Bertrand Russell–History of Western Philosophy

My copy used to belong to Malcolm Gleeson – “Lord Malcolm”. It is a first edition.


Rather special too as it is an immediate post-war economy edition (1946) with a recycled map forming the dust jacket.


Lord Malcolm had bought it at Ashwood’s in Pitt Street – another one for Lost Sydney! 

See Bertrand Russell and a remarkable review of the book by Isaiah Berlin in 1947.

To summarise this already over-lengthy notice: This work possesses outstanding merits; it is throughout written in the beautiful and luminous prose of which Russell is a great master; the exposition and the argument are not merely classically clear but scrupulously honest throughout. Important problems are sometimes omitted, or mentioned only to be passed by, but they are never obscured or blurred, never provided with the appearance of solutions which both author and reader feel not to be answers to any genuine question. The author’s bias is open and avowed, deriving as it does from liberal rationalism, faith in the ability of the intellect to solve all theoretical problems, and of rational compromise to compose all practical difficulties so far as this is humanly possible-a view for which he has stood, and indeed fought, all his life. Russell shows a deeper abhorrence of obscurantism and tyranny, particularly that exercised by clerical bodies and individuals, than of any other human attitude, and his book among other things tends to emphasise how few and far between are the lucid intervals during which reason is allowed to function freely, and how fruitful it is, and how beneficent its works can be, when it is freed from fetters. Russell’s own intellectual achievement is so remarkable that future historians of thought will in due course begin to apply to his thought and personality all those canons of scrupulous historical and philosophical scholarship to which the most eminent among his predecessors have been submitted. This book provides a rich source of evidence for his attitudes towards the philosophical ideas of others, and in this, as well as in the dry light and unflagging intellectual stimulus which the common reader may obtain from it, its value and its interest reside.

See also this blogger:

Russell concludes the book with remarks on the tentative nature of “truth” in the scientific method, which he believes essential to philosophy: using it, he suggests, “we can make successive approximations to the truth, in which each new stage results from an improvement, not a rejection, of what has gone before:

In the welter of conflicting fanaticisms, one of the few unifying forces is scientific truthfulness, by which I mean the habit of basing our belief upon observations and inferences as impersonal, and as much divested of local and temperamental bias, as is possible for human beings. . . The habit of careful veracity acquired in the practice of this philosophy, can be extended to the whole sphere of human activity, producing wherever it exists, a lessening of fanaticism with an increasing capacity of sympathy and mutual understanding. In abandoning a part of its  dogmatic pretensions,philosophy does not cease to suggest and inspire  a way of life.    (Russell, p 836.)

My reason for thinking to post this is an item that arrived on Facebook just now: Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy.

Russell concludes the New York Times piece by offering a “new decalogue” with advice on how to live one’s life in the spirit of liberalism. “The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows,” he says:

1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9: Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.