Russell, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3d
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
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."