Seize the New Year

Spinoza; public domain, Wikimedia CommonsHappy New Year! Thank you for being a part of Philosophy News!

I was doing research for a paper I’m working on and read through Harry Frankfurt’s short book On Truth. It’s a fine little book focusing on the practicality of valuing truth. I came across a passage that captures ideas that I’ve been turning over for the past few years and Frankfurt articulates these ideas in ways I’ve not been able to. As I think about a kind of “charge” for the upcoming year, this passage seems better than any I’ve come across recently.

I know themes of “self-actualization” and “authenticity” have turned into pop-psychological nonsense in recent days but the nonsense is a bastardization of ideas that are not only sensical but essential, I think, for human thriving. In this passage, Frankfurt briefly unpacks Baruch Spinoza’s idea of love and joy as a catalyst for determining how we ought to orient our lives.

Spinoza explained the nature of love as follows: “Love is nothing but Joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause” (Ethics, part III, proposition 13, scholium). As for the meaning of “joy,” he stipulated that it is “what follows that passion by which the…[individual] passes to a greater perfection” (Ethics, part III, proposition 11, scholium).

I suppose that many readers will find these rather opaque dicta quite uninviting. They do truly seem forbiddingly obscure. Even apart from this barrier to making productive use of Spinoza’s thoughts, moreover, one might not unreasonably question whether he was qualified, in the first place, to speak with any particular authority about love. After all, he had no children, he never married, and it seems that he never even had a steady girlfriend.

Of course, these details concerning his personal life have no plausible relevance except to questions about his authority with respect to romantic, to marital, and to parental love. What Spinoza was actually thinking of when he wrote about love, however, was none of these. In fact, he was not thinking especially of any variety of love that necessarily has a person as its object. Let me try to explain what I believe he did have in mind.

Spinoza was convinced that every individual has an essential nature that it strives, throughout its existence, to realize and to sustain. In other words, he believed that there is in each individual an underlying innate impetus to become, and to remain, what that individual most essentially is. When Spinoza wrote of “that passion by which the…[individual] passes to a greater perfection,” he was referring to an externally caused (hence a “passion”—i.e., a change in the individual that does not come about by his own action, but rather a change with respect to which he is passive) augmentation of the individual’s capacities for surviving and for developing in fulfillment of his essential nature. Whenever the capacities of an individual for attaining these goals are increased, the increase in the individual’s power to attain them is accompanied by a sense of enhanced vitality. The individual is aware of a more vigorously expansive ability to become and to continue as what he most truly is. Thus, he feels more fully himself. He feels more fully alive.

Spinoza supposes (plausibly enough, I think) that this experience of an increase in vitality—this awareness of an expanding ability to realize and to sustain one’s true nature—is inherently exhilarating. The exhilaration may perhaps be comparable to the exhilaration that a person often experiences as an accompaniment to invigorating physical exercise, in which the person’s lungs, heart, and muscular capacities are exerted more strenuously than usual. When working out energetically, people frequently feel more completely and more vividly alive than they do before exercising, when they are less fully and less directly aware of their own capacities, when they are less brimming with a sense of their own vitality. I believe it is an experience something like this that Spinoza has in mind when he speaks of “joy”; joy, as I think he understands it, is a feeling of the enlargement of one’s power to live, and to continue living, in accord with one’s most authentic nature.

Now, if a person who experiences joy recognizes that the joy has a certain external cause—that is, if the person identifies someone or something as the object to which he owes his joy and on which his joy depends—Spinoza believes that the person inevitably loves that object. This is what he understands love to be: the way we respond to what we recognize as causing us joy. On his account, then, people cannot help loving whatever they recognize as being, for them, a source of joy. They invariably love what they believe helps them to continue in existence and to become more fully themselves. It seems to me that Spinoza is at least on the right track here. Many paradigmatic instances of love do exhibit, more or less straightforwardly, the pattern that he defines: people do tend to love what they feel helps them to “find themselves,” to discover “who they really are,” and to face life successfully without betraying or compromising their fundamental natures.

With all the life-critical problems facing so many in most parts of the world, struggling to become an authentic self may strike some as largely an indulgent, Western “first-world problem.” And in some ways it is. But if you are fortunate enough to be in a position where more than your basic needs for survival are met and you don’t live in a world where avoiding terror and destruction constitute your daily goals, be thankful and find a way to embrace authenticity and live life full of vitality—whatever that means for your situation (and be assured it won’t come without sacrifice and probably some pain). As we enter 2015 find or focus on what it is that gives you meaning in a way that enlarges who you are and better enables you to help those around you.

Let nothing distract you from pursuing it.

How to Write a Resume That Stands Out

How you approach your resume can be the difference between getting a call and getting passed over. This is my take on what makes a resume stand out from the crowd.

resume-stand-outThere are many good articles and even books dedicated to solid resume writing. This is my take based on my many years evaluating candidate resumes.

As a manager at a Fortune 500 company for a decade and a half, I've been in the role of "hiring manager" many times. I've looked at hundreds of resumes, done dozens of informational interviews, and interviewed dozens of candidates. I've hired many great people (and have had my fair share of hires that didn't work out). I've also learned quite a bit about what to look for in resumes that have helped me land the right people for the jobs I needed to fill.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that the resume is becoming somewhat passé in light of newer technologies like LinkedIn, professional job sites, and the emergence of "performance-based" evaluation methods for determining potential candidates. Also, recruiters have an increasingly larger role to play in evaluating a candidate's viability before a hiring manager ever gets involved. But, at least for the time being, the resume is still king and most hiring managers will use the resume as a first look when determining which candidates he or she will choose to talk to.

Most good guidance on this topic outline basics like using good grammar in your resume, avoiding flashy fonts and garish colors, and keeping your resume to around one page. These are table stakes. But there are other things you can do to make your resume stand out from the dozens or hundreds of resumes a hiring manager may scan when searching for that ideal candidate (this guidance can also be applied to your LinkedIn profile).

  • Be specific yet succinct. Stating a skill or proficiency in general terms is one of the more egregious flaws I see in resumes. Saying, "Proficient with Illustrator" tells the hiring manager almost nothing. Dozens of candidates will say the same thing. I'd rather see something like, "Used Illustrator to create hundreds of graphics for Awesome Web's home page." That stands out and gives a hiring manager something to ask about in an interview.
  • Use examples whenever possible. Similar to number 1, the more examples you can use in your resume, the better. You have to be careful here because examples can get wordy so use them carefully. For big-ticket items that apply directly to the role, a well-placed, well-written example of real-world experience goes a long way and stands out.
  • Do research and write for the position. While you want to write about you not the job, your resume should reflect the fact that you know what you're applying for and you've done the work to match your skills and passions to the role. For example, if you want to work as a programming for a specific role in a game development company, talk about how your skills as a programmer will make you successful at that specific job rather than talking in generalities about your skills as a programmer. This requires a bit of work and may mean you tweak your resume for each job your applying for. But it will pay off.
  • List only skills or tools that apply to the role. Any skills you list or tools you're proficient in should apply to the specific role you're applying for. Long lists of things you're good at but that don't relate to the role you're applying for comes across as fluff and hiring managers will assume you're just padding your resume to look impressive. Don’t do it.
  • Write for humans not computers. This is related to the previous recommendation. While it's true that when you submit a resume to many companies and job sites, that resume will get scanned and keywords from your document will be used to surface candidates to hiring managers. Remember though that your resume eventually will end up in the hands of a human that will read through your document. Write with keywords in mind but focus on readability and on communicating your passion, skills, and who you are to a human reader. I've read too many resumes that were filled with seeming random keywords that clearly were written for a computer and not me.
  • Avoid using big words. While reaching deep into your vocabulary (or Thesaurus) may make you look impressive, in my experience, large, and more importantly, obscure words diminish the overall readability of the document. For example, if you mean to say, "I helped Big Data Corporation clarify their customer reports using my skills as an interpreter" avoid saying, "I served as an interpretive heuristic for Big Data's problem with epistemic opacity in their customer-facing 10-1299s." As the saying goes, "Don't use a big word where a diminutive one will suffice."
  • Think about what the hiring manager needs from you. A lot of resume guidance will tell you to focus your resume on your skills and what you want out of the job. This is good guidance but you should also understand that the job is about providing mutual benefit to the employee and the employer. It goes a long way to acknowledge that part of your goal is to help the hiring manager reach his or her goals and to help the business, non-profit, government office, or whatever to be successful. I know you want a good job that you'll love. Tell me also how you plan on helping me accomplish my goals.
  • Try to let your true self come through. I like reading resumes where a bit of the personality of the individual shows through. Resumes that are overly humorous or that are too clever can be a turn off. But subtle humor, hints of passions outside of work or of things you like, and clues that the you don't take yourself too seriously go a long way. If you're a creative type, let that come through too but don't overdo it. I want to know who you are. I don't want to be manipulated. You want to be professional but accessible too. One memorable resume I received had a subtle and artistic box around the candidates qualifications and experience with an arrow at the bottom of the box. Below the arrow was the name of the candidate. This was a minor creative flourish but made the resume stand out from the rest. Her resume was solid and we brought this person in for an interview. We ended up making her an offer.

One final bit of guidance: have someone (or better, many people) you trust proofread and give you honest feedback and be prepared to respond to that feedback. Its much better to have friends or colleagues find spelling errors or tell you that something doesn't make sense than for a hiring manager to find flaws.

So I can summarize the items above with what I'll call the 5 Bes of a good resume:

  1. Be clear
  2. Be specific
  3. Be concise
  4. Be engaging
  5. Be authentic

On Post-Christian Sexual Ethics

Sexuality, if it’s to have meaning culturally, has to be rooted in what the human person is if we’re to avoid barbarism. I'm not sure, though, whether a meaningful anthropology—one that adequately provides a basis for sexual expression without devolving into barbarism—is impossible on naturalism.

romance_smA friend recently sent me an article titled, "Sex After Christianity" by Rod Dreher published by The American Conservative. In it, the author uses the topic of gay marriage as a jumping off point for discussing a broader cultural shift away from a Christian worldview towards a secular one and the implications that shift will have on the social fabric at large. The article is well constructed and, as one would expect, articulates in a clear way important aspects of the ethical foundation of a generalized American conservatism but takes the discussion beyond mere politics and talks about its philosophical foundations (and contrasts it with that of secularism).

It’s hard to disagree with the author's major premise. Certainly a religious system that makes moral demands and that is believed by a wide body of a given society will create moral center and provide a foundation for culture. Now that the West effectively is in a post-Christian era, was it the abandonment of Christianity that fostered the sexual revolution or vice versa? It’s hard to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about the causal order (and Dreher isn’t entirely clear on that either it seems).

As the author notes, Christianity helped constrain the male eros and that helped foster a “civilized” culture. But I think a large part of the basis for the development of the Christian ethic probably had to do with child bearing and rearing. So if the sexual revolution preceded an abandonment from Christianity, one could possibly point to the growth in available contraception as the key. As humans had more control over when and if they bore children, sex became less about bearing offspring and and the focus could turn more freely to sexual pleasure—the evolutionary order got flipped on its head. Evolutionarily, sexual pleasure appears to be a secondary quality designed to foster the primary “goal” of genetic distribution. Provide a means to control the distribution aspect and the secondary quality now becomes primary. Couple that with scares about overpopulation and its concomitant evils like ecological overuse and abuse, worries about space and having enough food and natural resources to support an over-burdened planet along with very real threats from disease and the like and you have a good argument for actually devaluing bringing more humans into the world. In fact, given all these worries, it’s better not to bear children. What, then, do we do with sex? Anything we damn well please it would seem.

My point is that the change in sexual focus that the author writes about may be less due to a degradation in Christian belief and more about other social factors. I think the degradation in Christian belief seems more to be the product of a nexus of many different social and ideological changes with the possibility for greater sexual freedom being just one of them.

Other comments on what I see as some key ideas in the article:

“For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.”

This is a fascinating set of ideas (particularly that first sentence) and one I’ll have to think more about. I also love the idea that a culture is essentially based on a shared metaphysic (and I'd clarify that this doesn't need to be a supernatural metaphysic) rather than being merely a normative description of what people actually do or the values they end up having. I love that idea and I’ll have to think about it more.

“You don’t behave this way and not that way because it’s good for you; you do so because this moral vision is encoded in the nature of reality.”

I’d tweak this idea just a bit but in a way that probably doesn’t materially change the impact of his comments: “ . . . you do so because this moral vision is encoded in beliefs about the nature of reality.” I think the change actually is all that’s needed – it doesn’t matter much what the actual nature of reality is. All you really need for a cultus is religious belief and not any actually existing God or substance that provides a foundation for religious truth claims about the nature of things. Indeed, if postmodernism is informative at all, it’s on this point: all we have are our beliefs. But this is a philosophical point and doesn’t really impact his argument all that much.

“The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.”

I think this is a key premise for him and one that resonates with me. I think sexuality, if it’s to have meaning culturally, has to be rooted in what the human person is if we’re to avoid barbarism. I'm not sure, though, whether a meaningful anthropology—one that adequately provides a basis for sexual expression without devolving into barbarism—is impossible on naturalism as the author seems to imply. The author is essentially writing about what historically has worked and rightly notes that a belief system that is deeply metaphysical has been highly effective in controlling sexual expression. Certainly, Christianity, and let’s be honest, any religious system that has a deep anthropology, is a kind of shortcut to this. If you can get people to believe that their meaning and essence (from which normative ethics can be derived) is described and mandated from on high, you get what you need in fairly short order. But I wonder if a purely naturalistic anthropology could effectively do the same thing. It seems a deep anthropology could be developed naturalistically. Something like natural law without a divine lawgiver seems doable. What I’m not clear about is whether it could have the same psychological force and staying power to keep us civilized for very long.

I suppose we're going to find out.

Evolution and the Extent of Explanatory Power

While I think many explanatory models built on evolutionary frameworks are very informative and explanatorily sufficient, I’m pretty skeptical of current attempts to develop a grand evolutionary history that is based around reverse-engineering phenotypes to genotypes and genotypes to pre-historic precursors to modern biological functions.

evolution-personA friend recently sent me this article by Micah Mattix titled, "Portrait of the Artist as a Caveman". In the piece Mattix looks at recent attempts to explain and understand art and artistry from an evolutionary explanatory framework. The author makes some important observations many with which I agree (though maybe for different reasons).

While I think many explanatory models built on evolutionary frameworks are very informative and explanatorily sufficient, I’m pretty skeptical of current attempts to develop a grand evolutionary history that is based around reverse-engineering phenotypes to genotypes and genotypes to pre-historic precursors to modern biological functions. We simply don’t have a history of natural selection and never will. (This is part of the reason why I don't think "irreducible complexity" style arguments work either. As critics of this style of argumentation have pointed out, we just don't know how specific mechanisms we see in current organisms might have developed because we don't have a history. IC arguments make inferences about what might have been the case in terms of functional usefulness just as evolutionary historians do about functional development.) The only reason I tend to buy any evolutionary story for any particular explanandum (and I think there are only situational explanatory narratives in evolutionary theory, no explanatory meta-narrative—at least not yet) is because that particular evolutionary story has more explanatory power than any other explanans for that explanandum. And it also has to be in a better position in terms of metaphysics and epistemology than its rivals. It’s a pretty tall order but one that any theory or explanatory model faces.

Evolutionary stories about human psychological properties tend to have the same plot which attempt to break down what we know about some given thing (language, art, reason) into smaller, atomic parts, then make assertions about the role those parts probably played in early humans or pre-human biology, and finally provide a narrative for how those parts formed into what we see today. Even if the explanation is completely coherent and reasonable (and based in the evidence we have at our disposal), it can never be considered history. Just a good explanatory, but ultimately a “just so," story. I'm not implying that this counts against evolutionary explanations at all. Any other model faces the same challenges (and, frankly, there are scant few other options worth considering). But as Mattix tries to point out, when we fail to consider that we're not talking about history but about inferences to the best explanation, we tend to lose sight of the fluid nature of the underlying model and the need for open-mindedness to other explanations and for potential revision to the story—something philosopher Thomas Nagel has argued for recently in his book, Mind and Cosmos.

When it comes to art, I think all we can say is that humans have an artistic impulse and if the current evolutionary narrative is correct, then it somehow developed through the process that theory describes. I just can’t see how we can come up with any story about how it actually formed based on the paltry evidence, and type of evidence, we have at our disposal. Any story will be at best a product of inferential speculation and has, ultimately, to be defeasible and taken with a grain of salt. The point, I think, is not that we shouldn't attempt to develop these stories. Rather, it's to temper the tendency to treat these stories as historical narratives that have enough explanatory strength to marginalize or even prohibit other explanatory models—even non-evolutionary ones (as Nagel and, to an extent, Mattix argue).  

I think we also seem to forget that we can always say, “we just don’t know.” Our drive for causal stories is just too strong (and I'm sure there’s a good evolutionary story for why that is).

If you could get one question answered, what would you ask?

What question would a group of philosophers ask an angel if they could ask only one question?

I came across this joke yesterday. Enjoy!

An angel came down for a meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Greeting the assembled philosophers, the angel offered to answer a single question for them. Immediately the philosophers set to arguing about what they should ask. So the angel said, “Alright, you figure out what you want to ask. I’ll come back tomorrow.” And he left the philosophers to deliberate.

Some of the philosophers favored asking conjunctive questions, but others argued persuasively that the angel probably wouldn’t count this as a single question. One philosopher wanted to ask “What is the best question to ask?”, in the hope that some day another angel might make a similar offer, at which point they could then ask the best question. But this suggestion was rejected by those who feared that no such opportunity would arise and did not want to waste their only question.

Finally, the philosophers agreed on the following question: “What is the ordered pair whose first member is the best question to ask, and whose second member is the answer to that question?” Satisfied with their decision, the philosophers awaited the angel’s return the next day, whereupon they posed their question. And the angel replied: “It is the ordered pair whose first member is the question you just asked, and whose second member is the answer I am now giving.” And then he disappeared.

For more "intellectual humor" go here.

Thanks to Andrew Smith for the pointer.

IAI Video Debate: Did the Linguistic Turn Take Us Down the Wrong Path?

Watch an intriguing debate by top philosophers on how language relates to reality. John Searle, Hilary Lawson, and Michael Potter face each other in this epic war of words.

realityOur friends at The Institute of Art and Ideas have posted a new video debate on the philosophy of language. The panel includes John Searle, post-postmodernist Hilary Lawson and logician Michael Potter. Their website describes the debate as follows: Language has been the focus of philosophical enquiry for the last century. But was the 'linguistic turn' a wrong turn, leading to a barren discipline without 'real world' influence? Is it time for a fresh approach to the big issues, or would this be a capitulation to intellectual fantasy?

Check out the debate and visit IAI for more philosophical discussion.


IAI Video Debate: Is Integrity Still Relevant?

Is personal integrity still a valid idea or is a quaint idea from a bygone era? Pioneering thinkers debate this question in an engaging video on IAI.


Debate HeadsOur friends at The Institute of Art and Ideas have posted a new video debate on ethics. The debate features award-winning novelist Joanna Kavenna, philosopher and Closure theorist Hilary Lawson, and UCL neuroscientist Parashkev Nachev and they debate the limits of integrity in a modern world. Here's the description of the debate from their website:

Personal integrity is still respected, but it has a Victorian quality, and is less valued in our dissembling age. Might this be a fundamental mistake? Could integrity be a basis for morality in a relative world, or is being true to oneself an anachronism?

Check out the video and see more at IAI.

New Blog by David Papineau

Professor David Papineau of King's College London has launched a new blog focusing on philosophy and sports. The posts will no doubt be both informative and entertaining. Check it out!

David PapineauProfessor David Papineau (Department of Philosophy at King's College London), who has written extensively on philosophy of mind and philosophical naturalism recently launched a new blog titled, More Important Than That focusing on the relationship between philosophy and sports. He explained that the title is based on quote from the famous Liverpool soccer manager Bill Shankly who responded, when accused of thinking football was a matter of life or death, ‘No, no, it’s much more important than that."

He writes that in this blog he is, "Aiming to write about a range of topics that will be of interest to both philosophers and sports fans, from countries all around the world.  Tricky.  Future topics may include Mutual Aid and the Art of Road Cycle Racing and Why You Can't Just Decide to Support a Team."

Recent posts include:

Choking, The Yips and Not Having Your Mind Right

Mutual Aid and the Art of Road Cycle Racing

Why Supporting a Team isn't Like Choosing a Washing Machine

Civil Society and why Adnan Januzaj should be Eligible for England (Though He Isn't)

Why Does Test Cricket Run in Families?

If you'd like to be informed of future posts, you can sign up for email notifications at his blog. Congratulations to Dr. Papineau on this new venture and we at Philosophy News wish him best of luck!

Dr. Papineau's latest book, Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, Possibilities, and Sets is an attempt to provide simple explanations to some of the more technical terms used widely in philosophical literature.

IAI Interview: Logic and the Linguistic Turn

An IAI interview with philosopher Michael Potter on the origins and limits of modern logic

Our friends at IAI spoke with Michael Potter, Professor of Logic in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge about his forthcoming book, Wittgenstein 1916. In this engaging interview, they talk to him about Wittgenstein, the linguistic turn and the importance of logic to the study of language. In the interview, they discuss the period called "the linguistic turn," Wittgenstein's view of the role of language in philosophy, and the impact modern logic has had on the linguistic turn.

Check out the interview here.

What Can Be Learned from Bertrand Russell’s Life as a Philanderer? Part II

This second of four articles on Bertrand Russell's relationship with women surveys some of the relationships Russell had with women icnluding Ottoline Morrell, Dora Black, and Constance Malleson. His relationships provide an interesting and provacative insight into his complex personality.

Bertrand Russell DrawingII. The Women in Russell's Life

The years that followed saw Russell deluge himself in womanly company. The ladies Ottoline Morrell and Constance Malleson headed the ensemble; and despite Lady Constance’s eminence as an extolled West-End actress, it was the belletristic touch of Lady Ottoline that engrossed Russell’s thirst for self-estrangement. The affair was kindled in 1911, the dawn of a fiercely intense relationship that lasted more than five years. If tradition and conformity lied at the heart of his marriage to Alys, it was surely literature that ran through the veins of his and Ottoline’s liaison. She was a beautiful and well-established aristocrat, known for her influence within the intellectual and artistic circles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Through the course of her youth Ottoline had befriended a number of the era’s illustrious writers, including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, T.S. Elliot, and D.H. Lawrence—together with a number of others whose work had been bolstered generously by her patronage.[1] Given the high regard in which Ottoline held the arts, and Russell’s longing to become that which he could never be, it comes as no surprise that he spent much of their relationship coveting the gifts of those who occupied her guestbook. He envisaged himself in the grip of an intellectual incarceration, the result of a lifelong pursuit of technical perfection, which left him wretchedly inept to express himself artistically. Pen in hand, he sought to release himself by way of Ottoline’s experience and ‘gentle’ guidance.[2] She, too, felt Russell needed saving: ‘I suppose,’ she wrote him in February 1912, ‘in some mysterious manner I do help you to free the gods and goddesses within you—and to help them all sing together well in tune.’[3] He held the banner of the tragic prodigy, faced with a destiny he could not fulfil, falling short time and time again of his own lofty expectations. Once again Russell had insinuated himself into an atmosphere that smothered him, and in consequence found himself isolated behind towering ramparts of disparity. This peculiar dynamic infused every aspect of the Russell-Morrell relationship, and in time Russell’s determination to become a new person for Ottoline’s sake brought their gluttonous amour to an end. He simply ‘could not turn himself into a writer of fiction,’[4] and in this deemed himself a failure, leaving his once ablaze affections for Ottoline to wither into a tepid cocktail of resentment and laxity. From the remnants of this sour beverage of an affair, however, the pair maintained a lazy friendship that lasted to her death in 1938.[5] Russell, meanwhile, continued his transatlantic rampage: woman by woman the female population was all but consumed by the maw of his libidinous appetite.[6]

Amidst the marrow of the First World War Russell encountered his second wife, one Dora Black, an industrious bluestocking endowed with the progressive philosophy of Britain’s new left wing. They joined forces in 1916 to combat military conscription, an ambition which left Russell held in a six-month incarceration (this time of the physical kind) at Brixton Prison.[7] Upon his release in 1918 he and Dora embarked on something of a travelling splurge, visiting Russia, China and Japan. Illustrated was the pair’s comedic affinity throughout their Japanese sojourn: upon false reports of Russell’s death at the hands of pneumonia, Dora quite satirically informed the press of her companion’s inability to grant an interview on account of his being dead.[8] They travelled together for a number of years, more a cultural investigation than a deluxe retreat, writing regularly on their experiences. Having previously denied Russell’s nuptial advances on the grounds that matrimony restricted the liberty of women, Dora finally ceded to Russell’s wishes upon their return to England in 1921. Given the strength of Dora’s character, and the interests she and her husband shared, one would be forgiven for presuming Russell’s problems here at an end. She fulfilled a role in Russell’s life to which those who precede her would have balked. Together they wrote The Prospects of Industrial Civilization, a feat of collaboration Russell had failed to perform alongside any of his former lovers,[9] and opened a reformist boarding school in West Sussex, an institution which strove to instantiate the educational philosophy of Dora’s In Defence of Children. Dora’s successes came at an expense, however, namely those virtues one could presume attracted Russell to the likes of Alys and Ottoline—ease and normality. Having met more than his match in terms of the progressive ideas of his parents before him, Russell appeared to view Dora’s very liberality as a barrier that stood between them. For the extent of their relationship both Russell and Dora continued to spark relations with other people, a quirk with which he was unlikely to take immediate umbrage; but upon Dora becoming pregnant with another man’s child, the marriage seemed to fall prey to its own progressiveness.[10] The weir of liberal thinking gave way to intense jealousy and bitter resentment, resulting in Russell’s writing of boastful letters describing his youthful conquests across the Atlantic, and his eventual leaving of Dora for their children’s governess, Patricia.[11] He abandoned the campaigns he and Dora had together founded (including their beloved boarding school) and threw himself into the next chapter of his life with bags haphazardly packed.



[1] Simkin, J.. (1997). Ottoline Morrell. Available: Last accessed 31/01/14.

[2] Moran, M. (1991). BERTRAND RUSSELL MEETS HIS MUSE: THE IMPACT OF LADY OTTOLINE MORRELL (1911-12). McMaster University Library Press. 182-3.

[3] Ibid. 184.

[4] Ibid. 187.

[5] Ibid. 181

[6] Coffey, R.. (2008). 20 Things You Didn't Know About... Genius. Available: Last accessed 01/02/14.

[7] Simkin, J.. (2013). Dora Russell. Available: Last accessed 31/01/14.

[8] Russell, B. (2009). Autobiography. London: Routledge. 365-6.

[9] Simkin, J.. (2013). Dora Russell. Available: Last accessed 31/01/14.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Monk, R. (2001). Bertrand Russell: 1921-1970, The Ghost of Madness. New York: Free Press. 115.