What is the Refusal of Idealism?June 26, 2021
While Russell was studying philosophy, an understanding of idealism influenced by the metaphysical views of Leibniz and Hegel was dominant in the British academy.
In his doctoral dissertation titled A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, Russell argued that Leibniz’s philosophy of logic and language should be adopted, while his metaphysics should be rejected. In his thesis published in 1900, he talked about Leibniz’s project called characteristica universalis, and thought that philosophical problems could be solved within this ideal language that Leibniz dreamed of.
Russell called the idealist understanding he criticized as the doctrine of internal relations. Taken at its extreme, according to this approach, reality was conceived as a single unified object. All objects were interconnected by their nature and existence. If any object did not possess even a single feature as it currently does, it would annihilate the existence of the entire universe. Everything was present by necessity and as a whole.
Moore was primarily opposed to this approach. He presented his criticisms of this doctrine in articles titled “Refutation of Idealism” and “External and Internal Relations”. Russell saw a similar problem with this approach. The problem was that knowing an object requires knowing all the relations it has. According to Russell, in this case, space, time, number and the objects that constitute the subject of science in general become completely unknown.
This doctrine was replaced by realism, albeit in different forms, by Russell and Moore. They thought that there could be no talk of science and scientific progress without defending the existence of the external world independently of us. Russell argued that philosophy should use logic and science to break down complex philosophical problems into their simple components. In general, metaphysical propositions add nothing new to our knowledge. So the metaphysical had to be cut out using Ockham’s razor.
In their early realist approaches, both Moore and Russell thought that we should believe in the existence of objects that we encounter in everyday life. In addition to this, it should be accepted that there are numbers, sets and relations that we can call abstract objects. Finally, they thought that any object we consider must have some kind of existence. Among such objects were objects that did not actually exist, such as Pegasus, the modern-day king of France.
Russell abandoned this pluralistic and ultra-realistic approach, which he advocated in the early periods, over time. He dealt with his views on the constituent elements of objects that we encounter in everyday life, within a theory called logical atomism. He furthered the work of Peano and Frege in the project of reducing mathematics to logic. He thought that the necessity of ascribing some kind of existence to non-existent objects was due to the inability to put the logic of language correctly, and he developed the theory of specific descriptors, which was quite influential on the analytic tradition that followed.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook