Shayne Wissler
“… to understand is, above all, to unify.” – Albert Camus

Bertrand Russell: A new philosophy will be needed

August 02 2014

Bertrand Russell, tracing philosophy’s role in society through the modern era, in his History of Western Philosophy:

“So far, I have been speaking of theoretical science, which is an attempt to understand the world. Practical science, which is an attempt to change the world, has been important from the first, and has continually increased in importance, until it had almost ousted theoretical science from men’s thoughts. The practical importance of science was first recognized in connection with war; Galileo and Leonardo obtained government employment by their claim to improve artillery and the art of fortification. From their time onward, the part of the men of science in war has steadily grown greater. Their part in developing machine production, and accustoming the population to the use, first of steam, then of electricity, came later, and did not begin to have important political effects until near the end of the nineteenth century. The triumph of science has been mainly due to its practical utility, and there has been an attempt to divorce this aspect from that of theory, thus making science more and more a technique, and less and less a doctrine as to the nature of the world. The penetration of this point of view to the philosophers is very recent.”

Power mongers do not desire an understanding or justification of ends; they only want efficient means. The extent of their control over society can be measured by reference to how deeply they have penetrated philosophy and eviscerated it of its primary purpose.

Every movement or institution that thwarts a restoration of philosophy to its proper place in society is anathema to a proper civilization.

“Emancipation from the authority of the Church led to the growth of individualism, even to the point of anarchy. Discipline, intellectual, moral, and political, was associated in the minds of the men of the Renaissance with the scholastic philosophy and ecclesiastical government. The Aristotelian logic of the Schoolmen was narrow, but afforded a training in a certain kind of accuracy. When this school of logic became unfashionable, it was not, at first, succeeded by something better, but only by an eclectic imitation of ancient models. Until the seventeenth century, there was nothing of importance in philosophy. The moral and political anarchy of fifteenth-century Italy was appalling, and gave rise to the doctrines of Machiavelli. At the same time, the freedom from mental shackles led to an astonishing display of genius in art and literature. But such a society is unstable. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, combined with the subjection of Italy to Spain, put an end to both the good and the bad of the Italian Renaissance. When the movement spread north of the Alps, it had not the same anarchic character.”

When former authorities are revealed as frauds, the natural tendency is for the “pendulum to swing” to the idea that there are no authorities, not even reason as an authority. The latter false alternative subjectively feels to some as if it is freedom from oppression, but only generates new kinds of oppression: irrationality isn’t practicable and can only lead to “might makes right” when it prevails in society. When the irrationality is centralized, you get a dictatorship; when it is localized, you get an anarchic mob of barbarians. In neither case is the individual free.

“Modern philosophy, however, has retained, for the most part, an individualistic and subjective tendency. This is very marked in Descartes, who builds up all knowledge from the certainty of his own existence, and accepts clearness and distinctness (both subjective) as criteria of truth. It is not prominent in Spinoza, but reappears in Leibniz’s windowless monads. Locke, whose temperament is thoroughly objective, is forced reluctantly into the subjective doctrine that knowledge is of the agreement or disagreement of ideas – a view so repulsive to him that he escapes from it by violent inconsistencies. Berkeley, after abolishing matter, is only saved from complete subjectivism by a use of God which most subsequent philosophers have regarded as illegitimate. In Hume, the empiricist philosophy culminated in a scepticism which none could refute and none could accept. Kant and Fichte were subjective in temperament as well as in doctrine; Hegel saved himself by means of the influence of Spinoza. Rousseau and the romantic movement extended subjectivity from theory of knowledge to ethics and politics, and ended, logically, in complete anarchism such as that of Bakunin. This extreme of subjectivism is a form of madness.”

“Meanwhile science as technique was building up in practical men a quite different outlook from any that was to be found among theoretical philosophers. Technique conferred a sense of power: man is now much less at the mercy of his environment than he was in former times. But the power conferred by technique is social, not individual; an average individual wrecked on a desert island could have achieved more in the seventeenth century than he could now. Scientific technique requires the cooperation of a large number of individuals organized under a single direction. Its tendency, therefore, is against anarchism and even individualism, since it demands a well-knit social structure. Unlike religion, it is ethically neutral: it assures men that they can perform wonders but does not tell them what wonders to perform. In this way it is incomplete. In practice, the purposes to which scientific skill will be devoted depend largely on chance. The men at the head of the vast organizations which it necessitates can, within limits, turn it this way or that as they please. The power impulse thus has a scope which it never had before. The philosophies that have been inspired by scientific technique are power philosophies, and tend to regard everything non-human as mere raw material. Ends are no longer considered; only the skillfulness of the process is valued. This also is a form of madness. It is, in our day, the most dangerous form, and the one against which a sane philosophy should provide an antidote.”

Abandoning rational philosophy in favor of brute utilitarian power leads to inhumane war machines, like Nazi Germany. No true humanist can prefer scientism (the pseudo-philosophy so many of our modern intellectuals now embrace) to rational philosophy.

“The ancient world found an end to anarchy in the Roman Empire, but the Roman Empire was a brute fact, not an idea. The Catholic world sought an end to anarchy in the Church, which was an idea, but was never adequately embodied in fact. Neither the ancient nor the medieval solution was satisfactory – the one because it could not be idealized, the other because it could not be actualized. The modern world, at present, seems to be moving towards a solution like that of antiquity: a social order imposed by force, representing the will of the powerful rather than the hopes of common men. The problem of a durable and satisfactory social order can only be solved by combining the solidity of the Roman Empire with the idealism of St. Augustine’s City of God. To achieve this a new philosophy will be needed.”

To usurp mankind’s natural liberty and replace it with your own ends, control philosophy. To free mankind from this usurpation, embrace a rational philosophy.