Discussion 20: Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell on The Times Literary Supplement

I could understand from your perspective how the world looks by observing the world from your point of view. This is because different positions create different perspectives. I can only understand from your perspective if I place my myself in your position. For instance, if you describe the world while on another planet, you will say that the world is a globe. If I am in the world, I cannot understand what you are talking about, unless I stand outside the world and view it from that position, then I can possibly know that the world is a globe. This means that for us to understand someone’s perspective, we need to place ourselves in their position.

This question relates to Russell’s argument about the two tables in the manner that Russell states that viewing the table from different positions create different perspectives about the table. This is because the table will reflect light differently based on the angle that a person views it from. In the recording, Russell states, “No two persons can view the table at exactly the same angle at the same time.” He adds, “When we begin to examine things, we can only examine from our perspective, not from another’s.” In this statement, Russell means that we can only infer the real table from the appearance of the table. Furthermore, viewing the table from different angles produces different perspectives about the table.

Russell’s argument about the table implies that we cannot know if something is real, because what we see is only an appearance. According to the recording on Russell, we assume many things throughout the day, but on reflection of the things we accept, there is some doubt about the extent of our knowledge about what we experienced.  Since many appearances are possible, none can be preferred over another. Russell asks, “If we cannot trust what we see with our naked eye, then how could we trust anything?”. Russell states that the real table cannot be known from experience or senses, but can only be inferred. Therefore, if I want to understand from your perspective how the world looks, I will have to stand in your position. This is because if I explain from my position, I will give a different description of the world. Russell’s argument about the table implies that we should not trust the appearance, because the appearances change. However, we can only infer the truth from the appearances.

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