The Problems of Philosophy
The Problems of Philosophy

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Customer Reviews:

  • A complete introduction to Philosophy
    Bertrand Russell at his best. He is discussing different aspects of philosophy and why you need philosophy. This is a very good starting point for further philosophical readings. This book is a must in every human beings bookshelf who are intrested in the way we people think....more info
  • A Classic
    Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was of course one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. THE PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY (1912) is a classic introduction to the perennial questions of philosophy (although it focuses mainly on epistemology and metaphysics). It is an engaging book that can be read by both the beginner in philosophy as well as the more advanced student. (For example, Russell described much of what is considered the "Gettier problem" in this book.)

    Russell had an amazingly long and productive life. He was a key figure in the school known as analytic philosophy (which has one of its earliest appearances in book form here) and was the founder of logical atomism (which can be dated from his 1914 work OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD). His last major work of technical philosophy (HUMAN KNOWLEDGE) appeared in 1948 and after that time was largely known for his social and political activism.

    In reading Russell, there are a couple things to remember. First, Russell wasn't always the most accurate expositor on the history of philosophy and religion (you can skip his HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY if you are interested in learning about the subject matter of the book). Second, just because he is often considered an empiricist, it is a mistake to consider him a consistent empiricist, much less a logical positivist. Russell's logical atomism had a metaphysics, albeit a rather pared down one. During large parts of his career, Russell was keenly aware that strict empiricism was a dead end. Indeed, in THE PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY he sets forth a famous defense of universals that put him in the realist, as opposed to nominalist camp (where most empiricists are). There is also a good defense of a priori insight, which shows Russell's rationalist roots.
    ...more info
  • Philosophy 211 book review (Tara Walker)
    In this book review, Bertrand Russell argues several points as to why he feels there are problems with philosophy, which I feel are pretty strong arguments. Some of Russell's arguments can be summarized as:
    1) The appearance and reality of an object's existence differ based on individual point of view.
    2) Whether or not the matter exists independent of an individual's presence.
    3) The origin of matter, and distinguishing it from physical science and physical experience.
    4) Idealism and its inability to prove credibility
    5) Induction: A, so therefore B.
    6) Philosophy's value
    Russell's "The Problems with Philosophy" begins with his view of a table's existence. It was very interesting to read about Russell's belief that there is difference between our physical view of an object and the `reality' of whether or not an object is actually there. This particular analysis is the basis of the first chapter. According to Russell, every aspect of an object's appearance and feel is based on an individual's point of view. The main example he uses is that of a table, and someone else may interpret how the shade of color I see another way; the texture that I feel may feel different to someone else; another person may describe the shape I see as I walk around the table as a different shape. This same explanation is used for sight, sound, and touches whereas there are no fixed choices in reality; and in the end, our senses that we use for the appearance of things is how we become `acquainted' with `reality'.
    Another interesting argument Russell discusses is the object of matter, and whether or not an object remains to be present when one is physically absent from the object. Going back to the table, if we find it to not exist then "the whole outer world is a dream". Everything we have ever known to be our reality does not exist independently of ourselves. Numerous times throughout the book Russell's theory of sense-data is mentioned; and in this context, when one doubts the physical presence of an object it does not mean that they doubt their sense-data which initially "...made us think there was a table". Here Russell begins to compare his theory with that which is found in Descartes' book Meditations. Descartes believed in the possibility of a false reality and did not believe in anything that could not be proven to be true. Thus Descartes committed the appeal to ignorance fallacy, until he realized a flaw because he did not doubt his own existence. Continuing into this chapter, people may experience similar occurrences that vary, but even assuming that the other person exists makes the mistake of begging the question. Outside of what we experience for ourselves, anyone else's experience independent of our own should not be considered. Furthermore, Russell shows the error in committing the appeal to ignorance fallacy, as he believes that, "[t] here can never be any reason for rejecting one instinctive belief except that it clashes with the others; thus, if they are found to harmonize, the whole system becomes worthy of acceptance." Therefore, if a particular reasoning or belief does not inhibit the possibility of other beliefs, they should all be recognized respectively.
    Russell then begins to investigate the nature of matter once we are able to conclude that it exists independently of us individually. Hypothetically, the nature of something from a scientific standpoint opposed to a human's physical point of view, are of course different. Using a blind man and a light source as an example, it is extremely difficult to explain the effect light has on a blind man's senses, because it is something he cannot experience directly. This example shows how things such as light, which is actually composed of waves, appeal to certain senses that exist in a `world' independent of us. Another example used is the understanding of time. Just as time seems to go slowly when we are bored or in pain, it seems to go quickly when we have something to do or having a good time. It is considered inaccurate to measure time using these instances.
    There is then the subject of idealism that states, "[w] hatever can be known to exist, must be in some sense mental." To believe as an idealist is perceived to be far more difficult than someone who believes based on his or her common sense. Here Russell talks about how idealism derived, using arguments made by Bishop Berkeley. Berkeley believed that the idea of sense data could not be possible if our senses were not present, and that if something did not exist in a `mind', then it could not exist at all. Russell agrees with Berkeley's point of view up until a `mind' being absolutely necessary for something's existence. According to Berkeley, something is because it is perceived. Russell argues that Berkeley uses the word idea to help people accept idealistic beliefs, because common knowledge has us to believe that ideas originate in the mind. Therefore anything we perceive in our minds to exist can do so. However in the end, Russell completely rejects Berkeley's theory of sense-data by feeling it is contradictory, and does not prove what he claims it to prove.
    In order to gain knowledge about what is beyond our acquaintance, Russell uses inferences in a theory called induction. With inferences, an A, so therefore, B method is used. For example lightning has struck, therefore thunder will occur next, shows the use of induction that can help us with what is beyond our realm of thinking. Russell also shows how occurrences we often take for granted are relevant to this theory, as the example of the sun rising each day can be used. Just because the sun has risen each day in the past, is no reason to assume that it will therefore rise each day in the future, according to Russell. He goes on to conclude that our assumptions about the future should be probable and not definite, whereas the more accurate form of the argument should be "that the more A is found to be associated with B, "the more probable it is (if no cases of failure of association are known) that A is always associated with B."
    Russell once again brings science into the picture as he contrasts the structure of philosophy with science. Science is more likely to focus on the physical needs of the body, while philosophy is more vital in a mental sense. And yet with these differences, even though philosophy does not contain the amount of definite evidence that science or other disciplines can, philosophy is able to bring order to the physical sciences. Philosophy allows us to be open-minded, and free from "arrogant dogmatism". To Russell, this sense of open-mindedness is a virtue that can let our lives be "great and free" if we escape from the prison of our private lives. He believes that "through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great," but if we remain in our own little worlds, it can hinder us from the possibilities of exploration where the intellect and object meet. Russell feels concluding that "truth is and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind, and that, if there be anything not created by the mind it is unknowable," puts an "impenetrable veil between us and the world beyond", and diminishes the value of philosophy.
    Although it took some for me to get `acquainted' with Russell's point of view on philosophy, in the end I was able to understand where he has found flaws in the way it is used or interpreted. Russell is able to make strong arguments and support each claim with validity.

    ...more info
  • A lot to Chew On
    I am just an occaisional, informal reader of philosophy. I would rate this book two stars, less because of it's content and perhaps more because of my own shortcomings. I found many of the chapters verbose and hard to follow. To be honest, I've found that I am more interested in short snippets of what major philosophers had to say rather than delve into their thoughts myself. When I try, I often find I don't have the attention span to follow what an author is saying, and that is what I found here. Having said that, I will add that I found the last two chapters more interesting. All in all, I would say this book is more tuned to serious lovers of philosophical questions than a casual reader such as myself....more info
  • The Problems of Philosophy
    This book is compulsory reading to anyone studying Philosphy, it is written in such a style as to take away the mysteke normally associated with the subject. Anyone can read this book and gain an understanding.
    Dr. Wallace Devlin, Ph.D...more info
  • Critical Thinking at its Best
    When I wrote my essay "A Cry From The Heart" (for sale on Amazon), I presumed everyone knew how fragile was our concept of knowledge. The comments readers of my essay make show me I was in error. It seems most folks think what they know is right and accurate. If everyone could read Mr. Russell's "The Problems of Philosophy" they would clearly understand that we are operating on 99% of our decision making time, is what we believe. It is not easy to follow Mr. Russell's logic on the first reading, but even a cursory effort should give all who try more humility in presenting their opinions in a dialogue. They would also be able to understand the thesis statement of my essay. ...more info
  • Kindle Version Broken
    Though I love the book so far, I was unable to read this FQ Publishing version on my Kindle because there are obvious errors and some sentences are even reduced to garbled gibberish because of missing or added words. ...more info
  • Good Introduction
    This is my favorite book of Bertrand Russell's, both as an introductory and technical work, and it is probably so because he wrote it before he went too deeply into analytical and empiricist philosophy to remember his rationalist roots. ...His summaries of Rationalism vs. Empiricism are also excellent, though 20th century rationalism is probably today what he describes as the middle ground position between both views in his book. Most 20th century rationalists accept the *causal* importance of sensory perception in forming many *a priori* beliefs, so the new term is not *a priori* knowledge, but *a priori* justification. Empiricism is the dominant school in philosophy today, but I think that will change in time because empiricism cannot justify many of its epistemological conclusions in any way that do not undermine the justificatory role of thought.

    Some of the accounts of "sense data" and "knowledge by description" are a bit tortured, partly because Russell tried to avoid metaphysics as much as possible, and I personally do not believe that they are ultimately correct. However, the discussions are still good introductions. People who read more rationalist philosophy from the likes of Brand Blanshard and Laurence Bonjour as well as analytic philosophers like David Armstrong will get a better insignt into where the real debates about some of these issues lie.

    On the whole, a good introduction to philosophy, even though it doesn't touch upon ethics and politics. However, philosophy is a difficult subject and one book, even the best introduction, cannot make clear all the problems that some of the best minds in history have wrestled over......more info

  • "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted."
    In "The Problems of Philosophy", Russell attacks old problems with new logic; he introduces a number of schools of thought that preceded him and philosophic problems common to all philosophy such as: public and private experience, personal identity, self-consciousness and consciousness of other minds, relations of space and time, and knowledge itself.

    Russell examines our judgments about reality with an analytic approach. He uses a table, a simple physical object, and he follows Descartes' practice of radical doubt to analyze our knowledge of the physical world through sense data, which are the impressions that the appearance of reality offers our senses.
    While establishing a theory of knowledge, Russell makes the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. Russell also discusses priori knowledge with a Platonic attitude toward universals, considering the possibility of having acquaintance with a universal without knowing of a single instance of that universal.
    Through opposing idealism, discussing other philosophers' faults and discussing ideas and universals, Russell completely lost me and fell into the trap other philosophers couldn't avoid: going in endless circles to explain a simple aspect.

    I enjoy reading Russell's anti war ideas, his scientific work especially in Math, but when it comes to philosophy, Russell is not a straight shooter.

    ...more info
  • Inspiring!
    As a beginner in the study of philosophy, this book gave me much more than a clear and concise introduction to the subject by one of its great masters. It gave me an inspiring, enlightening glimpse of how philosophy could boost my capacity to enjoy life and become a better person.

    As pointed out by a previous reviewer, the last chapter of the book, "The Value of Philosophy", is a beautiful reflection on the personal rewards that result from philosophical contemplation. This chapter articulates an insight that grows slowly inside the reader throughout the book, caused by the amazement of being exposed to great philosophical questions for the first time.

    "...philosophy has a value (perhaps its chief value) through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aims resulting from this contemplation... The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion... The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable."

    If what sparked your curiosity about philosophy in the first place was the intuition that it would make you grow as a person in a very important sense, then this book is for you!...more info

  • An Enticing Introduction To Philosophy/Epistemology
    "Philosophy aims primarily at knowledge," says Bertrand Russell. "But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions."

    With that caveat, which comes in the last chapter of The Problems of Philosophy, Russell defines in part what philosophy is and what it can accomplish. The definition casts a rather dim light over the field of philosophy, calling into questions its value as a discipline worthy of our attention. But Russell goes on to say that philosophy's value won't be found in its ability to provide answers ("since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true"). Instead, philosophy is valuable "for the sake of the questions themselves."

    "These questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation," notes Russell. He says our minds are "rendered great" when we contemplate "the greatness of the universe." This enables our minds to form a "union with the universe which constitutes its highest good."

    In the pages that precede this final chapter on the value of philosophy, Russell highlights the questions he considers to be most "positive" and "constructive." In his view, philosophy's most important questions relate to epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. As a result, most of this book deals with questions like these:

    What is the difference between appearance and reality?
    What is a belief? What is the relationship between beliefs and facts?
    What, if anything, can we know for certain?
    What is the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning?
    What is intuitive knowledge?
    What is truth? How can we distinguish between truth and falsehood?

    Russell doesn't always provide "definite answers" to these questions. Yet he does a marvelous job of helping us to think through them in creative and logically sound ways.

    The Problems of Philosophy is a brief book that packs a nice punch. It is easy to read, smoothly written, and will likely appeal almost anyone interested in philosophy. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Problems of Philosophy is its narrow scope. The book fails completely to address many of the problems that people often associate with philosophy. Because of this, I would give the book four stars, not the five shown above. Russell makes almost no mention of ethics or morality. He also avoids God, religion, evil, value, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, and the list goes on. But this is a flaw that can be forgiven - for what Russell sacrifices in scope, he makes up for in clarity and style. He often attaches practical examples to more abstract ideas, and this makes the problems of philosophy more understandable for everyone.

    One may agree or not with Russell's assertions, but most will appreciate his ability to take some of philosophy's classic problems and make them digestible, almost entertaining to the average reader. This is an enjoyable book that is just as relevant today as when it was first published in 1912....more info
  • Good introduction to certain kinds of philosophical problems
    I remember reading this little book over and over again in order to understand what philosophers truly think about. I am not sure that I understand most of it then, and I am sure that I do not remember most of it now. But I know one of the topics was the 'reality' or non- reality of what the visible world gives. Appearance and reality. Another topic if I remember rightly is the mind-body problem. And Russell I believe here takes on the Descartian cogito and tells us that it does not mean that Descartes has proved that there is an 'I thinking' but rather only that there is ' thinking'. Russell in this seems to be something like a very strange kind of Buddhist. In any case it is these hard problems of epistemology that are at the center of this small work.
    The other kinds of big problems, moral and aesthetic, religious also which are at the heart of a good share of human experience are perhaps not quantifiable enough for Russell's kind of philosophical consideration here. The man that tried to reduce all of mathematics to logic did take on these other kinds of more 'human ' questions in other works though not I might say to the satisfaction of many of us old religious believers.
    This little book is however a clear and challenging introduction to major epistemological questions....more info
  • Worth your time....and effort...
    I am only a beginner in the study of philosophy...but after reading quite a few introductions I feel that the most complete and rewarding is this book by BR. Granted, sometimes you must read a chapter more than once, but that only makes the whole issue more seems that every time you get a different perspective...or a different way to look into a problem..Very good if you are really interested in philosophy. ...more info
  • The hobo philosopher
    Bertrand has written on many different subjects and many of his books can often appeal to the general reader. This book is for those interested in philosophy and who enjoy esoteric arguments. It is for the person with an average philosophical interest and not necessarily the Ph.D. candidate.
    Bertrand tells us that if we wish to become philosophers we must be willing to tackle the absurd. Obviously! A lot of time is spent on Bishop Berleley, Plato and Descartes and idealism - we are all imaging matter; matter is a figment of our imagination; it's all in your head. The author finally assures us that there is something in the universe besides our comprehension of ourselves and our dreams. There does seem to be "reality" or matter even if it is perceived differently or inadequately by each of us. Bertrand finally states that Berkeley's notion that the objects apprehended must be mental has no validity whatsoever. One chapter deals with those that think that we can know more than we actually can know and with those who think, on the other hand, that nothing is knowable - Hegel in the first case and Hume in the latter.
    Finally we come to the nature of philosophy and its value. Philosophy deals in questioning the unknown and once the unknown becomes known it is no longer called philosophy but science. So philosophy has a rather nebulous list of achievements. Bertrand closes this book with this final paragraph:
    "Thus to sum up our discussion of the value 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 contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good."
    Well that, of course, states the case better than anything that I could say but for my part I must offer something.
    I have always been attracted to philosophy because the philosophers were asking the questions that seemed important to me and by reading and studying their answers I always felt that I was learning how to think and reason intelligently and logically. By being able to think intelligently and logically I felt that I was then better equipped to solve the problems of life - my life in particular.

    Books written by Richard Noble:
    "Hobo-ing America: A Workingman's Tour of the U.S.A.."
    "A Summer with Charlie"
    "A Little Something: Poetry and Prose"
    "Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother"
    ...more info
  • Quite interesting indeed

    The Problems of Philosophy is a great cornerstone philosophy text. By that I mean, it covers those issues which are essential for building a coherent worldview - what exists, how can we know anything, what is the basis of logic, why is philosophy useful, and so on. And though this is not a history book, Russell does managed to provide a rather clear, if not altogether evenhanded, outline of how certain schools of thought came to be.

    If you are interested in philosophy, socially, academically, or otherwise, this is a great little book. Russell fully explains the trickier concepts and ties everything together very well in one complete package. ...more info
  • Excellent intro to epistemology and logic
    Russell offers in a compact form a highly readable and entertaining essay on the fundamental issues related to perception, knowledge, and the ability of human mind to build awareness and abstracts that relate to the physical world. Are we real, do we exist, or are we merely a creation of our own thoughts? After reading this book you will at least be able to ask yourself this question and if you have seen The Matrix, you will recognize some of the elements of that movie in Russell's book....more info
  • Short and to the point
    John Locke joked at the start of his book on human understanding that his book could have probably been much shorter if only he had edited it, but he was too lazy too. Russell the logician with the gift for writing in a brief and very readable manner. manage's to get the main points of British empiricism into a work far shorter then those of Locke or Hume.

    As for the content I thought it was brilliant, but then again I had already agreed with every thing Russell said in the book from reading similer lines of thought....more info
  • good place to start
    philosophy for the layperson....great place to start for someone interested in the subject...good intro to metaphysics and the value of and limits of philosophical knowledge...clear plain language...A MUST READ!!!!:)...more info


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