In This Article Bertrand Russell

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • The Very Early Period (1890–1898)
  • Ethics

Philosophy Bertrand Russell
by
Nicholas Griffin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0185

Introduction

Bertrand Russell (b. 1872–d. 1970) was arguably the most important philosopher of the 20th century. He was one of the main founders of what came to be known as analytic philosophy, which was preeminent in the English-speaking world throughout most of the 20th century. His most important contributions, especially in the first part of his career, were in logic and the philosophy of mathematics, but he made important contributions to almost all branches of philosophy, especially to epistemology and metaphysics. His philosophy went through a series of fairly rapid changes, which has made it natural to study his work developmentally. He wrote prolifically, much of his early work was extremely technical, and a surprising amount of material was left unpublished by him and has appeared only posthumously in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (Russell 1983–, cited under Primary Sources). As a result, there is no detailed survey of his entire philosophical output by a single author; full-career surveys tend to be either brief or collections of papers, and more substantial commentaries tend to focus on particular periods or topics. Our understanding of Russell’s philosophy has been transformed since his death by the availability of so much new material in his archives. As a result, earlier studies of his work need to be treated with caution. In addition to his philosophical work, Russell wrote even more extensively on matters of social and political concern. He was politically engaged throughout his life, especially in matters relating to war and peace and freedom of the individual. I am grateful to Kenneth Blackwell, Andrew Bone, William Bruneau, Jolen Galaugher, Dustin Olson, Graham Stevens, and the referees for OBO for several useful suggestions.

General Overviews

Generality here is diachronic rather than synchronic: works are included which cover more than one period in Russell’s philosophical development. Although Russell changed his philosophical position many times, two changes were especially radical. The first was in 1898, when he abandoned the neo-Hegelian tradition in which he had hitherto worked and started afresh on what became the beginnings of analytic philosophy. For the next twenty years, Russell worked mainly in logic and the foundations of mathematics and, through the latter part of this period, also in epistemology. It was during these twenty years that he presented (and in some cases also abandoned) many of the positions for which he is now best known. The second major change took place in 1919, which (unlike the one in 1898) was not so much a repudiation of his main achievements in the past, as a change in direction. For the most part, he kept the positions in logic and philosophy of mathematics that he had arrived at in the previous two decades, but heavily revised his epistemology and metaphysics, typically in a more naturalist direction. These two changes break Russell’s career into three periods, which in this bibliography are labeled (with deliberate neutrality) the Very Early Period, the Early Period, and the Later Period. Of these, the Early Period has received far more attention than the other two. Russell was always a systematic philosopher; he treated the different branches of philosophy (with the partial exception of ethics) as interconnected parts of a whole intellectual system; when changes were made in one branch they tended to have consequences in another. For this reason, most of the detailed studies of his work either focus on particular theories or range across the theories held at a particular time. The works listed in this section are overviews of Russell’s philosophy, but few follow his development from beginning to end and all emphasize the work of the Early Period from 1899 to 1919 at the expense of work before and after it. The overviews have been divided into Short Introductions which give basic information at varying levels of sophistication, works suitable for those who want to learn the basic facts in a hurry; and More Advanced Works, again at varying levels of sophistication, for those who want more detailed information.

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