Our next Russelliana will take place on Saturday, April 24th, at 1 pm EST (adjust for your local time zone). The talk title is “Russellian Empiricism” and will be given by Dustin Olson (University of Regina).
In the week leading up to this Russelliana, we will send around a handout and the Zoom link. The talk abstract is below. You can register to attend at the link here: Meeting Registration. Please join us!
Dustin Olson (University of Regina)
This talk offers an interpretation of what we might dub Russellian Empiricism to describe Russell’s so-called scientific philosophy. This form of empiricism, pace A.J. Ayer, may be ‘radically empiricist’ in spirit, but not in the details. Russell’s empiricism jibes with traditional empiricism insofar as experience is necessary for knowledge, but it takes on an almost Kantian tone when he considers the scope and limits of human knowledge. He suggests that we can infer the truth of propositions that are necessary for knowledge, but that they cannot be corroborated by experience—these are the non-demostrative postulates for scientific inference—thus, also distinguishing his views from logical empiricism. From these consideration, there are substantial limits placed on what we can know. Nevertheless, Russell was not a skeptic, contending that knowledge is possible and that science is the paradigm for knowledge acquisition.
From this reading of Russell’s epistemology/metaphilosophy, I offer two points of interest for both specialist and generalist Russell scholars. First, of historical interest is how widely misunderstood Russell’s mature (post-1919) is, and was at the time—most notably his Human Knowledge (1948). I suggest that Russell is misunderstood in part because he was years ahead of his time in how he combines cutting-edge science with traditional philosophical problems. The second point of potential interest concerns how Russell’s empiricism/scientific outlook manifests in the life lived. Coupling the grandiosity of philosophical questioning with the epistemic parameters set by science and logic, we can discover the joy of transcending the mechanistic causal order, while also providing a clear limitation on what is possible to know and do. Failure to root these transcendent experiences within these parameters, however, results in fallacious inferences beyond what is knowable, such as religious belief.
Keywords: Naturalism, Empiricism, Emotivism, Metaphilosophy,