Lyceum — Problems 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 of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination, and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy con

Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell serves as a gentle introduction as to how western philosophical thought has evolved, especially in epistemology. It is consistently recommended as a great place to get started if you’re interested in philosophy and are having trouble selecting a book out of the thousands out there.

Bertrand Russell is regarded as one of the founding fathers of analytic philosophy. He was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature for his life’s work, Principia Mathematica and is held as one of the premier logicians of the 20th century. He wrote extensively about mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, epistemology, and metaphysics. He was also a prominent anti-war activist and an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. He was the teacher to Ludwig Wittgenstein whose book Philosophical Investigations is regarded as the most important work of philosophy of the 20th Century. So, a pretty smart guy.

Is there any knowledge in the world, so certain that no reasonable man can doubt it?

Russell begins by questioning common certainties. Questions such as the existence of a table in front of him. He describes the way we gather the knowledge of the existence of the table, using our senses and then using the Descartes method of cartesian doubt goes on to prove that the table indeed can’t exist. This is what really drew me in, this change in the way of looking at things, the freedom that logic gives you. Then, the journey begins, we keep questioning things in a journey to theorize how we gain knowledge. We begin from metaphysics and then connect it to epistemology in an attempt to understand matter, reality and existence and so much more.

The meaning of words is of quintessential importance to the philosopher. Accurately understanding the meaning of the word in the given context helps us prove/disprove our or others’ logic and arguments when trying to explain a subject matter or theorizing.

Russell possesses an encyclopedic amount of knowledge about western philosophy and it’s amazing the way in which he is able to break this information down into bite-size digestible pieces using examples that help to grasp the crux of what he is trying to make us understand.

The book also is a survey of the ideas of important thinkers historically. We are introduced to Berkley, Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, Plato and then some. The book hence serves as a good overview of the major figures in the philosophical world.

Problems of Philosophy is a difficult book to summarize. This is the first primary text I’ve read and I was shellshocked and tired by the end. It was a very tedious read. I had to jot down notes every couple of pages (which I did for the first 5 Chapter) and really think through what he was trying to say. But it was an incredibly satisfying read and I am very happy that I pushed through and finished the book. I don’t think I understood a lot of what was explained in the book, I think it would be presumptuous and for me to think I can. I look forward to re-reading the text in the future.