“Enlargement of Self” by
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell, University of St. Andrews About the author. . . . Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) may well be con-
sidered the most influential British philosopher of the twentieth century.
Early in his career, because of his pacifist activities, he was dismissed
from Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he supported himself by
public lecturing and continued to write in many different fields of philos-
ophy. Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition
of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian
ideals and freedom of thought.”
About the work. . . . In this short reading selection, Russell concludes
his Problems of Philosophy,1 an early work introducing philosophical in-
quiry. He thoughtfully summarizes many uses of philosophy. The depth
of the thinking evident here will probably only be evident after careful
re-reading. Philosophy is not just another academic subject along side the
others, instead philosophy is the systematic inquiry into the presupposi-
tions of any field of study. Often philosophical wonderings form the his-
torical genesis of those disciplines.
Bertrand Russell. Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912.
“Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell From the reading. . .
“. . . as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomespossible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy and becomes aseparate science. ” Ideas of Interest From Russell’s
Problems of Philosophy

1. How would you describe Russell’s practical person? 2. Why not live one’s life as a practical person? 4. What does Russell think is the central value of philosophical inquiry? 5. Characterize the instinctive individual.
7. How does philosophical thinking relate to living and acting in the The Reading Selection from Problems
of Philosophy

[Indirect Values of Philosophy]
Having now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review ofthe problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, whatis the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the morenecessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men,under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling,hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning whichknowledge is impossible.
This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conceptionof the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goodswhich philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the mediumof inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant ofit; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, orprimarily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of theeffect on mankind in general. Thus utility does not belong to philosophy.
If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students ofphilosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives ofthose who study it. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that thevalue of philosophy must be primarily sought.
[The Practical Person]
But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the value ofphilosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what arewrongly called “practical” men. The “practical” man, as this word is oftenused, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that menmust have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providingfood for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease hadbeen reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain muchto be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing worldthe goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. Itis exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy isto be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can bepersuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time.
[Philosophy and Science]
Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowl-edge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system tothe body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical ex-amination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. Butit cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measureof success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man oflearning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science,his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put thesame question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confessthat his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achievedby other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the factthat, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes pos-sible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separatescience. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astron-omy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called“the mathematical principles of natural philosophy”. Similarly, the studyof the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been sepa-rated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus,to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real:those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placedin the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answercan be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.
Isaac Newton. Philosophiciæ naturalis principia mathematica. London:Royal Society, 3rd. ed., 1726. Library of Congress Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell [Philosophical Questions]
This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty ofphilosophy. There are many questions—and among them those that are ofthe profoundest interest to our spiritual life— which, so far as we can see,must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become ofquite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unityof plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is conscious-ness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth inwisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life mustultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to theuniverse or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and var-iously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whetheranswers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by phi-losophy are none of them demonstrably true. Yet, however slight may bethe hope of discovering an answer, it is part of the business of philosophyto continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of theirimportance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive thatspeculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confiningourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge.
From the reading. . .
“The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its veryuncertainty.” Many philosophers, it is true, have held that philosophy could establishthe truth of certain answers to such fundamental questions. They have sup-posed that what is of most importance in religious beliefs could be provedby strict demonstration to be true. In order to judge of such attempts, it isnecessary to take a survey of human knowledge, and to form an opinionas to its methods and its limitations. On such a subject it would be unwiseto pronounce dogmatically; but if the investigations of our previous chap-ters have not led us astray, we shall be compelled to renounce the hopeof finding philosophical proofs of religious beliefs. We cannot, therefore,include as part of the value of philosophy any definite set of answers tosuch questions. Hence, once more, the value of philosophy must not de-pend upon any supposed body of definitely ascertainable knowledge to beacquired by those who study it.
Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell [The Values of Philosophy]
The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very un-certainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through lifeimprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the ha-bitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which havegrown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his delib-erate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite,obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilitiesare contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on thecontrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the mosteveryday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answerscan be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what isthe true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many pos-sibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny ofcustom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what thingsare, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removesthe somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled intothe region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder byshowing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
From the reading. . .
“. . . philosophy has a value, perhaps its chief value—through thegreatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedomfrom narrow personal aims resulting from this contemplation.” Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy hasa value—perhaps its chief value—through the greatness of the objectswhich it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aimsresulting from this contemplation. The life of the instinctive man is shutup within the circle of his private interests: family and friends may be in-cluded, but the outer world is not regarded except as it may help or hinderwhat comes within the circle of instinctive wishes. In such a life thereis something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philo-sophic life is calm and free. The private world of instinctive interests isa small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which must,sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge ourinterests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison ina beleaguered fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and that Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a con-stant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will.
In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escapethis prison and this strife.
[Enlargement of Self]
One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation. Philosophic contem-plation does not, in its widest survey, divide the universe into two hostilecamps—friends and foes, helpful and hostile, good and bad—it views thewhole impartially. Philosophic contemplation, when it is unalloyed, doesnot aim at proving that the rest of the universe is akin to man. All acqui-sition of knowledge is an enlargement of the Self, but this enlargement isbest attained when it is not directly sought. It is obtained when the desirefor knowledge is alone operative, by a study which does not wish in ad-vance that its objects should have this or that character, but adapts the Selfto the characters which it finds in its objects. This enlargement of Self isnot obtained when, taking the Self as it is, we try to show that the world isso similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admis-sion of what seems alien. The desire to prove this is a form of self-assertionand, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth of Self which itdesires, and of which the Self knows that it is capable. Self-assertion, inphilosophic speculation as elsewhere, views the world as a means to itsown ends; thus it makes the world of less account than Self, and the Selfsets bounds to the greatness of its goods. In contemplation, on the con-trary, we start from the not-Self, and through its greatness the boundariesof Self are enlarged; through the infinity of the universe the mind whichcontemplates it achieves some share in infinity.
For this reason greatness of soul is not fostered by those philosophieswhich assimilate the universe to Man. Knowledge is a form of union ofSelf and not-Self; like all union, it is impaired by dominion, and thereforeby any attempt to force the universe into conformity with what we find inourselves. There is a widespread philosophical tendency towards the viewwhich tells us that Man is the measure of all things, that truth is man-made,that space and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind,and that, if there be anything not created by the mind, it is unknowableand of no account for us. This view, if our previous discussions were cor-rect, is untrue; but in addition to being untrue, it has the effect of robbingphilosophic contemplation of all that gives it value, since it fetters contem- Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell plation to Self. What it calls knowledge is not a union with the not-Self,but a set of prejudices, habits, and desires, making an impenetrable veilbetween us and the world beyond. The man who finds pleasure in such atheory of knowledge is like the man who never leaves the domestic circlefor fear his word might not be law.
Trinity College, Cambridge, Russell, after being home schooled, a veryhigh Wrangler, and a First Class with distinction in philosophy, took upresidence and was later elected a fellow to Trinity College in 1895. Libraryof Congress The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfactionin every enlargement of the not-Self, in everything that magnifies the ob-jects contemplated, and thereby the subject contemplating. Everything, incontemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends uponhabit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs theunion which the intellect seeks. By thus making a barrier between subjectand object, such personal and private things become a prison to the intel-lect. The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now,without hopes and fears, without the trammels of customary beliefs andtraditional prejudices, calmly, dispassionately, in the sole and exclusivedesire of knowledge—knowledge as impersonal, as purely contemplative,as it is possible for man to attain. Hence also the free intellect will valuemore the abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of pri-vate history do not enter, than the knowledge brought by the senses, anddependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personalpoint of view and a body whose sense-organs distort as much as they re-veal.
Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell [Freedom of Contemplation]
The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartialityof philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same free-dom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will viewits purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insis-tence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world ofwhich all the rest is unaffected by any one man’s deeds. The impartialitywhich, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very samequality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universallove which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged use-ful or admirable. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of ourthoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makesus citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all therest. In this citizenship of the universe consists man’s true freedom, andhis liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears.
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophyis to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questionssince no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather forthe sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge ourconception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and di-minish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation;but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philos-ophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capableof that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.
From the reading. . .
“All acquisition of knowledge is an enlargement of self, but thisenlargement of self is best obtained when it is not directly sought.” Related Ideas
“Bertrand Russell Archives” ( Mc-Master University. Catalogs, writing, lectures, quotations, and other infor-mation about Russell.
Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell “Bertrand Russell” ( Stanford En-cyclopedia of Philosophy. A brief but interesting biographical account ofRussell and a discussion of his works. The site also includes some soundclips.
Bertrand Russell. A History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon &Schuster, 1967. An entertaining and fascinating, if not wholly accurate,survey of Western philosophy.
Topics Worth Investigating
1. Russell praises the contemplative life and the virtues of encyclopedic knowledge. In this day and age, is a synoptic philosophical under-standing of the world practicable? Doesn’t one have to specialize inorder to be successful? What are the “goods of the mind” that Russellrefers to at the beginning of the chapter? 2. In this essay, Russell mentions the “greatness of the objects” of phi- losophy and also lists some typical questions with which philosophyis concerned. What are these objects and are they related in any wayto the main division of philosophy: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics,and aesthetics? Consider the following “objects”: When old age shall this generation waste,Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe,Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is allYe need to know on earth, and all ye need to know.” —John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn 3. Russell writes in response to Socrates: “I would never die for my be- liefs because I might be wrong.” How would Socrates respond to thisremark? How would you resolve the paradox? 4. How does Russell’s distinction between the philosophic mind and the practical mind compare with William James’ distinction between thetough and tender-minded person? The characteristics are listed in theaccompanying table. Can it be argued that even the philosophically Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell minded person must exert some of the characteristics of the practicalperson in order to live well and do well in the world? James writes: The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clashof temperaments. . . Of whatever temperament a professional philoso-pher is, he tries, while philosophizing to sink the fact of his tempera-ment. Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason, so he urgesimpersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament re-ally gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objectivepremises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making fora more sentimental or more hard-hearted view of the universe, just asthis fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament.2 The Tender-Minded
The Tough-Minded
William James. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell A page from Mrs. Phelps, Natural Philosophy for Beginners. New York:Huntington and Savage, 1849.
dogmatism, egoism, epistemology, ethics, freedom, James, William, justice, Keats, John, knowledge, , love, meaning of life, means to end, metaphysics, Newton, Isaac, Nobel Prize, Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction “Enlargement of Self” by Bertrand Russell psychology, relativism, religion, Russell, Bertrand, Socrates, soul, subjectivism, truth, universe Reading For Philosophical Inquiry: A Brief Introduction



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