son Conrad, and John and Kate Russell (his two older children from his marriage to Dora), and his social interactions with a wide array of individuals, including Freda Utley and Alfred North Whitehead. Most importantly, Russell’s letters reveal his evolving viewpoint on pacifism and his evaluation of the tense international situation as the Second World War approached.
“Would Bertrand Russell Have Used Email? A Continuing Perplexity”
Inferences regarding the positions Bertrand Russell would have taken on the use of email and the Internet in general are bound to be conjectural. However, he left us enough reflections that we can reasonably draw conclusions about the attitudes he would have adopted toward the high-tech devices of our own day. Moreover, a spate of books about cyberculture has been published the last few years, which seem to capture many of what I think would have been Russell’s sentiments. Several questions come to mind: Would Russell have thought his own life more likely to benefit or suffer from using the Internet? Would Russell consider the daily lives of most people to be better or worse as a result of the Internet? Finally, is the state of geopolitics better or worse as a result of the Internet? I argue that Russell’s reply would be that all three areas would be worse with the Internet. This paper considers each of these areas in turn. I conclude that his position would be that the high-tech age, for all its advantages, poses obstacles to such cherished ideals as wisdom and leisure.Panel: Bertrand Russell's Hypothetical Use (or Non-Use) of the Internet Panelists: Mike Berumen, Jolen Galaugher, Tom Riggins
“When Did Russell Give Up Sense Data?”
In the late 1950s Russell reported that he abandoned sense data in his 1921 Analysis of Mind. His remarks occur in an unpublished paper on Perception and in a published review of Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind. In an otherwise critical review of Ryle, Russell says that he agrees with his criticism of sense data and will say no more on the topic. Ryle’s criticism is of sense data as the immediate objects of perception. It would be natural to suppose that Russell abandoned sense data in this sense.
Clearly Russell changed his view in 1921. Russell advocated sense data as the objects of perception in The Problems of Philosophy, and they were prominent in “The Nature of Acquaintance”, “The Relation of Sense Data to Physics”, and Our Knowledge of the External World (all published in 1914). The picture of a subject in the relation of immediate acquainted with an object was rejected in The Analysis of Mind in Lecture VIII. But an examination of Russell’s position there and in other works in the 1920s and 1930s shows that while Russell gave up this model he still retained many of the views he had held about sense data, and he defended the Principle of Acquaintance even as late as the 1940s. I look at selected works from this time to understand Russell’s later attitude toward sense data and to properly set his later work alongside his earlier work. One consequence will be to show that while Russell said he abandoned sense data, what he actually abandoned in The Analysis of Mind were sensations as he had understood these in his earlier work. This is confusing, since he continues to talk about sensations, but to no longer see them as mental. Russell did also change his attitude toward sense data, whose role was played by percepts in some of his later works.
“Philosophy Is a Matter of Wisdom Speaking Truth to Vanity”
Bertrand Russell concluded The Problems of Philosophy by writing that the “unalloyed desire for truth” makes us “citizens of the universe,” because through “the greatness of the universe, which philosophy contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes the highest good.” How important is it, in one's life as a whole, to give such prominence to the search for truth, when there is little expectation of finding it, and when one is more likely to fall into conflict with those who do not share the truth-priority? Is there such a thing as a private truth, or must the truth be regulated by social institutions, and, if so, how can we have any hope of a world culture of philosophy, such as envisioned by UNESCO, in which we should all be citizens, let alone the universal citizenship spoken of by Russell?
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Last updated on 29 May 2012.