Bertrand Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (Analytic Method)

“…There is a great tendency… to suppose that when you are trying to philosophize about what you know, you ought to carry back your premises further and further into the region of the inexact and vague, beyond the point where you yourself are, right back to the child or monkey, and that anything whatsoever that you seem to know – but that the psychologist recognizes as being the product of previous thought and analysis and reflection on your part – cannot really be taken as a premise in your own knowledge. That…is a theory which is… used against that kind of analytic outlook which I wish to urge. It seems to me that when your object is, not simply to study the history or development of mind, but to ascertain the nature of the world, you do not want to go any further back than you are already yourself…because you will find that quite sufficient difficulty is raised by your own vagueness. But there one is confronted by one of those difficulties that occur constantly in philosophy, where you have two ultimate prejudices conflicting and where argument ceases. There is the type of mind which considers that what is called primitive experience must be a better guide to wisdom than the experience of reflective persons, and there is the type of mind which takes exactly the opposite view. On that point I cannot see any argument whatsoever. It is quite clear that a highly educated person sees, hears, feels, does everything in a very different way from a young child or animal, and that this whole manner of experiencing the world and of thinking about the world is very much more analytic than that of a more primitive experience. The things we have got to take as premises in any kind of…analysis are the things which appear to us undeniable – to us here and now, as we are – and I think on the whole that the sort of method adopted by Descartes is right: that you should set to work to doubt things and retain only what you cannot doubt because of its clearness and distinctness, not because you are sure not to be induced into error, for there does not exist a method which will safeguard you against the possibility of error. The wish for perfect security is one of those snares we are always falling into, and is just as untenable in the realm of knowledge as in everything else…”


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