This book, consisting of some of Bertrand Russell's technical essays on philosophy, epistemology, etc., was a rather engaging read for me. However, much in the book requires considerable knowledge of philosophy in order to be able to fundamentally understand the issues Russell addressed. One particular essay, second from last in the book, is titled "On Order in Time", and it is basically couched in symbolic logic, which is a level of logic beyond my level of technical expertise. Therefore, I chose to entirely skip over that essay. Also, the first essay of the book, "The Logic of Relations" was mainly versed in symbolic logic, and I skipped over most of it. Otherwise, I read every essay in the book, and I found most of them to be of considerable interest to me.
One of my "gripes" against Russell's philosophizing is his repudiation of consciousness
and mind as properties of reality that MUST be reckoned with, if one is going to have a
remotely comprehensive worldview. I have just bought Russell's The Analysis of Mind, but haven't yet begun reading it. However, given Russell's predilection to dismiss mind as (somehow) synonymous with physical brain activity, I'm not anticipating much in his analysis of mind that I'll find enlightening.
Another area of Russell's philosophy that I find to be gravely problematic is his effort to find meaning in language within the structure or form of the language, whereas my understanding of meaning in language is such that meaning is never within the form or structure of the language, but is precisely in the ascription of meaning given to the structured symbolism of the language by a conscious entity. Without consciousness, meaning is an absurd oxymoron. That is, at any rate, the only reasonable way I can see to define meaning. In regard to these issues, the second essay in the book is highly relevant to these questions. It's titled "On Denoting". Russell argued that denotation is strictly in the form of a statement, whereas I regard denotation as residing in the meaning ascribed to the form of the statement by a conscious mind. Mere logical structure, without understanding (having conscious awareness of) the meaning of the structure, denotes nothing. Those are some of the issues on which I take great exception to Russell's philosophy. Overall, though, Russell was the most engaging writer of philosophy I know of. Furthermore, he was quite clear-headed in a lot of critical issues in philosophy and epistemology. However, his strict avoidance of ascribing to any aspect of reality mental or spiritual powers was, I believe, a fatal error - one which is, however, highly praised and affirmed by most modern analytical philosophers.
All in all, regarding the book currently being reviewed here, some of the essays included in this volume are rather critical to read, if one is going to get a fairly brief synopsis of much of Russell's outlook on philosophy. Although much of the book is difficult reading, the patient fan of Russell's approach to philosophy should be able to learn much that is of interest in the 10 essays included in this work. I would recommend the book as highly desirable for any student or fan of Russell's philosophizing.
Editor Robert Marsh said in the Preface to this 1956 volume, “The ten essays in this volume represent work extending through fifty years in the life of one of the greatest philosophers of our times. All of the essays are representative, and several can be regarded as among the most important of his writings… most of these papers have previously been available only in libraries with unusually full periodical collections, and this in itself would serve as ample justification for reprinting them in book form…. Nothing included in ‘Philosophical Essays’ (1910) or ‘Mysticism and Logic’ (1918 appears here… The period which marked the transition to the neural monism of ‘An Analysis of Mind’ (1921)… has previously been difficult to study. The appearance here of three papers from those years, none of them previously available in an authorized edition, should serve to fill this troublesome gap in the chronology of Russell’s available works.”
In a 1905 essay “On Denoting,” Russell said, “By the law of the excluded middle, either ‘A is B’ or ‘A is not B’ must be true. Hence either ‘the present King of France is bald’ or ‘the present King of France is not bald’ must be true. Yet if we enumerated the things that are bald, and then the things that are not bald, we should not find the present King of France in either list. Hegelians, who love a synthesis, will probably conclude that he wears a wig.” (Pg. 48)
In the 1914 essay “On the Nature of Acquaintance,” Russell observed, “It is obvious that MEMORY is what makes us call past experiences ‘ours.’ … memory always makes the links in the chain connecting our present with our past. It is not, however, memory per se that does this: it is memory of a certain sort. If we merely remember some external object, the experiencing is in the present, and there is not yet any reason to assume the past experience. It would be logically possible to remember an object which we had never experienced… Thus, the case serves to illustrate an important difference, namely, the difference between remembering an outside event and remembering our experiencing of the event.” (Pg. 136)
In the 1919 essay “On Propositions,” he says, “Professor [John B] Watson, one must conclude, does not possess the faculty of visualizing, and is unwilling to believe that others do. Kinaesthetic images can be explained away, at being really small sensations of the same kind as those that would belong to actual movements. Inner speech, in particular, in so far as it is not accompanied by auditory images, may, I think, really consist of such small sensations, and be accompanied by small movements of the tongue or throat such as behaviourism requires.” (Pg. 293)
He admits in the 1950 essay “Logical Positivism,” that “There has been a vast technical development in logic, logical syntax, and semantics… This whole subject has become so technical, and so capable of quasi-mathematical definiteness, that it can hardly be regarded as belonging to philosophy as formerly understood. True, it solves what WERE philosophical problems, but so did Newton in writing on what he still called ‘natural philosophy.’ But we do not now regard planetary theory as part of philosophy, and I think that on the same ground much of the recent work on logic, syntax, and semantics should be regarded as definite knowledge, not philosophical speculation.” (Pg. 371-372)
Later in the same essay, he explains, “There is a theory that the meaning of a proposition consists in its method of verification. It follows that (a) that what cannot be verified or falsified is meaningless, (b) that two propositions verified by the same occurrences have the same meaning. I reject both, and I do not think that those who advocate them have fully realized their implications. First, practically all advocates of the above view regard verification as a SOCIAL matter… If we are to believe in the existence of these other people---as we must if we are to admit testimony---we just reject the identification of meaning with verification. ‘Verification’ is often defined very loosely…” (Pg. 375)
He concludes about logical positivists, “Most logical positivists … have little to say about meaning or significance. This makes them, in my opinion, somewhat narrow, and not capable of producing an all-round philosophy. They have, however, the great merit that their method allows them to tackle problems one by one, and that they are not obliged, as philosophers used to be, to produce a complete theory of the universe on all occasions. Their procedure, in fact, is more analogous to that of science that to that of traditional philosophy.” (Pg. 381)
For anyone studying the development of Russell’s more “technical” philosophy (e.g., not his social/political philosophy), this book will be “must reading.”
This book reproduces Russell's famous article 'On Denoting' that appeared in "Mind" in 1905. It provides the earliest account of his theory of descriptions that was later developed in principia mathematica and 'improved' by W.V Quine. (It is however, a dog to read!) It is truly a fundamental work in logical analysis and I recommend it to you all.
I would give 5 stars to Russell's essays but 3 stars to this edition. This edition contains most of the important/technical papers that russel wrote & are still worth reading for any serious philosophy student. The editor did a great job at selection but his snobbish introductory essays prefacing each russell essay is a complete waste of space & (your) time. The editor should have but didn't bother to update the logical symbols in the 1st russell essay, 'logic of relations', with the result that it would be incomprehensible even to people trained in symbolic logic. 'philosophy of logical atomism', for me anyway, helps me understand wittgenstein's Tractatus, which was otherwise incomprehsible to me. I didn't make it through 'on denoting'. Who would really care about this important but by now mainly historical essay if you have already learned quantification theory & description theory?