The Problems of Philosophy - Bertrand Russell

This was a find in the local Oxfam. It's a short (100 pages) book on the basics of philosophy, as viewed by Bertrand Russell. That last proviso means it's rather more constrained than you'd expect a philosophy book to be. It's almost 'the philosophy of maths', cutting out areas of philosophy that don't contribute to the ideas of what knowledge and truth are.

The approach taken is a little uninspiring. As formalised, axiomatic maths basically comes down to 'we claim to formally manipulate the symbols from arbitrary axioms without acknowledging any real meaning, despite our obvious intuitions', his approach to the very basic questions of philosophy (e.g. does matter exist?) comes down to 'we can't know for sure, but we acknowledge the question exists, and choose the obvious answer without a real reason' (e.g. yes). So, we take our intuitive truths in philosophy as axioms, just as we do in maths.

This view is reasonable enough - after all, we can't sensibly prove our basic laws of reasoning using those very same laws, but it's still a slightly sterile view. However, in the end Russell turns it around by pointing out that if very little can be drawn purely from the 'Self', then philosophy encourages us to reach our maximum potential by engaging with and understanding the universe.

So, why did I find the book disappointing? Purely the limited scope, I suppose. I thought this would be an introduction to philosophy, but it's really an introduction to Bertrand Russell.

Posted 2010-06-05.