Bertrand Russell, whose name shines like a star in the world of philosophy and literature, was a great British philosopher of the 20th century. He was a multi-dimensional personality and his repute had many aspects. He was a scientist, philosopher, mathematician and a humanist. His thoughts and works have left indelible imprints on the intellectual history of the modern world. With his keen and sensitive vision, he observed every aspect and every color of life and practically took part in the affairs of life to know human problems and their solution. He was a lover of humanity. He tried to make man ponder over his status and station, and budge from victimizing and perishing his own species.
Russell was an outstanding mathematician and his contribution in mathematics is a milestone in this field. His Principa Mathatica written in collaboration with White-head, printed in 1913, in three volumes is a landmark in the history of mathematics. This glorious work by him has granted him a noble status among the scientists and mathematicians of world. His deep interest and proficiency in science and mathematics developed a philosophic approach in his mind and he made a high-ranking philosopher of his time. He always insisted to solve all the enigmas and problems of life with the tool of logic. He relied on logic and believed that the light of logic could guide a person on all the paths of life.
Russell was a person who did not confine his feeling and endeavors to a certain field. He did not devote his life to the intricacies of science and complexities of mathematics. Rather he eyed the beauties of life and noticed the threats to this beauty. His mind studied the enigmas of science but his heart throbbed for the humans all around. It was his special inclination towards humanity that he came out of his scientific world to observe and feel the human problems. That is why he not only produced scientific work but also wrote on social, political, human, economic and moral issues of the modern world.
Russell as a Humanist
Russell was born with a scientific brain and human heart. He felt all the sentiments of life. According to him life was the unique phenomenon in the cosmos. He believed that universe was a collection of phenomena and among them life was most charming phenomenon. This most beautiful picture of the album of universe is vandalized and spoiled by the man himself. It is man who unnecessarily takes on his fellows. He commits blunders, makes excesses and slaughters his own fellow beings. His unwanted greed and lust leads to horrible wars, which swallow the human blood and engulf human flesh. So Russell appeals to the good nature of man to teach him not to harm others. They should not be enemy of each other. He wants to see this world a cradle of peace and love, in which man’s bosom is filled with love and affection, not hatred and venom for others.
Russell was strictly opposed to monarchy. He strongly flays on the monarchy system that binds humans in the chains of slavery. It is monarchy that humiliates and snatches the rights of humanity. At the same time, Russell also condemns the rule of church as it backs monarchy.
Being a philosopher, Russell does not believe in religion. In the history of
Europe, the term humanism was introduced and propagated after Renaissance. He believed that humanism considered in the light of religion was limited and restricted. He defines humanism in a wider sense, without religious restrictions. According to him man is responsible for his good or bad deeds. There is no spiritual power to govern the human deeds. Russell strongly believes in reason and does not believe in some divine system to control human life.
Modern age is the age of democracy. Many countries of the world are running democratic system successfully. But, there is a presentiment that hostile nations may kick off war at any time. Russell believes that world is divided into groups based on race and creed. This difference has generated an antagonism among humans. In his book “New Hopes for a Changing World” he writes:
“One of the most obstinate and difficult of the problems to be resolved if a stable world government is to become possible is the hostility which is apt to arise between different races. When I speak of the races I mean genuine biological varieties of the human species, not the attitude of the Americans of English descent to the Red Indians was different from that of the English to the French, as is shown in the saying “The only good Red Indian is the Indian. (New Hopes)
Again he writes about slave trades:
“There has been one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the nominally Christian nations. The horrors of the slave trade are familiar. The life of a slave might or might not be one of hardships. As a rule household slaves were fairly well treated, but plantation slaves were cruelly exploited. The slave trade was stopped at the beginning of nineteenth century and slavery was ended by the civil war. But the color population remained and remains subject to intolerable hardships, injustices and cruelties.”
At that time, the treatment meted out to Jews at the hands of Nazis was also outrageous. They were exterminated brutally, which was inhuman and condemnable.
Creeds and Ideologies
According to Russell creed and ideology are two words with the same meaning. Ideology is the system of ideas characterizing a party, while creed is a system of beliefs. Russell finds no difference in ideology and creed. Mankind is divided into different groups and sections due to difference of ideologies. The different ideologies or beliefs have created an unwanted antagonism among human beings. The poison of disparate beliefs is lethal to humanity. When this poison enters the blood of humans, it deprives them of their good nature and drives them on the paths of bigotry and violence. The big wars and bloody clashes between different nations have been due to difference of creeds or ideologies. A big example is the war of Crusade between the Muslims and the Christians fought for a long time. In the 20th century, two great wars were fought due communism and capitalism, extermination humanity in a dreadful way. Russell felt deeply this large-scale destruction of humanity and condemned it strongly. He was a propagator of peace, he was preacher of fraternity, so he deplored the annihilation and emphasized tolerance, forbearance and harmony. In this way Russell proved himself as the apostle of peace and lover of humanity.
As a Pacifist
Russell always detested wars. He criticizes and denounces the hostile nations who find solace in taking up arms and going to battlefields to solve their problems. Violence breeds violence. A war gives way to other wars. We cannot find the solutions to problems in human assassination. Russell wanted to see peace and harmony prevailing all over the world. He detested wars and bloody clashes engulfing the humans savagely. He vehemently protested against British government when it joined war against
in the First World War. He came on front as pacifist but was caught and imprisoned by the government. But this imprisonment could not shake his resolve and commitment to humanity. He remained firm and did not succumb to any pressure or high handedness. He stuck to his ideas and maintained his point of view in the Second World War. To eliminate wars in the world forever he stressed on the presence of one super power in world. There must be a super state with no adversary. And it is possible if Germany overcomes America , or Russia topples the Russia to become supreme power in the world. However he prefers America on America because Russia is better state in every respect and has ability to rule the world. Russian domination shall drive the world into hell. He says: America
“There are even more important reasons for preferring a victory of
. I am not contending that capitalism is better than communism. My reason for siding with America is that in that country there is more respect than in America for the things that I value in a civilized way of life. The things have in mind are such as freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion and human feeling. What a victory of Russia would mean is easily to be seen in Russia . There were flourishing Universities in Poland , containing men of great intellectual eminence. Some of these men, fortunately, escaped. The rest disappeared. Education is now reduced to learning the formula of Stalinist Orthodoxy.” Poland
(New Hopes for a Changing World. P. 94)
The above-described thoughts give an ample proof of Russell to be a strong believer of intellectual freedom. At the same time he is so firm in his favor of
that he holds right to use force against America by the Russia powers of the free world. Alliance
In the Second World War, the mass destruction caused by atomic bombs was evident to the whole world. The unprecedented devastation caused by atomic devices shocked the whole human race. Russell strictly condemned this act, for which he had to suffer imprisonment. Again, in 1962, when nuclear war was to kick off between two super powers because of
crisis, he played a memorable role as the world pioneer of peace. Through his convincing letter, written to the heads of both super powers, he succeeded to dissuade them from carrying out a horrible folly. He was able to convince them that nuclear war would annihilate mankind on a large scale on the planet and all the achievement attained by man would be wiped out. This glorious act of Russell grants him an unmatched glory of character. He appeared as prophet of peace and saved humanity from most horrible devastation. He appeared to be not only a prophet of peace but as benefactor of mankind too. Cuba
He showed the man a way to solve their problem without waging war. He proved that pen is more effective than a gun. He always diffused tension with his speech and fought against two worst enemies of humanity---- bigotry and narrow mindedness.
Russell’s intellectual vision was fairly wide. He was convinced of the nobility of man. He said that man was the noblest creation and he was the real beauty of the universe. But this cosmos is infinite and our earth is just a speck in this huge system. The life appeared on the earth due to favorable environment. Earth was situated at a great distance from the sun. The small heat reaching to earth from sun is conducive to life. The sun is source of energy to earth. If we cross O zone or go deep into the earth, life again becomes impossible. Earth is dependant on sun the gets energy and heat from it. If sun goes cold, life on earth will freeze. So life is subject to suitable environment and circumstances like other things, which cannot survive in non-favorable conditions. Russell negates the old traditional dogma that man is the center of Universe. Planets in the universe are countless like the specks of sand in a desert. Our earth is such a speck.
Russell wants man to crash out his self-styled shell of self and ego. He wants him to abandon self-glorification and cast a rational look on life and its wants. The idol of ego and self-centeredness has parted man from man. To bring men closer to men it calls for to leave obnoxious ethnic, racial and geographical prejudice.
Russell has praised the fortitude and stoicism of Boethius who wrote his great book “The Consolation of Philosophy” in the days of his imprisonment. In his writing he adopted a style, which had a majestic grandeur mingled with sweet reasonableness. He wrote the anthology with such nonchalance and content, as he was still a powerful prime minister. He described the pleasure of contemplation; the delight of world beauty and hopes of mankind, which did not, left him. Boethius had been in public administration but won a disfavor due to which he was sentenced to death. He was sure to be executed yet he did not loose courage. He completed his great book in jail, which according to Russell is more useful in the present age.
His War against Dogmatism and Superstition
Russell did not believe in religion. He was strictly against dogmatism. His deep scientific knowledge and high philosophic approach had given him a mindset to dispel traditional dogmas, which had been adopted by superstitious and narrow-minded people. In his “Unpopular Essays” under “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” he expresses his repulsion for the follies of man. He is not ready to admit the fact that man is a rational animal. Rather, in the light of his own experiences, he says:
“Through a long life I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so for I have not had the good fortune to come across it.”
On the other side he says that he has seen great nation and formerly leaders of civilized nations, who were led astray by nonsensical declamatory speeches. Further, he says that he has sensed the bitterness and pain of cruelty, persecution and the follies superstition. All these ills are growing rapidly which is deplorable.
Russell regards the Age of Faith as the age of ignorance as the illogical and absurd teachings. They burnt many thousand hags alive for their deeds repugnant to Christianity. It was surprising for Russell to see men punished for their sins through calamities and famines. The narrow minded Clergy and their followers rejected every new discovery and invention as it was contrary to their faith. The Greek research that the earth is round was rejected due to the presence of antipodes. It was sacrilegious to believe that there were men at the antipodes. Again, when Benjamin Franklin invented the lightening rod, the Clergy both in
and England condemned it as a wicked attempt to defeat the will of God. Clergy believed that lightening is the tool of God to punish the sinners, however, the whip of lightening is not for the pious. There for Benjamin Franklin was not justified to be against the will of God. For a long time people has been sacrificing their children to avoid the anger of Maloch, the god of sacrifice, which was strictly against the canons of humanity. America
All these foolish and cruel acts, which were fruits of superstition and dogmatism, have tortured and damaged human civilization greatly. Russell vehemently condemns such dogmas, some of which are still prevalent. If man sticks to such superstitious beliefs and does not discards such irrational practices, he can never attain the absolute happiness and contentment.
Russell tells us that the best way of getting rid of the folly of dogmatism is to be well aware of the opinions rampant in social circles, different from your own and try to know their logical truth. Travel can bring you closer to the people and help diminish the intensity of prejudice. If traveling is not possible than make a liaison with the people with whom you disagree or read the newspaper belonging to the party you dislike. Using this way you can broaden you outlook. For the people who are psychologically imaginative, it is good to make an imaginary argument with a person having a different point of view. The great Hindu leader of
, Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to railways, steamboats and machinery. If you fell into an imaginary discussion with Gandhi, you can easily judge his viewpoint. Again to judge the conviction of your own arguments you can imagine what Gandhi might have said to negate you views. India
The orthodox object to cremation as it burns the spiritless human body, which is to be reborn on the judgment day. This objection indicates an insufficient faith in the omnipotence of God. It was thought to be difficult for God to recreate a burnt body on the judgment day in its real shape. This thought touches the boundaries of blasphemy. Russell regards this objection as ridiculous and baseless. He contends if God created a human body with most complicated systems, He can rebuilt the burnt body and infuse psyche into it on the judgment day without a pinch of difficulty. To doubt the powers of God is nothing but a blasphemy.
The church was against the dissection of corpse to view the intricate body systems as it was for the study of medicine. Vesalims, the court physician was the pioneer of dissection. He was an accomplished physician and his medical skill protected the emperor against bodily ailments. But after the emperor’s death, he was sentenced to pilgrimage to the
Holy Land, by the church.
Till the 18th century, the cause of insanity was attributed to devil. The only way to get rid of this ill was to beat the devil so that to beat the patient. So the persecuted the devil, (the patient) was beaten savagely. But sometimes, this treatment did not work and the patient had to suffer without any rhyme and reason. This treatment was given to King George III, who was insane, but was not cured at all. In that age, the fallacies and discrimination of race and blood were common. The Nazis had adopted them as their creed. But all these were self-created myths. According to Russell there was no pure race in the world. In
, the colored races are considered inferior to the others in respect of intelligence. But those who measure intelligence are unable to know the reality of distinction. America
Russell also discovered the causes of superstition. It is actually the influence of great fear, which makes the men superstitious. The sailors, who threw Jonah overboard, took his presence on boat as the cause of storm. When Maloch demanded the children of aristocrats to sacrifice to him, the Carthaginians deceived him by offering the children of lower strata for the sacrifice. This annoyed Maloch and he inflicted defeat on them. However they did not change their way and never offered their own children for the sacrifice. As a result they again met defeat at the hands of Romans.
When fear prevails over masses, they become nervous and disturbed and do anything to get rid of this fear. Fear generates the impulse of cruelty and they justify every nonsensical and fierce thing to discard this fear. This is actually superstition. During the French revolution people went desperate and it gave way to absurd cruelties in the beginning. Had this revolution met less hostility from outside, it would have been less fierce. So we can sum up that the human history has been full of intellectual rubbish. Russel, throughout his life, struggled to eliminate such follies from human mind. So he indicated the hidden causes of dogmas analyzed them on psychological basis with absolute ability.