A look back on the life of accomplished author, Bertrand Russell

On this day in 1872, noted British philosopher, activist, mathematician and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell was born. Here at Philosophical Library, we are taking a look back on the life of this accomplished author in honor of his 144th birthday. Born in the United Kingdom on May 18, 1872, Bertrand was raised in a progressive, aristocratic household. His parents, perhaps being ahead of their generation, were quite liberal when it came to social norms, engaging in permissible affairs and advocating birth control which, at the time, was deemed unseemly.

His father did not uphold religious beliefs, and so appointed philosopher and liberal thinker John Stuart Mill as his son’s secular godfather. After the death of his parents and sister, a still young Bertrand and his older brother were adopted by their grandparents who held more conservative views than they had been raised to believe; yet, this would leave a life-long impact on Bertrand. Bertrand’s education was handled at home by tutors and he held an interest in the areas of religion and mathematics, though he grew quite lonely in his adolescent years. He spent many hours reading works of Euclid and Percy Bysshe Shelley which influenced him greatly. At eighteen years old, Bertrand read the autobiography of his godfather, John Stuart Mill, and declared himself an atheist.

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” – Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell began studying at the Trinity College of Cambridge in 1890 where he focused on mathematics and philosophy. He married in 1894 only to end the marriage twenty-seven years later. During his marriage he began his early career by publishing German Social Democracy and teaching the subject at the London School of Economics. Bertrand would spend his lifetime holding an interest in politics. Maintaining his interest in the area of mathematics, he also wrote on the subject in his essay titled An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry. He became a lecturer at the University of Cambridge in 1910 and had a great influence on one of his students in particular, whom would later earn a PhD and publish works of his own with the help of Bertrand.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

Bertrand’s political interest went beyond his publications. He acted on his beliefs rather than merely writing about them. This would lead to a series of events including being part of an anti-war socialist group. After a public display of speaking against the war, Bertrand was sent to prison for six months. He would continue to participate in other political causes throughout his life.

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” – Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell published many works throughout his life. His title Dictionary of Mind, Matter and Morals serves as an introduction to the fundamental principles and ideas held by the author. Within these pages, the reader will find definitions and terms selected from over one hundred of Bertrand’s books and articles. More works from Bertrand include The Art of Philosophizing which includes published essays written during WWII. Here, Bertrand expresses his views on philosophical issues and goes into depth with his on analysis on mathematics, logic and philosophy. Perhaps another title meant for the reader seeking to read more on the philosophies of Bertrand Russell is Essays on Skepticism where he shares some of his remarkable observations and thoughts. Included in this collection are Envy and Belief, What Social Science Can Do, Intellectual Rubbish, On Being Old, Don’t Be Too Certain, and many more. To learn more about or purchase these titles, please click here.


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