Sceptical Essays (Routledge Classics) (Volume 101) by Bertrand Russell

By Bertrand Russell

'These propositions could seem gentle, but, if permitted, they'd totally revolutionize human life.'

With those phrases Bertrand Russell introduces what's certainly a progressive booklet. Taking as his starting-point the irrationality of the realm, he bargains against this anything 'wildly paradoxical and subversive' - a trust that cause should still ascertain human activities. this day, besieged as we're by way of the numbing onslaught of twenty-first-century capitalism, Russell's defence of scepticism and independence of brain is as well timed as ever. In transparent, enticing prose, he courses us during the key philosophical matters that have an effect on our day-by-day lives - freedom, happiness, feelings, ethics and ideology - and gives no-nonsense advice.

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Sample text

And so it comes that, in the study of nominally abstract thinkers, it is their mistakes that give the key to their personality. Many may contend that, even if the systems men have invented are untrue, they are harmless and comforting, and should be left undisturbed. But they are in fact not harmless, and the comfort they bring is dearly bought by the preventable misery which they lead men to tolerate. The evils of life spring partly from natural causes, partly from men’s hostility to each other.

The best people usually owe their excellence to a combination of qualities which might have been supposed incompatible, and so it was in the case of James, whose importance was greater than was thought by most of his contemporaries. He advocated pragmatism as a method of presenting religious hopes as scientific hypotheses, and he adopted the revolutionary view that there is no such thing as ‘consciousness’, as a way of overcoming the opposition between mind and matter without giving predominance to either.

In any case, since they admit that ‘scientific analysis of objective reality’ is possible, they must admit that it is possible to have opinions which are rational in an objective sense. More erudite authors who advocate an irrationalist point of view, such as the pragmatist philosophers, are not to be caught out so easily. They maintain that there is no such thing as objective fact to which our opinions must conform if they are to be 33 34 can men be rational? true. For them opinions are merely weapons in the struggle for existence, and those which help a man to survive are to be called ‘true’.

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