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Russell, Bertrand

Entry updated 5 June 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1872-1970) UK mathematician, philosopher and controversialist, grandson of John Russell, first Earl Russell; in 1931 he succeeded to the family title, becoming the third Earl Russell. Because of his pacifist publications and activities during the course of World War One, he lost his Cambridge fellowship and was imprisoned in 1918. His work in Mathematics was substantial, including a formalization of number theory in Principia Mathematica (1910-1913 3vols) with Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Russell touches briefly on Futures Studies in Sceptical Essays (coll 1928) and Unpopular Essays (coll 1950), and published a relevant monograph against blind faith in "progress", Icarus; Or, the Future of Science (1924 chap); in this significantly titled counter-blast to J B S Haldane's Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1923 chap), he argues "that science will be used to promote the power of dominant groups, rather than to make men happy". The publication of the two books within a few months of one another helped to launch the publisher's To-day and To-morrow series, this venture being announced solely in the second volume's dustjacket copy (a moment of intellectual history occluded through the habitual stripping of covers by the British Library and other statutory depositories); and taken together demonstrate the range of contestations inherent in Futures Studies. Marriage and Morals (1929) marks a rare retreat to the intellectual orthodoxy of the time, in its advocacy of the enforced sterilization of women deemed unfit to breed according to Eugenic standards. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950; in 1957 he became the first president of the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Near the end of his immensely long career – his first essays having been published in 1894, and his last works appearing in the late 1960s (see Longevity in Writers) – Russell published three books containing a series of fable-like tales: Satan in the Suburbs and Other Stories (coll 1953), Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (coll 1954) and Fact and Fiction (coll 1961), all being assembled as The Collected Stories of Bertrand Russell (omni 1972). Somewhat after the manner of Voltaire, these tales – some, like "The Infra-Redioscope" from the first volume and "Planetary Effulgence" from the last, are sf – didactically (though with grace) embody their author's sceptical attitude toward human ambitions and pretensions, and to the ideas with which we delude ourselves. [JC/DRL]

see also: Automation; Dystopias; Paradox; Religion; Sociology.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, third Earl Russell

born Trellech, Monmouthshire: 18 May 1872

died Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire: 2 February 1970

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