The topicality of Bertrand Russell, born 150 years ago

Vrom the Victorian era to the early days of protest against the Vietnam War: almost a hundred years spanned the life of Bertrand Russell, who was born 150 years ago today. He was the grandson of a prime minister and inherited his title of earl in 1931. The gods had instilled in him a spirit that was among the sharpest and sharpest-tongued in England – he thanked them with witty jokes against any form of belief in God. It was the justified arrogance of exuberant intelligence that made him mock narrow-mindedness, dogmatism and ideology of all kinds throughout his life.

First, of course, he collected academic merits with his left hand. Cambridge was made for him; he studied mathematics, studied philosophy and worked his way up to become a lecturer at Trinity College. Gottlob Frege from Jena wanted to place mathematics on the solid foundation of set theory and for this purpose he had pounded a completely new logic out of the ground. After the first volume of Frege’s “Fundamental Laws of Arithmetic” appeared with a brilliant tangle of formulas, Russell was struck by an internal contradiction that had beset the then new set theory and brought down Frege’s system.

Free from destructive ambitions, Russell attempted to repair the damage. To the point of exhaustion, he devoted an entire decade of his life to this project, and so in recent years he brought before the First World War together with Alfred North Whitehead the legendary “Principia mathematica” in three volumes on the market. They were a milestone in basic logical research, but are only of historical importance today.

Sharp look at the language

Not unlike Frege, Russell combined his interest in logic with a keen eye for language. As he suggested, their grammatical surface can mislead us. According to Russell, only after careful analysis of the inner logic of what is said does it become clear to us exactly what we want to express with our sentences; only then is it worth arguing about their truth.

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