Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Russell's History, Quick Impressions

He can't resist political prognostication and commentary--even when it's not relevant to the topic at hand. Maybe we could excuse this--he is, after all, writing in 1943--but I get the feeling this inspired Dawkins to take up a similar habit, in which it comes off as immature and stupid. Russell is smarter than Dawkins, so at least he's not as inane: still, we can wish he had provided a better example for his successors.

Much early philosophy is silly. On the other hand, Russell thinks the whole Platonic problem of universals is an artifact of sloppy language, and I doubt it. Nonetheless, there's a lot of crap in Greek thought.

St. Augustine was awesome. Did you know he had the cogito before Descartes?

Spinoza and Kant I've already discussed.

Russell has interesting criticisms of Hume (and Kant). Hume believed causality was nothing more than a relationship we suppose between two things that often happen in association with one another. But Russell points out that this won't do: Hume essentially says, when A and B happen close to each other in time, we believe A causes B. But why do we believe this? Because the close association causes us to believe A causes B! But we can't presume causation in an argument attempting to prove causation doesn't, as commonly conceived, exist!

I'd never heard of Bergson. Sounds a little nuts.

Nietzche writes very well.

Russell goes far too easy on the pragmatists, probably because Dewey was still alive at the time of writing. I don't think there's a sillier idea of truth out there than the pragmatic variant.

A lot of folks get little time, but appear to deserve it: Schopenhauer, Marx, Aquinas. But if Schopenhauer's so vacuous, why was Borges such a fan?

Russell's criticism of Hegel is funny. Hegel thought everything was timeless: like Kant, he thought there is no time. But, simultaneously, Hegel the historian thought nations clash and rise and conquer in a continually progressive manner. But how can there be progression without time?

Russell: "Nor is there any reason, if reality is timeless, why the later parts of the process should embody higher categories than the earlier parts--unless one were to adopt the blasphemous supposition that the Universe was gradually learning Hegel's philosophy."

Unfair perhaps, but still worth a yuk.

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