Bertrand Russell

Philosopher, social critic, political thinker and campaigner, Bertrand Russell, the 3rd Earl Russell (1872-1970), was born into a prominent Whig aristocratic family with a tradition of service to the state. Indeed, his paternal grandfather was twice Prime Minister in mid-Victorian Britain. Although Bertrand Russell was prepared by birth and upbringing for a successful career as a mainstream politician, his intellectual and political development would steer him in quite different directions. As a philosopher, he produced in the early years of the last century a massive and seminal series of publications which transformed logic and placed it at the centre of philosophic inquiry. The impact of these, and later works in which he confronted other fundamental problems of philosophy, has been profound, even on scholars who have disputed Russell’s conclusions. At the same time, Russell carved out a parallel and more public intellectual life for himself as an influential social and political commentator, educator and humanist. In so doing he would confront many issues of vital import to the history of the twentieth century: nationalism and imperialism, modern industrialism, Soviet communism, and the nuclear peril, to name but a few. When he entered the political fray, as he did on many occasions spanning the great Free Trade controversy in Edwardian Britain to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, he usually did so not as an ally of the establishment but, rather, as a dissenting critic of official orthodoxy. Russell’s manifold intellectual interests and political commitments bequeathed a vast literary legacy which it has been the privilege of McMaster University to preserve and augment for the past forty years.