Sunday, August 15, 2010

"My Dear Russell": Korzybski and Bertrand Russell- Part II

At the end of his Introduction of Mathematical Philosophy (1919), Russell had presented no remedy for the misleading aspects of ordinary language other than to retreat into the use of logical symbolism. (1) Russell seemed to maintain this attitude throughout his life. Thus when he wasn’t ‘speaking mathematically’ he tended to fall into the ‘traps’ of ordinary language. On the other hand, Korzybski came to accept that language as behavior could be used with skill in order to formulate experience of the world in a different way. Mathematicians seemed notable to Korzybski for their creative use of symbolism and there existed no inherent reason that our everyday language could not be similarly amenable to purposeful change. Since Russell did not accept this, he never understood how Alfred made use of his (Russell’s) work to help people make their everyday language less misleading.

There we have the crux of Korzybski’s problems with Russell. The two men simply had their heads in different places. Korzybski ultimately made clear his rejection of Principia’s logicist program to derive mathematics from logic. On the contrary, he accepted that ‘logic’ derives from mathematics and indeed that all human knowledge and language has a mathematical structure. Methods and symbolism from the recognized discipline of mathematics (including mathematical logic) could be searched to yield baby-like ways to change the structure of ordinary language and experience. In Science and Sanity, he showed how Principia Mathematica’s theory of types fit into a broader theory of human evaluation, bringing Russell’s work down to earth. Russell, a brilliant but impractical theoretician, couldn’t do this, couldn’t recognize that Korzybski had done so, or even that it was possible. Philosopher Bryan Magee who got to know Russell toward the end of the great mathematical philosopher’s life, called him a genius for theory who “treated practical problems as if they were theoretical problems. In fact I do not think he could tell the difference.” (2) Korzybski, with a genius for the practical, even in relation to theoretical issues, didn’t have that problem.

1.  Russell 1919, p. 205. 
2. Bryan Magee, Confessions of A Philosopher (1997, 1999), p. 210.

1 comment:

Elvis Lester, MA, LMHC, NCC, MAC, NBCFCH said...

To me Russel's work serves as a useful metaphor... requiring focus and interpretation and interpolation.