Thursday, October 4, 2007

Unpopular Essays, Introductory Matter

Willis’s Introduction (pages vi-xiv):

There’s a coherence to Russell’s thought, disparate as it is, that is well demonstrated by Unpopular Essays. Willis follows up this observation with a biography of Russell, one that comes to life when relating Russell’s triumphant return to Trinity College at Cambridge in 1944: “Russell’s lectures were memorable performances – lucid, witty, irreverent, full of sweeping themes and picturesque asides, and delivered with a verve that at once enthralled his audience and incarnated the moral seriousness and intellectual grandeur of philosophical study [page xi].”

Eight of the chapters in Unpopular Essays were already written, some of them years earlier, when the book was proposed by Russell’s publisher; all of the chapters were imbued with the liberalism that had characterized Russell’s thought throughout his career. Upon publication, the book achieved critical and popular success.

In his one page Preface, Russell suggests that the essays are unified by their stand against dogmatism. He also explains the title. An earlier of book of his, which he claimed was written in part for the broad public, had been criticized for not being accessible. Russell takes a jab at those critics by suggesting that the current book, given that some sentences might not be understood by “unusually stupid children of ten…,” must not be a popular book – hence, unpopular. [I do not note the page number for Russell’s preface – there is no number on the page itself but the Table of Contents lists the Preface as being on page 9 -- because the pagination seems to be erroneous. From page 9 on things look OK, but it is hard to fathom how the preface page could be page 9, when it immediately follows page xiv.]

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