There is perhaps no other thinker of the twentieth century whose ideas are entitled to greater attention and respect than those of Bertrand (Arthur William) Russell whose invaluable contribution to individual liberty has no parallel. Russell was born on May 18, 1872. Russell imbibed from his father the quality of free thinking. In spite of his being brought up in the Christian faith, he became a far going agnostic and a far going revolutionist.
He held individual liberty as a must. He firmly rejected straightjacket systems of philosophy like Fascism, Marxism or the like for fear that they stifle liberty.
After studying Social Democracy for a brief period in Berlin, he lived near Halsmere, where he wrote ‘A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibnitz’ (1900). His next important work was ‘Principles of Mathematics’.
His celebrated work ‘Principia Mathematica’ written in cooperation with AN Whitehead appeared in three volumes in 1910, 1912, and 1913 respectively in which Russell tried to develop and extend the mathematical logic of Giuseppe Peane and Gottlob Frege. During the same period, he had also written philosophical essays which were later published as ‘Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays’.
He took an active part in No-conscription Fellowship during the First World War. He opposed war since that would mean the extinction of all civilised values. In 1918 his excellent ‘Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy’ was published. His Reith lectures were published under the title ‘Authority and the Individual’ (1949). He received the Order of Merit in 1949. He won Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. His autobiography, one of the greatest books ever written in English, was published in three volumes during 1967-69.
In his ‘Unpopular Essays’, Russell deals with several diverse subjects. His “Human Knowledge” was described as an amazing treasure which encompasses in one volume the scope and limits of our knowledge. In the ‘New Hopes for a Changing World’, he suggests that there are certain beliefs, principles, emotions, and habits of thoughts which have now become obsolete and hence should be given up.
He believed that science can control evil nature and the sound educational system can effectively cure defects in character. An ardent lover of philosophy, Russell hailed the election of Dr S Radhakrishnan as the president of India. Russell said in his message that “Men of independent mind and creative capacity have been isolated and more often than not victimised.
It is a source of sorrow that power concentrated in the hands of men without these qualities has brought human civilisation to a point where its extinction is possible and imminent. It is important to note that India has had a significant contribution to make during this century in behalf of human survival. It is indicative of this contribution that Dr Radhakrishnan enjoys a place of public eminence in Indian life. He has brought precision and high intelligence to the problems of our time, and is one of those who serve to make the culture of India one of the glories of human achievement.”
Russell recommended the study of science since science produces certain habits of mind which are essential for the culture-a disinterested pursuit of truth without any preconceptions, without any bias or without any thought of utility.
The life of Russell was full difficulties, trivialities and tribulations. He, however, did not give up his optimistic view of life. At the fag end of his life, he said in his autobiography that “I found this worth living and will gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.” He died on February 2, 1970, at his ninety-eighth year.
Being a recipient of the Order of Merit and a Nobel Laureate he went behind bars at the age of 89 for writing a pacifist article. Being soft and sensitive by nature Russell was deeply moved by the suffering of mankind. He regrets in his autobiography that “Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, old parents a hated burden to their children and the whole world of loneliness, poverty and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil but I cannot and I too suffer.”
In his last essay (1967) Russell’s optimism about the future of mankind and his humanitarian outlook are clearly manifested in his advice to mankind. “Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love.
There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible; it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture. There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.”
May his loving memory inspire mankind to achieve what he dearly cherished throughout his long life-happiness for the whole mankind and “World Peace”.
By: Dr Chaganti Nagaraja Rao
Th writer is Senior Faculty, Centre for Telangana Studies,Dr MCRHRD Institute.