History, as the saying goes, is an excellent teacher and so is the life of every great man or woman. We have a lot to learn from their lifestyle and experiences about life. Any generation that cannot learn one or two lessons from great men and women of past generations may as well consider itself lost to an extent.
In this article, we shall be exploring the life of a great philosopher, social critic, logician, and essayist called Bertrand William Russell. Russell is famously recognized for his great work in analytic philosophy and mathematical logic; he published his most significant contribution, which was about championing logicism (the thinking that mathematics can be reduced to logic). His work on neutral monism, the refining of the work of Gottlob Frege’s on predicate calculus, and his views on logical types, definite descriptions, and logical atomism are all works that we can derive valuable lessons from.
Historical Background of Bertrand William Russell
Before we proceed with the discussion about the important lessons we can learn from the life of the Russell, it will be good to give a brief historical background of the philosopher.
Bertrand William Russell was born in Ravenscroft a village in Trellech, Monmouthshire, Southeast Wales on May 18, 1872, into an aristocratic home. His family has a rich history in Britain that dates back to the time of Tudor and had established themselves as one of the leading Liberal families in Britain. The scholar’s father was John Russell, the son of the 1st Earl Russell who served twice as the Prime Minister of Britain in the 1840s and 1860s. His mother Katherine Louisa was the daughter of the 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley. Russell had as a godfather the famous utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. Even though Mill later died a year after the birth of the scholar, his works had a significant impact on the life of the philosopher.
The scholar studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Russell died on February 2, 1970, at the age of 97 at his home in Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire in Wales.
Important Lessons from Russell’s life
Russell was a very famous mathematician and philosopher whose life has a lot of lessons we can benefit from. We shall explore some of these lessons now.
- The need to believe in your convictions: There is a lot we can learn from the way Russell lived his life. One of such lesson is the need to stand for what you believed in.
The scholar never supported or believed in war. This was very evident during World War I when he joined forces with some politicians and like-minded philosophers to opposed Britain’s participation in the war. These led to him being fined the sum of one hundred pounds and dismissal from Trinity College, and later being sentenced to a prison term of six months for lecturing against Britain’s invitation to the United States of America to join in the war. With all these happening to him, he never changed his stand against the use of war as a means of settling disputes.
- The need to be determined and resilient in life: Despite losing his parents to the cold hands of death at an early age, Russell did not give up on life. While growing up with his grandparents, especially his grandmother who brought them up with his older brother Frank after the demise of his grandfather, the young mathematician studied and became famous and successful in life. This shows he was never someone to let circumstances stand in his way from achieving his ambitions in life.
- The need to be tolerant of the belief and views of others: Though Russell described himself as an atheist and on some occasions as an agnostic, he was very tolerant of the religious beliefs and opinions of other people. He never denied the existence of God and neither did he acknowledge his existence. He was once believed to have said he cannot deny the existence of the Christian God just the same way that he cannot deny the existence of the Olympic god. His opinion on religion was that despite its positive benefits, it is mostly harmful to people. But despite his stand on the subject of religion, he never condemned the followers or adherents of any religion. This proves the need for tolerance and respect for the views of others even if you don’t believe in such views.
- The lessons to be learned from his advice about right and wrong: Russell believed it was morally wise to show love and purely foolish to exhibit hatred towards others. He preaches the need for people to learn to tolerate each other in a world that was getting more and more tightly interconnected. He emphasized the importance of learning to live with the opinion that others will say things we may not like but stressed on the need to learn to accommodate them. The philosopher continued by saying that is the only way to live together if we do not want to perish together. The scholar’s views contain vital lessons for the present-day generation where hatred and terrorism have become a major problem the world needs to deal with.
There are lessons to be learned from the way of life of famous men and women in history. These people may have had their shortcomings as individuals, but there are positive things in their lives that other generations can learn lessons from. Bertrand Russell is one of such influential men in history that our generation stands to learn valuable lessons from his life. One of such lessons was his tolerance for those that believed in religion. Though he was a believer in religion, he, however, tolerated those that believed in religion. He may not have lived a perfect life entirely which only goes to show that he was human, but his life holds lessons for us to learn from and make our society a better place.
Photo Credit: Hannaharendtcenter