Jan 26

Rustling up some Russell!

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”
–Albert Einstein in a letter to Morris Raphael Cohen, professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York, defending the controversial appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position, dated March 19, 1940.
It seemed quite justifiable that I start this blog with a quote by Einstein on Bertrand Russell, for it was he, who introduced me to him! Weird as it may seem, I had taken profound interest in Quantum physics and found Einstein a divus in this land! In his book “Ideas and Opinions”, he spoke with extreme veneration on Bertrand Russell. What really drove me to him nevertheless, was an excerpt from his book mentioned by good ol’ Alby, in his essay. The excerpt was from a book by Russell – “An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth”. Now mind you, me and my imbecile brain were both at a Pre-University level, and to tell you the truth, could garner abysmally minimal amount of what Bertrand had penned. I have indeed come a long way since then, with my mediocrity, and yes, he still holds me in awe! A change being that now, much like a slow learner, I have begun to understand the simple matters, intricately woven in his verbal maze!
Bertrand Russell is ruthless in his presentation of matters, and seldom tries to simplify his thoughts! I have found him unrelenting in his expression of his ideas and views, which bludgeons the principles he speaks of, and holds the reader in rapt attention (whether he understands it or not is a different issue altogether). There are some simple books that one may want to start with –
  • The Conquest of Happiness :- After several months of abstaining from Bertrand Russell, invariably scared by his verbal aptitude as also the complexity of the ideas presented, I chanced upon this book. It exposed a more humane front of Russell – one wherein he is relatively simple in his expression. As for the ideas he talks of in this book, well let me tell you, this isn’t a How-to-be-happy-in-24-hrs book in the layman sense of it. As with any great philosopher, he expects the reader to be mature enough to contemplate on his views, and not just accept them at the face value. In the end, one is convinced of his view of happiness and how one is to be happy amidst the rigmaroles of day-to-day lives.
  • Education and Social Order :- Education is one of Russell’s most passionate topics. His concern is clearly evident when he lucidly talks about topics that range from the method of teaching, to the subjects involved in educating the younger minds! He raises a very interesting question in this book. He wonders about how the younger generation must be educated? Must they be groomed to become ideal citizens? Or to become ideal Individuals? Want to have a take on this one?

  • Mysticism and Logic :- The book starts with one of the celebrated essays of Bertrand Russell – “A Freeman’s Worship”. In this book he explores the various aspects of Religion, science, and metaphysics. He dwells at length on topics like mathematics, and its relation with the real world, philosophy and metaphysics. Here’s an insightful writing coming directly from his pen, “The habit of being unable to recognize merit until it is dead is too apt to be the result of a purely bookish life, and a culture based wholly on the past will seldom be able to pierce through everday surroundings to the essential splendour of contemporary things, or to the hope of still greater splendour in the future.” [Chapter 3: The Place of Science in Liberal Education, pp-51]

  • An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth :- By far it is the most complicated book amongst all that I have read so far. His expositions on meaning begins right with the very base of words, language, and their use to express the ideas and feelings. Then comes the question of Truth! What is truth? What is the measure of truth? Here is where Russell lost me (or wherein I lost him)! The ethical view points on truth dives deep into the aspects of science, psychology and metaphysics! When I read this book, I was in my I PUC. Probably, I may change.

  • On the hindsight, the role of Russell’s writings in giving newer aspects to my thought, would perhaps be augmented, if I had the capability to understand his line of philosophy. In whatever small manner he has imprinted his ideas on me, has certainly changed my perspective on many things. Yet, to wholly understand Russell, would be a challenge worth taking, and would make me very proud if I would be able to do it sometime, before long! Welches Sagen Sie Sir?

3 comments

    • Anonymous on January 26, 2006 at 3:27 PM
    • Reply

    have never read Russell.

    had typed up a response about how we should emphasise on the ideal individual coz a dissatisfied individual wouldn’t make an ideal citizen when I relaized that my premise was wrong. Emphasizing on ideal individual/citizen has nothing to do with personal satisfaction.

    SO now you have left me utterly bogged by this question.

    • Praveen on January 26, 2006 at 7:26 PM
    • Reply

    Well, lemme give u a take on Russell’s meanings in both these contexts :
    An Ideal Individual is a person whose individual personality – his principles and beliefs take a precedence over the society/nation.
    An Ideal Citizen for his part would never question the authority but work for upholding and sustaining the Govt. and its principles. So now, who do you think is more necessary?

    • samanvitha on January 27, 2006 at 1:35 AM
    • Reply

    y on earth wud einstein be called a diva??*shocked*
    was he gay or something..
    “An Ideal Individual is a person whose individual personality – his principles and beliefs take a precedence over the society/nation”
    totally agree..

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