The problems of philosophy summary

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students). New York: viking Press, 1972. An interpretation of Russells life and thought by a major British philosopher. Daniel, david Mills, and Megan Daniel. Briefly: Russells The Problems of Philosophy. London: scm press, 2007. A concise monograph designed to introduce interested readers to all important features of Russells treatise.

His first step in this argument is to introduce the concept of sense data, or the things that are immediately known in sensation. Colors, sounds, smells, and so forth are examples of sense data. Russell is careful to distinguish sense data from sensation, write which is the mental act of being aware of sense data. Without this distinction, there is a tendency to think that the only things that can be known or can exist are mental, and this tendency leads to either skepticism or idealism. Russell next asks about the relation between sense data and mind-independent physical objects. While skeptical arguments may demonstrate that the existence of physical objects can be denied without contradiction, russell argues that there are good reasons for thinking that such objects do exist. His argument begins with the fact that the patterns of sense data experienced by the mind are not totally chaotic but are, rather, relatively coherent. This fact requires an explanation, and, according to russell, person the best explanation is that the sense data are caused by the interaction of physical objects and a persons sense organs. This interaction ultimately causes the person to be aware of a particular pattern of sense data. Thus, since positing the existence of physical objects provides the best explanation for the patterns of sense data that are experienced by humans, it is reasonable to believe that there is an objective world of mind-independent physical objects.

the problems of philosophy summary

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It is usually taken for granted that sensory experience reveals what the table is like: that it is brown, smooth, rectangular, and so forth. This seeming obviousness, however, ignores, for example, that the table may not look uniformly brown. As a perceiver changes location, the color of the table will appear to change. The same is true for all of the properties of the table apprehended through sensory experience: They may seem gpa stable, but they are in fact alterable based on the situation and attitude of a perceiver. While this fact is usually ignored in everyday life, it is vitally important to a philosopher trying to determine whether sensory experience yields genuine knowledge of the external world. Physical objects can appear to have incompatible properties: A table that appears to be smooth to the naked eye may appear to be rough when viewed under a microscope. However, russell believes, physical objects cannot really have incompatible properties; thus, it seems to him that perception can reveal only how things appear and not how they really are. Based on considerations such as these, many philosophers have adopted attitudes of either skepticism (the real world is unknowable) or idealism (the world is essentially mental). Russell argues that drawing either a skeptical or an idealist conclusion is not mandatory.

the problems of philosophy summary

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Bertrand Russells, the Problems of Philosophy is an introduction to some of the central issues in metaphysics and epistemology. The work is still regarded as one of the best introductions to philosophy, and it is also historically significant as one of the first book-length examples of analytic philosophy, the type of philosophy founded by russell, his Cambridge colleague. Moore, and German mathematician Gottlob Frege. Analytic philosophy is distinguished by its emphasis on clarity and the attempt to establish its conclusions by the strongest rational means possible. While the book deals with a number of philosophical issues, much of it is centered on the problem of the external world and the problem of a priori knowledge—that is, knowledge that in principle you can be gained through thought alone, independent of empirical experience. Russell begins by asking whether there is any knowledge that is so certain that no reasonable person can doubt. While it may seem obvious that there is such knowledge, russell shows that it is not easy to arrive at an adequate answer to this question. Take for example an ordinary table.

By thus making a barrier between subject and object, such personal and private things become a prison to the intellect. The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now, without hopes and fears, without the trammels of customary beliefs and traditional prejudices, calmly, dispassionately, in the sole and exclusive desire of knowledge - knowledge as impersonal, as purely contemplative,. Hence also the free intellect will value more the abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of private history do not enter, than the knowledge brought by the senses, and dependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personal point of view. The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one man's deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe consists man's true freedom, and his liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears. Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake.

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the problems of philosophy summary

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This enlargement of Self is not obtained when, taking most the self as it is, we try to show that the world is so similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admission of what seems alien. The desire to prove this is a form of self-assertion and, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth of Self which it desires, and of which the self knows that it is capable. Self-assertion, in philosophic speculation as elsewhere, views the world as a means to its own ends; thus it makes the world of less account than Self, and the self sets bounds to the greatness of its goods. In contemplation, on the contrary, we start from the not-Self, and through its greatness the boundaries of Self are enlarged; through the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity. For this reason greatness of soul is not fostered by those philosophies which assimilate the universe to man. Knowledge is a form of union of Self and not-Self; like all union, it is impaired by dominion, and therefore by any attempt to force the universe into conformity with what we find in ourselves.

There is a widespread philosophical tendency towards the view which tells us that Man is the measure of all things, that truth is man-made, that space and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind, and that, if there be anything not. This view, if our previous discussions were correct, is untrue; but in addition to being untrue, it has the effect of robbing philosophic contemplation of all that gives it value, since it fetters contemplation to self. What it calls knowledge is not a union with the not-Self, but a set of prejudices, habits, and desires, making an impenetrable veil between us and the world beyond. The man who finds pleasure in such a theory of knowledge is like the man who never leaves the domestic circle for fear his word might not be law. The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfaction in every enlargement of the not-Self, in everything that magnifies the objects contemplated, and thereby the subject contemplating. Everything, in contemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends upon habit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs the union which the intellect seeks.

The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the circle of his private interests: family and friends may be included, but the outer world is not regarded except as it may help or hinder what comes within the circle of instinctive wishes. In such a life there is something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free. The private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleagured fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and that ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will.


In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife. One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation. Philosophic contemplation does not, in its widest survey, divide the universe into two hostile camps - friends and foes, helpful and hostile, good and bad - it views the whole impartially. Philosophic contemplation, when it is unalloyed, does not aim at proving that the rest of the universe is akin to man. All acquisition of knowledge is an enlargement of the self, but this enlargement is best attained when it is not directly sought. It is obtained when the desire for knowledge is alone operative, by a study which does not wish in advance that its objects should have this or that character, but adapts the self to the characters which it finds in its objects.

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We cannot, therefore, include as part of the value of philosophy any mom definite set of answers to such questions. Hence, once more, the value of philosophy must not depend upon any supposed body of definitely ascertainable knowledge to be acquired by those who study. The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled reviews into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive. Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy has a value - perhaps its chief value - through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aims resulting from this contemplation.

the problems of philosophy summary

Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true. Yet, however slight may be the hope of discovering an answer, it is part of the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of their importance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that. Many philosophers, it is true, have held that philosophy could establish the truth of certain answers to such fundamental questions. They have supposed that what is of most importance in religious beliefs could be proved by strict demonstration to be true. In order to judge of such attempts, it is necessary to take a survey of human knowledge, paper and to form an opinion as to its methods and its limitations. On such a subject it would be unwise to pronounce dogmatically; but if the investigations of our previous chapters have not led us astray, we shall be compelled to renounce the hope of finding philosophical proofs of religious beliefs.

you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton's great work was called 'the mathematical principles of natural philosophy'. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the. This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions - and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life - which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms?

But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the movie value of philosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called 'practical' men. The 'practical' man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time. Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions.

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Chapter xv, h aving now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies. This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conception of the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or primarily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of the effect. Thus utility does not belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at shakespeare all for others than students of philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought.


the problems of philosophy summary
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First published in 1912, bertrand Russell s The Problems of Philosophy has nev. Summary of some primary hurdles that emerged in the modern philosophy. Having now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of).

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  1. Enotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Problems of Philosophy. The Problems of Philosophy is a 1912 book by bertrand Russell, in which Russell at tempts to create a brief and accessible guide to the problems of philosophy. The Problems of Philosophy is one of Bertrand Russell s attemp ts to create. ( Summary from wikipedia).

  2. In this lesson, you will think about what is real compared with what is in our min. You ll learn how Bertrand Russell described our perception. The The Problems of Philosophy community note includes chapter-by-chapter summary and analysis, character list, theme list, historical context, author. Complete summary of Bertrand Russell s The Problems of Philosophy.

  3. Chapter 14 - the limits of Philosophical Knowl edge chapter. Order The Problems of Philosophy. A short summary of Bertrand Russell s Problems of Philosophy. This free synops is covers all the crucial plot points of Problems of Philosophy.

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