Sunday, February 17, 2008

Russell on the Point of Philosophy

I just came across this very insightful and humorous interview with the late great Bertram Russell. Russell addresses the very important methodological question of what philosophy actually is. Do philosophers simply seek to clarify the meaning of questions, or should they also try to help us answer them? Russell claims that the rise of linguistic philosophy reduces philosophy to the former. And this impoverishes philosophy. He gives the following example of how it does this:

Russell was biking to Winchester, but had gotten lost. He stopped in a small village shop and asked the clerk if he knew the shortest way to Winchester. The clerk then called to a man in a backroom that Russell couldn’t see.

Clerk: “The Gentleman wants to know the shortest way to Winchester”.

Voice in backroom: “Winchester?”

Clerk: “Aye”

Voice in back room: “Way to Winchester?”

Clerk: “Aye”

Voice in backroom: “Shortest way?”

Clerk: “Aye”

Voice in backroom: “Don’t know!”

Russell: “So I had to go on my way without an answer”.

This is great! I share Russell’s sentiment, and believe these concerns still apply, especially to contemporary political philosophy.