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Unpopular Essays

Russell, Bertrand
Publisher:  George Allen & Unwin, London, United Kingdom
Year Published:  1969   First Published:  1950
Pages:  159pp  
Dewey:  102
Resource Type:  Book

A collection of essays that argues against dogmatic beliefs in politics, philosophy and other related topics.

Abstract:  In Unpopular Essays, Russell argues against dogmatism; he is critical of any belief that is not founded on empirical evidence or reason. More than just an intellectual assessment of the past, writing in the context of World War 2 and the beginning of the Cold War, Russell's critique of dogma is driven by serious modern consequences as well.

The essays can be broadly categorized: In terms of politics, "The Future of Mankind" argues against the belief that war is inevitable and proposes that a united world government would stop the next world war. "The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed" denounces those who, on the grounds that equality would take or ruin their virtue, such as the "innocence" of women, justify inequality.

In terms of philosophy, "Philosophy and Politics" criticizes flawed philosophical frameworks before suggesting the superiority of tolerance and qualified certainty of Liberalism. Next, while the "Philosophy for Laymen" stresses the benefits that philosophy provides, the advocacy of philosophy is qualified with "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives," which cautions against the armchair philosophy of metaphysics.

Interdisciplinary yet related topics are covered as well. "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" challenges a broad range of topics from theology to human nature. Of a similar style are the twin essays "Ideas That Have Helped Mankind" and "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind," which extensively cover the topics for which they are named. Finally, "On Being Modern Minded" and "The Functions of the Teacher" stress the importance of maintaining intellectual independence against pressures to conform.

The collection ends with two relatively short and more personal pieces; "Eminent Men I have Known" illustrates what Russell values in people, while "Obituary" is a self-written premature obituary first published in 1937.

While the topics might be serious, Russell's sharp wit and lucid writing make the collection relatively accessible. Nevertheless, a background in philosophy is recommended to grasp Russell's numerous philosophical critiques.

[Abstract by Jared Ong]


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