Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bertrand Russell, the urge to touch the absolute.
Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible ; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.

...Philosophers have commonly held that the laws of logic, which underlie mathematics, are laws of thought, laws regulating the operations of our minds. By this opinion the true dignity of reason is very greatly lowered ; it ceases to be an investigation into the very heart and immutable essence of all things actual and possible, becoming, instead, an inquiry into something more or less human and subject to our limitations. The contemplation of what is non-human, the discovery that our minds are capable of dealing with material not created by them, above all, the realisation that beauty belongs to the outer world as to the inner, are the chief means of overcoming the terrible sense of impotence, of weakness, of exile amid hostile powers, which is too apt to result from acknowledging the ail-but omnipotence of alien forces. To reconcile us, by the exhibition of its awful beauty, to the reign of Fate —which is merely the literary personification of these forces—is the task of tragedy. But mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the actual world, but every possible world, must conform ; and even here it builds a habitation, or rather finds a habitation eternally standing, where our ideals are fully satisfied and our best hopes are not thwarted. It is only when we thoroughly understand the entire independence of ourselves, which belongs to this world that reason finds, that we can adequately realise the profound importance of its beauty.
Russell, "The Study of Mathematics", in Philosophical Essays, most of the above quoted, in reverse order, in a review by Santayana.

"Mathematics seems to have a value for Mr. Russell akin to that of religion. It affords a sanctuary to which to flee from the world, a heaven suffused with a serene radiance and full of a peculiar sweet- ness and consolation."
I am the last to deny the need of insisting, in ethics, on ethical judgments in all their purity and dogmatic sincerity. Such insistence, if we had heard more of it in our youth, might have saved many of us from chronic entanglements; and there is nothing, next to Plato, which ought to be more recommended to the young philosopher than the teachings of Messrs. Russell and Moore, if he wishes to be a moralist and a logician, and not merely to seem one. Yet this salutary doctrine, though correct, is inadequate. It is a monocular philosophy, seeing outlines clear, but missing the solid bulk and perspective of things. We need binocular vision to quicken the whole mind and yield a full image of reality. Ethics should be controlled by a physics that per- ceives the material ground and the relative status of whatever is moral. Otherwise ethics itself tends to grow narrow, strident, and fanatical; as may be observed in asceticism and puritanism, or, for the matter of that, in Mr. Moore's uncivilized doctrine of retributive punishment, or in Mr. Russell's intolerance of selfishness and patriotism, and in his refusal to entertain any pious reverence for the nature of things. The quality of wisdom, like that of mercy, is not strained. To choose, to love and hate, to have a moral life, is inevitable and legitimate in the part; but it is the function of the part as part, and we must keep it in its place if we wish to view the whole in its true proportions. Even to express justly the aim of our own life we need to retain a constant sympathy with what is animal and fundamental in it, else we shall give a false place, and too loud an emphasis, to our definitions of the ideal. However, it would be much worse not to reach the ideal at all, or to confuse it for want of courage and sincerity in uttering our true mind; and it is in uttering our true mind that Mr. Russell's essays can help us, even if our true mind should not always coincide with his.
You'll never understand hate unless you've felt it. It's best to have felt it and transcended it, but better never to have felt it than never to have transcended it.

Russell on James and Santayana in his esssay on James in A History of Western Philosophy
His warm-heartedness and his delightful humour caused him to be almost universally beloved. The only man I know of who did not feel any affection for him was Santayana, whose doctor's thesis William James had described as "the perfection of rottenness." There was between these two men a temperamental opposition which nothing could have overcome. Santayana also liked religion, but in a very different way. He liked it aesthetically and historically, not as a help towards a moral life; as was natural, he greatly preferred Catholicism to Protestantism. He did not intellectually accept any of the Christian dogmas, but he was content that others should believe them, and himself appreciated what he regarded as the Christian myth. To James, such an attitude could not but appear immoral. He retained from his Puritan ancestry a deep-seated belief that what is of most importance is good conduct, and his democratic feeling made him unable to acquiesce in the notion of one truth for philosophers and another for the vulgar. The temperamental opposition between Protestant and Catholic persists among the unorthodox; Santayana was a Catholic free-thinker, William James a Protestant, however heretical. 
Letters of William James Vol. II
...The great event in my life recently has been the reading of Santayana's book.[Interpretations of Poetry and Religion] Although I absolutely reject the platonism of it, I have literally squealed with delight at the imperturbable perfection with which the position is laid down on page after page; and grunted with delight at such a thickening up of our Harvard atmosphere. If our students now could begin really to understand what Royce means with his voluntaristic-pluralistic monism, what Münsterberg means with his dualistic scientificism and platonism, what Santayana means by his pessimistic platonism (I wonder if he and Mg. have had any close mutually encouraging intercourse in this line?), what I mean by my crass pluralism, what you mean by your ethereal idealism, that these are so many religions, ways of fronting life, and worth fighting for, we should have a genuine philosophic universe at Harvard. The best condition of it would be an open conflict and rivalry of the diverse systems. (Alas! that I should be out of it, just as my chance begins!) The world might ring with the struggle, if we devoted ourselves exclusively to belaboring each other.I now understand Santayana, the man. I never understood him before. But what a perfection of rottenness in a philosophy! I don't think I ever knew the anti-realistic view to be propounded with so impudently superior an air. It is refreshing to see a representative of moribund Latinity rise up and administer such reproof to us barbarians in the hour of our triumph. I imagine Santayana's style to be entirely spontaneous. But it has curious classic echoes. Whole pages of pure Hume in style; others of pure Renan. Nevertheless, how fantastic a philosophy!—as if the "world of values" were independent of existence. It is only as being, that one thing is better than another. The idea of darkness is as good as that of light, as ideas. There is more value in light's being. And the exquisite consolation, when you have ascertained the badness of all fact, in knowing that badness is inferior to goodness, to the end—it only rubs the pessimism in. A man whose egg at breakfast turns out always bad says to himself, "Well, bad and good are not the same, anyhow." That is just the trouble! Moreover, when you come down to the facts, what do your harmonious and integral ideal systems prove to be? in the concrete? Always things burst by the growing content of experience. Dramatic unities; laws of versification; ecclesiastical systems; scholastic doctrines. Bah! Give me Walt Whitman and Browning ten times over, much as the perverse ugliness of the latter at times irritates me, and intensely as I have enjoyed Santayana's attack. The barbarians are in the line of mental growth, and those who do insist that the ideal and the real are dynamically continuous are those by whom the world is to be saved. But I'm nevertheless delighted that the other view, always existing in the world, should at last have found so splendidly impertinent an expression among ourselves. I have meant to write to Santayana; but on second thoughts, and to save myself, I will just ask you to send him this. It saves him from what might be the nuisance of having to reply, and on my part it has the advantage of being more free-spoken and direct. He is certainly an extraordinarily distingué writer. Thank him for existing! 
Santayana, "The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy"
But there is another distinguished man, lately lost to this country, who has given some rude shocks to this tradition  and who, as much as Whitman, may be regarded as representing the genuine, the long silent American mind—I mean William James. He and his brother Henry were as tightly swaddled in the genteel tradition as any infant geniuses could be, for they were born in Cambridge, and in a Swedenborgian household. Yet they burst those bands almost entirely. The ways in which the two brothers freed themselves, however, are interestingly different. Mr. Henry James has done it by adopting the point of view of the outer world, and by turning the genteel American tradition, as he turns everything else, into a subject-matter for analysis. 
"A gentleman never lets politics get in the way of a friendship."
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All of it included in the rewrite.

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