Sunday, May 10, 2009

77c The Third Lecture on Bertrand Russell

Russell's entire philosophical carreer has been dominated by the quest for certainty. In the late 60s he has been driven to admit that it is less attainable than he had hoped.

But nevertheless the desire to approximate it as much as possible has continued to shape his thinking about knowledge and the nature of the world.

Because of this desire he has been continually preoccuppied with thre problem of how to formulate those pieces of knowledge which are rendered undubitable by experience.

And because of it he has consistently attempted to analyze anything which appears dubitable into constituents about which there can be no doubt.

It is an impossibility to follow Russell all the way on his quest. His philosophizing has been a constant development, so whatever I tell you, you always can point at something I left out.

The totality of what we at a given moment call knowledge, in science as well in ordinary life, can be regarded as a more or less organized system of statements which are about some entity of state of affairs.

In our quest for certainty we should analyze less certain statements and try to split them up into more elementary statements which are more certain, In that way we can achieve a refutation of skepticism.

Now, what are these basic statements, these 'atomic' elements? Here Russell follows in the best empiricistic tradition. For Hume the basic elements of knowledge were the sense experiences and impressions.

And here we see what important role logic played in the philosophy of Russell, for these basic elements weren't these mental images or ideas according to him, but judgements.

To understand a judgement it is necessary, that it consists completely of constituents of which we are directly aware. So, all refering and descriptive elements of a judgement only have meaning, in so far as they are based on direct experience or can be analyzed and decomposed into basic statements of direct awareness.

This is the the quintessence of Russell's logical atomism. His fundamental idea is, that there exists an isomorphism / likeness between the structure of the language, which man uses in his thinking about reality, and reality itself.

But here we must not think of ordinary language. What Russell had in mind was some ideal language, based on the rules of logic. Propositional logic is a good example of such a language.

If at the level of judgements the atomic statements are the indivisible units of the ideal language, with which we formulate our knowledge, then it follows that the atomic states of affair in reality are what we formulate in our atomic statements.

In last resort reality, the totality of all atomic events and conditions, consists of basic statements that contribute a property to an object or describe a relation between objects, like "This is green" and "This is above that".

As a philosophy student I was fascinated by propositional logic and the relation it had with natural language. And not only propositional logic......modal logic and deontic logic were even more fascinating.

Modal logic is concerning the concept of possibillity and necessity and tries to understand statements like "It is possible that....." Deontic logic looks into statements like " It is forbidden that......" or "I ought to...."

Russell's philosophical program sounds promissing, but that doesnt mean that there still are no open ends. For instance, the statement "All human beings are mortal". How do you reduce that to basic statements?

You can decompose it into "A is mortal AND B is mortal AND......" and so on, but then you have to face an infinite conjunction. So it is impossible to assess the truth-value of this statement by examining its composing atomic statements.

An other difficulty is the statement "Herman believes, that the earth is flat". To believe something is the case, is totally different from a knowledge claim. So how to esablish the truth-value of this statement.

Nevertheless Betrand Russell had a great influence on the development of philosophy and for those who already have some knowledge of the history of philosophy, thay will recognize a lot of Wittgenstein in all this. So he definitely is out next guest...(^_^)

The Discussion

[13:22] Herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks.....:-)
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: STUNNED
[13:22] Alarice Beaumont: i don't know.. it's quite abtract, isn't it? my head is spinning!
[13:22] Herman Bergson: stunned?
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: LOL
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: YES
[13:23] arabella Ella: ok herman thanks ... but dont you think knowledge is possible only from an individual perspective from which we generalise? in that ...
[13:23] Cailleach Shan: Mr Russell must have been driven mad by the minutae of language...
[13:23] Mickorod Renard: yes,,much of what we 'know' is what we are told
[13:23] arabella Ella: i first perceive something, my perception then becomes a belief and from the belief i move on to knowledge? which i generalise
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: I think will have to digest the words
[13:24] Herman Bergson: You point at a serious issue Arabella
[13:24] arabella Ella: and besides some Wittgenstein (who is one of my favourites) I also see some Chomsky here too ... structure and mind
[13:25] Herman Bergson: Ok...just a momement....
[13:25] arabella Ella: William James for example spoke about our web of beliefs
[13:25] Herman Bergson: First let's try to get Gemma online again...:-)
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:25] Herman Bergson: The main thing with the philosophy of Russell is this in my opinion...
[13:26] Herman Bergson: David Hume thought that the basic elements of knowledge were sensory experiences....
[13:26] arabella Ella: yes
[13:27] Herman Bergson: Russell goes one step further and ...not these psychological elements are the building blocks....but statements about reality
[13:27] Cailleach Shan: Yes, there must an element of sensory experience. I could say.'I believe Bertrand Russell never existed' but that doesn't make it true.
[13:27] Herman Bergson: No..the issue does a statement get its meaning...
[13:28] arabella Ella: but Cail what i said was ... u first have to say ... i perceive russell, then i believe russell exists, then i know russel exists
[13:28] Herman Bergson: and there is the ontological step in Russell's philosophy...
[13:28] Herman Bergson: There has to be a direct experience related to the statement..
[13:28] arabella Ella: i feel judgements are a bit too high on the scale of knowledge acquisition to act as grounding or the base of what we know
[13:29] Mickorod Renard: doesnt that limit everything to first hand experience
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: seems to
[13:29] Herman Bergson: Yes Mickorod..basically yes
[13:29] arabella Ella: yes mick my point of view does but it is from first hand experience that we generalise via what is called induction
[13:29] Mickorod Renard: ouch,,then it is very limiting
[13:30] Mickorod Renard: ohh ok
[13:30] arabella Ella: yes it is ... if we are looking for certainty ... which from a philosophical viewpoint is practically impossible
[13:30] Herman Bergson: Not necessarily Mickorod
[13:30] Mickorod Renard: no?
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: 'seeing is believing' or 'dont trust what you have only heard'
[13:31] Laila Schuman: WHOSE first hand experience.. can we accept another person's first hand experience or must we have it ourself
[13:31] Herman Bergson: Look at scientific research...
[13:31] Mickorod Renard: good point Laila
[13:31] Samuel Okelly: how did russell tackle the point that arabella is making about perception and belief in relation to an "organized system of statements"?
[13:31] Herman Bergson: Yes Laila that is the issue Arabella mentioned..
[13:31] arabella Ella: Example: how do we know that humans are mortal? I perceive humans are born and eventually die, i formulate the belief following which i know and then i generalise my knowledge on the topic
[13:31] Cailleach Shan: Another persons first hand experience is always our second hand experience.
[13:32] Herman Bergson: The basic problem is that we all only have our own mind...
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Cail it is like a used car
[13:32] Herman Bergson: the most extreme position is solipsim
[13:32] Mickorod Renard: so we can extend our philo by using second hand knowledge?
[13:33] arabella Ella: BUT ... and i am not sure what Herman will say to this ... although i know humans are born and die it is not necessarily the case that there will not be humans who may never die
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: oh dear arabella
[13:33] arabella Ella: so my knowledge on the topic may be falsified ... proved incorrect or false
[13:33] arabella Ella: sorry Gemma ... i got carried away ;)
[13:33] AristotleVon Doobie: well, we just do not know for sure, do we?
[13:33] Herman Bergson: You are right Arabella....we have to wait for Popper to solve this problem
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:33] arabella Ella: yes
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: yes,i see ur point Ara,,although human mortality isnt one that we would asume is flexible
[13:34] Herman Bergson: But I think we should keep in mind another thing
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: but many things we think is solid knowledge may change
[13:34] arabella Ella: the problem also arises that the position i raised gives rise to the spectre of relativism
[13:35] Herman Bergson: yes..but there is something else...
[13:35] Herman Bergson: One very important thing is that we can communicate about our knowledge....
[13:35] arabella Ella: another example given in philosophy concerns white swans ... as people had only observed white swans they thought they knew that swans could only be white ... until black swans were found in Australia
[13:35] Herman Bergson: so it is not such a solipsistic thing at all...
[13:36] Cailleach Shan: Communication is one thing Herman, but believing what you hear is not a given.
[13:36] arabella Ella: but do you know where that could lead herman?
[13:36] Herman Bergson: And that is why language now has become a main issue in philosophy
[13:37] Othella Gagliano is Online
[13:37] Herman Bergson: No Cailleach ..I mean scientific exchange.....methods..logic....
[13:37] arabella Ella: we communicate via language and language implies concepts which means all we know is conceptual ... and that removes or threatens to remove the grounds in the world outside our mind for our knowledge
[13:37] Mickorod Renard: yes i see,,
[13:38] Herman Bergson: But that is the permanent debate in those days Arabella...idealism or realism...and Russell was a realist
[13:38] arabella Ella: which may lead us back to Kant and the thing in itself
[13:38] Herman Bergson: yes indeed
[13:38] Samuel Okelly: if what we perceive holds no valid truth value that what did russell show us?
[13:39] arabella Ella: yes herman he also seems to be influenced by G.E. Moore to some extent
[13:39] Herman Bergson: Yes...
[13:40] Herman Bergson: And Samuel..the truth-value of a statement is related to the sensory experience it describes
[13:40] Samuel Okelly: so russell conceded that knowledge began with a belief?
[13:40] Herman Bergson: and in that expereince we experience a state of affairs
[13:41] Herman Bergson: If you mean that you have to believe that there is an extra sensory real world..yes
[13:41] arabella Ella: but herman ... and please shut me up if you wish ... that moves on to sense data which is separated from our knowledge which is formulated in concepts ... and it gives rise to what wilfrid sellars called the myth of the given where he criticised C.I. Lewis
[13:42] arabella Ella: because we can only formulate our sense experience in language which is conceptual
[13:42] Herman Bergson: lol...I think I have to shut you up Arabella.....Havent read Sellars on that issue yet...:-)
[13:42] arabella Ella: see John McDowell for an attempt to dissolve this dualism ...
[13:42] arabella Ella: sorry herman apologies everyone ;)
[13:43] Cailleach Shan: We all learn from you Arabella....
[13:43] Mickorod Renard: no,,that was very thought provoking Ara
[13:43] arabella Ella: ty Mick
[13:43] Herman Bergson: Yes...and your enthousiams is stimulating..:-)
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:43] Mickorod Renard: I was just looking at sensationalism
[13:43] Herman Bergson: But we loose the general line a little I think
[13:44] arabella Ella: ty herman like u i find ontology and epistemology very interesting topics
[13:44] Herman Bergson: Yes and with Russell it all is a little overwhelming...
[13:44] Herman Bergson: he brings in a new approach
[13:44] Herman Bergson: language has become the main focus now
[13:45] Herman Bergson: so semantics will be a topic too
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: ah it better
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: using paint as an analogy for language, you can paint a wall blue but someone else may not see the same blue that you do
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: nice thought
[13:46] Herman Bergson: Aristotle....that is a carload of epistemologicla issues
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed
[13:46] Mickorod Renard: specialy me..i am colour blind
[13:46] Cailleach Shan: lol
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: still a nice thought
[[13:47] Herman Bergson: I think I could spend a whole lecture on what Aristotle said
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: you did
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: remember??
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, it is not new of course
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: put it on the list
[13:47] herman Bergson smiles
[13:48] Herman Bergson: There still so much on these subjects
[13:48] Herman Bergson: Just remember..the last 20 years I taugh computerclasses...not philosophy..
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: historically, we seem to wrestle the same monster
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: we are all in the same boat as students
[13:49] Mickorod Renard: I want to ask if u can put it in a nutshell Herman,,so i can get a grasp of it,,but i know its not so easy
[13:49] arabella Ella: but herman that could be why you like the mathematical and logical aspects too
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: unless for some it is hobby
[13:49] Cailleach Shan: Didn't Russell get bored with philosophy?
[13:49] Herman Bergson: what do you want in a nutshell Mickorod
[13:50] Herman Bergson: I dont know Cailleach
[13:50] arabella Ella: russell's ideas on knowoledge?
[13:50] arabella Ella: i find his use of the term judgements rather strange
[13:50] Herman Bergson: may be my english Arabella
[13:51] Herman Bergson: where I mean proposition or statement
[13:51] Mickorod Renard: what you been saying tonight,,but i think i will be ok,,after a bit of reading up
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: wiki is good
[13:51] Herman Bergson: well in a nutshell...
[13:51] arabella Ella: your english is excellent herman
[13:51] Mickorod Renard: ok?
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: and so is the encyclopedia
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: your english is great
[13:51] Herman Bergson: one.....Russell assumes the existence of an external world...outside our mind
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: better than mine
[13:52] Herman Bergson: second....he believes in the development of a language that mirrors the states of affairs in that external world
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: ok
[13:53] arabella Ella: sounds like Wittgenstein's Tractatus to me herman
[13:53] Herman Bergson: and third....the most basic statements have a likeness with the real state of affairs
[13:53] Herman Bergson: Yes Arabells
[13:53] Mickorod Renard: thank you Herman
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: Wittgenstein was a student of Russell I think
[13:54] Herman Bergson: Yes he was
[13:54] Herman Bergson: Well..I can advise you to do some reading on Russell....
[13:55] Herman Bergson: There are so many details..especially logical details and epistemological details....
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, I intend to do that
[13:55] arabella Ella: so herman ... if i may ... what do you think about russel's ideas on breaking statements down to basic axioms?
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: he is fascinating
[13:56] Herman Bergson: As I said....My lectures are a kind of art of excluding the most of a philosopher..:-)
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: It's a huge field Herman.. there are books on one subject alone ie. 'The Paradox' Can you suggest something general to read... apart from Wiki and IEP
[13:56] Meghan Olifone: yes please
[13:56] arabella Ella: Stanford also have an interesting encyclopaedia on line Cail
[13:56] Herman Bergson: I am sorry Cailleach no..:-)
[13:56] Nick Cassavetes is Offline
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: Rats!!!! Have to do it myself then :)
[13:57] Herman Bergson: Yes Stanford is very good too
[13:57] Herman Bergson: a good student..Cailleach
[13:57] Samuel Okelly: is stanford open access?
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: Ta...
[13:57] Herman Bergson: yes Samuel
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:57] arabella Ella: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ... available freely on line
[13:58] Samuel Okelly: seems like i need to get over there then ;-)
[13:58] arabella Ella: and compiled by professional philosophers so not always easy to understand but useful
[13:58] Mickorod Renard: there is reference to:-logical positvists,,is that a field to look up?
[13:58] Herman Bergson: pretty tough now and then indeed
[13:58] arabella Ella: yes
[13:58] Qwark Allen: ty herman, interesting has usual!!! cya all later :-D work calling
[13:59] arabella Ella: and herman i really appreciate what you do cos it is not easy at all to condense the material as you do here ... admirable to say the least
[13:59] Cailleach Shan: cu Qwark
[13:59] Mickorod Renard: c ya quark
[13:59] arabella Ella: bye Qwark
[13:59] Herman Bergson: Yes Mickorod..we are close to them
[13:59] Laila Schuman: completely agree arabella
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: also saw this
[13:59] Mickorod Renard: wow,,ok
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Qwark
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate:
[13:59] Herman Bergson: thank you Arabella..:-)
[13:59] Gemma Cleanslate: me too off to work
[13:59] arabella Ella: bye Gemma
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gem
[13:59] Herman Bergson: And I thank you all for you participation today..:-)
[14:00] Samuel Okelly: bye gem
[14:00] Mickorod Renard: bye gemma
[14:00] Herman Bergson: Bye Gemma
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you, Herman!!
[14:00] Meghan Olifone: bye
[14:00] Mickorod Renard: bye

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-06-23 05:39:08

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