Late in life Bertrand Russell said that were he young again he would not take to philosophy. What value, if any, did he attach to philosophy at that point?

  • 1
    Great, interesting interview! Another thing which is appreciated is to supplement links with a relevant extract. This is to have lasting information even in case the link dies.
    – Johan
    Commented Mar 5 at 13:32

1 Answer 1


Later in that interview Russell says that philosophy is valuable when practiced from a feeling of kindness and without too much certainty. On that I can agree with him.

But at the point in the interview that he makes the comment you linked to, he's talking about world politics, so he is not so much dismissing philosophy as he is thinking about what might be more useful to study in 1952 from the perspective of solving the world's political problems. He mentions physics (if able), history, psychology especially mass psychology, and politics. We could speculate that he mentions physics because of the recent world-altering leaps forward in physics at that time, especially nuclear physics. The other topics are all about or related to politics.

  • I’m afraid that doesn’t answer the question. Namely, given his changing views on the importance of philosophy — which he discusses from a different angle earlier in the interview — how do his later views compare to, for example, the statement on its value in his 1912 Problems of Philosophy?
    – h_undatus
    Commented Mar 5 at 4:11
  • @h_undatus Your question was "what value did he attach to philosophy at that point?" where "that point" is the 1952 interview. What value he attached in 1912 isn't relevant. He had 40 years to change his mind, and did so.
    – causative
    Commented Mar 5 at 4:17
  • It is relevant, because as I said he elsewhere in the interview discussed one way in which philosophy lost value for him relative to his earlier views. The question is what he thought about the value of philosophy in 1952, and not only that he considered other disciplines more worthwhile.
    – h_undatus
    Commented Mar 5 at 6:14
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    @h_undatus read his autobiography- I did when I was younger, but I can hardly remember a word of it! Commented Mar 5 at 6:41
  • @h_undatus I don't understand your objections to causative's answer. Russell was a mathematician and a philosopher. Given your quote, he probably wouldn't have studied philosophy (or, at least, so intensely) if he had the knowledge that he had at the time of the interview. Let's say he studied physics - obviously, then, he would be interested in other branches of mathematics, related to e.x. gauge theory and not to mathematical logic. Does that mean that Russell didn't attach much value to mathematical logic? I don't think so, given that he once said that Aristotle was a great... [1/2] Commented Mar 20 at 20:19

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