The Late Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (Part 1)

By the time My Philosophical Development was published in 1959, forty seven years after The Problems of Philosophy, Russell’s ‘realist’ and ‘atomist’ phases had given way to a form of empiricism grounded in the first-hand experience of common sense but informed by Hume’s philosophy and complemented by some of the conclusions of modern psychology. The late Russell continued to object to Kant for placing epistemological knowledge inside the subject, through the ‘categories’ while leaving the extra-mental in the object itself. His ...

Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia

Although The Republic was known to scholars during the Middle Ages, the period known as the Renaissance was characterised by a rediscovery and revival (hence the term ‘renaissance’ or ‘rebirth’) of classical antiquity and its model of humanity, based on intelligence, physical courage and moral virtue. Sixteenth-century scholars like More were, indeed, well-versed in Greek and Latin classical authors but their main interest was the study of the Scripture as the key to their theological preoccupations. Thomas More’s Dutch friend, ...

Adorno on Plato’s Concept of Beauty

In one of his lectures delivered in the winter of 1958–59, recently reissued by Polity Press, the German thinker Theodor Adorno, one of the Founding Fathers of the Frankfurt School, discusses Plato’s theory of beauty in his dialogue Phaedrus. With his lifelong preoccupation with the nature and place of culture in Western societies, Adorno repeatedly denounced and deplored the systematic misuse and depreciation of art, reduced to a mere commodity instead of being perceived and experienced as an instrument of ...

Oligarchy and Democracy (Part 2)

Plato regards the descent of political regimes into tyranny as a gradual process in which each type of government is transformed into an even more unjust or imperfect state. The oligarchic man is the son of the timarchic man who has lost his reputation and fortune ‘in some political disaster’. Reduced to poverty, his son neglects the dialectic power of reason which he uses instead to further his selfish materialistic ends. In his craving for money, the oligarchic man ‘is ...

Oligarchy and Democracy in Plato’s Republic (Part 1)

In Books VIII and IX of The Republic, dedicated to imperfect societies, Socrates undertakes a systematic political and psychological survey of the forms of government following the demise of his perfect state, doomed to extinction like all human creations. It is gradually replaced by a new regime, inspired by Sparta’s principles of ‘honour’ and ‘worth’ (or ‘time’ in Ancient Greek), in which war becomes the main preoccupation of rulers chosen among ‘the simpler, hearty types’ instead of the intelligent Guardians ...

Hume’s Sceptical Views of Religion

As an empiricist, Hume believed that all our ideas are originally based on first -hand experience which enables us to grasp the notions of ‘habit, contiguity and association of ideas’. The law of cause and effect is nothing but the psychological interpretation of a sequence of events. For instance, the repeated experience of the conjunction of flames and heat creates an association of ideas, which leads to the idea of ‘heat’: 'All our ideas are nothing but copies of our ...

Descartes on the dangers of false opinion

On the onset of his quest for pure and truthful knowledge, René Descartes decides to ‘overthrow’ all his former opinions since the latter may be built on sandy foundations. However, for fear of finding himself in a mental no man’s land, the philosopher sets for himself the rules of a ‘provisional morality’, the first being ‘to obey the laws and customs of my country’, a precept immediately followed by the injunction: ‘holding constantly to the religion in which, by God’s ...

Russell’s World of Universals

In chapter 9 of his ‘Problems of Philosophy’, Bertrand Russell tackles the nature of universals and their role in our acquisition of knowledge. He first observes that contrary to proper names, like John or London, they are represented in substantives or nouns, adjectives, prepositions and verbs. No sentence can be construed without the necessary presence of at least one word denoting a universal, which explains why ‘all truths involve universals, and all knowledge of truths involves acquaintance with universals.’ Philosophers have ...

The contiguous worlds of Philosophy and Science

In an article published on June 1 2017 in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’, David Papineau addresses the question: ‘Is philosophy simply harder than science?’ Described as ‘the route to truth’, philosophy is described not only as the handmaiden of science but as its original foundation since all scientific theories originate from some form of philosophical position, such as, for instance, ancient natural thinkers like Democritus, Epicurus or Lucretius. Through their denial of any divine intervention in the universe, these ancient ...

Philosophy in Western Movies

The summer break should be an opportunity to get away from academic books and maybe indulge in the discovery of inspiring novels. But what about films? Twentieth-century philosophers have, on the whole, neglected what the French call ‘le septième art’ as very few thinkers critically studied the moving image, with the exceptions of Gilles Deleuze (‘Cinéma’) or Jean Baudrillard who deconstructed the hypnotic power of images in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. But what of the young Sartre, who declared himself an ...