P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 136
11th June 2008
I. 'Reflections on the Idea of Race' by Mark Westmoreland
II. 'The Role of Logic in Philosophy: An Appraisal of Bertrand Russell's
Standpoint' by Jahnabi Deka
III. 'A response to Peter Raabe' by D.R. Khashaba
The forthcoming Presidential election has focused minds of Americans, as well
as people all over the world, on the question of race. Professor Mark
Westmoreland from Neumann College, Pennsylvania offers some judicious insights
into the historical role of philosophers in the genesis of the idea of race and
racialism, as well as hope of solution through philosophical reflection on the
nature of our common humanity.
Stereotyping comes in many forms and disguises. English speaking philosophers
might be surprised (but why, exactly?) to find philosophers on the Indian
subcontinent who keenly follow the analytic tradition and study the work of the
European philosophers Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein. In a valuable summary of
Bertrand Russell's contribution, Jahnabi Deka from Gauhati University, India
explains why Russell's contribution is so important and why his influence is
still felt today.
I was not altogether surprised to receive a swift response from Daoud Khashaba
to Peter Raabe's article in the last issue of Philosophy Pathways on 'Placebo
Religion and Philosophy'. Khashaba cites the example of Kant as a philosopher
whose writings present a tremendous challenge to the student. Goethe is said to
have commented that reading Kant was like 'opening a door into a lighted room'.
For the majority of us who have to struggle for understanding, that is one
mighty heavy door.
I. 'REFLECTIONS ON THE IDEA OF RACE' BY MARK WESTMORELAND
The twenty-first century confronts us with at least two questions: How do we
respond to the horrific events of the previous century, and how do we ensure
that such atrocities do not occur again? Many prejudices have been incited by
the implicit systemization of Race, or racialization. Moreover, can we today
imagine the possibility of living in a harmonious world, a world of pluralism
-- the idea that there is a multiplicity of incommensurable values expanding
over various cultures? Commenting on our contemporary situation, F.M. Barnard
Not many social theorists today, it is true, share their
nineteenth-century precursors faith in unilinear progress.
Yet, this does not seemingly prevent contemporary
sociologists and economists from theorizing about political
development as though progress in one direction -- for
example, in the possession of telephones or automobiles
-- must necessarily correlate with the arrival of stable
It appears that many academics, clergy, and laypersons struggle with
reformulating their ideas of human progress, particularly in terms of Race.
However, over the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of the idea of
cultural cosmopolitanism amongst America's youth (although they are unaware of
it). Perhaps it is best for us to go back a few centuries in hopes of
understanding our historical situation. By tracing the origins of the idea of
Race, we may be on firm ground to truly accept diversity and embrace pluralism,
or cultural cosmopolitanism. Working through four centuries of racial
discourse can be tedious. I promise to make our journey as clear and
straightforward as possible while not belittling the ideas of our predecessors.
Why should such a historical trace be of importance for us today? 'Historical
change in the abstract sense,' G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) states, 'has long been
interpreted in general terms as embodying some kind of progress towards a
better and more perfect condition.' In a similar tone, Johann Gottfried
Herder (1744-1803) asks, 'For what other purpose would humans have joined
together, but that thereby they might become more perfect, better, happier
human beings?' Furthermore, Hegel claims, 'In our understanding of world
history, we are concerned with history primarily as a record of the past. But
we are just as fully concerned with the present.' We continue to witness
this dilemma. No doubt, we must know our pasts in order to know who we are.
However, how much do we impose of our present situation back onto our pasts?
Let us reflect upon the historical origins of the idea of race in order to
better understand the racialized world in which we live today.
Let us ask ourselves a few basic questions regarding Race. How do we use the
term Race? In other words, what do we mean when we say 'Race'? Do you belong to
a Race? If so, to which one do you belong? Have you ever acted in a racist
manner to another person? Have you ever been the object of racism?
Probably all of us have an experience of Race. Let us ask a few more questions.
Are there actually Races that exist? If so, are the groups we categorize as
Races actually Races? For example, most Europeans understand Jews as being a
particular Race. Most Americans understand Jews in terms of Ethnicity. And
finally, is it possible that racialization, the experience of Race, and racism
exist, but not Race itself? This final question should remain in the forefront
of our minds for the rest of our investigation.
Let us continue this reflection by looking into the history of the idea of
race, an idea that was formed not too long ago. In the sixteenth century,
European nations began to speedily expand their horizons. Trade, travel, and
colonization made the world a little smaller. Explorers came into contact with
more diverse people groups and began to keep travel journals documenting their
perceptions of physical distinct people. Such travel journals became
commonplace for the educated class, particularly the educated who themselves
traveled the world.
One such traveler was the physician Francois Bernier (1620-1688), who first
used the word Race in its modern context. In 'A New Division of the Earth
According to Different Species or Races of Men' (1684), Bernier remarks that
'Geographers up to this time have only divided the earth according to its
different countries or regions.' This new division became manifest in terms of
Race. While practicing medicine in India, Bernier came to the conclusion that
human beings do not make up one Race, but rather a multitude of species.
Despite his attempts for accuracy, Bernier failed to give a coherent definition
of Race and continued to use species and race interchangeably.
This failure in giving Race a fixed meaning can also be found in the works of
Isaac De La Peyrere (1596-1676), Francois-Marie Arouet De Voltaire (1694-1778),
and Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782). All three of these men argued for the
notion of Polygenesis. In Prae-Adamite (1655), Peyrere claims that Adam and Eve
were not the first human beings on earth and that gentiles existed prior to the
life of Adamites (Jews). The conclusion of Peyrere and the other adherents to
Polygenesis is that we have our origins in various local creations. We are
without a single common ancestor, without a single common origin. This
conclusion, however, did not keep hold among naturalists and the
anthropologists to come later.
The Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), gave the first rigorous,
scientific classification of human beings. The 'Father of Modern Taxonomy'
included human beings in the same classification system as plants and animals.
He suggested that there were four basic varieties of human beings with each
variety corresponding to a particular geographic location. Within each
location, similar characteristics, qualities, and personalities were found.
Only when one stepped outside of a particular location and looked upon all the
varieties could one see the magnificent diversity of humans. However,
Linnaeus's attempts left much to be desired. In striving to understand the
archetype of the human species, he neglected to respect the human differences
found within each of the four human varieties.
The last criticism was taken up by Count Georges-Louis Buffon (1707-1788).
Buffon sought to bring order to human variety. Instead of classifying fixed,
static varieties of human beings, Buffon offered a more genetic account of
human variation. As a naturalist, he held that organisms change under
environmental influence. In Natural History: General and Particular (1749),
Buffon defines species as that which can continually reproduce generation to
generation. Buffon, like his predecessors, still lacked a consistent
definition for Race and used the term rather ambiguously.
We have now reached the point in our investigation where Race receives its
first scientific and systematic definition. The well-known philosopher Immanuel
Kant (1724-1804) seemed to react quite strongly against the works of his
predecessors. Living during the German Enlightenment, Kant saw the rise of
Anthropology in the German academy. He was well-read regarding the various
discussions of the idea of Race.
Kant's attempts to give a scientific account of Race are found first in his 'Of
the Different Human Races' (1st. ed. 1775/ 2nd ed. 1777). In this text, Kant
bases Race solely on skin color. In Section III, Kant expresses his
understanding of seeds and predispositions, both of which lead to the formation
of the various Races. If original humans had the potential to develop into one
of four main Races, then their offspring (if they migrate) can actualize one of
the seeds. The actualization of the seed is what Kant calls a natural
predisposition. One's predisposition, leads to one of four actualizations. Once
actualized, one cannot go back and actualize a different seed. Kant understands
this theory of anthropological causation to lead to four races: (1) the white
race; (2) the Negro race; (3) the Mongol race; and (4) the Hindu race. This
classification of Races held sway for sociologists and anthropologists well
into the early twentieth century. The Kantian systemization of the idea of Race
has led those working in Race Theory to deem Kant 'The Father of the Idea of
There are many others involved in the history of the idea of Race (Hegel in
particular). For now, let us complete our reflection by turning to Herder, who
was a student of Kant from 1762 to 1764. In the mid to late twentieth century,
we witnessed a return to studies on Herder; this was best expressed in the
works of Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Berlin thought that Herder's ideas on the
concept of humanity, pluralism, and the futility of Race would aid us in
avoiding the atrocities of the early twentieth century. These ideas are most
clearly stated in Herder's Another Philosophy of History (1774) and Ideas on
the Philosophy of the History of Humankind (1784-1791).
Herder, rejecting the notion of Race, continually stresses the idea of peoples
(whereas Kant held to a notion of race based on skin color). Unlike Kant,
Herder argued that a culture held greater importance than geographical
location. No one people is superior to another. Furthermore, no people is
without culture and no culture is better than another. Cultures differ from one
another, 'but these differences [are] of degree, not of kind.' 'Overall and
in the end,' writes Herder, 'everything is only a shade of one and the same
great portrait that extends across all the spaces and times of the earth.'
All peoples contribute to humankind and encourage the progression toward
humanity, 'not as straight, nor as uniform, but as stretching in all
directions, will all manner of turns and twists.' Moreover, as Herder
writes, 'Every nation has its center of happiness within itself, as every ball
has its center of gravity!' In other words, Herder was interested in the
internal and external influences on a culture and emphasized the individuality
of a given culture.
For Herder, humanity remains an immature potential within all human beings and
needs to be developed over time. Herder states, 'All your questions concerning
the progress of our species, which really would call for a book in response,
are answered, it seems to me, by one word, humanity, to be human.' The goal
of history, for Herder, is for each individual to become truly human, living a
full life. 'Perfection in an individual human being,' Herder writes, 'is found
in that he, in the course of his existence, be himself and continue to become
himself.' Such development concretizes in the perfection of humankind and
the harmonization (plurality) of cultures so that 'we are friends to all men
and citizens of the world.'
According to Herder, we should empathize with each culture from the point of
view of the respective peoples. A culture should be evaluated based on its own
terms by its own values. Even within a given culture, one should seek to grasp
the culture in terms of the specific stage of development in which it exists at
a given point. This, however, was the exact thing that philosophers in the
Enlightenment (and earlier) failed to do. Their ethnocentrism corrupted the
possibility for them to study any other culture on its own terms.
Unfortunately, many seem to be continuing this tradition.
Hopefully this reflection will cause a few of us to rethink the idea of Race.
In the twenty-first century, our denial of the existence of racial
categorization is the first step in embracing human difference and pluralism.
We may not be able to have a perfect world, but we can strive for a harmonious
pluralistic world in which every culture is equal, understood, and appreciated.
If there exists any such characteristic as perfection, perhaps Herder's
Humanitat is such a thing. The first step in achieving this would be to rid
ourselves of thinking that Race exists. Yes, the idea of Race exists, the
experience of Race exists, a racialized world exists. But, Race itself does
not; it is only an idea brought about during a time in world history when human
difference was first realized on a global scale. We shall conclude with a
thought from Herder:
Perfectibility, therefore, is not a deception; it is the
means and final end to all that is called for and made
possible by the character of our kind, by our humanity.'
1. Frederick M. Barnard, Herder on Nationality, Humanity, and History (Ithaca:
McGill-Queen's UP, 2003), 144.
2. Pluralism and cultural cosmopolitanism have distinct definitions in
contemporary Race Theory. For our purposes, these terms, however, will be used
3. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History:
Introduction, trans. H.B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge UP, 2002), 124.
4. Johann Gottfried Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,'
eds. Hans Adler and Ernest A. Menze (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 99.
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 150.
6. See Bernier's 'A New Division of the Earth According to the Different
Species or Races of Men' (1684). Translated by T. Bendyshe in Memoirs Read
Before the Anthropological Society in London, vol 1, 1863-64, pp. 360-364.
7. See Linnaeus's System of Nature Through the Three Kingdoms of Nature (12
editions. 1735-1778), eds. M.S.J. Engel-Ledeboer and H. Engel, Nieuwkoop, B. de
8. Buffon's Natural History: General and Particular was collected in over 44
volumes. 36 volumes were published between 1749 and 1788, 8 volumes were
9. See Bernasconi, 'Who Invented the Concept of Race? Kant's Role in the
Enlightenment Construction of Race' in Race, edited by Robert Bernasconi
(Malden: Blackwell, 2001).
10. Barnard, 134.
11. Johann Gottfried Herder, Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of
Mankind, ed. Frank E. Manuel, trans. T.O. Churchill (Chicago: U of Chicago P,
12. Johann Gottfried Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,'
13. Johann Gottfried Herder, Another Philosophy of History and Selected
Political Writings, trans. Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin
(Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), 29.
14. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 99.
15. Ibid., 100.
16. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 64.
17. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 104.
(c) Mark Westmoreland 2008
Mark W. Westmoreland
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy
Aston PA USA
II. 'THE ROLE OF LOGIC IN PHILOSOPHY: AN APPRAISAL OF BERTRAND RUSSELL'S
STANDPOINT' BY JAHNABI DEKA
The history of philosophy through the different stages of its development
clearly shows the pivotal role played by logic. 'Logic and philosophy' is not
an arbitrary combination of two different words, rather it is the case that
logic is what Russell called the 'essence' of philosophy. That is, philosophy
in its multifarious faces in the hands of different philosophers is always
shaped by some specific logic. This relationship was sought in order to be
viewed from the analytic standpoint by the famous British philosopher and
mathematician Bertrand Russell, who took up the project of showing that modern
logic forms the cornerstone of philosophy. Thus Russell focused on a novel
project, not discoverable in any philosopher earlier to him.
Russell was in the forefront of the new criticism of the Hegelian system. The
chief target of Russell and G.E. Moore, another pioneer of analytic philosophy,
right from the beginning of their philosophic careers, was to attack the
monistic heart of the Hegelian idealism. Russell while criticizing Hegel's
monism simultaneously developed a philosophical system which is pluralistic in
nature. This pluralistic character of his philosophy is the consequence of
Russell's relentless endeavour to put philosophy on a sound platform of logic:
'It is in logic that we have a glimpse of the inner
structure of thought which itself is expressed in language.
Logic provides the foundation to our thought process and the product of this
process is expressed in language. Logic thus imparts consistency to every
possible sphere of thinking. Philosophical discourse as well depends for its
consistency on logic. Logic concerns itself with reality not like empirical
sciences, because logic presents the general structure of the world in its
formal language. By contrast, empirical sciences seek to describe the world and
also explain it with reference to its physical causes and conditions. Aristotle
took logic as an instrument for description of the essential structure of the
world and reality. Aristotle's metaphysical theories -- for example, that the
world consists of substances, their attributes and their relations to the
substances etc. -- are built upon logic.
Logic came to acquire its glory as a distinct discipline after Aristotle. In
his six early works, viz, Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics,
Posterior Analytics, Topics and Sophistical Refutations, collectively known as
the Organon, Aristotle developed a complete system of logic. And this system of
logic was so exhaustive, so wide in its scope that logic was thought to be a
finished discipline for the next two thousand years or so. Especially his Prior
Analytics that dealt with syllogistic reasoning continued to overwhelm
philosophical thinking until the turn of the twentieth century. In fact it is
the same Aristotelian absolutism with Platonic reservations that is repeated in
diverse forms in the hands of the scholastic and medieval philosophers.
Aristotle's syllogism is axiomatic in nature. A syllogism has three
'propositions' (declarative sentences that can be either true or false) one of
which 'follows' with logical necessity from the joint consideration of the
other two. The one that follows is called the 'conclusion' while the other two
are called 'premises'. It is characteristic of a syllogism that the conclusion
cannot include anything that is not said in the premises; the latter being of a
more general nature than the conclusion. Yet the conclusion is treated as a new
derivation. This has the implication that the premises are known before hand;
that is, our knowledge of the general is primary to that of the particular.
A syllogism starts with a major premise which is universal in nature (e.g. all
philosophers are intellectuals). When pressed, how do we come to know the truth
of the major premise, the answer is that it again is the conclusion of a higher
order syllogism (e.g. all knowledgeable persons are intellectuals, all
philosophers are knowledgeable persons, therefore all philosophers are
intellectuals). The process goes on hierarchically upward till we reach the
self evident primary premises. These primary premises are not capable of any
further syllogistic demonstration. They are known by the direct grasp of the
It is obvious how this syllogistic logic has shaped Aristotelian metaphysics.
In his early writings Aristotle distinguished between 'form' and 'matter' and
maintained that this distinction is only logical and that one cannot exist
independent of the other. But afterwards in his metaphysics, he goes to alter
his view to the effect that form can and does exist independent of matter. In
his Categories Aristotle regarded concrete individual things and beings
('Socrates' as distinct from 'man') as primary substances. But later in
Metaphysics he treats these concrete individuals as combinations of matter and
form, and goes to assign primacy to form alone.
Bertrand Russell along with Whitehead and others came forward with a new
'logic' to unearth the loopholes involved in Aristotelian logic. Russell
examined the influence of Aristotelian logic upon many philosophers and brought
to light the fact that these philosophers shaped their philosophy in accordance
with the Aristotelian model of logic. In his celebrated essay 'Logic as the
Essence of Philosophy', Russell claimed that Aristotelian logic is a 'trivial
nonsense', a scholastic collection of technical terms and rules of syllogistic
inference. Western metaphysics is a direct result of the Aristotelian
conception of subject-predicate logic in which we have to posit a subject term
as fundamental. Hegel, as Russell points out, although he started with a
critical attitude toward Aristotle's logic, could not help being influenced by
Aristotle, with the result that he came to believe that if every proposition
ascribes a predicate to a subject, then there can be only one subject, namely
the Absolute. This point is directly based on the Aristotelian belief in the
universality of the subject-predicate form.
Again, the Hegelian confusion between the 'is' of predication and the 'is' of
identity became an object of criticism for Russell. Hegel's example of the
sentences 'Socrates is mortal' and 'Socrates is the philosopher who drank the
hemlock' depicts this confusion. Hegel asserted that in the second sentence,
'Socrates is a philosopher who drank the hemlock', the copula 'is' expresses a
relation of identity between the subject and the predicate. So he argued that
it should be the same relation with regard to the first sentence also, i.e.
'Socrates is mortal'. The copula 'is' is supposed to express the relation of
identity in both the cases. But this cannot be the case as 'Socrates' is
particular and 'mortal' is universal. To say 'particular is the universal' is
self-contradictory. Yet in spite of this obvious contradiction, Hegel did not
suspect the legitimacy of his logic, but proceeded to synthesize particular and
universal in the individual and tried to justify his position by his theory of
the 'concrete universal', according to which subject and predicate exhibit
'identity-in-difference', or 'unity-in-plurality'.
In Spinoza also we find that substance is the reality and its innumerable
attributes make up the infinite nature of reality. His theory reflects the
assumption that reality is expressible only in a language having
Again traditional logic does not make any distinction between the two
propositions, 'Socrates is mortal' and 'All men are mortal'. Both these
statements were regarded as 'A' propositions. But modern logic points out that
there is a gulf of difference between the two. The former is a singular
proposition while the latter is a general proposition. The logical grammar of
the two is completely different from each other. Aristotle and his followers
failed to take notice of the difference and took both the propositions to be of
the same class. Frege and Peano long after Aristotle pointed out the distinction
between the two.
Aristotelian logic is deficient in many other points. One such important
deficiency is that it does not recognize the reality of relations. The
subject-predicate form being the only form of propositions, all other
propositions including relational ones are to be converted to that form. But
Russell points out that it is not possible to convert all relational
propositions to subject-predicate form. In 'A is older than B', this
proposition cannot be interpreted as A's possessing the quality of being older
than B; rather does it express a relation between two individuals A and B. This
recognition of the reality of relations has the further import of recognizing
the reality of a multiplicity of subjects instead of one. Aristotelian logic
with its denial of the reality of relations ends with only one subject -- the
The Leibnizian thesis that the reality is a plurality of monads, which could be
derived from the logic of multiplicity of independent terms, is built upon the
basis of the logic of terms and propositions. In his paper 'Logic and
Philosophy,' L.C. Mulatti gives a lucid presentation of the influence of logic
on Leibniz's philosophy. He writes:
'Did not the structure of Leibniz's metaphysics, for
example, spring from his logical doctrine? Particularly,
his conception of the monad as a substance, which contains
all its states within itself and whose history consists
merely in a gradual unfoldment of these states, is derived,
it is claimed, from his logical theory that all propositions
have one and the same logical form which consists in
assigning a predicate to a subject -- a theory which he
shared with all traditional logicians, including
At this point it may be observed that Leibniz's metaphysics is the result of
two opposite logics. Leibniz had a programme of replacing Aristotelian logic,
which he thought to be grossly mistaken, with a new logic of his own. However,
his profound regard for Aristotle deterred him from executing his plan. Still
unsatisfied, Leibniz introduced pluralism into his metaphysics. Reality is not
one, but a multiplicity of monads. But among these monads he had to deny any
relation as it would go against the Aristotelian teaching. The monads were
therefore left to themselves as self-contained, 'windowless'.
Now, we shall turn to Russell's endeavour to nurture his philosophy basing it
on a sound logical platform. To justify Russell's attempt, we must take up his
theory of definite descriptions, his philosophy of logical atomism and theory
Russell's theory of descriptions was most clearly expressed in his 1905 essay
'On Denoting', published in Mind. Russell's theory is about the logical form of
expressions involving denoting phrases, which he divides into three groups:
1. Denoting phrases which do not denote anything, for
example 'the present King of France'.
2. Phrases which denote one definite object, for example
'the present King of England' (Edward VII at the time
Russell was writing). We need not know which object the
phrase refers to for it to be unambiguous, for example 'the
tallest spy' is a unique individual but his or her actual
identity is unknown).
3. Phrases which denote ambiguously, for example, 'a man'.
Definite descriptions involve Russell's second group of denoting phrases, and
indefinite descriptions involve Russell's third group. Propositions containing
descriptions typically appear to be of the standard subject-predicate form.
Russell proposed his theory of descriptions in order to solve several problems
in the philosophy of language. The two major problems are of (a) co-referring
expressions and (b) non-referring expressions.
The problem of co-referring expressions originated primarily with Gottlob Frege
as the problem of informative identities. For example, if the morning star and
the evening star are the same planet in the sky (indeed they are), how is it
that someone can think that the morning star rises in the morning but the
evening star does not? That is, someone might find it surprising that the two
names refer to the same thing (i.e. the identity is informative). This is
apparently problematic because although the two expressions seem to denote the
same thing, one cannot substitute one for the other, which one ought to be able
to do with identical or synonymous expressions.
The problem of non-referring expressions is that certain expressions that are
meaningful do not seem to refer to anything. For example, by 'any man is good '
we have not identified a particular individual, namely any man, that has the
property of being good (similar considerations go for 'some man', 'every man',
'a man', and so on). Likewise, by 'the present King of France is bald' we have
not identified some individual, namely the present King of France, who has the
property of being bald (France is no longer a monarchy, so there is currently
no King of France).
Thus, what Russell wants to avoid is admitting mysterious non-existent entities
into his ontology. Furthermore, the law of excluded middle requires that one of
the following propositions, for example, must be true: either 'the present King
of France is bald' or 'it is not the case that the present King of France is
bald'. Normally, propositions of the subject-predicate form are said to be true
if and only if the subject is in the extension of the predicate. But, there is
currently no King of France. So, since the subject does not exist, it is not in
the extension of either predicate (it is not on the list of bald people or
non-bald people). Thus, it appears that this is a case in which the law of
excluded middle is violated, which is also an indication that something has
Russell offers the analysis: 'there is one and only one x such that x is the
present King of France and x is bald.' According to this analysis, both
statements about the present King of France can be false, without violating the
law of excluded middle.
Russell did not consider metaphysical assumptions as a prerequisite to his
logical doctrine. His first suggestion of logical atomism was:
'I shall try to set forth... a certain kind of logical
doctrine and on the basis of this a certain kind of
He generalizes this approach to metaphysics in his famous article Logical
Atomism in 1924 as follows:
'Logic is what is fundamental in philosophy... schools
should be characterized rather by their logic than by
Metaphysically, logical atomism is the view that the world consists in a
plurality of independent and discrete entities, which by coming together form
facts. According to Russell, a fact is a kind of complex, and depends for its
existence on the simpler entities making it up. The simplest sort of complex,
an atomic fact, was thought to consist either of a single individual exhibiting
a simple quality, or of multiple individuals standing in a simple relation.
The methodological and metaphysical elements of logical atomism come together
in postulating the theoretical, if not the practical, realizability of a fully
analyzed language, in which all truths could in principle be expressed in a
perspicuous manner. Such a 'logically ideal language', as Russell at times
called it, would, besides logical constants, consist only of words representing
the constituents of atomic facts.
In such a language, the simplest sort of complete sentence would be what
Russell called an 'atomic proposition', containing a single predicate or verb
representing a quality or relation along with the appropriate number of proper
names, each representing an individual. The truth or falsity of an atomic
proposition would depend entirely on a corresponding atomic fact. The other
sentences of such a language would be derived either by combining atomic
propositions using truth-functional connectives, yielding molecular
propositions, or by replacing constituents of a simpler proposition by
variables, and prefixing a universal or existential quantifier, resulting in
general and existential propositions.
In 'On the Relations of Universals and Particulars' (1911), Russell used
logical arguments to resolve the ancient problems of universals. Ordinary
language certainly permits the attribution of a common predicate to more than
one subject: 'a is P' and 'b is P' may both be true. If only particular things
exist, then a and b would be distinct, featureless beings whose likeness with
respect to P could only be understood as a shared -- and hence universal --
property. If only universal things exist, then P would exist in two places at
once, which would fail to account for the distinctness of a and b. Thus,
Russell argued, both universals and bare particulars exist; only a robust
realism can explain both the sameness and the diversity that we observe in
More generally, Russell's lectures on Our Knowledge of the External World
(1914) and Logical Atomism (1918) offered a comprehensive view of reality and
our knowledge of it. As an empiricist, Russell assumed that all human knowledge
must begin with sensory experience. Sense-data provide the primitive content of
our experience, and for Russell, these sense-data are not merely mental events,
but rather the physical effects caused in us by external objects. Although each
occurs immediately within the private space of an individual perceiver, he
argued, classes of similar sense-data in various perceivers constitute a public
space from which even unperceived (though in principle perceivable) sensibilia
may be said to occur. Thus, the contents of sensory experience are both public
From this beginning, according to Russell, all else follows by logical
analysis. Simple observations involving sense-data, such as 'This patch is now
green,' are the atomic facts upon which all human knowledge is grounded. What
we ordinarily call physical objects are definite descriptions constructed
logically out of just such epistemic atoms. As Russell claimed in the fifth
chapter of The Problems of Philosophy (1912),
'Every proposition which we can understand must be composed
wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.'
Careful application of this principle, together with the techniques of logical
analysis, accounts for everything we can know either by acquaintance or by
Modern logic is thus in Russell's philosophy has got the status of a tool in
philosophical analysis. By following the Russellian tool of analysis we can
conclude that what can be known by acquaintance is certain, whereas what can be
known by description is inferred and problematic. Russell's motto by following
which we may be able to reach the certainty is a version of Occam's razor:
'Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known
entities for inferences to unknown entities.'
Russell's logical atomism, in spite of facing severe attacks from different
quarters, is capable of making a demarcation between the pluralistic system of
thought and monistic systems. Russell's attempt to provide a logical foundation
to philosophy contrary to the traditional philosophers thus proved to have
long-lasting influence. Russell's philosophical realism has been no less
influential. As a result, modern logic has become scientific and imparts this
scientific spirit both to philosophy and to other branches of the sciences.
1. Pradhan, R. C., Recent Developments in Analytic Philosophy, P. 35
2. Krishna, Daya , Modern Logic : Its Relevance to Philosophy, P. 53-54
3. Urmson, J. O. Philosophical Analysis, P. 6
4. Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, Logic and Knowledge, P. 323
5. Russell, Bertrand, Problems of Philosophy, p. 54
Ayer, A. J. Russell (The Woburn Press, London 1974)
Barnes, J (ed) Aristotle (London 1924)
Chattopadhaya, D. P. Realism: Responses and Reactions (ICPR, New Delhi 2000)
Clack, Robert J. Bertrand Russell's Philosophy of Language (Martinus Nijhoff
The Hague, 1972)
Griffin, Nicholas The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell, (Cambridge
University Press, 2003)
Henry D. P. Medieval Logic and Mathematics (Hutchinson University Library
Irvine, A.D. BERTRAND RUSSELL- Critical Assessments Vol I-IV (Routledge London
And New York, 1999)
Johnson , W. E Logic (Cambridge, 1922)
Kneale, W. Probability and Induction (Oxford Clarendon Press 1962)
Kneale, W. & Kneale, M. The Development of Logic (Oxford Clarendon Press 1962)
Krishna, Daya & others(ed) Modern Logic- Its Relevance to Philosophy (Impex
India, New Delhi 1969)
Menne, Albert Logico-Philosophical Studies (D Reidel Publishing Company, 1962)
Miller, J. W. The Structure of Aristotle's Logic (London, 1938)
Mc. Cawley, J. D. Everything that Linguists have Always Wanted to Know...
(Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1981)
Passmore, J A Hundred Years of Philosophy (Penguin Books 1966)
Pears, D. F. Bertrand Russell and the British Tradition in Philosophy, Collins,
The Fontana Library, 1967)
Popper, Karl Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge London & New York, 2002)
Reichenbach, H. The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (University of California
Ritchie, A. B. A Defense of Aristotle's Logic (Mind, 55, 1946)
Roberts, G. W. (ed.) Bertrand Russell Memorial Volume George Allen & Unwin,
Humanities Press Inc. 1979)
Russell, B. History of Western Philosophy (Routledge, London & New York, 1961)
-------- My Philosophical Development (Routledge, London & New York, 1959)
-------- Our Knowledge of the External World (Routledge, London & New York,
-------- Logic and Knowledge (Routledge, London & New York, 1988)
-------- Principles Of Mathematics (Routledge, London & New York, 1903)
-------- Philosophical Essays (Routledge, London & New York, 1903)
Taylor, A. E. Aristotle (London 1912)
(c) Jahnabi Deka 2008
Dept of Philosophy
B. Borooah College
III. 'A RESPONSE TO PETER RAABE' BY DAOUD KHASHABA
I have read with much interest and with something like trepidation the article
of Professor Raabe in Issue number 135 of Philosophy Pathways. While I find
myself in full agreement with what Professor Raabe says about placebo religion
and placebo philosophy, I thought his presentation poses a challenge to a
position I have repeatedly put forward. For I maintain that a philosophical
statement is and must necessarily be open to diverse interpretations.
How then are we to distinguish between genuine philosophy and what Raabe aptly
calls placebo philosophy? Before I go grope about for an answer to this
question, I will briefly comment on another point that I find challenging.
While debunking placebo religion Raabe asserts that 'there is no evidence that
there is an 'absolute Truth'.' I will leave aside the question of whether there
is or there is not such a thing as 'absolute Truth'. The answer to this question
cannot be a simple yes or no: it depends on what we mean by absolute Truth. What
I wish to comment on is the assertion that there is no evidence that there is
such a thing. In my view, evidence relates solely to the realm of empirical
facts. Philosophical positions are not amenable to empirical verification and
hence the notion of evidence is simply of no relevance in this area.
I go back to the question about how to distinguish between genuine and fake
philosophy, especially for one who holds, as I do, that philosophical
statements will necessarily be open to different interpretations. There is no
simple answer to this question. It is comparable to the question how to
distinguish between genuine and fake art, given that aesthetic judgment is
essentially subjective. Professor Raabe goes a long way towards providing a
practical -- if not a theoretical -- answer in his baring of the pranks of
placebo religion and placebo philosophy and in his sagacious concluding
I confess that I have taken Raabe's adverse reference to Heidegger with
something like Schadenfreude, but rather than speaking of Heidegger, I will
just say that it should be possible to tell the difference between
intentionally mystifying charlatanry and honest difficulty. Examples of the
latter are to be found in the works of Spinoza and Kant. The difficulty there
stems mainly from the complexity of the system expounded. The body of the work
is clear to anyone willing to make the necessary effort. But it must also be
admitted that in the case of both Spinoza and Kant the difficulty is increased
by the fact that neither of these great thinkers was endowed with the talent
for good writing.
A Plato dialogue, like a Wordsworth poem, is simple and clear, yet profound,
rich, pregnant with inexhaustible meaning. The suggestiveness of both Plato's
and Wordsworth's works, which inspires different insights in different readers,
has nothing of the arcane or esoteric about it.
Let me add a final comment. I think that we cannot confine philosophy to
meaningful 'discourse on everyday questions and issues'. If we try to get below
the surface of 'everyday questions and issues' and examine the underlying
principles and values involved, we inevitably find ourselves confronted with
(c) D. R. Khashaba 2008
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