International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 136 11th June 2008


I. 'Reflections on the Idea of Race' by Mark Westmoreland

II. 'The Role of Logic in Philosophy: An Appraisal of Bertrand Russell's
   Standpoint' by Jahnabi Deka

III. 'A response to Peter Raabe' by D.R. Khashaba



The forthcoming Presidential election has focused minds of Americans, as well as people all over the world, on the question of race. Professor Mark Westmoreland from Neumann College, Pennsylvania offers some judicious insights into the historical role of philosophers in the genesis of the idea of race and racialism, as well as hope of solution through philosophical reflection on the nature of our common humanity.

Stereotyping comes in many forms and disguises. English speaking philosophers might be surprised (but why, exactly?) to find philosophers on the Indian subcontinent who keenly follow the analytic tradition and study the work of the European philosophers Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein. In a valuable summary of Bertrand Russell's contribution, Jahnabi Deka from Gauhati University, India explains why Russell's contribution is so important and why his influence is still felt today.

I was not altogether surprised to receive a swift response from Daoud Khashaba to Peter Raabe's article in the last issue of Philosophy Pathways on 'Placebo Religion and Philosophy'. Khashaba cites the example of Kant as a philosopher whose writings present a tremendous challenge to the student. Goethe is said to have commented that reading Kant was like 'opening a door into a lighted room'. For the majority of us who have to struggle for understanding, that is one mighty heavy door.

Geoffrey Klempner



The twenty-first century confronts us with at least two questions: How do we respond to the horrific events of the previous century, and how do we ensure that such atrocities do not occur again? Many prejudices have been incited by the implicit systemization of Race, or racialization. Moreover, can we today imagine the possibility of living in a harmonious world, a world of pluralism -- the idea that there is a multiplicity of incommensurable values expanding over various cultures? Commenting on our contemporary situation, F.M. Barnard writes:

     Not many social theorists today, it is true, share their
     nineteenth-century precursors faith in unilinear progress.
     Yet, this does not seemingly prevent contemporary
     sociologists and economists from theorizing about political
     development as though progress in one direction -- for
     example, in the possession of telephones or automobiles
     -- must necessarily correlate with the arrival of stable

It appears that many academics, clergy, and laypersons struggle with reformulating their ideas of human progress, particularly in terms of Race. However, over the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of the idea of cultural cosmopolitanism amongst America's youth (although they are unaware of it). Perhaps it is best for us to go back a few centuries in hopes of understanding our historical situation. By tracing the origins of the idea of Race, we may be on firm ground to truly accept diversity and embrace pluralism, or cultural cosmopolitanism.[2] Working through four centuries of racial discourse can be tedious. I promise to make our journey as clear and straightforward as possible while not belittling the ideas of our predecessors.

Why should such a historical trace be of importance for us today? 'Historical change in the abstract sense,' G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) states, 'has long been interpreted in general terms as embodying some kind of progress towards a better and more perfect condition.'[3] In a similar tone, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) asks, 'For what other purpose would humans have joined together, but that thereby they might become more perfect, better, happier human beings?'[4] Furthermore, Hegel claims, 'In our understanding of world history, we are concerned with history primarily as a record of the past. But we are just as fully concerned with the present.'[5] We continue to witness this dilemma. No doubt, we must know our pasts in order to know who we are. However, how much do we impose of our present situation back onto our pasts? Let us reflect upon the historical origins of the idea of race in order to better understand the racialized world in which we live today.

Let us ask ourselves a few basic questions regarding Race. How do we use the term Race? In other words, what do we mean when we say 'Race'? Do you belong to a Race? If so, to which one do you belong? Have you ever acted in a racist manner to another person? Have you ever been the object of racism?

Probably all of us have an experience of Race. Let us ask a few more questions. Are there actually Races that exist? If so, are the groups we categorize as Races actually Races? For example, most Europeans understand Jews as being a particular Race. Most Americans understand Jews in terms of Ethnicity. And finally, is it possible that racialization, the experience of Race, and racism exist, but not Race itself? This final question should remain in the forefront of our minds for the rest of our investigation.

Let us continue this reflection by looking into the history of the idea of race, an idea that was formed not too long ago. In the sixteenth century, European nations began to speedily expand their horizons. Trade, travel, and colonization made the world a little smaller. Explorers came into contact with more diverse people groups and began to keep travel journals documenting their perceptions of physical distinct people. Such travel journals became commonplace for the educated class, particularly the educated who themselves traveled the world.

One such traveler was the physician Francois Bernier (1620-1688), who first used the word Race in its modern context.[6] In 'A New Division of the Earth According to Different Species or Races of Men' (1684), Bernier remarks that 'Geographers up to this time have only divided the earth according to its different countries or regions.' This new division became manifest in terms of Race. While practicing medicine in India, Bernier came to the conclusion that human beings do not make up one Race, but rather a multitude of species. Despite his attempts for accuracy, Bernier failed to give a coherent definition of Race and continued to use species and race interchangeably.

This failure in giving Race a fixed meaning can also be found in the works of Isaac De La Peyrere (1596-1676), Francois-Marie Arouet De Voltaire (1694-1778), and Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782). All three of these men argued for the notion of Polygenesis. In Prae-Adamite (1655), Peyrere claims that Adam and Eve were not the first human beings on earth and that gentiles existed prior to the life of Adamites (Jews). The conclusion of Peyrere and the other adherents to Polygenesis is that we have our origins in various local creations. We are without a single common ancestor, without a single common origin. This conclusion, however, did not keep hold among naturalists and the anthropologists to come later.

The Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), gave the first rigorous, scientific classification of human beings.[7] The 'Father of Modern Taxonomy' included human beings in the same classification system as plants and animals. He suggested that there were four basic varieties of human beings with each variety corresponding to a particular geographic location. Within each location, similar characteristics, qualities, and personalities were found. Only when one stepped outside of a particular location and looked upon all the varieties could one see the magnificent diversity of humans. However, Linnaeus's attempts left much to be desired. In striving to understand the archetype of the human species, he neglected to respect the human differences found within each of the four human varieties.

The last criticism was taken up by Count Georges-Louis Buffon (1707-1788). Buffon sought to bring order to human variety. Instead of classifying fixed, static varieties of human beings, Buffon offered a more genetic account of human variation. As a naturalist, he held that organisms change under environmental influence. In Natural History: General and Particular (1749), Buffon defines species as that which can continually reproduce generation to generation.[8] Buffon, like his predecessors, still lacked a consistent definition for Race and used the term rather ambiguously.

We have now reached the point in our investigation where Race receives its first scientific and systematic definition. The well-known philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) seemed to react quite strongly against the works of his predecessors. Living during the German Enlightenment, Kant saw the rise of Anthropology in the German academy. He was well-read regarding the various discussions of the idea of Race.

Kant's attempts to give a scientific account of Race are found first in his 'Of the Different Human Races' (1st. ed. 1775/ 2nd ed. 1777). In this text, Kant bases Race solely on skin color. In Section III, Kant expresses his understanding of seeds and predispositions, both of which lead to the formation of the various Races. If original humans had the potential to develop into one of four main Races, then their offspring (if they migrate) can actualize one of the seeds. The actualization of the seed is what Kant calls a natural predisposition. One's predisposition, leads to one of four actualizations. Once actualized, one cannot go back and actualize a different seed. Kant understands this theory of anthropological causation to lead to four races: (1) the white race; (2) the Negro race; (3) the Mongol race; and (4) the Hindu race. This classification of Races held sway for sociologists and anthropologists well into the early twentieth century. The Kantian systemization of the idea of Race has led those working in Race Theory to deem Kant 'The Father of the Idea of Race.'[9]

There are many others involved in the history of the idea of Race (Hegel in particular). For now, let us complete our reflection by turning to Herder, who was a student of Kant from 1762 to 1764. In the mid to late twentieth century, we witnessed a return to studies on Herder; this was best expressed in the works of Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Berlin thought that Herder's ideas on the concept of humanity, pluralism, and the futility of Race would aid us in avoiding the atrocities of the early twentieth century. These ideas are most clearly stated in Herder's Another Philosophy of History (1774) and Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Humankind (1784-1791).

Herder, rejecting the notion of Race, continually stresses the idea of peoples (whereas Kant held to a notion of race based on skin color). Unlike Kant, Herder argued that a culture held greater importance than geographical location. No one people is superior to another. Furthermore, no people is without culture and no culture is better than another. Cultures differ from one another, 'but these differences [are] of degree, not of kind.'[10] 'Overall and in the end,' writes Herder, 'everything is only a shade of one and the same great portrait that extends across all the spaces and times of the earth.'[11] All peoples contribute to humankind and encourage the progression toward humanity, 'not as straight, nor as uniform, but as stretching in all directions, will all manner of turns and twists.'[12] Moreover, as Herder writes, 'Every nation has its center of happiness within itself, as every ball has its center of gravity!'[13] In other words, Herder was interested in the internal and external influences on a culture and emphasized the individuality of a given culture.

For Herder, humanity remains an immature potential within all human beings and needs to be developed over time. Herder states, 'All your questions concerning the progress of our species, which really would call for a book in response, are answered, it seems to me, by one word, humanity, to be human.'[14] The goal of history, for Herder, is for each individual to become truly human, living a full life. 'Perfection in an individual human being,' Herder writes, 'is found in that he, in the course of his existence, be himself and continue to become himself.'[15] Such development concretizes in the perfection of humankind and the harmonization (plurality) of cultures so that 'we are friends to all men and citizens of the world.'[16]

According to Herder, we should empathize with each culture from the point of view of the respective peoples. A culture should be evaluated based on its own terms by its own values. Even within a given culture, one should seek to grasp the culture in terms of the specific stage of development in which it exists at a given point. This, however, was the exact thing that philosophers in the Enlightenment (and earlier) failed to do. Their ethnocentrism corrupted the possibility for them to study any other culture on its own terms. Unfortunately, many seem to be continuing this tradition.

Hopefully this reflection will cause a few of us to rethink the idea of Race. In the twenty-first century, our denial of the existence of racial categorization is the first step in embracing human difference and pluralism. We may not be able to have a perfect world, but we can strive for a harmonious pluralistic world in which every culture is equal, understood, and appreciated. If there exists any such characteristic as perfection, perhaps Herder's Humanitat is such a thing. The first step in achieving this would be to rid ourselves of thinking that Race exists. Yes, the idea of Race exists, the experience of Race exists, a racialized world exists. But, Race itself does not; it is only an idea brought about during a time in world history when human difference was first realized on a global scale. We shall conclude with a thought from Herder:

     Perfectibility, therefore, is not a deception; it is the
     means and final end to all that is called for and made
     possible by the character of our kind, by our humanity.'[17]


1. Frederick M. Barnard, Herder on Nationality, Humanity, and History (Ithaca: McGill-Queen's UP, 2003), 144.

2. Pluralism and cultural cosmopolitanism have distinct definitions in contemporary Race Theory. For our purposes, these terms, however, will be used interchangeably.

3. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction, trans. H.B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge UP, 2002), 124.

4. Johann Gottfried Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' eds. Hans Adler and Ernest A. Menze (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 99.

5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 150.

6. See Bernier's 'A New Division of the Earth According to the Different Species or Races of Men' (1684). Translated by T. Bendyshe in Memoirs Read Before the Anthropological Society in London, vol 1, 1863-64, pp. 360-364.

7. See Linnaeus's System of Nature Through the Three Kingdoms of Nature (12 editions. 1735-1778), eds. M.S.J. Engel-Ledeboer and H. Engel, Nieuwkoop, B. de Graaf, 1964.

8. Buffon's Natural History: General and Particular was collected in over 44 volumes. 36 volumes were published between 1749 and 1788, 8 volumes were published posthumously.

9. See Bernasconi, 'Who Invented the Concept of Race? Kant's Role in the Enlightenment Construction of Race' in Race, edited by Robert Bernasconi (Malden: Blackwell, 2001).

10. Barnard, 134.

11. Johann Gottfried Herder, Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, ed. Frank E. Manuel, trans. T.O. Churchill (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1968), 7.

12. Johann Gottfried Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 101.

13. Johann Gottfried Herder, Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings, trans. Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), 29.

14. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 99.

15. Ibid., 100.

16. Herder, Another Philosophy of History, 64.

17. Herder, On World History, 'On the Character of Humankind,' 104.

(c) Mark Westmoreland 2008


Mark  W. Westmoreland Adjunct Professor of Philosophy Neumann College Aston PA USA



The history of philosophy through the different stages of its development clearly shows the pivotal role played by logic. 'Logic and philosophy' is not an arbitrary combination of two different words, rather it is the case that logic is what Russell called the 'essence' of philosophy. That is, philosophy in its multifarious faces in the hands of different philosophers is always shaped by some specific logic. This relationship was sought in order to be viewed from the analytic standpoint by the famous British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, who took up the project of showing that modern logic forms the cornerstone of philosophy. Thus Russell focused on a novel project, not discoverable in any philosopher earlier to him.

Russell was in the forefront of the new criticism of the Hegelian system. The chief target of Russell and G.E. Moore, another pioneer of analytic philosophy, right from the beginning of their philosophic careers, was to attack the monistic heart of the Hegelian idealism. Russell while criticizing Hegel's monism simultaneously developed a philosophical system which is pluralistic in nature. This pluralistic character of his philosophy is the consequence of Russell's relentless endeavour to put philosophy on a sound platform of logic:

     'It is in logic that we have a glimpse of the inner
     structure of thought which itself is expressed in language.[1]

Logic provides the foundation to our thought process and the product of this process is expressed in language. Logic thus imparts consistency to every possible sphere of thinking. Philosophical discourse as well depends for its consistency on logic. Logic concerns itself with reality not like empirical sciences, because logic presents the general structure of the world in its formal language. By contrast, empirical sciences seek to describe the world and also explain it with reference to its physical causes and conditions. Aristotle took logic as an instrument for description of the essential structure of the world and reality. Aristotle's metaphysical theories -- for example, that the world consists of substances, their attributes and their relations to the substances etc. -- are built upon logic.

Logic came to acquire its glory as a distinct discipline after Aristotle. In his six early works, viz, Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics and Sophistical Refutations, collectively known as the Organon, Aristotle developed a complete system of logic. And this system of logic was so exhaustive, so wide in its scope that logic was thought to be a finished discipline for the next two thousand years or so. Especially his Prior Analytics that dealt with syllogistic reasoning continued to overwhelm philosophical thinking until the turn of the twentieth century. In fact it is the same Aristotelian absolutism with Platonic reservations that is repeated in diverse forms in the hands of the scholastic and medieval philosophers.

Aristotle's syllogism is axiomatic in nature. A syllogism has three 'propositions' (declarative sentences that can be either true or false) one of which 'follows' with logical necessity from the joint consideration of the other two. The one that follows is called the 'conclusion' while the other two are called 'premises'. It is characteristic of a syllogism that the conclusion cannot include anything that is not said in the premises; the latter being of a more general nature than the conclusion. Yet the conclusion is treated as a new derivation. This has the implication that the premises are known before hand; that is, our knowledge of the general is primary to that of the particular.

A syllogism starts with a major premise which is universal in nature (e.g. all philosophers are intellectuals). When pressed, how do we come to know the truth of the major premise, the answer is that it again is the conclusion of a higher order syllogism (e.g. all knowledgeable persons are intellectuals, all philosophers are knowledgeable persons, therefore all philosophers are intellectuals). The process goes on hierarchically upward till we reach the self evident primary premises. These primary premises are not capable of any further syllogistic demonstration. They are known by the direct grasp of the mind (nous).

It is obvious how this syllogistic logic has shaped Aristotelian metaphysics. In his early writings Aristotle distinguished between 'form' and 'matter' and maintained that this distinction is only logical and that one cannot exist independent of the other. But afterwards in his metaphysics, he goes to alter his view to the effect that form can and does exist independent of matter. In his Categories Aristotle regarded concrete individual things and beings ('Socrates' as distinct from 'man') as primary substances. But later in Metaphysics he treats these concrete individuals as combinations of matter and form, and goes to assign primacy to form alone.

Bertrand Russell along with Whitehead and others came forward with a new 'logic' to unearth the loopholes involved in Aristotelian logic. Russell examined the influence of Aristotelian logic upon many philosophers and brought to light the fact that these philosophers shaped their philosophy in accordance with the Aristotelian model of logic. In his celebrated essay 'Logic as the Essence of Philosophy', Russell claimed that Aristotelian logic is a 'trivial nonsense', a scholastic collection of technical terms and rules of syllogistic inference. Western metaphysics is a direct result of the Aristotelian conception of subject-predicate logic in which we have to posit a subject term as fundamental. Hegel, as Russell points out, although he started with a critical attitude toward Aristotle's logic, could not help being influenced by Aristotle, with the result that he came to believe that if every proposition ascribes a predicate to a subject, then there can be only one subject, namely the Absolute. This point is directly based on the Aristotelian belief in the universality of the subject-predicate form.

Again, the Hegelian confusion between the 'is' of predication and the 'is' of identity became an object of criticism for Russell. Hegel's example of the sentences 'Socrates is mortal' and 'Socrates is the philosopher who drank the hemlock' depicts this confusion. Hegel asserted that in the second sentence, 'Socrates is a philosopher who drank the hemlock', the copula 'is' expresses a relation of identity between the subject and the predicate. So he argued that it should be the same relation with regard to the first sentence also, i.e. 'Socrates is mortal'. The copula 'is' is supposed to express the relation of identity in both the cases. But this cannot be the case as 'Socrates' is particular and 'mortal' is universal. To say 'particular is the universal' is self-contradictory. Yet in spite of this obvious contradiction, Hegel did not suspect the legitimacy of his logic, but proceeded to synthesize particular and universal in the individual and tried to justify his position by his theory of the 'concrete universal', according to which subject and predicate exhibit 'identity-in-difference', or 'unity-in-plurality'.

In Spinoza also we find that substance is the reality and its innumerable attributes make up the infinite nature of reality. His theory reflects the assumption that reality is expressible only in a language having subject-predicate form.

Again traditional logic does not make any distinction between the two propositions, 'Socrates is mortal' and 'All men are mortal'. Both these statements were regarded as 'A' propositions. But modern logic points out that there is a gulf of difference between the two. The former is a singular proposition while the latter is a general proposition. The logical grammar of the two is completely different from each other. Aristotle and his followers failed to take notice of the difference and took both the propositions to be of the same class. Frege and Peano long after Aristotle pointed out the distinction between the two.

Aristotelian logic is deficient in many other points. One such important deficiency is that it does not recognize the reality of relations. The subject-predicate form being the only form of propositions, all other propositions including relational ones are to be converted to that form. But Russell points out that it is not possible to convert all relational propositions to subject-predicate form. In 'A is older than B', this proposition cannot be interpreted as A's possessing the quality of being older than B; rather does it express a relation between two individuals A and B. This recognition of the reality of relations has the further import of recognizing the reality of a multiplicity of subjects instead of one. Aristotelian logic with its denial of the reality of relations ends with only one subject -- the Absolute.

The Leibnizian thesis that the reality is a plurality of monads, which could be derived from the logic of multiplicity of independent terms, is built upon the basis of the logic of terms and propositions. In his paper 'Logic and Philosophy,' L.C. Mulatti gives a lucid presentation of the influence of logic on Leibniz's philosophy. He writes:

     'Did not the structure of Leibniz's metaphysics, for
     example, spring from his logical doctrine? Particularly,
     his conception of the monad as a substance, which contains
     all its states within itself and whose history consists
     merely in a gradual unfoldment of these states, is derived,
     it is claimed, from his logical theory that all propositions
     have one and the same logical form which consists in
     assigning a predicate to a subject -- a theory which he
     shared with all traditional logicians, including

At this point it may be observed that Leibniz's metaphysics is the result of two opposite logics. Leibniz had a programme of replacing Aristotelian logic, which he thought to be grossly mistaken, with a new logic of his own. However, his profound regard for Aristotle deterred him from executing his plan. Still unsatisfied, Leibniz introduced pluralism into his metaphysics. Reality is not one, but a multiplicity of monads. But among these monads he had to deny any relation as it would go against the Aristotelian teaching. The monads were therefore left to themselves as self-contained, 'windowless'.

Now, we shall turn to Russell's endeavour to nurture his philosophy basing it on a sound logical platform. To justify Russell's attempt, we must take up his theory of definite descriptions, his philosophy of logical atomism and theory of types.

Russell's theory of descriptions was most clearly expressed in his 1905 essay 'On Denoting', published in Mind. Russell's theory is about the logical form of expressions involving denoting phrases, which he divides into three groups:

     1. Denoting phrases which do not denote anything, for
     example 'the present King of France'.
     2. Phrases which denote one definite object, for example
     'the present King of England' (Edward VII at the time
     Russell was writing). We need not know which object the
     phrase refers to for it to be unambiguous, for example 'the
     tallest spy' is a unique individual but his or her actual
     identity is unknown).
     3. Phrases which denote ambiguously, for example, 'a man'.

Definite descriptions involve Russell's second group of denoting phrases, and indefinite descriptions involve Russell's third group. Propositions containing descriptions typically appear to be of the standard subject-predicate form. Russell proposed his theory of descriptions in order to solve several problems in the philosophy of language. The two major problems are of (a) co-referring expressions and (b) non-referring expressions.

The problem of co-referring expressions originated primarily with Gottlob Frege as the problem of informative identities. For example, if the morning star and the evening star are the same planet in the sky (indeed they are), how is it that someone can think that the morning star rises in the morning but the evening star does not? That is, someone might find it surprising that the two names refer to the same thing (i.e. the identity is informative). This is apparently problematic because although the two expressions seem to denote the same thing, one cannot substitute one for the other, which one ought to be able to do with identical or synonymous expressions.

The problem of non-referring expressions is that certain expressions that are meaningful do not seem to refer to anything. For example, by 'any man is good ' we have not identified a particular individual, namely any man, that has the property of being good (similar considerations go for 'some man', 'every man', 'a man', and so on). Likewise, by 'the present King of France is bald' we have not identified some individual, namely the present King of France, who has the property of being bald (France is no longer a monarchy, so there is currently no King of France).

Thus, what Russell wants to avoid is admitting mysterious non-existent entities into his ontology. Furthermore, the law of excluded middle requires that one of the following propositions, for example, must be true: either 'the present King of France is bald' or 'it is not the case that the present King of France is bald'. Normally, propositions of the subject-predicate form are said to be true if and only if the subject is in the extension of the predicate. But, there is currently no King of France. So, since the subject does not exist, it is not in the extension of either predicate (it is not on the list of bald people or non-bald people). Thus, it appears that this is a case in which the law of excluded middle is violated, which is also an indication that something has gone wrong.

Russell offers the analysis: 'there is one and only one x such that x is the present King of France and x is bald.' According to this analysis, both statements about the present King of France can be false, without violating the law of excluded middle.

Russell did not consider metaphysical assumptions as a prerequisite to his logical doctrine. His first suggestion of logical atomism was:

     'I shall try to set forth... a certain kind of logical
     doctrine and on the basis of this a certain kind of

He generalizes this approach to metaphysics in his famous article Logical Atomism in 1924 as follows:

     'Logic is what is fundamental in philosophy... schools
     should be characterized rather by their logic than by
     their metaphysic.[4]

Metaphysically, logical atomism is the view that the world consists in a plurality of independent and discrete entities, which by coming together form facts. According to Russell, a fact is a kind of complex, and depends for its existence on the simpler entities making it up. The simplest sort of complex, an atomic fact, was thought to consist either of a single individual exhibiting a simple quality, or of multiple individuals standing in a simple relation.

The methodological and metaphysical elements of logical atomism come together in postulating the theoretical, if not the practical, realizability of a fully analyzed language, in which all truths could in principle be expressed in a perspicuous manner. Such a 'logically ideal language', as Russell at times called it, would, besides logical constants, consist only of words representing the constituents of atomic facts.

In such a language, the simplest sort of complete sentence would be what Russell called an 'atomic proposition', containing a single predicate or verb representing a quality or relation along with the appropriate number of proper names, each representing an individual. The truth or falsity of an atomic proposition would depend entirely on a corresponding atomic fact. The other sentences of such a language would be derived either by combining atomic propositions using truth-functional connectives, yielding molecular propositions, or by replacing constituents of a simpler proposition by variables, and prefixing a universal or existential quantifier, resulting in general and existential propositions.

In 'On the Relations of Universals and Particulars' (1911), Russell used logical arguments to resolve the ancient problems of universals. Ordinary language certainly permits the attribution of a common predicate to more than one subject: 'a is P' and 'b is P' may both be true. If only particular things exist, then a and b would be distinct, featureless beings whose likeness with respect to P could only be understood as a shared -- and hence universal -- property. If only universal things exist, then P would exist in two places at once, which would fail to account for the distinctness of a and b. Thus, Russell argued, both universals and bare particulars exist; only a robust realism can explain both the sameness and the diversity that we observe in ordinary experience.

More generally, Russell's lectures on Our Knowledge of the External World (1914) and Logical Atomism (1918) offered a comprehensive view of reality and our knowledge of it. As an empiricist, Russell assumed that all human knowledge must begin with sensory experience. Sense-data provide the primitive content of our experience, and for Russell, these sense-data are not merely mental events, but rather the physical effects caused in us by external objects. Although each occurs immediately within the private space of an individual perceiver, he argued, classes of similar sense-data in various perceivers constitute a public space from which even unperceived (though in principle perceivable) sensibilia may be said to occur. Thus, the contents of sensory experience are both public and objective.

From this beginning, according to Russell, all else follows by logical analysis. Simple observations involving sense-data, such as 'This patch is now green,' are the atomic facts upon which all human knowledge is grounded. What we ordinarily call physical objects are definite descriptions constructed logically out of just such epistemic atoms. As Russell claimed in the fifth chapter of The Problems of Philosophy (1912),

     'Every proposition which we can understand must be composed
     wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.'[5]

Careful application of this principle, together with the techniques of logical analysis, accounts for everything we can know either by acquaintance or by description.

Modern logic is thus in Russell's philosophy has got the status of a tool in philosophical analysis. By following the Russellian tool of analysis we can conclude that what can be known by acquaintance is certain, whereas what can be known by description is inferred and problematic. Russell's motto by following which we may be able to reach the certainty is a version of Occam's razor:

     'Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known
     entities for inferences to unknown entities.'

Russell's logical atomism, in spite of facing severe attacks from different quarters, is capable of making a demarcation between the pluralistic system of thought and monistic systems. Russell's attempt to provide a logical foundation to philosophy contrary to the traditional philosophers thus proved to have long-lasting influence. Russell's philosophical realism has been no less influential. As a result, modern logic has become scientific and imparts this scientific spirit both to philosophy and to other branches of the sciences.


1. Pradhan, R. C., Recent Developments in Analytic Philosophy, P. 35

2. Krishna, Daya , Modern Logic : Its Relevance to Philosophy, P. 53-54

3. Urmson, J. O. Philosophical Analysis, P. 6

4. Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, Logic and Knowledge, P. 323

5. Russell, Bertrand, Problems of Philosophy, p. 54


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Pears, D. F. Bertrand Russell and the British Tradition in Philosophy, Collins, The Fontana Library, 1967)

Popper, Karl Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge London & New York, 2002)

Reichenbach, H. The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (University of California Press, 1966)

Ritchie, A. B. A Defense of Aristotle's Logic (Mind, 55, 1946)

Roberts, G. W. (ed.) Bertrand Russell Memorial Volume George Allen & Unwin, Humanities Press Inc. 1979)

Russell, B. History of Western Philosophy (Routledge, London & New York, 1961)

-------- My Philosophical Development (Routledge, London & New York, 1959)

-------- Our Knowledge of the External World (Routledge, London & New York, 1914)

-------- Logic and Knowledge (Routledge, London & New York, 1988)

-------- Principles Of Mathematics (Routledge, London & New York, 1903)

-------- Philosophical Essays (Routledge, London & New York, 1903)

Taylor, A. E. Aristotle (London 1912)

(c) Jahnabi Deka 2008


Dept of Philosophy B. Borooah College Gauhati University Guwahati City Assam, India



I have read with much interest and with something like trepidation the article of Professor Raabe in Issue number 135 of Philosophy Pathways. While I find myself in full agreement with what Professor Raabe says about placebo religion and placebo philosophy, I thought his presentation poses a challenge to a position I have repeatedly put forward. For I maintain that a philosophical statement is and must necessarily be open to diverse interpretations.

How then are we to distinguish between genuine philosophy and what Raabe aptly calls placebo philosophy? Before I go grope about for an answer to this question, I will briefly comment on another point that I find challenging. While debunking placebo religion Raabe asserts that 'there is no evidence that there is an 'absolute Truth'.' I will leave aside the question of whether there is or there is not such a thing as 'absolute Truth'. The answer to this question cannot be a simple yes or no: it depends on what we mean by absolute Truth. What I wish to comment on is the assertion that there is no evidence that there is such a thing. In my view, evidence relates solely to the realm of empirical facts. Philosophical positions are not amenable to empirical verification and hence the notion of evidence is simply of no relevance in this area.

I go back to the question about how to distinguish between genuine and fake philosophy, especially for one who holds, as I do, that philosophical statements will necessarily be open to different interpretations. There is no simple answer to this question. It is comparable to the question how to distinguish between genuine and fake art, given that aesthetic judgment is essentially subjective. Professor Raabe goes a long way towards providing a practical -- if not a theoretical -- answer in his baring of the pranks of placebo religion and placebo philosophy and in his sagacious concluding paragraph.

I confess that I have taken Raabe's adverse reference to Heidegger with something like Schadenfreude, but rather than speaking of Heidegger, I will just say that it should be possible to tell the difference between intentionally mystifying charlatanry and honest difficulty. Examples of the latter are to be found in the works of Spinoza and Kant. The difficulty there stems mainly from the complexity of the system expounded. The body of the work is clear to anyone willing to make the necessary effort. But it must also be admitted that in the case of both Spinoza and Kant the difficulty is increased by the fact that neither of these great thinkers was endowed with the talent for good writing.

A Plato dialogue, like a Wordsworth poem, is simple and clear, yet profound, rich, pregnant with inexhaustible meaning. The suggestiveness of both Plato's and Wordsworth's works, which inspires different insights in different readers, has nothing of the arcane or esoteric about it.

Let me add a final comment. I think that we cannot confine philosophy to meaningful 'discourse on everyday questions and issues'. If we try to get below the surface of 'everyday questions and issues' and examine the underlying principles and values involved, we inevitably find ourselves confronted with metaphysical questions.

(c) D. R. Khashaba 2008

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