The Debt I Owe Bertrand Russell

For those of you who haven’t heard of Bertrand Russell the following few sentences will suffice.

He was a great mathematician and one of the greatest philosophers of modern times. And what can I say about his family. Will Durant writes in The Story of Philosophy:

For he belongs to the Russells, one of the oldest and most famous families in England or the world, a family that has given statemen to Britain for many generations.

Russell was once offered a political post but he was openly an agnostic and not a Christian. He was told that he would have to renounce this belief or at least keep quiet about it if he wanted to be in politics. He refused.

He lost his chair in the University where he was employed during the First World War in Britain because he openly spoke in favour of not fighting the war. Again quoting Will Durant:

Our embattled pacifist, despite his most respectable origins, was outlawed from society and denounced as a traitor to the country which had nourished him, and whose very existence seemed to be threatened by the maelstrom of the war.

Clearly a learned man, a man of integrity and high ideals and one who fought for his principles.

Enough said.

Now as to the debt I owe Russell.

Firstly he entertained me and I have spent a huge number of hours reading, rereading and enjoying his books. More than what he wrote about it was the way in which he expressed himself that captivated me. He was entertaining, witty and eloquent and could make even a dry subject like philosophy entertaining.

Next he introduced me and stimulated my interest in subjects that I probably would not have interested me if I had not read him. Not just philosophy – Russell also wrote about Self Help, Politics, Political Science, Religion, International affairs, China and a lot of other things. Since I read Russell in my impressionable years it is possible that my life was given a direction that it would not otherwise have taken had I not read him.

Next I would like to think that I have imbibed some of his high ideals by reading and rereading him repeatedly. I am a controversial person and am not known for my integrity but I learnt from Russell, if nothing else, a passion for knowledge and reading. This has stood me in good stead in all the trials and tribulations that have come my way.

Most importantly my reading of Russell taught me the importance of intellectual integrity and thinking clearly. This is something that may be thought to be of interest only to philosophers but it saved my sanity and enabled me to survive in many highly trying situations. It is not too much to say that had I not read Russell I might not be around right now to type these words.

I disagree now with a lot of what Russell said but he himself would wanted me to have a mind of my own.

I remember the many hours I spent in the British libraries in Delhi and Mumbai reading Russell. Unfortunately for security reasons I think, the libraries have closed down and are no longer operating.

For those who want an introduction to the writings of Russell pick up a copy of Will Durant’s book above, There is one 12 page passage in The Story of Philosophy about Russell that will give you a good idea about him and what he wrote about.

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