Book Review: Bertrand Russell: My Philosophical Development (Five Stars)

This book is not an easy read. In fact, some portions are most difficult especially when Russell speaks of applied mathematics and Euclidian geometry. It may help if the reader has knowledge of those areas, but more than likely it will not. Probably, the most important comparison is the realization that Russell’s life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, which profoundly affected his thinking.

This is a difficult but excellent book, which explains the author’s philosophical development from his birth until his death. It is an interesting and phenomenal insight into one of the great minds of the 20th century. Just to emphasize how difficult the book may be, here is an example describing a portion of what led Russell to some of his philosophical thoughts before changing them.

“After Tripos, the next academic step was the writing of a Fellowship dissertation. I chose for my subject ‘he Foundations of Geometry’ and paid special attention to the effects of non-Euclidian geometry on Kant’s transcendental aesthetic. “

This is a remote piece of the books wealth of information and it gets more difficult with each chapter until it reaches his theories on knowledge where he discusses perception, reality and experience as arbiters of knowledge. Interesting, a couple of chapters later he changes his stance on the subject if for no other reason because of his intellectual growth, which he attributes to new observation and information.

He misses no corner in discussing his development as he takes on his own evaluation of language and it use. His point was that language was a creation of utility to give structure and identification of the world. That is a gross over simplification but it sums up the idea behind his theory on language.

Probably, one of the more interesting chapters is his development concerning truth and reality. For atheists and non-religious believers, this is probably the Russell they are more familiar with as his thoughts on universals and particulars come to the surface as well as his deep examination of what accounts for truth.

The Bottom Line?

If you’re looking to acquire knowledge about a man whose name is often associated with humanism and non-theism, this is the book for you, but this is not a weekend read. It is not a two-weekend read. If you are retired, this may require a week of uninterrupted reading, otherwise settle in and learn.

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Comment by Frankie Dapper on January 31, 2016 at 12:27am

My dearest Bertie, that is how his friend(s) addressed him in correspondence. Have not read this book but was impressed by Why I Am Not a Christian, at least i was as a teen, and then read it again and thought...aaah.

As wild as his intellect may have been he was in awe of Alfred North Whitehead. Most of all Russell was a guy that seemed approachable and honest. But what do I or any of us know about the restaurant business?

Comment by Donald R Barbera on January 27, 2016 at 9:54pm
Joan-I consider myself fairly erudite but this read reminded me of reading the dictionary (I actually did it) in its continuing change from topic to topic and discussions with other known philosophers who were his contemporaries. Still, it is worth the effort and a great place to pick up new sayings.
Comment by Joan Denoo on January 26, 2016 at 10:33pm

I'm certain I am not up to his intellect but intrigued by the quotes that seem simple enough for me to comprehend and value. Your review sparks my desire to give Russell's book a try. I  have always liked his confidence.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on January 26, 2016 at 6:45pm

Bertold--It is interesting how Russell's base in the Catholic Church actually started his skepticism. I certainly anywhere near Russel's intellect, however, it was the Catholic Church that, like Russell, spurred my search as well as those of many others. I often wonder how many atheist or non-believers the Catholic Church produced. Back to the book. When you read some of the equations and Russell's exclusive focus on math to put order into things that surpassed its ability. That's when his reason and logic clicked in  and using the postulates he gathered from his strong mathematical background put him into the category of one of the greatest thinkers of our time. It is an extremely slow read, but I guarantee it is worth the effort.

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on January 26, 2016 at 10:12am

Thanks for the review, Donald. I've always found it interesting that one of the greatest intellects ever to grace the planet was an anti-war protester and thought the Catholic Church is the most evil institution on the face of the earth. He once said he'd be "terribly at ease in hell"

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