There are a small number of authors in this world whose contributions have transcended their own lives to touch that of those who would succeed them in the endless flow of time, to which we are all subject.
One of these figures is undoubtedly that of Bertrand Russell, who has bequeathed so many works so diverse (mathematics, philosophy, logic, politics, etc.) that it is difficult to classify them in a particular field of knowledge. .
In this article we will review his life and work through a biography of Bertrand Russell, With particular emphasis on the contributions he made during his long and exceptional life.
Brief biography of Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell was born in the small village of Trellech (south-east Wales) in 1872, into an illustrious and aristocratic family of the time. His father, John Russell, was Viscount of Amberley; and her mother, Katherine Louisa Stanley, was the daughter of Baron Alderley herself. In addition to all that, was the godson of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, one of the promoters (along with Jeremy Bentham) of Western utilitarianism, Which represents the usefulness of the actions understood as the set of positive effects that they generate on the reception of individuals.
Although he was fortunate enough to reach the world in a comfortable situation, adversity would soon come to life: when he was only six years old, diphtheria took his mother’s life and that of his mother’s. sister, which drove her father into a state of inconsolable despair. it would also lead to death. Already an orphan, he and his brother Frank had to move to Pembroke Lodge, a privileged residence of the Crown.
Bertrand russell he was a prolific thinker, spending many hours a day reflecting on the most varied subjects imaginable.. He wrote extensively on philosophy (because from the young he received the influence of his uncle John Stuart Mill, although they did not get to know each other personally), on pacifism (his long life enabled him to bear witness to both world wars that would devastate the planet in the first half of the last century) and even physics (as he personally met Albert Einstein and both spoke of the nuclear danger).
All of these interests were born at a very young age, in the unbearable solitude of Pembroke Lodge. There he spent time between books, rummaging over the lush nature that characterized the local gardens.
The first intellectual passion of his life would be Euclidean geometry, What he was able to know thanks to the help of his brother and which gave him the attractive opportunity to prove theorems by himself. However, he would end up feeling disillusioned with the axioms needed to move forward on the matter, as he never endured uncertainty.
And does Bertrand Russell was characterized by a revolt against any attempt at imposition that might exist in the development of knowledge; on politics, philosophy, science, mathematics or any other. For this reason, he learned from many different sources, trying to avoid the limits that others tried to place on knowledge. As a result, as a child he wrote a collection of notes (using the Greek alphabet) on the determinism he observed in the laws of physics, which have come to torment in the highest degree.
Perhaps what made Bertrand Russell an immensely popular reference is his Principia Mathematica, which marked a before and after in logical thought, and which remains to this day an indispensable work in this field. It is an encyclopedic creation written in close collaboration with the English mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, one of the most important figures in the author’s academic life before us.
In his youth, endowed with a rabid and insatiable curiosity, Bertrand Russell began his studies at Trinity College in the city of Cambridge (in the east of England) by first choosing mathematics. There he would meet Alfred North Whitehead, who could no doubt notice a waking spirit that deserved special attention. It was at this point where his tutor suggested that he join The Apostles, a group of young people dedicated to thinking about the most varied issues., Dispossession of any intellectual censorship or circumlocution.
Despite his enormous interest in mathematics, Bertrand Russell soon discovered that the academic dynamics of Trinity College did not satisfy his thirst for knowledge at all, for it was reduced to the “simple” succession of hypotheses that did not plunge into the bowels of algebra or geometry. It was as well as decided to begin to extend borders, acceding to the study of Philosophy (well-known like Sciences Morales at that time).
At this point in his life he was influenced by the thought of idealistic philosophers, A branch of knowledge which places knowledge on a purely intellectual level, indifferent to the direct experience of things. And it is that at that time it was the predominant current in England, extending its domination to the universities of the country (Plato, Leibniz, Hegel, etc.).
In the detailed study of philosophy, he found the perfect space to develop critical thinking about mathematics and other areas of personal interest. In fact, he concluded his studies by writing the brilliant Essay on the Foundations of Geometry., Flaunting his idealistic stance.
An existential change of position
While during his early days in philosophy he bowed to majority idealism, reading Francis H. Bradley (a Neo-Hegelian philosopher characterized by his vehement opposition to growing empiricism) would mean revolution for him. interior which would provoke confrontations with what until now its existential heuristic. It all meant a definitive break with what his mind was establishing, opening up to ways of thinking very rare in his academic environment.
Specifically, he found it impossible for science and numbers to survive the idealistic doctrinal conceptions of internal relationships, a notion that postulated that things could only be known to the extent that absolute understanding was available of their multiple relationships. . All of this led to writing about the nature of judgment and undoing the stages of everything he had learned, being one of the authors who defended the historic British rebellion against idealism.
His travels outside England, in particular in Germany (where he met some of the most eminent mathematicians of the time) and in France (notably at the International Congress of Philosophy in Paris), were an intellectual opening which was expressed in the ultimate intention to articulate a logical basis for mathematics and thereby overcome the idealism of philosophers as important as Emmanuel Kant.
He therefore adopted the thought of the school of logic in his perception of mathematics, From which all hypotheses must be tested by very simple premises expressed in logical terms, an idea from the mid-seventeenth century with the monads of the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (who adapted to the fields of mathematics, physics, of metaphysics, psychology and biology).
Logical thinking allowed Bertrand Russell to discover inconsistencies in the works of many authors of his time, such as Georg Cantor’s set theory, through what is called today Russell’s Paradox. Because its understanding is complex, it has often been conveyed with metaphors more accessible to most people, the best known of all being that of The Barber.
Concretely, this paradox tells the story of a non-existent country in which a kind of king forbids barbers to shave anyone who can do it by themselves, because there is a shortage of these professionals and they have to devote themselves to the needs. However, there would be a small village in this country where there would be only one barber, who would complain that he could not shave (To be able to do it) and neither does he have another loved one who can do it for him (because even if he had, he would have been forbidden to touch his face).
In the prolific work of Bertrand Russell (he is said to have written about 3000 words per day), the Principia Mathematica is undoubtedly the centerpiece of his contributions. It is a shared author’s work, in which Russell and Whitehead have put their effortsAs they both shared a similar point of view on the foundations of this science. Russell delved into passages whose content was of a philosophical nature, as well as into the conclusions drawn from the various formulations.
It is a work composed of three volumes (originally they were going to be four) which deals with subjects related to all types of mathematical prisms, and which is considered to be the fundamental reference of logic in this country, besides from the same organ of Aristotle (from which the syllogism was based as a tool to arrive at logical reasoning on the validity of any argument). Currently, both are fundamental in any self-respecting scientific library.
Other contributions from Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell, although he was a staunch pacifist during World War I, positioned himself in favor of the war against the Nazis during World War II. This is because he could not assume the existence of a world in which National Socialist ideals would reign. He has been imprisoned twice during his life, as a result of his actions against the war (Advise young people how to avoid the call to battle, for example). The last time he was jailed, he was almost 90 years old.
The finesse with which he wrote his ideas won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, although he devoted his life to the universe of numbers (to a greater extent than that of letters). It is said that the value of his reflections somehow made it easier for the world not to get immersed in the nuclear holocaust, as he was convinced that avoiding this danger was the end of any thinker who should have lived through this era.
Bertrand Russell died at the age of 98, leaving behind a very long and productive existence, bequeathing countless works for posterity. He died peacefully, at the hands of Edith Finch, his last wife (he was married four times in his life). It remains today an essential example of the search for the truth, Intellectual non-conformism and the struggle for peace.
- Pellicer, ML (2010). Bertrand Russell: Centenary of the principles of mathematics. Journal of the Royal Academy of Exact Sciences, Physics and Nature, 104 (2), 415-425.
- Pérez-Jara, J. (2014). Bertrand Russell’s philosophy. Pentalfa Editions: Oviedo (Spain).