Sam Ghandchiسام قندچي Pluralism and Russell's Logical Atomism

Sam Ghandchi

پلورالیسم و اتمیسم منطقی راسل

Related Papers: 1




"Bertrand Russell, who was an agnostic, was asked what he would do if he died and saw actually there exists afterlife and God. He responded that he would ask Him (ask God), why He (God) had not provided enough evidence for Bertrand Russell to believe in him (God), when he (Russell) was living back on Earth!" *


Table of Contents

I. The Historical Background of Logical Atomism

II. The Nature of the World

III. The Structure of the World

IV. The Origin and Future of the World

V. Conclusion


Note 1: LK means Marsch, Robert Charles, Logic and Knowledge, Bertrand Russell’s 1901-1950 essays, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1956.

Note 2: AT means Edwards, Paul and Popkin, Richard H., Twentieth Century Philosophy: The Analytic Tradition, The Free Press, New York, 1966.


Russell’s philosophy of logical atomism was proposed in his 1914 lecture entitled: Logic as the Essence of Philosophy.  It was further elaborated in Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918) and Logical Atomism (1924). Russell’s philosophy of logical atomism is attributed to the influence of Wittgenstein and especially Russell’s frequent allusions to Wittgenstein in the aforementioned works have justified this appraisal. However, in my opinion, Wittgenstein’s Influence has been in the linguistic details of the expounded *theories* rather than the proposed *system*.  This claim may become more evident as I explain the developments which gave rise to Russell’s promulgation of logical atomism in the next section.


Russell did not continue enunciating logical atomism in his later works. For example, in his A History of Western Philosophy (1945), he only mentions his philosophy as the philosophy of logical analysis and does not even disclose logical atomism historically. Some of the *theories* introduced in logical atomism were rejected and some modified in the works of later analytic philosophers, and in this respect early Wittgenstein was more important than Russell. The later analytic philosophers mostly remained within the ad hoc treatment of specific problems, or as William James would say, they worked in a ‘piece-meal fashion’. Others, like A. N. Whitehead, mostly discarded pluralism when developing a philosophical system. Wittgenstein turned from analytic tradition to phenomenology and Russell himself, in his later years, became more occupied with socio-political issues than purely philosophical undertakings. Thus it may be doubted whether the philosophy of logical atomism deserves to be discussed as an ongoing project rather than a forgotten piece of history, when even its originator gave it up. I show in this paper why the aim of logical atomism should not be tossed into the museum of philosophy as a lost cause, but rather, its trials and tribulations should be upheld as a paradigm for endeavors to develop new pluralistic philosophical systems.



I. The Historical Background of Logical Atomism


Russell belonged to a tradition in contemporary philosophy called logical analysis. This tradition was developed as a challenge to the dominant Hegelian system in the British/American universities at the turn of the century. Logical analysis was a revival of British empiricism, though, with a strong emphasis on logic unprecedented in British empiricism prior to and including John Stuart Mill. Analytic philosophers were aware that the defeat of empiricism by the Hegelian system was mainly due to the incapability of pure empiricism to establish its own principles which further caused empiricists to depart from realism and in the extreme to fall into solipsism (e.g. in the case of Bishop Berkeley). In fact, the inconsistencies of pure empiricism were previously demonstrated by Kant and Hume who paved the way for Hegel’s domination of philosophical thought in nineteenth century.


Two major philosophical criticisms were introduced in the nineteenth century to challenge Hegelian philosophy, i.e. Marxism and anarchism. Marx criticized Hegelian idealism, nevertheless, he retained Hegelian monism and only substituted absolute matter for Hegel’s Absolute Mind. Despite the monism of Marx’s dialectical materialism, his acceptance of practice as fundamental in his epistemology, enabled him to reframe Hegel’s dialectics more realistically. On the other hand, Pierre-Joseph Proudon, the father of anarchism, criticized Hegelian philosophy aiming directly at its monism. Proudon discarded monism and accepted pluralism in which he admitted particulars without the necessary relations. His philosophy was essentially a socio-political one, in which individuals had no necessary relations to each other, and all relations such as government, family, religion, etc. were considered compulsory. Therefore anarchists’ criticism of Hegel was not to enhance the understanding of objective relations (whether external or internal), as they preferred to do away with relations altogether, whether in science or society, rather than to understand them, and to improve their shortcomings. Proudon himself was embarrassed when he found himself as the leader of an anarchist party; the idea of a party, a ‘relation’ and even a strong one, was irreconcilable with his basic teachings. Anarchists resembled the Cynics at the downfall of Greek civilization, who unable to solve the problems of knowledge and society, wished to do away with human society and knowledge entirely, and advocated living like animals.


Marxism and anarchism did not disturb Hegel’s domination of European universities. They were essentially outside formal academic circles mostly because of their radicalism and orientation towards the labor movements. Moreover, to undermine the influence of these radical doctrines on intellectuals, the European governments and organized religious institutions supported their rival doctrine, i.e. the Hegelian system itself. Universities and seminaries paid more attention to Hegel’s works and Hegel was introduced to the British/American intellectual circles. Probably with the exception of Aristotle, no other philosopher ever received support by traditional institutions as much as Hegel. It was in this historical context at the end of the nineteenth century, that a new challenge to the Hegelian system was born in British/American universities. If Marxism was born in Germany, and Proudonism in France, the new alternative to Hegel’s philosophy developed by the British/American philosophers at the turn of the 20th century.


The works of J. S. Mill, the last Important philosopher of empiricism, were circulating once more in the academic circles; nevertheless, the criticism of Hegel was not limited to a simple revival of empiricism. It was believed that old empiricism without any augmentation by a strong logic, could not confront Hegel.  In fact pure empiricism had already lost the battle to Hegel a century earlier. That is why the new revival of British empiricism was accompanied with a new interest in logic, though this logic was neither Aristotelian nor Hegelian. A new logic was already developed by Boole, Frege, and Peano and it was used well by the new critics of Hegel, i.e. the logical analysts.


G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell were at the forefront of the new criticism of the Hegelian system and right from the start they aimed at its monistic heart. Moore criticized Hegel both for his monism and for his system-building. He viewed pluralism as the common sense contemplation of the world and did not wish to systematize it. Russell also firmly criticized Hegel’s monism, but contrary to Moore, wished to develop an alternative philosophical system (a pluralistic one). This was the reason for Russell’s special interest in Leibniz who had pursued the same goal two and a half centuries earlier. The difference between Moore and Russell with respect to pluralism is evident even in their early works, though this difference reached its culmination around 1924 when Russell published his Logical Atomism and a year later when Moore published his A Defence of Common Sense as two opposing position papers. Russell’s tendency toward system-building was actually demonstrated a quarter-century earlier in his joint work with A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica.


Both Moore and Russell differed from Marxists because of their opposition to monism. They differed from anarchists in their acceptance of relations, though, they admitted external relations rather than Hegel’s internal relations They differed from both Marxists and anarchists in discarding dialectical logic, which they viewed as giving rise to absurdities, and preferred the new analytic logic. Their goal was to revive philosophical thought and knowledge, as a whole, with science as their measuring rod. In politics, they appreciated a pluralistic democratic system and wanted to enhance its achievements, rather than replacing it with a monistic centralized system (like Marxists), or to destroy society to cure its ills (like anarchists). Although Moore and Russell were pioneers in scientific pluralism, nevertheless, Russell conceded that William James was “the most important of all critics of Monism [Passmore, John, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1966, p.262].”


William James’s pragmatism was another alternative to Hegelian monism and his philosophy was also in the spirit of analytic philosophy. James shared pluralism with Russell, but he never valued logic and rationalism as did Russell. James’s criticism of Hegel was mostly concurrent with criticism of rationalism in general; Russell, on the other hand, criticized Hegel’s deviations from rationalism and his approach was to uphold rationalism. Despite this significant difference of James and Russell, James introduced and defended pluralism more thoroughly than most other philosophers who took this challenge. The following long quotation from James may help us grasp pluralistic thought better than any other explanation. In 1907 he wrote:

“Pragmatically interpreted, pluralism or the doctrine that it is many means only that the sundry parts of reality may be externally related. Everything you can think of, however vast or inclusive, has on the pluralistic view a genuinely ‘external’ environment of some sort or amount. Things are ‘with’ one another in many ways, but nothing includes everything, or dominates over everything. The word ‘and’ trails along after every sentence. Something always escapes. ‘Even not quite’ has to be said of the best attempts made anywhere in the universe at attaining all-inclusiveness. The pluralistic world is thus more like a federal republic than like an empire or a kingdom. However, much may be collected, however much may report itself as present at any effective centre of consciousness or action, something else is self-governed and absent and unreduced to unity.


“Monism, on the other hand, insists that when you come down to reality as such, to the reality of realities, everything is present to everything else in one vast instantaneous co-implicated complete-ness -- nothing can in any sense, functional or substantial, be really absent from anything else, all things interpenetrate and telescope together in the great total conflux [James, William, Pluralistic Universe, Harvard edition, 1977, p. 45] .”

James tried to develop a pluralistic system. He knew that a society recognizing the plurality of individual rights could avoid disintegration by establishing a consistent system of laws that determines the relationships between the individuals. If philosophy wanted to recognize pluralism, it needed to discover such a system, in addition to particulars and relations, in the world. James never accomplished this goal, probably because of his anti-rationalistic philosophical outlook and his ‘piece-meal fashion’ of philosophizing.


Russell, encountering other obstacles when attempting to propose a pluralistic philosophical system, i.e. the logical atomism. Unfortunately, logical atomism was not successful in its far-reaching goal and only fragmentary elements of its logical-linguistic details have survived. The later analytic philosophers mostly relinquished any attempt to build a pluralistic system and perhaps this should count for their ad hoc-ness in philosophical contemplation. Probably the hostility of most analytic philosophers towards system-building has also contributed to their lack of appeal to popular thought. It is undeniable today that many western intellectuals are giving up analytic philosophy in favor of a new kind of monism called phenomenology which is more in line with the neo-Hegelian philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. It seems like a historical irony, to return to what the whole mission of analytic philosophy was to denounce, i.e. monism.


The cause of Russell’s endeavor to develop a pluralistic system is a fortiori felt today and the tribulations of his pioneering work can be a good paradigm for current contemplations. Hereafter in this paper, I do not intend to review Russell’s philosophy of logical atomism with respect to the plausibility of the proposed specific theories, rather I wish to focus on the problems for building a pluralistic system tackled in his work. Today attempting to build a pluralistic system seems like alchemy to most analytic philosophers and this desideratum is treated as a piece of history rather than an efficacious subject of thought. As I have stated, I think otherwise, and from this perspective I view Russell’s endeavors to be very interesting and to deserve our contemplation, even if they did not achieve all their goals.


I will discuss the philosophical system of logical atomism in relation to three problems:

1) The nature of the world, i.e. whether the world is made of many basic objects (pluralism) or of just one (monism).

2) The structure of the world, i.e. what the basic elements of the world are and how they are related.

3) The origin and future of the world.

In discussing the first problem, I try to draw your attention to the importance of metaphysics in the philosophy of logical atomism. In the review of the second problem, the importance of categories is highlighted. There is not much said on the third problem in Russell’s work, but I would like to unearth its importance in any future work on system development.



II. The Nature of the World


Russell did not consider metaphysical assumptions as a prerequisite to his logical doctrine. His first suggestion of logical atomism was: “I shall try to set forth...a certain kind of logical doctrine and on the basis of this a certain kind of metaphysics [Urmson, J. 0., Philosophical Analysis 1958, p.6]." He generalizes this approach to metaphysics in his last important work Logical Atomism in 1924 as follows: “...Logic is what is fundamental in philosophy, and that schools should be characterized rather by their logic than by their metaphysic [Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, L & K, p. 323].” However, I think, upon reviewing his work on the philosophy of logical atomism, we can find its basic metaphysical belief (i.e. pluralism) prior to its logic. If so, this may also show the importance of metaphysics in formulating a pluralistic system.


Russell, at the beginning of his lecture in 1918 entitled The Philosophy of Logical Atomism is questioned about the proof of pluralism in his system and he tries to propose it as an empirical rather than an a priori assumption. He says:

"The empirical person would naturally say, there are many things, and that the disproofs that have been offered are a priori.  I should propose to refute his a priori arguments...[Russell, Bertrand, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, LK, p.323]."

He is more explicit in 1924 in Logical Atomism:

"...If I am right, there is nothing in logic that can help us to decide between monism and pluralism, or between the view that there are ultimate rational facts and the view that there are none. My own decision in favor of pluralism and relations is taken on empirical grounds, after convincing myself that a priori arguments to the contrary are invalid [Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, LK, pp.338-339]."

Thus, the most fundamental assumption (i.e. pluralism) cannot be decided by logic and this already contradicts Russell’s claim that logic is fundamental in philosophy. Moreover, he is not going to accept it by metaphysical arguments either. He introduces the empirical grounds as the reason for his choice. However, acceptance of this basic principle on empirical grounds is not less troublesome either.


At the beginning of his Logic as the Essence of Philosophy, he shows that induction cannot be accepted on empirical grounds and needs an a priori logical principle [Russell, Bertrand, Logic as the Essence of Philosophy, AT, pp.128-129]. If induction is about one causal relationship in the world, pluralism is about all things and relations in the world, past and future, and thus is more general that induction. How can pluralism be accepted on empirical grounds by the same reasons? He is aware that he cannot say that pluralism is accepted by logic, which would be circular, since his logic already presumes pluralism.


Moreover, the claim that pluralism can be decided on empirical grounds is not argued in his works on logical atomism, and is brought up as a prima facie truth. I conclude that pluralism is a metaphysical belief for Russell which can be verified by empirical facts, as well as by logical arguments about contrary assumption (i.e. monism). In other words, his claims that ‘logic is fundamental in philosophy’ and derivation of ‘metaphysic from logic’ are even inconsistent with his own arguments.


Furthermore, to prove his implicit metaphysics, Russell is more concerned with the *practical* consequences of this belief (pluralism) than with speculative arguments to establish it a priori.  This is more evident when he summarizes his work in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism:

"One purpose that has run through all that I have said, has been the justification of analysis, i.e. the justification of logical atomism, of the view that you can get down in theory, if not in practice, to ultimate simple, out of which the world is built, and that those simples have a kind of reality not belonging to anything else [Russell, Bertrand, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, LK, p. 270]."

Thus, Russell thinks that he has justified pluralism in his work. Nevertheless, if it were a prima facie truth and not a metaphysical belief, there would be no reason to think of his whole work as a justification for this outlook. In my opinion, it is inescapable that pluralism is the metaphysics of Russell’s logical atomism, and his methodology only exemplifies the approach of an analytic philosopher in establishing a metaphysical belief, from the approach a speculative philosopher. Therefore, in my view, contrary to Russell’s claim, metaphysics rather than logic is fundamental, even in characterizing his philosophy of logical atomism, let alone the other philosophical schools.


It should be learned from Russell’s example that verbal discarding of metaphysics is receiving it through the back door. Marxists considered dialectics in the world as prima facie truth and not a metaphysical belief. Same way, the positivists held belief in only direct experience as prima fade truth, and not as a metaphysical belief. They all claimed to have done away with metaphysics, but if they really had discarded metaphysics, why did they always have to modify objective facts to fit their "prima facie" schemes!?  I reckon being explicit about metaphysical assumptions, and studying their coherence with scientific facts, is better than pseudo-scientific claims of doing away with metaphysics. This also may be an important consideration for future endeavors in developing a pluralistic system.


We have seen that the nature of the world is pluralistic rather than monistic in the philosophy of logical atomism. Belief in pluralism is worthless unless it can give a better description of the truth in the world, as well as enabling predictions about the future in every sphere of life. Thus, to establish pluralism one must show its difference with monism in relation to fathoming subject areas of different sciences. Aristotle introduced his pluralism and contrasted it to various monistic schools of his time as well as appraising different subjects of various sciences by his philosophy. In other words, he substantiated the significance of his pluralism in contrast to alternative approach for studying the world. This approach is essentially missing in the texts on the philosophy of logical atomism (more on this point in part IV)


In short, camouflaging the importance of metaphysics, as well as abstractly introducing pluralism without concretely describing its difference with monism in different spheres of life, can count as two important reasons for failure of system development in the philosophy of logical atomism. Furthermore, any future endeavors to develop a pluralistic system, may need to overcome similar hurdles.



III. The Structure of the World


Having established pluralism as the general outlook of the nature of the world, the next step for a philosophical system is to discover the structure of the world. How logical atomism tackled this problem is described in this section.


The most basic elements of the world, as claimed by logical atomism, are things, relations, qualities and atomic facts. Russell explains what he means by facts in this way: “the things in the world have various properties and stand in various relations to each other. That they have these properties and relations are facts and the things and their qualities or relations are quite clearly in some sense or other components of the facts that have these qualities or relations...[Ibid., p. 192].” Moreover, he thinks that “facts belong to the objective world [Ibid., p. 197].”


Although facts are complex, they are ultimate [Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, LK, pp.338-339]” and cannot be reduced to the simple constituents. He writes:

"...Simples, as I tried to explain, are of an infinite number of sorts. There are particulars and qualities and relations of various orders, a whole hierarchy of different sorts of simples, but all of them, if we were right, have in their various ways some kind of reality that does not belong to anything else. The only other sort of object you come across in the world is what we call facts and facts are the sort of things that are asserted or denied by propositions, and are not properly entities at all in the same sense in which their constituents are. That is shown in the fact that you can not name them. You can only deny or assert, or consider them, but you can not name them because they are not there to be named, although in another sense it is true that you can not know the world unless you know the facts that make up the truths of the world [Russell, Bertrand, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, LK, P. 270]. [my emphasis- S.G.]"

In other words, the subjective notion of truth is objectified when he claims that the truth of the world can be reduced to “facts that make up the truths of the world.” This was very similar to Leibniz’s monadology where the subjective notion of mind was *objectified* by monads. The atoms relating to the truth in the objective world, according to logical atomism, are not particulars, relations, or qualities; but a unique unity of them corresponds to the truth, i.e. the atomic facts. Thus, these atomic facts, though complex, are not reducible to their parts as if the objectification of truth is a ghost holding them together.


If irreducible unities of atomic facts are admitted as above, then there is no reason to prefer considering the relations, as external relations between things, rather than internal relations of atomic facts. Actually, the latter is more suitable because it does not separate truth and relations. Moreover, there is no need to recognize particulars separate from facts, since their truth cannot be established independent of atomic facts. In other words, virtually the ultimate is only atomic facts and things, relations, and qualities are aspects of facts. Russell would not draw these conclusions from his ontology, nevertheless, Bradley was quick to point them out:

"Mr. Russell’s main position has remained to myself incomprehensible. On the one side I am led to think that he defends strict pluralism, for which nothing is admissible beyond simple terms and external relations. On the other side, Mr. Russell seems to assert emphatically, and to use throughout, ideas which such a pluralism must repudiate. These two positions to my mind are irreconcilable, since the second, as I understand it, contradicts the first flatly [Russell, Bertrand, Logical Atomism, LK, p. 336]."

Russell replied to the above by regarding “simples and complexes as always of different types [Ibid., p.336.].” However, even if we accept the theory of types, we are still faced with the problem of objective correspondence of truth to ultimate complexes, rather than the simples, and simples are still devoid of truth. This way the simples will become like Kant’s things-in-themselves, with the difference that for Kant these ultimate simples are not knowable, whereas for Russell their objective truth can not be established except in complexes. Hence, I think that Mr. Bradley could still justify his criticism, even after Russell’s proposing the theory of types. Theory of types is only the acknowledgement of simples as a type of things whose truth can not be established independent of complexes. The peculiarity of the atomic facts and my criticism above, therefore, remain intact by the theory of types. I propose the following notions to elucidate the problem.


Aristotle’s eight to ten categories of the objects of thought and his studies of their relations to each other provided better concepts in discovering the structure of the world for a pluralist than Russell’s categories. Actually, Russell only mentions three categories, i.e. , things, relations, and qualities, and, in my opinion, finding it hard to build a system corresponding to the real world based on these categories, he introduces a new category of objects of thought (atomic facts) as an objectification of truth to fill in the gap in explaining the real world. In fact, only this category would suffice and even the three simple categories are redundant, since atomic facts already furnish all the basic elements, to establish the truth in the world. In this way, he departs from pluralism to a great extent without noticing it. I think, falling into this mistake was due to Russell’s oversight in not appreciating the significance of categories of the objects of thought in philosophical systems. He continued this mistake even years after giving up logical atomism, and as far as I know, none of the critics has noticed it. In his A History of Western Philosophy (1945) he writes:

"What exactly is meant by the word “category”, whether in Aristotle or in Kant and Hegel, I must confess that I have never been able to understand. I do not myself believe that the term “category” is in any way useful in philosophy, as representing any clear idea [Russell, Bertrand, A History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1945, pp. 199-200]."

Contrary to Russell’s view, categories do affect the structure of philosophical systems and this is why all-sided philosophers like Aristotle and Hegel have emphasized the elaboration of their accepted categories of objects of thought. Clarity about accepted categories can help prevent unnoticed categories to unobtrusively slip into a philosophical system without justification. Actually, Russell himself is introducing a new category when he postulates atomic facts and if he were aware of this fact, probably he would have recognized that categorically there was no essential difference between his atomic propositions, that were supposedly picturing atomic facts, and the atomic facts themselves, which were nothing but a new category of speech like relation, substance, quality, etc. Also the lack of categories like time and space were problematic in Russell’s logical atomism. (This will be discussed in the next section).


Lack of clarity about categories helps the subjectivism of the new category “atomic facts” to go unnoticed. Since atomic facts are “objective” and atomic propositions are subjective, there could not be any suspicion of subjectivism. It is like assuming an object to correspond to a nightmare and then thinking that speaking about nightmares can be subjective as well as objective. We can find something similar in logical atomism. Russell views propositions as the pictures of facts. But facts like nightmares are subjective notions as long as they correspond to truth and calling them objective does not change anything. Moreover, the complexity of facts is “mirrored by the complexity of propositions [Russell, Bertrand, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, LK, p.197].” The philosophy of logical atomism then turns to studying propositions rather than the facts. Russell writes: “The nature of the thing would come to mean all the true propositions in which the thing is mentioned [Ibid., p. 204].”’


This is how logical atomism proceeded in the direction of linguistic positivism and the study of the world was replaced by the study of logic and linguistics. The new model fascinated analytic philosophers with its linguistic intricacies and studying the real problems about the universe and society seemed unnecessary for this model for understanding the world! This fate was probably due to the mistake of “objectifying” the subjective notion of truth as atomic facts mirrored by atomic propositions. But, in fact, there was no difference between the two. The real correspondence between categories of speech and their objects always necessitates interaction with the world to understand the contents of these categories. This pseudo—objectified category of truth was an easy way to study the world in linguistic textbooks. Atomic facts were actually useless and atomic propositions occupied the supreme position of contemplation.


In summary, the limited number of categories of the objects of thought, ‘objectifying’ the notion of truth, in the absence of clarity about the importance of categories in philosophical systems, formed the fundamental shortcomings of Russell’s scheme for understanding the structure of the world. Consequently, in his metaphysics, pluralism was undermined by accepting unanalyzed complex unities: atomic facts. Also, in his epistemology, realism was undermined when atomic propositions gained supremacy in his philosophical system.



IV. The Origin and Future of the World


The model of Russell’s world model (logical atomism) was very weak in coping with time-dependent problems. As already noted, there was no mention of time in his categories. The things in his model would last only for a short time to talk about them. Thus, his system would not proceed very far from the objects of immediate experience, and in this respect, it was solipsist. He writes in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism:

"...particulars have this peculiarity, among the sort of objects that you have to take account of in an inventory of the world, that each of them stands entirely alone and is completely self—subsistent. It has that sort of self—subsistence that used to belong to substance, except that it usually only persists through a very short time, so far as our experience goes [Ibid., p. 202]."

He is even more explicit in the question and answer session following his lecture:

"...I made that dot and talked about it for some little time. I mean it varies often. If you argue quickly, you can get some little way before it is finished. I think things last for a finite time, a matter of some seconds or minutes or whatever it may happen to be [ Ibid., p. 203]."

Thus, if the things change this fast, the most reliable account of the world is the linguistic account of the world that remains intact and we are back where we were in the previous section although now it is because of ‘time’.


Russell’s problems with the time category were not only due to his proposed system but his interpretations of modern physics had also added to his confusion. Russell at the end of his Logical Atomism (1924) redefines his categories. This is where we can discern his entanglements with modern physics. The following long excerpt is necessary to clarify the matter. He writes:

“The world consists of a number, perhaps finite, perhaps infinite, of entities which have various relations to each other, perhaps also various qualities. Each of these entities may be called ‘event’; from the point of view of old-fashioned physics, an event occupies a short finite time and a small amount of space, but as we are not going to have an old- fashioned space and an old-fashioned time, this statement can be taken at its face value. Every event has to a certain number of others a relation which may be called ‘compresence’; from the point of view of physics, a collection of compresent events all occupy one small region in space-time [Ibid., p.341]."


“...Such regions can be collected, by means of the laws of physics, into tracks or tubes, very much more extended in one dimension of space-time than in the other three. Such a tube constitutes the ‘history’ of a piece of matter; from the point of the view of the piece of matter itself, the dimension in which it is most extended can be called ‘time’, but it is only the private time of that piece of matter, because it does not correspond exactly with the dimension in which another piece of matter is most extended...[Ibid., p. 342]."

The above excerpt shows what has happened to Russell’s categories. The Theory of Relativity has influenced him to give up separate categories of time and space whereas in ordinary life these categories are indispensable. If atomic facts are the kind of objects referred to by atomic prepositions, they are essentially ordinary objects of thought for which separate time and space categories are distinguishable. The objects of high-velocity physics such as sub-atomic particles are not even described by ordinary language and mathematical formulations are used for describing their properties. On the other hand, the Theory of Relativity has also shown that for ordinary speeds, we better retain the separate categories of time and space.


Even Einstein after postulating space-time events, in the Special Theory of Relativity, uses the separate categories to explain his General Theory of Relativity and his studies of Quantum Physics in his book The Evolution of Physics. This shows how indispensable these categories are for studying the world. How can we talk about geological, anthropological or social changes without using the notion of time. Anyway, I think, Russell at the time was confused by the maxims of new physics to the extent to consider time as a ‘private time’ or as something subjective and dependent on the observer, again the influence of quantum physics in a realm where th the size and speed do not necessarily warrant the extrapolation.


It is evident that the above system would interpret history as a private history of individuals, therefore this solipsism could not offer a response to the question of the origin and future of the world. In short, logical atomism as a system, was unable to encounter such questions about the world. A philosophical system without appropriate spatial and time categories can not deal with the most important subjects of philosophical speculation, i.e. change. I think, any proposed pluralistic philosophical system should provide appropriate spatial and temporal elements flexible enough for the studies of various levels of science and different spheres of contemplation, to enable us to study the past as well as to make predictions about the future in different spheres of life.



V. Conclusion


The philosophy of logical atomism was the first endeavor to build a pluralistic system founded on contemporary science. It is no surprise that it was very weak and could not achieve its goals. The Ancient Greeks witnessed the defeat of Democritus and Leucippus before reaching the zenith of the Aristotelian system. Logical atomism likewise can be viewed as one of the endeavors in the twentieth century to build a new philosophy capable of coping with the new upheavals in science, technology, and society, reflecting on the universe as we know it today. As an outline of what we can learn from this bold attempt, for future endeavors, to develop pluralistic philosophical systems, I would like to make the following summary:

1. To introduce an explicit metaphysical scheme for a pluralistic system and clearly demarcate its differences with monistic systems in various spheres of thought.

2. To apply the proposed philosophical system in different sciences, etc. and to substantiate its significance in solving various problems.

3. To elaborate new categories for the objects of thought, consistent with the level of science, as well as being sufficient for tackling various projects of the study of the world. Especially the need to introduce new time and space categories, with the necessary flexibility, to cope with the tasks of different sciences.

4. To avoid muddling subjective notions with objective notions which, contrary to Ockham’s razor, increases our problems rather than diminishing them.

5. To study new forms of logic that could correspond to dynamism and time-changes in the world. Boole, Frege, Peano, and Russell’s endeavors freed us from subject-predicate limitations in logic. The next step is to overcome the staticism in logic with respect to time. In this regard, perhaps Hegelian logic can have some merits regardless of its recognized known demerits.

The development of a pluralistic philosophical system capable of meeting the upheavals in science and technology is not a quick project and may take quite a long time, with frequent disappointments before reaching an apex like the Aristotelian and Hegelian systems.


Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,


Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher


July  11, 2006


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