Philosophy 701R – Seminar: Bertrand Russell

Spring 2013

Tuesdays 4–6:30pm, 374 Bartlett

Kevin C. Klement

Course description: We will examine the development of Russell’s philosophical views on logic, metaphysics, epistemology and mathematics roughly during the years 1900–1918. This includes the time-frame of the composition of Principia Mathematica and the adoption of logical atomism. Topics include logicism, logical form, logical and semantic paradoxes, the theory of types, philosophical analysis, the nature of truth, logical atomism, descriptions and meaning. Pre-requisites: Graduate student status with a strong background in formal logic, or the consent of instructor.

Contact information: My office is 358 Bartlett. My office hours are Tuesdays 11am–12pm, Thursdays 2:30–3:30pm, and by appointment. My office phone is 545-5784. My email address is  whatever.

Course webpage: There’s a public webpage here, but this is basically just a poster. More interesting is our Moodle page, where you can download course readings, check grades, etc.

Texts: I shall endeavor to make all required readings available electronically (through Moodle), but you might consider purchasing copies of Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Logic and Knowledge, Theory of Knowledge, Essays in Analysis and/or Principia Mathematica [to *56].

Requirements: Your final course grade is based on the following requirements: in-class participation (20%), weekly reading assignments (30%), and a final term paper or book reviews (50%).

Weekly reading assignments: You are expected to carefully read the selected texts for each session before the seminar meeting and come prepared to discuss them. To facilitate this, each week you are expected to write a 1–3 page essay in which you (1) summarize the required reading, (2) identify any criticisms or points of discussion (including points in need of clarification). These essays are due at the start of class on the day we will be discussing the relevant readings.

Each will be graded on a 1–5 scale, with 1 representing a barely acceptable essay, 2 representing a deeply problematic essay that misrepresents Russell’s views or commits other abuses of philosophical method, 3 representing an essay that is slightly lacking in some area, but generally acceptable, 4 representing a good essay that performs the desired tasks as expected, and 5 representing an essay with substantial and original insight. (You should never expect to receive anything above 4. A student receiving a 4 on every assignment should still expect a good grade for this portion. I will only award a 5 to an essay that surpasses my expectations.)

In determining your grade, I will take into account only your 9 highest scores of 12 possible essays. This means you may either drop your three lowest scores, or simply not write three essays (or combine the two options).

Term paper or book reviews: You are also to choose between the following two options:

  1. Term paper (15-25 pages): The paper should constitute critical and original discussion either of the interpretation of Russell’s works or the philosophical issues they raise. The amount of outside research done for the paper is left to your discretion, but a careful search of the relevant secondary material is strongly recommended. – OR –
  2. Book reviews: Read TWO books written on or about Russell’s philosophy during the relevant period and, for each, prepare a lengthy academic-style book review (6–10 pages each) in which you first summarize the book, and evaluate it in terms of both the accuracy of its interpretation of Russell, and its other philosophical merits.

Incompletes: Per departmental policy, graduate students in philosophy taking incompletes must complete all course requirements by the first day of classes for Fall semester.

Russell Seminar – Tentative Reading Schedule


CPBR# = Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, vol. # EA = Essays in Analysis
IMP = Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy
L&K = Logic & Knowledge
M&L = Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays
OKEW = Our Knowledge of the External World
PM = Principia Mathematica
PE = Philosophical Essays
PM = Principia Mathematica
PoM = The Principles of Mathematics
PoP = The Problems of Philosophy
ToK = The Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript

Week 1 (Jan. 22): Intro., biography and logic history

Week 2 (Jan. 29): Required: IMP (1919), chaps. I–VI, VIII. Recommended: IMP (1919), chaps. VII, IX–XI; “The Regressive Method of Discovering the Premises of Mathematics” (1907), in EA.

Week 3 (Feb. 5): Required: IMP (1919), chaps. XIII, XV–XVIII. Recommended: IMP (1919), chaps. XII, XIV.

Week 4 (Feb. 12): Required: PoM (1903), Preface; chaps. I–III. Recommended: “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians” (1901), in M&L.

No class on Feb. 19th. (Monday class schedule.)

Week 5 (Feb. 26): Required: PoM (1903), chaps. IV–VI, XI, XVI and §§426–27. Recommended: PoM (1903), chaps. VII–IX, XV. G. E. Moore, “The Nature of Judgment” (1899).

Week 6 (March 5): Required: PoM (1903), chap. X; §§348–49; Appendices A & B. Beginning of Frege–Russell correspondence, 1902 (pp. 130–33). Recommended: G. Frege, “Function and Concept” (1891) and “On Sense and Reference” (1892); Remainder of F–R correspondence (1902–04).

Week 7 (March 12): Required: “On Denoting” (1905), in L&K and EA and elsewhere; “The Existential Import of Propositions” (1905), in EA. Recommended: Letters to Meinong (1904–07); “Necessity and Possibility” (1905), in CPBR4; “On the Meaning and Denotation of Phrases” (1903), in CPBR4.

No class on March 19th. (Spring break.)

Week 8 (March 26): Required: “The Substitutional Theory of Classes and Relations” (1906), in EA; “On ‘Insolubilia’ and their Solution by Symbolic Logic” (1906), in EA. Recommended: “On Some Difficulties in the Theory of Transfinite Numbers and Order Types” (1905), in EA.

Week 9 (Apr. 2): Required: “The Nature of Truth” (1905), in CPBR4; “On the Nature of Truth,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 7 (1907): 44–49 (part III), “On the Nature of Truth and Falsehood” (1910), in PE or CPBR6. Recommended: Remainder of “On the Nature of Truth”; “Meinong’s Theory of Complexes and Assumptions” (1904), esp. pt. 3.

Week 10 (Apr. 9): Required: PM, introd. to first ed. (pp. 1–84). Recommended: “Mathematical Logic as Based on the Theory of Types” (1908), in L&K.

Week 11 (Apr. 16): Required: “Analytic Realism” (1911), in CPBR6; “Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knolwedge by Description” (1911), in M&L or CPBR6; “The Philosophical Importance of Mathematical Logic” (1911), in CPBR6 or EA. Recommended: PoP (1912), passim, but esp. chaps. VII–XI; “On The Relations of Universals and Particulars” (1912), in L&K or CPBR6.

Week 12 (Apr. 23): Required: “What Is Logic?” (1912), in CPBR6; ToK (1913), selections. Recommended: OKEW (1914), esp. chaps. II and VII.

Week 13 (Apr. 30): Required: “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism” (1918) in L&K. Recommended: “The Relation of Sense Data to Physics” (1914) in M&L or CPBR8; “The Ultimate Constituents of Matter” (1915), in M&L or CPBR8.

Other suggested readings: “On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean” (1919), in L&K or CPBR8; Introd. to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), “Vagueness” (1923), in CPBR9 or online; “Logical Atomism” (1924), in L&K or CPBR9; Introd. to PM, 2nd ed. (1925).

Return to Kevin’s Homepage | UMass Philosophy | Bertrand Russell Society | UMass Moodle.