BERTRAND RUSSELL AND LEIBNIZ
D. R. Khashaba
[The following note contains the seed of an article on Bertrand Russell's reading of Leibniz. If I will ever write that article or not, I don't know. 14 Jan. 2006.]
Bertrand Russell begins his Philosophy of Leibniz (first published in 1900) with a chapter entitled "Leibniz's Premises". This looks like the sensible thing to do, and for certain purposes it may actually be the best thing to do. But behind this approach lurks an erroneous assumption.
No philosopher philosophizes or arrives at any of his philosophical positions by setting out from certain definitely formulated premises. A philosopher, meditating on a problem, struggling with a perplexity, or quietly, serenely contemplating a nebulous intellectual landscape, "In vacant or in pensive mood, / [There] flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude" a vision or an idea that lends intelligibility to the problem, the perplexity, the confused and nebulous manifoldity.
Thereafter the philosopher, in reviewing and ordering his thought, discovers in his vision or idea implied principles and grounds. These s/he may set forth for the purposes of exposition as premises from which the original vision 'follows': naturally it has to follow, in virtue of the organic bond between the whole and the members that came into being through the creation of the whole.
But these premises that are so helpful and so useful for exposition, for elucidation, for didactic purposes, are the underbelly of a philosopher's position. They can never prove sound and firm when viewed from outside the whole, the original vision, that gave them birth. For no defnite formulation of thought can escape the essential imperfection of all things finite. To be finite is to be grounded in negation and subject to contradiction.
That is why all philosophical doctrines, views, and systems claiming to be true and demonstrable could easily be torn to shreds by critics. Only when seen as an oracular vision whose value resides in its intrinsic intelligibility can the philosophy of a Leibniz, a Schopenhauer, a Whitehead, stand side by side with the others without our having to demolish the one to support the other.
Once Bertrand Russell proceeds from an examination of Leibniz' premises, he can show that the philosophy of Leibniz does on the whole follow consistently from his premises but that in the end the whole must tumble into rubble.
In reviewing Russell's examination of the philosophy of Leibniz my concern is to show how NOT to read the work of a great philosopher.
Sixth-October City, Egypt
14 January 2006.