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Sceptical Essays (Routledge Classics) Paperback – February 2, 2004

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ISBN-13: 978-0415325080 ISBN-10: 0415325080 Edition: 2nd

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Editorial Reviews


'The result is the present volume, a collection of some of the most beautifully written and engaging essays in the English language, in which he tries to show that sceptical doubt can change the world.' - John Gray

'This collection rocked me when I was in my early 20s.' - The Age Sunday Life Magazine

About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). The leading British philosopher of the twentieth century, who made major contributions in the areas of logic and epistemology. Politically active and habitually outspoken, his ethical principles twice led to imprisonment.


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Product Details

  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415325080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415325080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). Philosopher, mathematician, educational and sexual reformer, pacifist, prolific letter writer, author and columnist, Bertrand Russell was one of the most influential and widely known intellectual figures of the twentieth century. In 1950 he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950 for his extensive contributions to world literature and for his "rationality and humanity, as a fearless champion of free speech and free thought in the West."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Skymariner on April 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
To convey the attitude expressed in this this collection of essays, one can hardly do so more forcefully than Russell in his own introductory remarks:

"I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for believing it true, I must, of course, admit that if such a belief became common it would completely transform our social life and political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it."

In this collection of essays Russell attempts to define and employ a moderate form scepticism that he believes to be compatible with a rational and scientific outlook. At root, he argues that we should acknowledge that even our best confirmed beliefs are likely to need revision, that we should not disregard expert opinion, and that, where there is no consensus of opinion among the experts, we (the non-experts) should suspend our judgment. Although the content of the essays in the collection varies considerably, this rationally sceptical outlook, together with Russell's well known commitment to freedom of belief and private action, provides a consistent thread througout.

Like some other collections of Russell's essays, this volume contains some that are quite dated ("Machines and Emotions", "Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness", and "Philosophy in the Twentieth Century"). Nevertheless, the core is sound.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Arsov on August 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Bertrand Russell

Sceptical Essays

Routledge Classics, Paperback, 2008.
8vo. xiii, 225 pp. Preface to Routledge Classics Edition by John Gray, 2004 [ix-xiii].

First published, 1928.
First published in Routledge Classics, 2004.


Preface to the Routledge Classics Edition

1. Introduction: On the Value of Scepticism
2. Dreams and Facts
3. Is Science Superstitious?
4. Can Men be Rational?
5. Philosophy in the Twentieth Century
6. Machines and the Emotions
7. Behaviourism and Values
8. Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness
9. The Harm that Good Men Do
10. The Recrudescence of Puritanism
11. The Need for Political Scepticism
12. Free Thought and Official Propaganda
13. Freedom in Society
14. Freedom Versus Authority in Education
15. Psychology and Politics
16. The Danger of Creed Wars
17. Some Prospects: Cheerful and Otherwise



This is going to be the shortest review I have ever written. For all that a reviewer can tell you about Sceptical Essays by Bertrand Russell is ''Read it!''

I am joking, of course. Such indolence will not do. But, as every great book, Sceptical Essays must be experienced on a very personal level, without any interference from outside and with the active participation of all selves you can muster. Moreover, it is so incredibly rich in stirring passages, memorable quotes and food for reflection on myriad of subjects, that one doesn't really know where to start.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on October 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
In these brilliant essays, B. Russell unmasks idealism, `good' men (`The Harm that good men do'), behaviorism and `sinister interests' (power and wealth). He exposes Marx's ambiguities and Bentham's subversion and clarifies his vision on freedom, free thought, education, politics, science and the place of mankind in the universe.

Idealism and Hegel
For B. Russell, idealism is a desperate attempt to keep mankind at the heart of the universe: `When the earth lost its central position, man too was deposed from his eminence. It became necessary to invent a metaphysic to correct the crudities of science. This task was achieved by the `idealists', who maintain that the world of matter is an unreal appearance. `Absolute' reality is Mind or Spirit'!

Jeremy Bentham
B. Russell shows that J. Bentham's philosophy is profoundly subversive, because the latter defined a `good' man as a man who does good and as a man whose activities and opinions are not pleasing to the holders of power.

Freedom and free thought
For B. Russell, `the bare minimum of freedom - food, drink, health, housing, clothing, sex and parenthood - should override any other claim.'
Thought is free when it is exposed to free competition among beliefs.

On education
The ideal of an all-round education is out of date, because it has been destroyed by the progress of knowledge.

On Marx
Marx proves conclusively that under capitalism wage-earners have suffered terrible privatizations. He does not (attempt to) prove that they will suffer less under communism.

On behaviorism (Dr. Watson)
For Dr.
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