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We can thus describe the proposition we should like to affirm, namely 'B was an astute diplomatist', where B is the object which was Bismarck. What enables us to communicate in spite of the varying descriptions we employ is that we know that there is a true proposition concerning the actual Bismarck, and that, however we may vary the description so long as the description is correct , the proposition described is still the same. This proposition, which is described and is known to be true, is what interests us; but we are not acquainted with the proposition itself, and do not know it , though we know it to be true.

To be sure, many would feel inclined to think of such predicament as one more unfortunate consequence of Russell's commitment to such "creatures of darkness" as private objects, private meanings and other beetles in the mind's box see e. I see things otherwise. Actually, I will claim that getting rid of "the myth of the inner", of the privacy of the mental, of immediacy and presence, and going external, public and historical has only made things worse.

For the public objects to which we refer in a shared, historical world are, on a plausible view about the constitution of thought-contents which goes under the labels 'externalism' or 'anti-individualism' as apt to evade the reach of our attempts at meaning them as Russellian individuals were. And if I am right there's no "private language argument" which could possibly be of any help here.

My aim is just to state the problem; I don't know the solution, if any there is. But the presentation of the puzzle may well provide us with some insight into an all-too-often neglected aspect of Russell's philosophy, which I would claim should be deemed an integral part of his legacy, and hence of what it is ours to inherit - that is to accept or relinquish, in either way to come to grips with - in his philosophy. I mean Russell's deep-seated uneasiness with time and history. I claimed that the distinction between Russell's two kinds of knowledge of things by acquaintance and by description is as irreducible as that between singular terms and descriptions.

In other words, what I called the 'frame' of 'On Denoting' bears a more intimate relation than meets the eye to the picture itself. No mention is made in 'On Denoting', though, of time; accordingly, the reader is left with no hint as to the respective roles of acquaintance and description in our knowledge of the past. The frame is composed of two paragraphs placed at the beginning and at the end of the paper in nice symmetry: they are, respectively, the second and the penultimate paragraphs in the text. The second paragraph follows the general statement, which opens the paper, of the problem of giving a correct account of denoting phrases - a problem Russell claims to have solved with the theory about to be presented.

Before proceeding to the presentation, though, we have our attention drawn to the significance for epistemology in addition to 'logic and mathematics' of the theory. The significance lies in its bearing on the distinction between the two kinds of knowledge of things: 'The distinction between acquaintance and knowledge about is the distinction between the things we have presentations of, and the things we reach only by means of denoting phrases' RUSSELL, No distinction between kinds of acquaintance is introduced, other than that between acquaintance in perception and acquaintance in thought.

In the next to last paragraph, which forms the second half of the frame, the Principle of Acquaintance is presented as a result of the theory of incomplete symbols. What that means is hardly disputable: Russell sees the new account of denoting phrases, which replaces the highly unstable theory of 'denoting concepts' put forward in The Principles of Mathematics , as inheriting from its predecessor the role of providing a logical foundation for the principle of the priority of acquaintance over conceptual thinking: 'Thus in every proposition that we can apprehend i.

The principle dictates, as will be argued at length in 'Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description', and illustrated there by the Bismarck case, the acknowledgment of a variety of cases of inaccessible thoughts. In such cases, 'although we can form propositional functions C x which must hold of such and such a material particle, or of So-and-so's mind, yet we are not acquainted with the propositions which affirm these things that we know to be true, because we cannot apprehend the actual entities concerned.

I think it is fair to say that the cases Russell has in view, both here and in the later, more extended discussions of the epistemological import of the Theory of Descriptions, are usually cases of what one might call standing inaccessibility. It is certainly no accident that a modal verb occurs in the sentence just quoted from 'On Denoting', as part of Russell's first sketchy account of the very possibility of such cases.

Ditto for the Bismarck case: in the attempt to make the judgment 'which Bismarck alone can make' we are ' necessarily defeated, since the actual Bismarck is unknown to us' RUSSELL, My italics. Such cases illuminate the significance of the Theory of Descriptions for the account of the structure of empirical knowledge, which was to become a main concern of Russell's in the years following the completion of Principia Mathematica. As he states near the end of 'Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description': 'We have acquaintance with sense-data, with many universals, and possibly with ourselves, but not with physical objects or other minds' And in the corresponding chapter of The Problems of Philosophy : 'The chief importance of knowledge by description is that it enables us to pass beyond the limits of our private experience.

In spite of the fact that we can only know truths which are wholly composed of terms which we have experienced in acquaintance, we can yet have knowledge by description of things which we have never experienced' RUSSELL, Yet, knowledge by description will prove just as useful in cases of contingent inaccessibility, whether temporary or definitive. In particular, it may be all that one's left with in cases of lost access. If only, that is, one's left with some definite description to make for the loss of acquaintance. In the remainder of this paper I will concentrate on cases of lost access.

They will mainly concern, predictably enough, memory failures, certainly including but not restricted to forgetting. Actually, the cases I'm most interest in are those where the loss is not in any intuitive sense describable as a case of forgetting. As promised, I'll take my clue from a vindication of Russell's view of memory as acquaintance with the past. As I will try to show, Russell's view is both plausible way more, to my mind, than any version of the still widely accepted view of memory as representation and attractive in that it nicely matches a related view, itself originating in Russell's work, of the semantics of singular terms.

I mean, of course, the very idea of direct reference. I said at the beginning that the prevailing rejection of Russell's theory of memory is prompted by a tacit assimilation - to some extent, sad to say, encouraged by Russell himself - of acquaintance and presence. Accordingly, the very idea that one could be acquainted in Russell 's sense with an absent object has tended to drop out of sight all but entirely. In the beginning of this tale of neglect which I won't tell here, just gesture at there is, of course, the informal definition of acquaintance as the converse of 'the relation of object and subject which constitutes presentation' RUSSELL, The prevalence of examples of acquaintance involving either sense-perception or its intellectual counterpart what in 'On Denoting' was called 'acquaintance in thought' has encouraged the view that there can only be acquaintance with what is, so to speak, 'before the mind', currently presented to the subject, present.

The resulting picture of Russellian acquaintance is illustrated by some of John McDowell's writing on Russell. I make a point of stressing that I choose McDowell as a scapegoat out of respect: if such a keen and attentive reader of other philosophers can be found guilty of misreading here, the possibility that Russell himself should be guilty of more than his usual share of obscurity - which, yes, is a lot to say - is better taken seriously.

Let a couple of examples suffice. In McDowell Russell along with Wittgenstein is saddled with a form of Plato's problem about false identity statements. Take two arbitrary objects, a and b ; four possibilities are open: I know both; I know a but not b ; I know b but not a ; I know neither. In the first case, I cannot possibly mistake a for b since I know both ; in all the other cases, I am debarred from judging either truly or falsely that a and b are the same through lack of knowledge of at least one of them Theaetetus ac. The principle underlying the argument as Plato presents it turns out to be a predecessor of what Gareth Evans called 'Russell's Principle', namely, that 'it seems scarcely possible to believe that we can make a judgment or entertain a supposition without knowing what it is that we are judging or supposing about' RUSSELL, In McDowell's interpretation, the "blind spot" which would prevent both Plato and the logical atomists from adopting the obvious "Fregean" way out of the paradox I may think of different objects under the same mode of presentation; I may think of a single object under different modes of presentation is a paradigm case of 'captivity by a picture'.

The picture here is that of acquaintance as a 'transparent' mode of access to its object, unhindered by the vagaries of conceiving - of knowing "under a description". Now, the crucial point here is that, on the side of the object, what is supposed to ensure such transparency is full givenness : a Platonic-Russellian object of acquaintance would have to be wholly given to the inspecting gaze - no hidden aspects, no back sides no wonder, one feels like adding, Russell should have considered surfaces as serious candidates to the role of sense-data!

Again in McDowell Russell is found guilty of systematically refusing to accept the possibility of empty singular terms and of the corresponding illusion of entertaining a singular thought out of a tendency to evade that most anti-Cartesian consequence of the very idea of an object-dependent thought: what one might call, imitating Kripke, the riskiness of meaning.

The Theory of Descriptions degenerates with the reconception of most ordinary singular terms as disguised descriptions in the service of a fantasy of having the sphere of thought safe from the threat of failure, of exposure to a perhaps uncooperative world; and of avoiding the risk of the world's failing to supply an object for there to be a thought about it by telling the world to get lost and procuring a surrogate for the missing object.

Accordingly, McDowell talks, as of an improvement upon Russell's views, of 'the possibility of liberalizing the notion of acquaintance outside the case of perceptually presented objects' MCDOWELL, He goes on to suggest - quite pertinently, as I have already hinted at - that the historical chain of uses of a proper name as described by Kripke might be thought of as a mode of acquaintance with the past on that liberalized view; and deplores again rightly to my mind Gareth Evans's resistance to such idea, surmising that it was grounded 'perhaps on the basis of an excessive individualism' Promising as that sounds, I want to submit that one should grant Russell with having at least noticed the difficulty - even if, again, Russell himself is to blame for the near invisibility of his attempt to step out of the "metaphysics of presence" of which he's supposed to have been a hostage.

For, as I said at the start, there is after all a way of construing Russell's characterization of acquaintance as the converse of presentation which makes it consistent with his later claim that an object of acquaintance may be 'in the present, in the past, or not in time at all' RUSSELL, To see how that might be, one should begin by taking into account the fact that the 'converse of presentation' picture was from the very beginning qualified by Russell's expressed qualms about the 'associations and natural extensions' of the word 'presentation': 'To begin with, as in most cognitive words, it is natural to say that I am acquainted with an object even at moments when it is not actually before my mind, provided it has been before my mind, and will be again whenever occasion arises' RUSSELL, Start with ordinary language: we make acquaintance of people and places and things and we don't say we have lost such acquaintance when they are no longer present.

We may come to lose it, but absence is not a sufficient condition of such loss. What Russell brings into play here is the idea of retained acquaintance - I borrow the phrase from Michael Martin It's only in The Problems of Philosophy , published the following year, that retained acquaintance is called by its name, and a sketch is offered of Russell's reply to the question, how that is possible at all.

The discussion of acquaintance in the chapter which bears the title of the Aristotelian Society paper starts, as befits an exposition aimed at a non-professional audience, with sense-data - all mention of acquaintance with abstract objects studiedly postponed, givenness in perception providing here the archetype of presentation.

But then the first extension beyond sense-data which Russell now introduces is acquaintance by memory The most striking feature of the theory of memory as acquaintance with the past is the uncompromising rejection of the traditional, and still largely prevailing, conception of memory as representation : specifically, as the present image of a past object or event. Russell is careful to acknowledge the role of images in recalling, but he is adamant that such images cannot possibly constitute the memory itself.

The sheer fact that 'the image is in the present whereas what is remembered is known to be in the past' should suffice to show that; but Russell goes on to appeal to the fact that we often know, with some degree of certainty, how accurate our present image is of the remembered object - a psychological fact ostensibly involving a comparison between both which would be impossible unless the remembered object, as distinct from the image, were somehow 'before the mind': 'Thus the essence of memory is not constituted by the image, but by having immediately before the mind an object which is recognized as past' Ibid.

In the second of the three Monist papers 'On the Nature of Acquaintance' the rejection of the representation theory of memory is linked to Russell's criticism of the 'veil of ideas': the picture of empirical knowledge which posits ideas mental representations as the interface between mind and world. The criticism was launched in 'Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description', where the doctrine of ideas is exposed as resting upon a 'a failure to form a right theory of descriptions', combined with b 'a dislike of relations' The former shortcoming accounts for the illusion that all our cognitive commerce with the world is mediated by concepts - in Russell's terms, that all cognition is achieved under a description.

The latter as much a legacy of the idealistic tradition as the former accounts for the view that, since judging is a mental act, the constituents of a judgment must be in the mind - in other words, that being about Julius Caesar is an intrinsic property of my judgment that Julius Caesar was assassinated. If we appreciate the point of Russell's presentation - in the next to last paragraph of 'On Denoting' - of the Principle of Acquaintance as a result of the Theory of Descriptions, I think the significance of the criticism is clear: Russellian acquaintance is direct cognitive access to objects of perception, memory and so forth , much as Russellian logically proper naming is direct reference.

That images play the role of Fregean senses in the theory of memory is argued at some length in Theory of Knowledge , Chapter VI 'On the Experience of Time' , where Russell raises the question: 'Does our knowledge of the past involve acquaintance with past objects, or can it be accounted for on the supposition that only knowledge by description is involved in our knowledge of the past?

If the former, then some propositions of the form ' This is past', where the demonstrative refers to an object of acquaintance, must be true; if the latter, then all knowledge of the past is expressible in propositions to the effect that entities satisfying some propositional functions existed in the past. Now, says Russell, the view that all knowledge of the past is knowledge by description might be maintained by introducing images: 'it might be said that we have images which we know to be more or less like objects of past experience, but that the simplest knowledge we have concerning such objects is their resemblance to images' Ibid.

The most basic kind of cognition concerning the past would then take the form 'this resembles something-in-the-past' where the demonstrative refers to an image , and 'something' is a bound variable. Unlike such knowledge by description of the past, immediate memory is 'a two-term relation of subject and object, involving acquaintance, and such as to give rise to the knowledge that the object is in the past' The definition is not intended to settle the issue whether there is such a thing as immediate memory. However, Russell argues, it seems highly unlikely that there should be no such thing: 'It is indubitable that we have knowledge of the past, and it would seem, although this is not logically demonstrable, that such knowledge arises from acquaintance with past objects in a way enabling us to know that they are past' The idea here seems to be that we would not be able to infer from our knowledge of the present any proposition concerning the past not even as a hypothesis unless we were currently conscious of something past as past.

Now what can 'knowing something past as past' look like? This aspect, which is somewhat obscured in a merely popular outline such as is contained in the following lectures, will become plain as soon as Dr Whitehead's work is published. In pure logic, which, however, will be very briefly discussed in these lectures, I have had the benefit of vitally important discoveries, not yet published, by my friend Mr Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Since my purpose was to illustrate method, I have included much that is tentative and incomplete, for it is not by the study of finished structures alone that the manner of construction can be learnt. Except in regard to such matters as Cantor's theory of infinity, no finality is claimed for the theories suggested; but I believe that where they are found to require modification, this will be discovered by substantially the same method as that which at present makes them appear probable, and it is on this ground that I ask the reader to be tolerant of their incompleteness.

Philosophy , from the earliest times, has made greater claims, and achieved fewer results, than any other branch of learning. Ever since Thales said that all is water, philosophers have been ready with glib assertions about the sum-total of things; and equally glib denials have come from other philosophers ever since Thales was contradicted by Anaximander.

I believe that the time has now arrived when this unsatisfactory state of things can be brought to an end. In the following course of lectures I shall try, chiefly by taking certain special problems as examples, to indicate wherein the claims of philosophers have been excessive, and why their achievements have not been greater. The problems and the method of philosophy have, I believe, been misconceived by all schools, many of its traditional problems being insoluble with our means of knowledge, while other more neglected but not less important problems can, by a more patient and more adequate method, be solved with all the precision and certainty to which the most advanced sciences have attained.

Among present-day philosophies, we may distinguish three principal types, often combined in varying proportions by a single philosopher, but in essence and tendency distinct. The first of these, which I shall call the classical tradition, descends in the main from Kant and Hegel; it represents the attempt to adapt to present needs the methods and results of the great constructive philosophers from Plato downwards.

The second type, which may be called evolutionism, derived its predominance from Darwin, and must be reckoned as having had Herbert Spencer for its first philosophical representative; but in recent times it has become, chiefly through William James and M. Bergson, far bolder and far more searching in its innovations than it was in the hands of Herbert Spencer.

It represents, I believe, the same kind of advance as was introduced into physics by Galileo: the substitution of piecemeal, detailed, and verifiable results for large untested generalities recommended only by a certain appeal to imagination. But before we can understand the changes advocated by this new philosophy, we must briefly examine and criticise the other two types with which it has to contend. Twenty years ago, the classical tradition, having vanquished the opposing tradition of the English empiricists, held almost unquestioned sway in all Anglo-Saxon universities. At the present day, though it is losing ground, many of the most prominent teachers still adhere to it.

In academic France, in spite of M. Bergson, it is far stronger than all its opponents combined; and in Germany it has many vigorous advocates. Nevertheless, it represents on the whole a decaying force, and it has failed to adapt itself to the temper of the age. Its advocates are, in the main, those whose extra-philosophical knowledge is literary, rather than those who have felt the inspiration of science.

There are, apart from reasoned arguments, certain general intellectual forces against it—the same general forces which are breaking down the other great syntheses of the past, and making our age one of bewildered groping where our ancestors walked in the clear daylight of unquestioning certainty.

The discovery of geometry had intoxicated them, and its a priori deductive method appeared capable of universal application. They would prove, for instance, that all reality is one, that there is no such thing as change, that the world of sense is a world of mere illusion; and the strangeness of their results gave them no qualms because they believed in the correctness of their reasoning. Thus it came to be thought that by mere thinking the most surprising and important truths concerning the whole of reality could be established with a certainty which no contrary observations could shake.

As the vital impulse of the early philosophers died away, its place was taken by authority and tradition, reinforced, in the Middle Ages and almost to our own day, by systematic theology. Modern philosophy, from Descartes onwards, though not bound by authority like that of the Middle Ages, still accepted more or less uncritically the Aristotelian logic. Moreover, it still believed, except in Great Britain, that a priori reasoning could reveal otherwise undiscoverable secrets about the universe, and could prove reality to be quite different from what, to direct observation, it appears to be.

It is this belief, rather than any particular tenets resulting from it, that I regard as the distinguishing characteristic of the classical tradition, and as hitherto the main obstacle to a scientific attitude in philosophy. The nature of the philosophy embodied in the classical tradition may be made clearer by taking a particular exponent as an illustration. For this purpose, let us consider for a moment the doctrines of Mr Bradley, who is probably the most distinguished living representative of this school. Mr Bradley's Appearance and Reality is a book consisting of two parts, the first called Appearance , the second Reality.

The first part examines and condemns almost all that makes up our everyday world: things and qualities, relations, space and time, change, causation, activity, the self. All these, though in some sense facts which qualify reality, are not real as they appear. What is real is one single, indivisible, timeless whole, called the Absolute, which is in some sense spiritual, but does not consist of souls, or of thought and will as we know them. And all this is established by abstract logical reasoning professing to find self-contradictions in the categories condemned as mere appearance, and to leave no tenable alternative to the kind of Absolute which is finally affirmed to be real.

One brief example may suffice to illustrate Mr Bradley's method.

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The world appears to be full of many things with various relations to each other—right and left, before and after, father and son, and so on. But relations, according to Mr Bradley, are found on examination to be self-contradictory and therefore impossible.

He first argues that, if there are relations, there must be qualities between which they hold. This part of his argument need not detain us. He then proceeds:. If it is nothing to the qualities, then they are not related at all; and, if so, as we saw, they have ceased to be qualities, and their relation is a nonentity. But if it is to be something to them, then clearly we shall require a new connecting relation. For the relation hardly can be the mere adjective of one or both of its terms; or, at least, as such it seems indefensible.

And, being something itself, if it does not itself bear a relation to the terms, in what intelligible way will it succeed in being anything to them? But here again we are hurried off into the eddy of a hopeless process, since we are forced to go on finding new relations without end. The links are united by a link, and this bond of union is a link which also has two ends; and these require each a fresh link to connect them with the old.


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The problem is to find how the relation can stand to its qualities, and this problem is insoluble. I do not propose to examine this argument in detail, or to show the exact points where, in my opinion, it is fallacious. I have quoted it only as an example of method. Most people will admit, I think, that it is calculated to produce bewilderment rather than conviction, because there is more likelihood of error in a very subtle, abstract, and difficult argument than in so patent a fact as the interrelatedness of the things in the world.

To the early Greeks, to whom geometry was practically the only known science, it was possible to follow reasoning with assent even when it led to the strangest conclusions. But to us, with our methods of experiment and observation, our knowledge of the long history of a priori errors refuted by empirical science, it has become natural to suspect a fallacy in any deduction of which the conclusion appears to contradict patent facts.

It is easy to carry such suspicion too far, and it is very desirable, if possible, actually to discover the exact nature of the error when it exists. But there is no doubt that what we may call the empirical outlook has become part of most educated people's habit of mind; and it is this, rather than any definite argument, that has diminished the hold of the classical tradition upon students of philosophy and the instructed public generally. The function of logic in philosophy, as I shall try to show at a later stage, is all-important; but I do not think its function is that which it has in the classical tradition.

In that tradition, logic becomes constructive through negation. Where a number of alternatives seem, at first sight, to be equally possible, logic is made to condemn all of them except one, and that one is then pronounced to be realised in the actual world. Thus the world is constructed by means of logic, with little or no appeal to concrete experience. The true function of logic is, in my opinion, exactly the opposite of this. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.

This change, which has been brought about by an internal revolution in logic, has swept away the ambitious constructions of traditional metaphysics, even for those whose faith in logic is greatest; while to the many who regard logic as a chimera the paradoxical systems to which it has given rise do not seem worthy even of refutation. Thus on all sides these systems have ceased to attract, and even the philosophical world tends more and more to pass them by.

One or two of the favourite doctrines of the school we are considering may be mentioned to illustrate the nature of its claims. By this it means, roughly speaking, that all the different parts fit together and co-operate, and are what they are because of their place in the whole. This belief is sometimes advanced dogmatically, while at other times it is defended by certain logical arguments. If it is true, every part of the universe is a microcosm, a miniature reflection of the whole.

If we knew ourselves thoroughly, according to this doctrine, we should know everything. Common sense would naturally object that there are people—say in China—with whom our relations are so indirect and trivial that we cannot infer anything important as to them from any fact about ourselves. If there are living beings in Mars or in more distant parts of the universe, the same argument becomes even stronger. But further, perhaps the whole contents of the space and time in which we live form only one of many universes, each seeming to itself complete.

And thus the conception of the necessary unity of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the strait-waistcoated benevolent institution which idealism palms off as the totality of being. This view is often particularised into the form which states that the relation of knower and known is fundamental, and that nothing can exist unless it either knows or is known.

Here again the same legislative function is ascribed to a priori argumentation: it is thought that there are contradictions in an unknown reality. Again, if I am not mistaken, the argument is fallacious, and a better logic will show that no limits can be set to the extent and nature of the unknown. And when I speak of the unknown, I do not mean merely what we personally do not know, but what is not known to any mind. Here as elsewhere, while the older logic shut out possibilities and imprisoned imagination within the walls of the familiar, the newer logic shows rather what may happen, and refuses to decide as to what must happen.

To the schoolmen, who lived amid wars, massacres, and pestilences, nothing appeared so delightful as safety and order. In their idealising dreams, it was safety and order that they sought: the universe of Thomas Aquinas or Dante is as small and neat as a Dutch interior. To us, to whom safety has become monotony, to whom the primeval savageries of nature are so remote as to become a mere pleasing condiment to our ordered routine, the world of dreams is very different from what it was amid the wars of Guelf and Ghibelline. The barbaric substratum of human nature, unsatisfied in action, finds an outlet in imagination.

In philosophy, as elsewhere, this tendency is visible; and it is this, rather than formal argument, that has thrust aside the classical tradition for a philosophy which fancies itself more virile and more vital. Evolutionism, in one form or another, is the prevailing creed of our time. It dominates our politics, our literature, and not least our philosophy. Nietzsche, pragmatism, Bergson, are phases in its philosophic development, and their popularity far beyond the circles of professional philosophers shows its consonance with the spirit of the age.

Against so fashionable and so agreeable a creed it may seem useless to raise a protest; and with much of its spirit every modern man must be in sympathy. But I think that, in the intoxication of a quick success, much that is important and vital to a true understanding of the universe has been forgotten.

Something of Hellenism must be combined with the new spirit before it can emerge from the ardour of youth into the wisdom of manhood. And it is time to remember that biology is neither the only science, nor yet the model to which all other sciences must adapt themselves. Evolutionism, as I shall try to show, is not a truly scientific philosophy, either in its method or in the problems which it considers.

The true scientific philosophy is something more arduous and more aloof, appealing to less mundane hopes, and requiring a severer discipline for its successful practice. Darwin's Origin of Species persuaded the world that the difference between different species of animals and plants is not the fixed, immutable difference that it appears to be. The doctrine of natural kinds, which had rendered classification easy and definite, which was enshrined in the Aristotelian tradition, and protected by its supposed necessity for orthodox dogma, was suddenly swept away for ever out of the biological world.

The difference between man and the lower animals, which to our human conceit appears enormous, was shown to be a gradual achievement, involving intermediate beings who could not with certainty be placed either within or without the human family.

2. Tractarian Metaphysics

The sun and planets had already been shown by Laplace to be very probably derived from a primitive more or less undifferentiated nebula. Thus the old fixed landmarks became wavering and indistinct, and all sharp outlines were blurred. Things and species lost their boundaries, and none could say where they began or where they ended. Hence the cycle of changes which science had shown to be the probable history of the past was welcomed as revealing a law of development towards good in the universe—an evolution or unfolding of an ideal slowly embodying itself in the actual.

But such a view, though it might satisfy Spencer and those whom we may call Hegelian evolutionists, could not be accepted as adequate by the more whole-hearted votaries of change.

An ideal to which the world continuously approaches is, to these minds, too dead and static to be inspiring. Not only the aspirations, but the ideal too, must change and develop with the course of evolution; there must be no fixed goal, but a continual fashioning of fresh needs by the impulse which is life and which alone gives unity to the process. A great part of the attractiveness of the classical tradition was due to the partial escape from mechanism which it provided.

The older kind of teleology, therefore, which regarded the End as a fixed goal, already partially visible, towards which we were gradually approaching, is rejected by M. Bergson as not allowing enough for the absolute dominion of change. After explaining why he does not accept mechanism, he proceeds: [5]. The doctrine of teleology, in its extreme form, as we find it in Leibniz for example, implies that things and beings merely realise a programme previously arranged.

But if there is nothing unforeseen, no invention or creation in the universe, time is useless again. As in the mechanistic hypothesis, here again it is supposed that all is given. Finalism thus understood is only inverted mechanism. It springs from the same postulate, with this sole difference, that in the movement of our finite intellects along successive things, whose successiveness is reduced to a mere appearance, it holds in front of us the light with which it claims to guide us, instead of putting it behind. It substitutes the attraction of the future for the impulsion of the past.

Studies in English

But succession remains none the less a mere appearance, as indeed does movement itself. In the doctrine of Leibniz, time is reduced to a confused perception, relative to the human standpoint, a perception which would vanish, like a rising mist, for a mind seated at the centre of things. It admits of as many inflections as we like.

The mechanistic philosophy is to be taken or left: it must be left if the least grain of dust, by straying from the path foreseen by mechanics, should show the slightest trace of spontaneity.

Bertrand Russell: Metaphysics

The doctrine of final causes, on the contrary, will never be definitively refuted. If one form of it be put aside, it will take another. Its principle, which is essentially psychological, is very flexible. It is so extensible, and thereby so comprehensive, that one accepts something of it as soon as one rejects pure mechanism.

The theory we shall put forward in this book will therefore necessarily partake of finalism to a certain extent. Bergson's form of finalism depends upon his conception of life. Life, in his philosophy, is a continuous stream, in which all divisions are artificial and unreal. Separate things, beginnings and endings, are mere convenient fictions: there is only smooth, unbroken transition. The beliefs of to-day may count as true to-day, if they carry us along the stream; but to-morrow they will be false, and must be replaced by new beliefs to meet the new situation.

All our thinking consists of convenient fictions, imaginary congealings of the stream: reality flows on in spite of all our fictions, and though it can be lived, it cannot be conceived in thought. Somehow, without explicit statement, the assurance is slipped in that the future, though we cannot foresee it, will be better than the past or the present: the reader is like the child who expects a sweet because it has been told to open its mouth and shut its eyes.

Now I do not propose at present to enter upon a technical examination of this philosophy. At present I wish to make only two criticisms of it—first, that its truth does not follow from what science has rendered probable concerning the facts of evolution, and secondly, that the motives and interests which inspire it are so exclusively practical, and the problems with which it deals are so special, that it can hardly be regarded as really touching any of the questions that to my mind constitute genuine philosophy.

This fact is in itself exceedingly interesting, but it is not the kind of fact from which philosophical consequences follow. Philosophy is general, and takes an impartial interest in all that exists.

Excerpts from recommended works by Bertrand Russell

The changes suffered by minute portions of matter on the earth's surface are very important to us as active sentient beings; but to us as philosophers they have no greater interest than other changes in portions of matter elsewhere. And if the changes on the earth's surface during the last few millions of years appear to our present ethical notions to be in the nature of a progress, that gives no ground for believing that progress is a general law of the universe.

Except under the influence of desire, no one would admit for a moment so crude a generalisation from such a tiny selection of facts. What does result, not specially from biology, but from all the sciences which deal with what exists, is that we cannot understand the world unless we can understand change and continuity. This is even more evident in physics than it is in biology. But the analysis of change and continuity is not a problem upon which either physics or biology throws any light: it is a problem of a new kind, belonging to a different kind of study.

The question whether evolutionism offers a true or a false answer to this problem is not, therefore, a question to be solved by appeals to particular facts, such as biology and physics reveal. In assuming dogmatically a certain answer to this question, evolutionism ceases to be scientific, yet it is only in touching on this question that evolutionism reaches the subject-matter of philosophy. Evolutionism thus consists of two parts: one not philosophical, but only a hasty generalisation of the kind which the special sciences might hereafter confirm or confute; the other not scientific, but a mere unsupported dogma, belonging to philosophy by its subject-matter, but in no way deducible from the facts upon which evolution relies.

It is more interested in morality and happiness than in knowledge for its own sake. It must be admitted that the same may be said of many other philosophies, and that a desire for the kind of knowledge which philosophy really can give is very rare. But if philosophy is to become scientific—and it is our object to discover how this can be achieved—it is necessary first and foremost that philosophers should acquire the disinterested intellectual curiosity which characterises the genuine man of science.

Knowledge concerning the future—which is the kind of knowledge that must be sought if we are to know about human destiny—is possible within certain narrow limits. It is impossible to say how much the limits may be enlarged with the progress of science. But what is evident is that any proposition about the future belongs by its subject-matter to some particular science, and is to be ascertained, if at all, by the methods of that science. Philosophy is not a short cut to the same kind of results as those of the other sciences: if it is to be a genuine study, it must have a province of its own, and aim at results which the other sciences can neither prove nor disprove.

The consideration that philosophy, if there is such a study, must consist of propositions which could not occur in the other sciences, is one which has very far-reaching consequences. All the questions which have what is called a human interest—such, for example, as the question of a future life—belong, at least in theory, to special sciences, and are capable, at least in theory, of being decided by empirical evidence. Philosophers have too often, in the past, permitted themselves to pronounce on empirical questions, and found themselves, as a result, in disastrous conflict with well-attested facts.

We must, therefore, renounce the hope that philosophy can promise satisfaction to our mundane desires. What it can do, when it is purified from all practical taint, is to help us to understand the general aspects of the world and the logical analysis of familiar but complex things. Through this achievement, by the suggestion of fruitful hypotheses, it may be indirectly useful in other sciences, notably mathematics, physics, and psychology. But a genuinely scientific philosophy cannot hope to appeal to any except those who have the wish to understand, to escape from intellectual bewilderment.

It offers, in its own domain, the kind of satisfaction which the other sciences offer. But it does not offer, or attempt to offer, a solution of the problem of human destiny, or of the destiny of the universe. Evolutionism, if what has been said is true, is to be regarded as a hasty generalisation from certain rather special facts, accompanied by a dogmatic rejection of all attempts at analysis, and inspired by interests which are practical rather than theoretical. In spite, therefore, of its appeal to detailed results in various sciences, it cannot be regarded as any more genuinely scientific than the classical tradition which it has replaced.

How philosophy is to be rendered scientific, and what is the true subject-matter of philosophy, I shall try to show first by examples of certain achieved results, and then more generally. We will begin with the problem of the physical conceptions of space and time and matter, which, as we have seen, are challenged by the contentions of the evolutionists.

That these conceptions stand in need of reconstruction will be admitted, and is indeed increasingly urged by physicists themselves. It will also be admitted that the reconstruction must take more account of change and the universal flux than is done in the older mechanics with its fundamental conception of an indestructible matter. But I do not think the reconstruction required is on Bergsonian lines, nor do I think that his rejection of logic can be anything but harmful. I shall not, however, adopt the method of explicit controversy, but rather the method of independent inquiry, starting from what, in a pre-philosophic stage, appear to be facts, and keeping always as close to these initial data as the requirements of consistency will permit.

Although explicit controversy is almost always fruitless in philosophy, owing to the fact that no two philosophers ever understand one another, yet it seems necessary to say something at the outset in justification of the scientific as against the mystical attitude. Metaphysics, from the first, has been developed by the union or the conflict of these two attitudes.

Among the earliest Greek philosophers, the Ionians were more scientific and the Sicilians more mystical. Naturally enough, his followers divided into two sects, the lovers of right-angled triangles and the abhorrers of beans; but the former sect died out, leaving, however, a haunting flavour of mysticism over much Greek mathematical speculation, and in particular over Plato's views on mathematics. Plato, of course, embodies both the scientific and the mystical attitudes in a higher form than his predecessors, but the mystical attitude is distinctly the stronger of the two, and secures ultimate victory whenever the conflict is sharp.

Plato, moreover, adopted from the Eleatics the device of using logic to defeat common sense, and thus to leave the field clear for mysticism—a device still employed in our own day by the adherents of the classical tradition. The logic used in defence of mysticism seems to me faulty as logic, and in a later lecture I shall criticise it on this ground.

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But the more thorough-going mystics do not employ logic, which they despise: they appeal instead directly to the immediate deliverance of their insight. Now, although fully developed mysticism is rare in the West, some tincture of it colours the thoughts of many people, particularly as regards matters on which they have strong convictions not based on evidence. In all who seek passionately for the fugitive and difficult goods, the conviction is almost irresistible that there is in the world something deeper, more significant, than the multiplicity of little facts chronicled and classified by science.

Behind the veil of these mundane things, they feel, something quite different obscurely shimmers, shining forth clearly in the great moments of illumination, which alone give anything worthy to be called real knowledge of truth. To seek such moments, therefore, is to them the way of wisdom, rather than, like the man of science, to observe coolly, to analyse without emotion, and to accept without question the equal reality of the trivial and the important.

Of the reality or unreality of the mystic's world I know nothing. I have no wish to deny it, nor even to declare that the insight which reveals it is not a genuine insight. What I do wish to maintain—and it is here that the scientific attitude becomes imperative—is that insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important truth is first suggested by its means. It is common to speak of an opposition between instinct and reason; in the eighteenth century, the opposition was drawn in favour of reason, but under the influence of Rousseau and the romantic movement instinct was given the preference, first by those who rebelled against artificial forms of government and thought, and then, as the purely rationalistic defence of traditional theology became increasingly difficult, by all who felt in science a menace to creeds which they associated with a spiritual outlook on life and the world.

But in fact the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or confutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists, in the last analysis, of agreement with other beliefs no less instinctive. Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one.

Even in the most purely logical realms, it is insight that first arrives at what is new. Where instinct and reason do sometimes conflict is in regard to single beliefs, held instinctively, and held with such determination that no degree of inconsistency with other beliefs leads to their abandonment. Instinct, like all human faculties, is liable to error.

Those in whom reason is weak are often unwilling to admit this as regards themselves, though all admit it in regard to others. Where instinct is least liable to error is in practical matters as to which right judgment is a help to survival; friendship and hostility in others, for instance, are often felt with extraordinary discrimination through very careful disguises. But even in such matters a wrong impression may be given by reserve or flattery; and in matters less directly practical, such as philosophy deals with, very strong instinctive beliefs may be wholly mistaken, as we may come to know through their perceived inconsistency with other equally strong beliefs.

It is such considerations that necessitate the harmonising mediation of reason, which tests our beliefs by their mutual compatibility, and examines, in doubtful cases, the possible sources of error on the one side and on the other. In this there is no opposition to instinct as a whole, but only to blind reliance upon some one interesting aspect of instinct to the exclusion of other more commonplace but not less trustworthy aspects. It is such onesidedness, not instinct itself, that reason aims at correcting.

The first implies that we move round the object; the second that we enter into it. The first depends on the point of view at which we are placed and on the symbols by which we express ourselves. The second neither depends on a point of view nor relies on any symbol. The first kind of knowledge may be said to stop at the relative ; the second, in those cases where it is possible, to attain the absolute. The rest of Bergson's philosophy consists in reporting, through the imperfect medium of words, the knowledge gained by intuition, and the consequent complete condemnation of all the pretended knowledge derived from science and common sense.

This procedure, since it takes sides in a conflict of instinctive beliefs, stands in need of justification by proving the greater trustworthiness of the beliefs on one side than of those on the other. Bergson attempts this justification in two ways—first, by explaining that intellect is a purely practical faculty designed to secure biological success; secondly, by mentioning remarkable feats of instinct in animals, and by pointing out characteristics of the world which, though intuition can apprehend them, are baffling to intellect as he interprets it.

Of Bergson's theory that intellect is a purely practical faculty developed in the struggle for survival, and not a source of true beliefs, we may say, first, that it is only through intellect that we know of the struggle for survival and of the biological ancestry of man: if the intellect is misleading, the whole of this merely inferred history is presumably untrue. If, on the other hand, we agree with M. Bergson in thinking that evolution took place as Darwin believed, then it is not only intellect, but all our faculties, that have been developed under the stress of practical utility.

Intuition is seen at its best where it is directly useful—for example, in regard to other people's characters and dispositions. Bergson apparently holds that capacity for this kind of knowledge is less explicable by the struggle for existence than, for example, capacity for pure mathematics. Yet the savage deceived by false friendship is likely to pay for his mistake with his life; whereas even in the most civilised societies men are not put to death for mathematical incompetence. All the most striking of his instances of intuition in animals have a very direct survival value.

The fact is, of course, that both intuition and intellect have been developed because they are useful, and that, speaking broadly, they are useful when they give truth and become harmful when they give falsehood. Intellect, in civilised man, like artistic capacity, has occasionally been developed beyond the point where it is useful to the individual; intuition, on the other hand, seems on the whole to diminish as civilisation increases.

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