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 Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 28 Jan 2014, 10:59

In those heady days of youth when one took strong issue to table and party, I recall many heated moments  about whatever Bertrand Russell may have said/done that week. I often suspected that those who strongly negated him had a sneaking regard and uneasiness that he might well have been right but that his views were  inappropriate.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 28 Jan 2014, 13:12

Russell often addressed this very question. In the very last thing he ever wrote, an essay (called "1967") which concerned itself with the possibility of a future at all in this nuclear age, his closing paragraph began with the rhetorical question:

Finally, have I done anything to further such ends?

Something perhaps, but sadly little in view of the magnitude of the evil. Some few people in England and the U.S.A. I have encouraged in the expression of liberal views, or have terrified with the knowledge of what modern weapons can do. It is not much, but if everybody did as much this Earth would soon be a paradise. Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love. There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture.

There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 28 Jan 2014, 22:22

I have read this with great interest - hard to refute much of what he says, but...

http://www.users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html

Things could indeed be as Russell describes in the quotation posted by nordmann above: does he anywhere suggest reasons for what Francis Spufford calls  "the human propensity to f*ck things up"?  (I am quoting Spufford there.)

What does Russell have to say about the problem of evil? I'm not trying to bang the old religious drum again here - just trying to question in a thoughtful way, and not "drift" too much. Suspect 

I'll not be around for several days after tomorrow to take part in any discussion, but I do hope this thread takes off, Priscilla.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Thu 30 Jan 2014, 11:10

In answer to my own question, I think Russell did make a difference. I learned long ago that perverse persistence paid off and he was true to himself and his belief in coexistence and reason at a time when fear of nuclear war pervaded our lives. I found him depressing reading at the time.  He did not believe it was better to be 'Red than Dead' and was misunderstood there, probably, he was not a likeable man, either I suspect.

The first Aldermaston march in 1958 - before Collins, Dean of St Pauls and Russells' Committee of 100 was formed was attributed by many to be silly affair of Commies and twits. Knowing a student on it - and he marched barefoot - to be neither of these, jolted me think out of the common box.

Now that that nuclear proliferation seems to have been to some extent controlled though still a nagging international if not personal fear, I venture that Russell's part in that is viable. I am surprised that othere posters here have no opinion on this - did the likes of Johnny Cash and co with more popular appeal do more, perhaps?
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Fri 31 Jan 2014, 09:26

Quote :
What does Russell have to say about the problem of evil? I'm not trying to bang the old religious drum again here - just trying to question in a thoughtful way, and not "drift" too much.


I don't know what Russell said about evil, but for my money the notion that evil is some sort of constant, definable and objective 'thing' involves all sorts of a priori assumptions that may not be sound.

Evil as a constant seems to me to be the product of theological doctrine, which seeks to define right and wrong in absolute terms.  By way of an example, the Church today would have no hesitation in regarding slavery as evil.  However, the Church of several hundred years ago had no issue with slavery. 

The Ten Commandments make it quiet clear that killing is off the cards, yet modern religious leaders of all the Abrahamic faiths have no difficulty in advocating or atr least excusing killing.  And not just the foaming, hate-filled, bigoted ones.  Even the existence of army padres (whose role must surely be invaluable) raises a potentially interesting wider moral and ethical problem.

The list goes on.  Is it evil to stone women to death for adultery?  We might think so, but others apparently do not.  Is it evil to turn a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of teenagers by Radio 1 DJs?  We might think so, but many in the generation before us appeared to have less difficulty with the issue.  Is it evil to allow people access to high powered firearms in a society which has to deal with the aftermath of mass murders in schools on what most of the rest of us might consider to be a worryingly frequent basis?  

So, perhaps evil is a concept, which, far from being objective and absolute, is entirely fluid and simply represents the mores of the time. 

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Fri 31 Jan 2014, 11:27

From the Stanford site again - and an essay by Charles Pigden. He is talking about a lecture Russell gave to "The Apostles" in Cambridge in 1922, though which was published first only in 1988.

Moore is right, Russell says, in thinking that ‘when we say a thing is good we do not merely mean that we have towards it a certain feeling, of liking or approval or what not.’ Indeed ‘ethical judgments claim objectivity’; that is they purport to tell it like it is. However, this ‘claim [to] objectivity … makes them all false’. Since there is no property of goodness corresponding to the linguistic predicate ‘good’, nothing can ever possess it. Hence, any claim that friendship or anything else is good will be false, since there is no such thing as goodness for friendship or pleasure to be. The same goes for badness. Moreover, if there is no such thing as goodness or badness there is no such thing as rightness either, since for an action to be genuinely right it must be such that it can reasonably be expected to produce more good and less bad than any alternative. But if there is no such thing as goodness to be produced, no action can be expected to produce more of it than any other. Of course, an action can still be relatively right: more likely to produce more of what somebody believes to be good and less of what somebody believes to be evil than any alternative. But no action can be genuinely right or genuinely obligatory, since there are no such properties as goodness or badness for conscientious agents to maximize or minimize.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Fri 31 Jan 2014, 15:22

Do philosophers ever have friends,? Pedantic analyse is so annoying; Socrates answered a question with a question, others use semantic dissection with withering ease. Do they ever get clouted for it? Nothing personal, you understand, nord. just saying.  I hope Temp is having a good - edit - acceptable/pleasurable/sod it - good time in London.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Fri 31 Jan 2014, 16:55

Well said AR...yes moral views depend from the time frame in which they are uttered...even those of the "humanists"...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 15:14

@PaulRyckier wrote:
Well said AR...yes moral views depend from the time frame in which they are uttered...even those of the "humanists"...


Yes and no. With the greatest respect, isn't that too simplistic a dismissal of "evil"?

The imposition of "moral views" isn't quite the same as the recognition of evil. Moral views which are actually political rather than spiritual - i.e. which are about control rather than about justice and love - do change with the times. But pure evil is a constant, not because some Church or other so decrees, but because evil exists and is recognisable - recognisable at all times by men and women of all creeds or, indeed, of none (see below). We can play about with words here, and yes, it is hard to define, but, like pornography, you recognise evil when you see it. It is terrifying and it is sickening*. This is an interesting article - it's by Ron Rosenbaum, the author of Explaining Hitler:


http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_spectator/2011/09/does_evil_exist_neuroscientists_say_no_.html

Indeed recent developments demonstrate that evil remains a stubborn concept in our culture, resistant to attempts to reduce it to pure "physicalism." To read the mainstream media commentary on the Breivik case, for instance, is to come upon, time after time, the word "evil." Not just that the acts were evil, but that he, Breivik was, as a Wall Street Journal columnist put it, "evil incarnate."


But what exactly does that mean? The incarnation of what? Satan? The word "incarnation," even without explicit religious context, implies, metaphorically at least, the embedding of a metaphysical force in a physical body. One can understand the scientific aversion to this as a description of reality. But evil as a numinous force abides. It is not surprising that Pope Benedict issued a statement following the attacks in Norway calling on everyone to "escape from the logic of evil." (Although what exactly is that "logic"?)


Even if it was not surprising for the Pope to invoke evil thus, it was surprising to see a devout atheist such as my colleague Christopher Hitchens invoke "evil" in his "obituary" for Osama bin Laden. Hitchens admits wishing he could avoid using "that simplistic (but somehow indispensable) word." But he feels compelled to call whatever motivated bin Laden a "force" that "absolutely deserves to be called evil."


To get back to Russell - I find the views of Santayana very interesting; he was a philosopher who greatly influenced Russell's thinking. Santayana advocated the spiritual life, but one undertaken without religious faith or metaphysical dogma which all sounds acceptable to me. But is this all out of date - intellectual nostalgia rather like a beautiful old church in the midst of buzzing urban chaos - "a building that someone forgot to bulldoze to the ground"?

I'm just about to read Santayana's Dr Fuller, Plotinus and the Nature of Evil - I may be gone some time.   Smile

*PS It's not for nothing that we fervently pray "but deliver us from evil". The problem is that so may good people are not so delivered: they seem rather to be handed over to evil. I'm struggling with that one at the moment.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 15:59

Temp wrote:
But pure evil is a constant, not because some Church or other so decrees, but because evil exists and is recognisable - recognisable at all times by men and women of all creeds or, indeed, of none

Careful, Temp. With such an accurate appreciation of Plato's theory of form you will be saying next that evil, like truth and beauty, is an essential aspect of the logos.

Which incidentally fits my thinking too - all the successful gods have had a touch of the bastard about them. It appears they're not credible otherwise.

Regarding "deliver us from evil"; It is generally agreed, if not generally well known amongst Christian congregations, that the tract we were taught as being "The Lord's Prayer" is in fact The Kadish, familiar to all Jews from their Talmud and which Jesus, if a rabbi at the time, would most definitely have been apt to recite as part of his sermons. A reasonably direct translation from the Hebrew goes;

"Our Parent which art in heaven, be gracious to us, O Lord, our God; hallowed be thy name, and let the remembrance of thee be glorified in heaven above and in the earth here below. Let thy kingdom reign over us now and forever. The holy men of old said, Remit and forgive unto all men whatsoever they have done against me. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil thing. For thine is the kingdom, and thou shalt reign in glory for ever and for evermore."

However in Aramaic, and we are also told to assume that Matthew's rudimentary Greek version of this prayer was a translation from Aramaic since this was the common tongue in which it had been rendered by Jesus in his sermon, it reads a little differently;

Abwûn
d'bwaschmâja
Nethkâdasch schmach
Têtê malkuthach.
Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d'bwaschmâja af b'arha.
Hawvlân lachma d'sûnkanân jaomâna.
Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna
daf chnân schwoken l'chaijabên.
Wela tachlân l'nesjuna
ela patzân min bischa.
Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l'ahlâm almîn.
Amên.


The important bit is "ela patzan min bischa" (but let [us] be freed from [that which] distracts [us] from our true purpose). Not "evil" - simply distraction. However, with Platonic overlay in the translation into Greek this became "κακόu που αποσπά" ([the] evil of distraction) and later just "kako" (evil). In Aramaic, as in the original Talmud prayer, the danger was of deviation from the true path. In the hands of later Greek translators this became a danger against an abstract now given form, in this case evil. Evil figures as Form in many Platonic and Aristotelean hypotheses. Now that form was, like many other borrowed philosophical concepts, cast in amber. Amazingly there are so many people who cannot see beyond that.

By the way pornography is not ipso facto evil. Nothing is. However if one is looking for candidates one could do a lot better (or maybe "worse" is the term) than intentional sexual titillation from visual stimuli, I think.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 18:16

Quote :
By the way pornography is not ipso facto evil. Nothing is. However if one is looking for candidates one could do a lot better (or maybe "worse" is the term) than intentional sexual titillation from visual stimuli, I think.


Wrong. Sexual titillation is one thing: vicious, evil pornography - and by that I mean the most ancient of vices beamed into a child's bedroom courtesy of 21st century technology -  is quite another. But this is not the time nor the place...
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 18:44

Ah, but if not all pornography is vicious and evil then it cannot act as a synonym for the term "evil", or even a very apt example of it. For some people any graphic sexual titillation however naive the context is pornographic, and strictly speaking they are correct (the clue is in the last bit of the word). However for evil to be an absolute it cannot contain such equivocation.

You're on surer ground if you limit your application to the "mind that contemplates beaming such vice into a child's bedroom" etc etc but even then you must beware of equivocation (vice? mind? beam?). The slightest hint of such and the absolutism of the term evil is destroyed.

This is what Russell was getting at back in 1922 when addressing his Cambridge Apostles. You can call what you want evil but that is precisely where - like with goodness - the logic breaks down. After all, you can call what you like evil.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 19:35

I pull in resolution, and begin
To doubt the equivocation of the fiend
That lies like truth...


Macbeth Act V sc v
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 19:42

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.

Bertrand Russell
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 19:43

And also :

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin -- more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

Bertrand Russell
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:07

@nordmann wrote:


Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. .


Wrong. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is very afraid. But it ain't cool to admit it.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:23

I hesistate to venture here but surely "evil" is a human construct ... isn't it? Temp said something like: "pure evil is a constant" or something like that ... maybe so but then it is still only a humanly constructed constant. And thus in nature can there be such a thing as evil? Can a giraffe be evil? Can a rat be evil? A locust swarm be evil? A pandemic of Ysterina pestis bacteria be evil? Can anything else, other than humans really be evil?

Certainly creatures can appear to act in an evil manner. Bonobos, a subspecies of chimp and genetically probably out closest relatives, can do all sorts of things of their own volition which mlght be viewed, by us, as evil. They certainly seem to "sin" a lot, if one puts it in human terms. They have lots of gratutious sex, both with their relations, their ownchildren,  with other's infants,  and with members of their own sex .... but all that, it seems, is just their way of interacting socially. They also occasionally commit murder, ie deliberately killing their own species, and have sometimes been observed to be cannabilistic too .... but is it evil or just their way of surviving in a harsh unforgiving world?

And even if one believes that "evil" is a human construct, I don't think it can be seen as a constant one. I can think of quite a few historic societies that have performed, as normal, all sorts of unconventional and unsavoury things, such as infanticide or cannabilism  ... often in response to specific pressures or limitations on their society, such as living on small remote islands. And although one finds such practices abhorrant, I am still not certain that one can simply class them as "evil".
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:38

Quote :
Can a giraffe be evil? Can a rat be evil? A locust swarm evil? A pandemic of Ysterina pestis bacteria evil?
Can anything else, other than humans be evil?


I'm sure you get rather unpleasant giraffes, MM - like the one on the David Attenborough programme - but they are not evil, just bad-tempered.

Humans, however, have choice. Although Martin Luther said not: he believed there is no such thing as free will - and I do sort of understand that. We think we are in control and can choose, but we are not in control at all.

I'm sure nordmann will explain Free Will ( or the fallacy of Free Will) to us. Luther did flatten Erasmus on this topic, however.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:44

Indeed -  I'm bracing myself for a Nordic flattening!
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:52

@Meles meles wrote:
Indeed -  I'm bracing myself for a Nordic flattening!


 Very Happy  Very Happy  Very Happy 



PS I bought a Fortnum and Mason tea towel.


Last edited by Temperance on Mon 03 Feb 2014, 13:33; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 20:57

I didn't think Fortnum & Mason's sold anything as common as tea towels  jocolor 

Although I suppose one must occasionally have to get them for use by one's staff.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 21:01

Now, if they sold Bertrand Russell Tea Pots I would be impressed!
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 21:42

The only truly relevant view of "free will" on this thread is Russell's. He found the whole issue a metaphysical cop-out from logical thinking - attractive as a topic to the religious person who has already been sidelined into such unproductive and falsely judgemental thinking but an unnecessary, unaffordable and ultimately fruitless luxury of an exercise for anyone who actually wants to get to the bottom of "why" we do things, whether these things are deemed offensive or not in moral terms in others' eyes. Here's a snippet from his essay "Why I am not a Christian";

"The free-will question consequently remains just where it was. Whatever may be thought about it as a matter of ultimate metaphysics, it is quite clear that nobody believes it in practice. Everyone has always believed that it is possible to train character; everyone has always known that alcohol or opium will have a certain effect on behaviour. The apostle of free will maintains that a man can by will power avoid getting drunk, but he does not maintain that when drunk a man can say "British Constitution" as clearly as if he were sober. And everybody who has ever had to do with children knows that a suitable diet does more to make them virtuous than the most eloquent preaching in the world. The one effect that the free- will doctrine has in practice is to prevent people from following out such common-sense knowledge to its rational conclusion. When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behaviour is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination.

No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say, "You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go." He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion."
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 22:14

A religious attitude towards motorcars as illustrated by Russell:

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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 22:28

Temperance,

I was wanting to reply a little bit on the same lines as Meles Meles now did. BTW, my esteem is growing for the way MM is abording difficult thoughts..."chapeau!"...

Our attitudes towards and even as MM says our defining of "evil" changes over time, not only on individual level but also on group's level...I think...

For instance to give some examples...euthanasia...more and more even in my close circle I hear from persons, who deliberately and on free will decide to be "killed" by a letal doctor's needle...some make even a legal document to give consent to the euthanasia if they are not able anymore to decide for themselves...I individually am against...but if society is on that level that...who I am to condemn...
As now in many states the dead penalty is abolished I have to agree that society prevails on my personal opinion that proven murder has to be punished also by state murder of the proven murderer...although euthanasia and capital punishment is in many eyes "evil", who I am to say to society and individuals what is "evil"?

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 22:31

@nordmann wrote:
A religious attitude towards motorcars as illustrated by Russell:


Now you are teasing us...hein...Nordmann...
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Sun 02 Feb 2014, 22:55

Nordmann,

" The one effect that the free- will doctrine has in practice is to prevent people from following out such common-sense knowledge to its rational conclusion. When a man acts in ways that annoy us we wish to think him wicked, and we refuse to face the fact that his annoying behaviour is a result of antecedent causes which, if you follow them long enough, will take you beyond the moment of his birth and therefore to events for which he cannot be held responsible by any stretch of imagination."


Now I am thinking again about the nurture-nature debate. Perhaps we are conditioned by our heriditary...perhaps by the chemicals which are formed in our body and sent to our brain, which acts on the information sent by these chemicals...but once one is aware of that...and says now on this very moment I am influenced by the behaviour, as model from former acting or as supposed genetic influence from the former perceived character of my late father Wink ...you can by "reasoning" (you can also say that your reasoning is dictated by chemicals and genetics  tongue ) say to yourself: now I will not act as my brain dictates, but I will act as my logical reasoning says I would better do...

Kind regard and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 05:38

@Meles meles wrote:
I hesistate to venture here but surely "evil" is a human construct ...


I believe so MM and also a cop-out imo. Merely a justification for, or a shrugging of responsibility and a distancing from any human behaviour that a person may find inexplicable. An irrational label that can be conveniently applied to to any behaviour that a person does not approve.

I'm always reminded of GW Bush's 'Axis of Evil' whenever I hear it now though, and cannot take the word seriously at all.  Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 08:18

Paul wrote:
...you can by "reasoning" (you can also say that your reasoning is dictated by chemicals and genetics  tongue ) say to yourself: now I will not act as my brain dictates, but I will act as my logical reasoning says I would better do...

This is as useless an approach as describing overtly unpleasant behaviour as "evil" since while it sounds all rational and good it doesn't actually work in practise either. The more rational of us do indeed apply logic (we like to think so in any case), and in fact society depends very much on that a fair amount of us do it at any given time. But the application of logic is not, as a human trait, available at all times beforehand - it is a feature of analysis and is very dependent therefore on consideration applied to experience. By definition therefore it must always have "ex post" elements. Laws and rules are attempts to apply such ex post considerations based on others' experiences to general society, ersatz precognition in other words, but even they cannot themselves be exempt from such ex post consideration. Logic dictates we amend these too from time to time, even in the most law abiding and peaceful society.

A topical case in point which illustrates rather more forcibly the point Russell made above using "diet and the child" (a rather middle-class English attitude of his day) is what in the UK might be called "chav syndrome". This term is a blanket expression encompassing a large minority of amoralistic, apathetic and culturally detached individuals for whom normal legislatory controls seemingly cannot be applied with any effect. For that matter the application of logical argument has little better effect since such argument when pursued in detail will inevitably lead to recognition of society's behavioural contracts which underpin all law, especially the best ones, but which they simply do not recognise as logical at all. By the same token - and as Russell pointed out - labelling them "evil" (and many members of this underclass in society do indeed behave reprehensibly) is simply meaningless. The theologically applied belief in punishment and/or lack of reward for "bad" behaviour means as little - probably even less - to these people as that applied by more immediate and secular systems.

I feel what you are really saying when you talk about applying logic to your own behaviour is that you do things according to your conscience, and it is the presence (or lack) of conscientiousness that lies at the root of any analysis of this syndrome that is likely to advance society. We have come to a point in global society, not just in the UK, where the issue of conscience can no longer be safely ensconced within religious definitions, definitions that often lay false claim to be the arbiters, originators and custodians of this aspect of the human psyche. In practise this application simply ends up where secular application ends up, with promise or threat of consequence used to enforce an agreed mode of behaviour. The difference now is that the religious threat - the ultimate of which is eternal damnation - is taken less and less seriously by more and more people and is no longer prosecuted as forcibly as a credible threat to those whose social status and conditioning inclines them to credulity in these matters. This extra "check and balance" which for generations worked in tandem with secular controls is becoming of less value in this respect and the load is being switched more and more to secular law, at best a product of consensus.

If consensus - effective agreement - is ever to be reached then those engaging in the process must take or at least recognise their responsibilities in that role. One of these is, as you imply, logical analysis, and this will not be served by retreating into those vague and inapplicable expressions of "good" and "evil" which religion has encouraged us to utilise before. The social contract is based on motives and behaviour which transcend - and have actually always transcended - such shorthand expressions. We are fast approaching a time when the function of society itself depends on recognition of this fact.

Or, as your namesake would have said, "it is time to put away our childish things".
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 08:50

Apologies, MM; you were making a serious point and I responded with idiocy about bad-tempered giraffes and posh tea towels.

Your point was a good one. However, I still think there is a difference between  human behaviour - animal behaviour - that Darwin and the anthropologists can explain, and the kind of behaviour Harper Lee has Atticus in "To Kill a Mockingbird" call "the simple hell people give other people". People with immense power can dish out simple hell on a global scale, of course. Hitler did it with astonishing efficiency. A politician (or indeed any of us) may be just another naked ape, but we are apes with something extra. It's that little extra that I'm interested in - whether it's angelic or demonic (deliberately dodgy choice of words there, but I hope you get my drift - and drift I'm sure you'll think it is).

And yes, ID, Bush was unaware of the irony of what he was saying: speck of dust/plank in eye and all that, as someone once said.

Apologies too for dragging irrelevant thinkers like Luther and Erasmus into this - although I would add that Russell obviously never attended an AA meeting:

The apostle of free will maintains that a man can by will power avoid getting drunk...

The 12 Steps programme of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on Lutheran principles that the human will is not to be relied on. It has a very unfortunate tendency to mess things up - as we see daily all around us. The world is still very far from Russell's paradise. Seems no one - philosopher or martyr - has ever made a difference really.

There's a lot of mention of "cop out" here  - always a possibility for us of the woolly persuasion, of course - but isn't it also a cop out not to consider that there is another way of looking at things? I am only asking and I await the usual flattening. ID, MM and nordmann together will do a pretty thorough job of it, I'm sure.

Oatibix now - a safer choice than porridge when one is struggling with metaphysics (using the word metaphysics loosely).

EDIT: nordmann has sent a post - haven't read it, but will send this anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 09:17

Re-reading above posts, including the Russell quotation, I suspect that - when it gets down to the real basics of how we think we should try to live and deal with people -  we actually are all in agreement: we just approach these problems differently.

PS Putting away childish things yes - but then again trying to hold on to a child-like trust and hope and simplicity was advocated once.

... Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.


But doing humble never really went down well with anyone, did it? And children of course can be pretty nasty and revel in power.  Anyone read Lionel Shriver's "We Need To Talk About Kevin"?

Kevin needed something more than just a few extra vitamins; was he the victim of parental guilt and rejection, or was he "evil incarnate"? Shriver very wisely leaves the question wide open.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 09:29

Temp wrote:
... the kind of behaviour Harper Lee has Atticus in "To Kill a Mockingbird" call "the simple hell people give other people".

A very valid point. "Evil" as we encounter it as individuals is almost exclusively experienced as behaviour with direct impact on our own individual sense of well-being (empathically on behalf of others we essentially apply this impact hypothetically to ourselves, which is really the same thing in terms of encountering the experience). While this may actually be the result of the actions of an immensely powerful individual whose impact therefore is on many millions at one time, this is by no means where the application lies in its most typical manifestation. It is within the day-to-day interpersonal relations under which we operate where we are bound to find it first. The Christian religion got this "bang on" very early on - St Paul's entreaties to submit to a creator and obey the rules that this entails are directed to the individual and Christian theology for all its flaws has consistently maintained this approach, even the highly centralised Roman church. It is the individual who holds ultimate responsibility for his behaviour, an admirable starting point for any set of rules by which society can function. The downside theologically is that institutionalised behaviour not so easily classified as falling within an individual's sphere of responsibility and which is equally detrimental to people's wellbeing has often gone unchastised by the same church - and in fact as an organisation its own record in this regard has been so abysmal that there has traditionally been very little motivation to direct this moralistic view to addressing such targets. This is a failing common to most organised religions. Though the exact sequence of logic with regard to theological shortcomings when arriving at this state of affairs may slightly differ the root cause is usually more or less the same thing. Having identified "evil" as a metaphysical entity to which the individual may be drawn or by which he may be consumed there are severe difficulties in then applying this entity as a concept to more abstract social behaviour.

This is therefore a good example of where "evil" fails as a starting point analytically when attempting to correct such behaviour, especially widespread "evil" behaviour which may have become a societal norm. Calling Hitler evil is all well and good, for example, but as ID says above what happens then when the actions carried out under his authority, with responsibility for those actions taken voluntarily by countless individuals, require to be addressed? One ends up apportioning "evil" to so many people at so many levels that one ends up with a fundamentally meaningless expression  (unless of course one could honestly say that people can be "slightly evil", or "sporadically evil" etc and actually mean something by it).

The cop-out there is to say the "system" was evil, and at that point an already strained comprehensibility is completely extinguished, at least for all practical analytical purposes. Russell suggested a different approach, and I agree with him. By all means analyse events so as to avoid their repetition, but do so in a manner less likely to lead one into the brick wall of "evil" as a mysterious and over-riding extra element for which there is no discernible logic in its application or definition. The religious approach, with its focus on controlling the individual at the expense of adequately explaining him (or explaining him in abtruse metaphysical terms for religious reasons that do not lend themselves to logical deduction), has too often ended up facilitating and sometimes even actively promoting the very "evil" it purports to have identified. This cannot be logical, and most definitely cannot be the intelligent way forward for humanity.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 12:31

Quote :
A topical case in point which illustrates rather more forcibly the point Russell made above using "diet and the child" (a rather middle-class English attitude of his day) is what in the UK might be called "chav syndrome". This term is a blanket expression encompassing a large minority of amoralistic, apathetic and culturally detached individuals for whom normal legislatory controls seemingly cannot be applied with any effect. For that matter the application of logical argument has little better effect since such argument when pursued in detail will inevitably lead to recognition of society's behavioural contracts which underpin all law, especially the best ones, but which they simply do not recognise as logical at all. By the same token - and as Russell pointed out - labelling them "evil" (and many members of this underclass in society do indeed behave reprehensibly) is simply meaningless. The theologically applied belief in punishment and/or lack of reward for "bad" behaviour means as little - probably even less - to these people as that applied by more immediate and secular systems.



Yes, but could I just add that I have had quite a lot to do with "chav" parents and their offspring (on one memorable occasion also with a chav dog that was brought into school). I found that many responded to what -  for want of a better word - I would call a "Christian" approach. Not threats of damnation (here or in the next world): such threats would indeed have provoked laughter. But when such people are treated as if they and their opinions matter - that they are not viewed as worthless scum - some positive response is often noted. No surprise there - I'm the same myself. Doesn't work with all, of course, and I do not mean by this a soft, oh, you poor little victim approach to difficult children. But knowing you are generally viewed as a representative of the "underclass" can't do much to bolster healthy self-esteem or encourage decent, law-abiding behaviour - especially when it is fairly obvious that some of the "decent", law-abiding citizens who run the big shows are the biggest criminals of the lot. And hell - here and now (as ferval once pointed out on another thread) - is a concept they understand very well indeed. It's the ones (of whatever class or background) who thoroughly enjoy inflicting the hell that you can't reach with this approach: they'd have been the ones laughing at the crucifixion. And I have no answer to that - who has? Christ prayed that such men - and women - might be forgiven, "for they know not what they do", but that's not an easy solution for most of us who can't help but suspect that these people know exactly what they do - and that they don't give a damn. Wonder what advice Russell would offer for this dilemma?

One really "hard" chav girl once asked me if I ever prayed for the kids I taught. When I said, "Yes" I expected her to laugh in my face. She didn't; she burst into tears.



Last edited by Temperance on Mon 03 Feb 2014, 16:53; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 13:11

I did not say that I condone the blanket expression "chav", no more than you obviously do either. However this is the perception that is widely held and when we are talking about "evil" perception is everything - reality (for whatever that expression itself is worth) is outside the scope of the equation.

Russell - and again I am interpreting his remarks in this thread, not necessarily agreeing with everything he deduced - was essentially a logician. For him there were few situations to which deductive logic could not be applied though in cases where certain definitions in use could be shown to be aberrant then inductive logic through necessity had to suffice. The important thing however was logic and in the case of your own personal experience with individuals who others would class as "chav" I am sure he would have readily provided several logically deductive and valid reasons as to why your departure from what those general perceptions might have inferred as being correct procedure turned out to be so effective (not least, I would imagine, that those perceptions were themselves illogical to hold).

Your brand of selective Christianity comes across as eminently humanist in its approach, by the way. Personally I am of the opinion that humanism is the only intelligent method of conducting our relationships and discourses - ultimately in any case, even though the temptation to abandon this approach in certain cases is often very strong indeed. Why this ever had to be branded with any religious token for people to understand is something that I have often found very dispiriting to contemplate. It makes so much common sense. One does not need either instruction or example from supposed gods to make it make more sense.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 13:50

@nordmann wrote:


Your brand of selective Christianity comes across as eminently humanist in its approach, by the way. Personally I am of the opinion that humanism is the only intelligent method of conducting our relationships and discourses - ultimately in any case, even though the temptation to abandon this approach in certain cases is often very strong indeed. Why this ever had to be branded with any religious token for people to understand is something that I have often found very dispiriting to contemplate. It makes so much common sense. One does not need either instruction or example from supposed gods to make it make more sense.


Well, I got this from the Wiki Christian Humanism page - as you know, I find Spong eminently sane. I note "logical impossibility" is mentioned in this paragraph - that's encouraging:

Over the past century the legacy of social gospel humanism has been carried forward by notables such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Flannery O'Connor, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. However since the advent of postmodernism, many radical, ‘progressive’ Christians have tended to see the Christ of faith as irreconcilable with the Jesus of history, regarding the latter as a mere mortal and a distinctly fallible one at that. One such writer, for instance, argues for a religionless non-theistic form of Christianity: The Christian Humanist: Religion, Politics, and Ethics for the 21st Century, which many Christians see as a logical impossibility. As progressives, they generally take a deconstructionist view that dogmatic theology is suspect and spiritual truth is mainly a personalized and subjective pursuit. They tend to align with liberal secular humanism and one of their outspoken advocates is retired US Bishop John Shelby Spong
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 14:25

"Christian Humanism" is up there with "Military Intelligence" as one of those redundant phrases that appear to make sense until you examine them closely. For people who through indoctrination absorbed values they later realised were simply humanist but who are unwilling to jettison all the rest of the stuff that they absorbed once as being meaningful in the same context (at least all in one go) then retaining the "Christian" bit makes sense. Otherwise the essential thing is that they are humanist, or at least getting there.

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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 15:48

I recall some parents telling me that they were humanists. later I heard that they were naturalists also and preferred not to wear clothes in the home. What to do then when you hear that the Lutheran and very prime bishop's daughter, an intelligent and lively 12yr old is going there for a sleep over?  Nothing is what I did. The daughter, Norwegian doctor, as it happens and grown up, tells me that she is now atheist. Mmm, well, so there you are. I never heard what happened at the sleepover.... if anything.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 22:06

@nordmann wrote:
Paul wrote:
...you can by "reasoning" (you can also say that your reasoning is dictated by chemicals and genetics  tongue ) say to yourself: now I will not act as my brain dictates, but I will act as my logical reasoning says I would better do...

This is as useless an approach as describing overtly unpleasant behaviour as "evil" since while it sounds all rational and good it doesn't actually work in practise either. The more rational of us do indeed apply logic (we like to think so in any case), and in fact society depends very much on that a fair amount of us do it at any given time. But the application of logic is not, as a human trait, available at all times beforehand - it is a feature of analysis and is very dependent therefore on consideration applied to experience. By definition therefore it must always have "ex post" elements. Laws and rules are attempts to apply such ex post considerations based on others' experiences to general society, ersatz precognition in other words, but even they cannot themselves be exempt from such ex post consideration. Logic dictates we amend these too from time to time, even in the most law abiding and peaceful society.

A topical case in point which illustrates rather more forcibly the point Russell made above using "diet and the child" (a rather middle-class English attitude of his day) is what in the UK might be called "chav syndrome". This term is a blanket expression encompassing a large minority of amoralistic, apathetic and culturally detached individuals for whom normal legislatory controls seemingly cannot be applied with any effect. For that matter the application of logical argument has little better effect since such argument when pursued in detail will inevitably lead to recognition of society's behavioural contracts which underpin all law, especially the best ones, but which they simply do not recognise as logical at all. By the same token - and as Russell pointed out - labelling them "evil" (and many members of this underclass in society do indeed behave reprehensibly) is simply meaningless. The theologically applied belief in punishment and/or lack of reward for "bad" behaviour means as little - probably even less - to these people as that applied by more immediate and secular systems.

I feel what you are really saying when you talk about applying logic to your own behaviour is that you do things according to your conscience, and it is the presence (or lack) of conscientiousness that lies at the root of any analysis of this syndrome that is likely to advance society. We have come to a point in global society, not just in the UK, where the issue of conscience can no longer be safely ensconced within religious definitions, definitions that often lay false claim to be the arbiters, originators and custodians of this aspect of the human psyche. In practise this application simply ends up where secular application ends up, with promise or threat of consequence used to enforce an agreed mode of behaviour. The difference now is that the religious threat - the ultimate of which is eternal damnation - is taken less and less seriously by more and more people and is no longer prosecuted as forcibly as a credible threat to those whose social status and conditioning inclines them to credulity in these matters. This extra "check and balance" which for generations worked in tandem with secular controls is becoming of less value in this respect and the load is being switched more and more to secular law, at best a product of consensus.

If consensus - effective agreement - is ever to be reached then those engaging in the process must take or at least recognise their responsibilities in that role. One of these is, as you imply, logical analysis, and this will not be served by retreating into those vague and inapplicable expressions of "good" and "evil" which religion has encouraged us to utilise before. The social contract is based on motives and behaviour which transcend - and have actually always transcended - such shorthand expressions. We are fast approaching a time when the function of society itself depends on recognition of this fact.

Or, as your namesake would have said, "it is time to put away our childish things".


Nordmann,

"This is as useless an approach as describing overtly unpleasant behaviour as "evil" since while it sounds all rational and good it doesn't actually work in practise either. The more rational of us do indeed apply logic (we like to think so in any case), and in fact society depends very much on that a fair amount of us do it at any given time. But the application of logic is not, as a human trait, available at all times beforehand - it is a feature of analysis and is very dependent therefore on consideration applied to experience. By definition therefore it must always have "ex post" elements. Laws and rules are attempts to apply such ex post considerations based on others' experiences to general society, ersatz precognition in other words, but even they cannot themselves be exempt from such ex post consideration. Logic dictates we amend these too from time to time, even in the most law abiding and peaceful society."


I am not sure if I understand you well...and I am not sure if we are talking about the same...? I wanted to discuss "free will"...that we as humans aren't conditioned to do what our genetic or environmental "pushing" incite us to do.
And I think it has not to do (I suppose) with good or evil or whatever but a logical reasoning with ourselves, which indicates us with all the incoming "pushings" what in our logical reasoning is the best way for our choice. And at the end after all the influencing factors it remains our free choice to do "this" or "that" and it remains individual and personal.
Example: A short one direction street...not allowed to go in by car by the roadsign...but otherwise a whole long circuit to drive through to reach the same point...reasoning if I drive carefully I can take the risk of a police fee...but that very moment there comes a policecar from the opposite direction...

And I agree there is perhaps a whole class of people who don't reason with themselves and only follow what the moment push them...but you can say also that they had the possibility to reason...and that they haven't taken the opportunity to practice their "free will" Wink  Or perhaps it is also a "free will" to let oneself float on the incoming influences?  Wink ...

As we humans are a very social kind, in the case of our personal reasoning for our decision making we can also listen to other human's reasonings and decide what is worth for ourselves to enrich our personal reasoning...

Nordmann, have to leave, see you in some days back.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Mon 03 Feb 2014, 23:08

Well, how voluntary a notion is it of you to condone murder? (I mean murder in kind, also known as judicial execution). You said before that you do. But how much of that decision - to allow murder in your name - is actually a product of so-called "free will" and how much is a product of social engineering in which you have been the object, not the tool? You see, there are issues more important than driving the wrong way up a one-way street and we make decisions concerning these issues all the time.

As a humanist by the way I not only condemn such "judicial execution" as wrong but also as stupid when it comes to advancing our species in terms of social evolution. So you see why I might abhor certain people exercising rather lethal free will?
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 08:09

Priscilla, I doubt that humanism and naturism are a standard combination. However being acquainted with a few daughters of Norwegian Lutheran bishops myself I am certain that she was well equipped to take it in her stride.

Norwegian bishops are by and large a really friendly bunch of Lutherans (I've had several nights on several tiles with two of them who are avid Irish music fans and play a mean fiddle and tin whistle respectively). Here's a wiki pic from a synod in Oslo from 4 years ago - if I remember correctly we all ended up in the Dubliner Pub afterwards.

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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 08:40

Here is a page of Bertrand Russell quotations: I cannot find myself disagreeing with any of them.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bertrand_russell.html

This one offers some comfort to those of us who are racked - or wracked - by doubts:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 11:10

yes, I read and thought on those quotes, Temps - and like the one you highlighted - but now to the point of my thread. For all his great efforts, did Russell make a difference? There  a shift in attitude from the fears of the 50's a result of his stance?
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 11:31

Russell paved the way (along with others) for intelligent questioning regarding matters of religious blind faith and unwarranted allegiances to the status quo as defined by the established authorities to be regarded as a worthwhile activity, and not just the stance of cranks and crackpots. The respect he garnered through his long lifetime was well earned and it is difficult to realise just how much ridicule and contempt he engendered early in his career. He himself rarely referred to it, a mark of a gentleman in his case, but a review of old Punch magazines from the 1920s and 30s will throw up a fair idea of what the establishment thought of him at the time. This makes that achievement all the more praiseworthy and remarkable.

His own assessment of the difference he made with regard to the prospects of nuclear destruction however is brutally honest (wouldn't expect less from him). He raised awareness in the UK and USA about some potentially lethal threats to the entire human species and most of what he advised in that respect appears to have been taken on board in these quarters. However he was under no illusion that the instinct for belligerence was that which controlled the development and potential use of nuclear arms, and that this would only mean that the matter would become less easy to contain and control as time went by. He was of course quite correct but at least has left cogent arguments against such catastrophic stupidity should the new nuclear belligerents who have come on the scene have the basic wit to heed them.

His logic was always crystal clear and in the field of philosophy he drew a definitive line between the physical and the metaphysical that few people (of intelligence at least) have since dared to blur - previously an area considered a sort of philosophical no-man's land in which charlatans of every hue gaily gamboled. Some still do of course, but no one since Russell has any excuse not to see these people for what they are.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 13:51

Without wishing to take anything away from the man and his undoubted intellectual abilities, I'd say that the answer to the question posited in the OP is "not yet".  

The reason for this is because most people won't know anything about Russell (apart from perhaps a vague familiarity with his name) and fewer still will actually have read him.  I'm in this second category, incidentally.

I imagine that a significant number of those who have read him are likely to be the sort of people who already agree with him (in which case he's preaching to the choir) or are likely to be people who will never agree with him and wish to read him to find loopholes in his arguments.  Possibly unfair and unkind, but heavyweight intellectual discourse doesn't usually feature if folk are ambling around Waterstones looking for a book to take on holiday with them.....

The apparent increase in the sort of activity which I am assured Russell objected to (woolly "I can't believe it's not Buddha" spirituality and jingoistic tub-thumping) suggests that the Great Unwashed are either unmoved by, or unaware of, his arguments.  Probably the latter for the reasons as set out above.

For Russell to genuinely make a difference would therefore involve his views being widely disseminated and widely accepted.  The way this will probably happen (if it happens at all) is via fresh generations of televisually attractive presenters or chattering Sunday supplement journos presenting views heavily influenced by Russell (whether or not they credit him) until those views knit into the social fabric and become received wisdom.  Most of us don't want to tackle philosophy as a subject or philosophers as a breed, as such encounters are all too often the intellectual equivalent of starting a street brawl with five drunken Paratroopers.  There is a suspicion of overt intellectualism (just as there is of overt physicality) and a corresponding preference to see the world in much simpler terms, even if those terms are, on any close intellectual analysis, inconsistent and jumbled.  So, saying "I'm not really religious but I think there's something out there" will always attract nods of approval, even if no-one could even begin to tell you what the something is.  And there's nothing wrong with this in many ways.  It's OK to accept things without really thinking about them (how many of us really know how electricity works? I don't), for the simple reason that we have to do this in order to have sufficient time left in our days to actually get out of bed.  

None of this is an excuse for dogmatism, sloppy thinking or the sort of "La la la, I can't hear you" approach of creationists, hawks and the like.  But it does, I think, explain why Russell is far from certain to make a difference, even in the long term.  It's out of his hands.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 14:46



Dr Clare Carlisle recently did a series of articles on Russell in the Guardian. Interesting and reasonably easy to follow. Part Eight asks who would listen to Russell's appeal for moral growth today.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/13/bertrand-russell-moral-growth



"Religion has long taught that it is our duty to love our neighbour and to desire the happiness of others," he writes, "but in the new world, this kindly feeling towards others will be not only a moral duty but an indispensable condition of survival."



Mmm. I find Carlisle's closing remarks interesting:



Russell might have been surprised by the new forms of violence that technology has brought us: drones and chemical warfare, fracking and internet pornography. But I think he would be even more shocked to find his appeal to wisdom and human "growth" being met with apathy and cynicism. Fifty years ago, a philosopher's reflections on these ideals were taken seriously not only by a small group of professional academics, but by the wider public. Would this happen if Russell was writing in 2014? And would Russell still be able to express his faith in ethical progress?

It is true that Russell's wonderful prose sometimes disguises patchy, vague, or shallow thinking. But when we consider whether his writing remains relevant today, we should be thinking as critically about the state of our society – and in particular its stunted spirituality – as about the quality of his philosophy. If Russell's words of genuine wisdom fall on the stony ground of our hardened hearts, that means we have work to do before new growth is possible.


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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 15:36

The CND movement gathered strength for several years; students discussed Russell and became active participants with serious concern. Then it faded - Green peace I guess developed from it. Asking students recently what did they discuss seriously in free time and after employment concerns,  next came what they would do with their pile when they made it.
 With the media constantly taking up, airing then soon dropping serious issues it would appear that they are now our conscience. If action of note occurs, of course the D. mail always claims it as a result of some or other campaign of theirs. That might well be somewhat less than pressing demand.
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Tue 04 Feb 2014, 16:33

Here is a recording of Bertrand Russell debating the existence of God with Jesuit Father Frederick Copleston (priest, philosopher and historian of philosophy). I have tried so very hard to follow what they are saying, but it is quite beyond me. One feels sadly inadequate.

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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Wed 05 Feb 2014, 10:29

Quote :
One feels sadly inadequate.


But should I feel inadequate? I'm left strangely angry at all this - at these clever men who spend hours and hours and hours discussing and writing about what is incomprehensible to most of us. Perhaps it's the simple people who get on and try do something about Man's continuing misery who are more worthy of our respect.

This Jesuit and this Philosopher - did either of them actually help alleviate the suffering of a sick child, a despairing woman or a desperate worker? For all their undoubted brilliance and awesome intellects, are any of us the wiser for all their analysis? But perhaps I'm just experiencing again that old familiar feeling of not being bright enough to understand the really serious stuff...

Can't let the Russell thread die without reference to the cabbie story - which sums up nicely what I am trying to say. The cab incident really did happen - Mrs. T. S. Eliot (the second one, not the unfortunate first Mrs. Eliot who went quite mad) wrote to The Times about it. I've left in the Samuel Beckett comment about radishes because I like it:


Years ago, a cabbie in London told a story about how the famous philosopher, writer, and political activist Bertrand Russell entered his cab.  Russell was quite up in age at that point, but seemed to get more and more famous with each passing year.   The cabbie, wanting to take advantage of such an opportunity, wasn’t sure just what to ask one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers.  Finally, knowing that Russell wouldn’t be in the cab too long, the driver inquired,  “So, Lord Russell, what’s it all about then?”   Much to the cabbie’s surprise,  Bertrand Russell looked into the cab’s rear-view mirror with kind of a blank stare and admitted that he, sad to say, didn’t have any idea.

What?  One of the most influential thinkers of his generation, and he didn’t have any idea?   If he didn’t--what about the rest of us, those not so graciously endowed with the intellect, education and experience of  Sir Bertrand Russell himself?

“What do I know about man's destiny?” wrote playwright Samuel Beckett. “I could tell you more about radishes."



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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Wed 05 Feb 2014, 12:10



The full Face to Face interview is here
Face to Face: Bertrand Russell
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PostSubject: Re: Bertrand Russell: Did he make a difference?   Wed 05 Feb 2014, 12:34

Deleted - that post was a rant.

Of course Russell was right about love, but you must admit that that part of his philosophy had been said before - and expressed very simply and beautifully (in early 17th century English, not that awful Greek).


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