Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MAY 18th

On this day in history in 1872, was born Bertrand Russell.

Russell was a mathematician, philosopher, pacifist and petty criminal.

Russell was born into the aristocracy. In later life, he became the third Earl Russell, although he said that the only use for the title was to secure hotel accommodation. Russell’s parents died when he was young and he was brought up by a formidable grandmother who had rigid views on the order of society and the certainties of religion. This led Russell to rebel against notions of assured belief and he found the only true certainty to lie in the axioms of mathematics. 

Russell took a degree in mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge where he was noted for his outstanding intellect. He became a member of the Apostles, an exclusive and secret undergraduate society, open only to the most intellectual students. It was here that Russell was introduced to philosophy. After graduating, with first class honours in mathematics, he proceeded to take a further degree in philosophy.  

Russell had a dual career as mathematician and philosopher. He is generally recognised as the founder of analytical philosophy, that is a methodological study focusing on language and of those concepts, which can be expressed by language. Russell produced an eclectic series of publications varying from The Principles of Mathematics to The History of Western Philosophy.  

Russell’s personal philosophy was pacifism. He wrote ‘War does not determine who is right, only who is left’. During the First World War, he campaigned for pacifism, urging the British government to come to terms with Germany. In 1916, he was convicted of publishing anti-war propaganda and was fined £100. He was then dismissed from his lectureship at Cambridge. In 1918, he was again convicted under the Defence of the Realm Act and sentenced to six months in prison. He beguiled the time behind bars by writing An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. Russell carried on his pacifism into old age. In 1961, when campaigning for nuclear disarmament, he received a two-month jail sentence, reduced to seven days on the grounds of infirmity. He protested against the war in Vietnam and convened a tribunal purporting to charge the United States with war crimes.  

Russell was noted for his humour but his wit was always completely logical. Once, when visiting Japan, Russell was irritated when the press wrongly gave out a report of his death. When later asked for an interview he wrote “Mr Bertrand Russell, having died according to the Japanese press, is unable to give interviews to Japanese journalists.”

Previous day       Next day      

©2006 Ward’s Book of Days