Friday, 13 December 2013

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d Earl

Bertrand Russell

Russell, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d Earl, 1872–1970, British philosopher, mathematician, and social reformer.

Russell had a distinguished background: His grandfather Lord John Russell introduced the Reform Bill of 1832 and was twice prime minister; his parents were both prominent freethinkers; and his informal godfather was John Stuart Mill. Orphaned as a small child, Russell was reared by his paternal grandmother under stern puritanic rule. That experience powerfully affected his thinking on matters of morality and education. Russell studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (1890–94), where later he was a fellow (1895–1901) and a lecturer (1910–16). It was during this time that he published his most important works in philosophy and mathematics, The Principles of Mathematics (1903) and, with A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica (3 vol., 1910–13), and also had as his student Ludwig Wittgenstein.

World War I had a crucial effect on Russell: until that time he had thought of himself as a philosopher and mathematician. Although he had already embraced pacifism, it was in reaction to the war that he became passionately concerned with social issues. His active pacifism at the time of the war inspired public resentment, caused him to be dismissed from Cambridge, attacked by former associates, and fined by the government, and led finally to a six-month imprisonment in 1918. In 1927 he and his wife, Dora, founded the experimental Beacon Hill School, which influenced the development of other schools in Britain and America.

He succeeded to the earldom in 1931 and in 1938 began teaching in the United States. In 1950 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

As with his philosophical stance, Russell's positions on social issues developed as a reaction against extremes in his own experience. He believed that cruelty and an admiration for violence grew from inward or outward defects that were largely an outcome of what happened to people when they were very young. Pacifism could not be effected politically; a peaceful and happy world could not be achieved without deep changes in education. "I believe that nine out of ten who have had a conventional upbringing in their early years have become in some degree incapable of a decent and sane attitude toward marriage and sex generally."

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