Bertrand Russell’s Critiques of Knowledge and Belief as Prolegomena to Complementary Epistemology

With Preface by Prof. Elizabeth R. Eames, Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA

Chrysanthus Nnaemeka Ogbozo
ISBN: 978-3-944101-32-3
Veröffentlicht: Januar 2014, 1. Auflage, Einband: Broschur, Seiten 443, Format DIN A5, Gewicht 0.6 kg
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Chrysanthus Nnaemeka Ogbozo

Bertrand Russell’s Critiques of Knowledge and Belief as Prolegomena to Complementary Epistemology

With Preface by Prof. Elizabeth R. Eames, Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA

443 Seiten. Format DIN A5. Softcover. Sprache: Englisch. Preis: 35 Euro.
ISBN 978-3-944101-32-3. Rhombos-Verlag, Berlin 2013

About the book

Mr. Ogbozo’s careful, thorough and insightful analysis of Russell’s theory of knowledge will be found to be illuminating, and an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of Bertrand Russell’s philosophy”.
Professor Emerita Elizabeth R. Eames,
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale - USA

This book is a penetrating insight into the thoughts of Bertrand Russell - one of the greatest epistemologists of the 20th century. Its analytical style is at once engaging and profound; its articulation of ‘complementary epistemology’ from the kaleidoscope of Russell’s corpus will certainly attract the attention of many scholars. Dr. Ogbozo’s epistemological disposition finds a kindred spirit in Russell whose thought he has presented with passion and conviction without compromising intellectual honesty.
F.O. C. Njoku, PhD,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Dr. Ogbozo’s book engages Russell’s knowledge-world via three inter-related dimensions: epistemological, psychological and linguistic…I am particularly drawn to this book because it crystalizes some of the problems the author, my colleagues and I have grappled with since our professor, Dr. Ben Okwu Eboh, told us that “whatever happens to a man happens to him in his mind.” I am immensely happy that Dr. Ogbozo has given this saying a more solid grounding in Russell’s profound ideas.
Associate Professor Chielozona E. Eze,
Northeastern Illinois University, USA

About the author

Chrysanthus Nnaemeka Ogbozo hails from Affa in Udi LGA of Enugu State, Nigeria. A Catholic Priest in the Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries and a senior Lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Ogbozo is an almnus of Bigard Memorial Seminary-Enugu, Gregorian University Rome where he obtained his Licentiate and doctorate degrees in philosophy and a Dip. in Social Communications; Albert Ludwig University, Freiburg-Germany for a postdoctoral research. He has contributed several articles to Journals and Chapters to books. His recent publication is titled: Essentials of Husserl’s Method of Phenomenological Reductions: Epistemological and Cultural Considerations.


It seems that a certain time must elapse between the death of a noted philosopher and the appearance of balanced historical analyses of his work. In the case of Bertrand Russell the controversies surrounding his life for the most part have been forgotten, the allegiances and oppositions that were part of his philosophical career have become largely irrelevant, and the edited texts of “The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell“ have been appearing to assist students of his work. Mr. Ogbozo’s book exemplifies a thorough historical study and the achievement of a balanced and fresh perspective on Russell’s philosophy.
Mr. Ogbozo’s work on Bertrand Russell’s theory of knowledge begins with an historical review of Russell’s philosophical development and the influences on his work. It continues with successive reviews of the full range of Russell’s writings on theory of knowledge from “Problems of Philosophy to Human Knowledge“. This range in itself presents a challenge, since the acknowledged shifts in his position have often led critics to choose one phase of his work, for instance, logical atomism, and ignore earlier and later work on the same topic. Instead of seeing these different positions as successive adoptions and abandonments of positions, Mr. Ogbozo attempts to show that the shifts in position are part of a logical development or evolution and this “evolutionary” assumption sets the framework of his study.
Against this background the central concepts of theory of knowledge are traced through the changes in Russell’s thought. The different definitions of “knowledge” and the different treatments of “belief” are set within the perspective of the logical development of Russell’s epistemology. One of the chief problems that even sympathetic analysts of Russell’s theory of knowledge have encountered is the gap between knowledge defined as what is true in a realist sense and that we believe for good reason, and what beliefs can be justified on an increasingly modest estimate of the empirical basis of such beliefs. Mr. Ogbozo’s original thesis here is what he calls the “complementarity” thesis. Suffice it to say that it involves the bringing together of the “degrees of credibility” of belief with the “degrees of probability of truths”. The author finds support for this bridging of the gap between belief and truth in Russell’s “Human Knowledge“ where the treatment of both probability and belief is fully worked out, and where the postulates play a key role. Mr. Ogbozo concludes his study with critical considerations on Russell’s epistemology. Whether or not the reader finds the “evolutionary” and the “complementarity” theses to be ultimately satisfying in providing a consistent and successful empirical theory of knowledge, Mr. Ogbozo’s careful, thorough and insightful analysis of Russell’s theory of knowledge will be found to be illuminating, and an important contribution to the ongoing discussions of Bertrand Russell’s philosophy

Elizabeth R. Eames,
Professor Emerita of Philosophy
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA
[Author and editor of several books and articles on Russell’s philosophy like: Theory of Knowledge: 1913 Manuscript; Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge; Bertrand Russell’s Dialogue with His Contemporaries; etc.]


Those who have consciously passed through the field of philosophy would readily remember the popular saying to beginners in this discipline: ‘philosophy begins with the act of wondering’. To wonder is, first and foremost, to pause and ponder. In other words, it is the act of thinking and reflecting. The act of wondering is hardly an aimless venture, but an activity that is driven by a certain aim or desire. The ancient thinker Aristotle identifies this aim or desire as the quest for knowledge: “all men by nature desire to know”. The statement would seem to imply that the quest for knowledge is as basic to man as some biological needs of man like eating, loving, breathing, and so on. To a good extent, it is. The history of philosophy is replete with many investigations into the nature, extent and usefulness of human knowledge. The emergence of Bertrand Russell in the circle of the inquirers into human knowledge took a radical approach with his famous question: “Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?”[1] Ever since he posited this question in 1912 and developing the investigation in his Theory of Knowledge: The 1913 Manuscript, Russell spent a good portion of his numerous writings to epistemological discourses as exposed in the present book. His interest in the subject-matter of epistemology can be generally said to be dual. In the first case, Russell was driven by intellectual curiosity to finding out whether there is any knowledge that cannot be refuted at any time. It would appear that he wants to lay a solid foundation upon which incontrovertible views can be built. Following the discussions in this book, it appears that such an absolute certainty in knowledge is farfetched. This position receives definitive endorsement in Russell’s view that “knowledge is a matter of degree’, an affirmation that is often made in connection to another contention, namely, ‘every case of knowledge is a case of justified belief’, though not vice-versa’. Both contentions suggest the interrelatedness of ‘knowing and believing’ and so justify the joint examination of the two themes in this work. In this light, it seems appropriate to say that what makes the difference between knowledge and belief is ‘a matter of degree. Russell’s stand with regard to both knowledge and belief has troubled many people who readily raise the question: ‘why would it be difficult to affirm anything with a note of certainty? Russell has an argument to buttress his view. The argument is presented in the following passage: Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise, and everything precise is so remote from everything that we normally think, [such that] ... you cannot for a moment suppose that [such a remote and imprecise thing] is what we really mean when we say what we think.[2] The existence of any degree of vagueness in any circumstance renders any affirmation of certainty in that context, a mere desire or an ideal which we may never attain. This desire remains a perennial preoccupation for Russell, who in his eightieth birthday reflections recapitulates it thus: “I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith”.  The desire of Russell for an indubitable knowledge is not new in the philosophical world as we have earlier cited Aristotle’s background to the problem. In modern times, Descartes’ methodic doubt was a search for certainty in knowledge. However, Russell’s investigations might be be said to be unique on account of the following reasons: (i) Russell displays the capability to analyze the evidences that there are, estimating their degrees of credibility and (ii) he shows a tireless spirit by returning to the same question in the event of new evidences from other related sciences[3], thereby underlining the point that a true epistemology must stand in relation to other disciplines.[4]
This book is concerned with the articulation of the problem of the quest for certainty in knowledge and belief, a quest which is made more complex because of changing philosophical doctrines and scientific discoveries. The book brings to life Russell’s philosophic spirit which is ‘the effort to keep philosophical speculations alive, open and general’. Since this inquiry is a life-long preoccupation for Russell, our scope of investigation, if it is to be considerably comprehensive, has to cover all his discussions on ‘certainty/credibility in knowledge and in belief,’ beginning with the time he raised the above question on the possibility of any knowledge that cannot be doubted. The second reason that propelled Russell to inquire passionately into the certainty of human knowledge and for such a prolonged period of time was his conviction that a lot of dogmatisms are the bane of many conflicts and even of numerous wars in our world today. He experienced many dogmatic environments—social, academic and religious. Feeling himself called to fight the said dogmatisms, Russell persistently strove, through analysis, to highlight the degree of inexactitude in what we claim to know. This task is supposed to be one of the central values of philosophy which he explains thus:
[Philosophy does] make people a little more modest intellectually and aware that a great many things which have been thought certain, turned out to be untrue; and that there is no short-cut to knowledge; and that the understanding of the world, which to my mind, is the underlying purpose which every philosopher should have, is a very long and difficult business about which we ought not to be dogmatic.[5]  Since the consequences of dogmatism could sometimes lead to horrible occurrences, Russell feels that a moderate scepticism as an antidote is indispensable. According to him, “the opinions for which people are willing to fight and persecute all belong to one of the three classes which this scepticism condemns”. In the light of this observation, epistemology bears some relation to the social phenomena because the mode in which we understand the world is most likely to be the mode in which we relate to it. Russell generally employs the method of analysis in his philosophical writings and discussions. As a result, it seems appropriate that this method be taken into account in the discussions undertaken in this book. Thus, there is a two-fold approach applied to this book: a historical and thematic-critical approach. The historical approach, which is principally employed in part one, is indispensable on these grounds: (i) because the period in which Russell grappled with the problem above is quite a prolonged one; hence, there arises the need for a historical exposition of his discussions on the subject; (ii) because Russell changed his opinions a number of times and as a result, it is considered necessary that we find out the stages of, and reasons for such changes. On its own turn, the thematic-critical approach which, is applied to part two, is intended to examine the arguments that Russell discusses in different contexts and periods. Consequently, it becomes necessary not only to consider these arguments in a separate section from the historical, but also to classify them into psychological, linguistic and epistemological considerations in accordance with Russell’s diverse discussions and his basic conviction that theory of knowledge is related to other disciplines. The foregoing situation of diverse contexts and periods in which Russell’s discourse is located makes it incumbent on us to make an introductory note at the beginning of every chapter. Given that Russell’s discourses reveal more the problematic nature of both knowledge and belief, a situation that was highlighted in his famous affirmation of uncertainty that ‘knowledge is a matter of degree’, the entire critical investigations are considered ‘prolegomena’ [preparations] to what has been proposed in this book as ‘complementary epistemology’—an epistemology that recognizes the contributions of other disciplines of mental activity and tries to weave them into a harmonious or complementary whole. Such an epistemology is bound to be flexible, piece meal, scientific, and mindful of the recent discoveries. Since this book ends with an epistemology of this kind, it may be looked upon as having ended in a vague, inconsistent and unstable outlook. Such an opinion would be disputable, especially as the book is intended to be a critique of parochial and dogmatic certainty. At any rate, critics retain the freedom to argue that mere relative probability does not ensure complete commitment in human actions. But it is a decision that one has to make between the risk of fanaticism emerging from dogmatism and the approval of sufficient probability that makes for co-existence. The former is founded on dogmatic certainty, the latter on complementary epistemology. With regard to the logical structure of this work, it is to be highlighted that there are two broad divisions of this work, viz, parts one and two. The reason for this division had already been explained above. In Chapter one, there is an attempt to make a selection of ‘social and mental atmospheres’, which are considered to have influenced Russell’s epistemological discourse, whether consciously or unconsciously, concurrently or subsequently. The appropriateness of those selected atmospheres justifies this chapter as a foundational and thematic introduction to the discussions which appear in subsequent chapters. The second chapter exposes Russell’s discussions on “knowledge” in an evolutionary manner, broadly classified into three periods, namely: Russell 1[1912-1918], Russell II [1921-1928], and Russell III [1940-59]. Chapter three, which has the same historical tripartite structure like the second chapter, considers Russell’s theories of belief. Since some of the contexts of this discourse are equally the same with those of ‘knowledge’, there is the possibility that some of those contexts would have to be repeated. However, the stress is always different because the discussions in both (knowledge and belief) are different though related.  This chapter concludes the first part of the book which is principally expository. It is expository in the sense that the interest is simply to demonstrate the continuity or discontinuity of some of the influences which Russell had and, also, give a summary of his views on ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’ across a long period of time.  In chapter four (the beginning of the theoretical-critical chapters), we examine the arguments with regard to the problematics of knowledge. These arguments are principally Russell’s critique of the traditional views on knowledge as well as his own “new” conception. This critique is made from psychological, linguistic and epistemological perspectives. The fifth chapter continues with the structure of the preceding chapter, but this time, in the context of “belief”. It analyzes the difficulties involved in a discussion on belief. Russell’s discussion in this context centres more on psychological and linguistic perspectives of ‘belief’ and less on the epistemological, since ‘belief’ is considered by Russell to be more of a psychological question than anything else.
Given the difficulties raised in the preceding chapters four and five, Russell gives a modest response by maintaining that knowing and believing are questions of degrees of probability,’ degrees which are understood as ‘relative degrees of rational credibility’. The determination of these degrees constitutes the concern of the sixth chapter. The seventh chapter which concludes our investigations of Russell’s discourses evaluates Russell’s arguments in the previous chapters. The outcome of both the positive contributions of Russell and the evaluations go to support the new proposal for a ‘complementary epistemology’. As earlier introduced above, this epistemology may simply be stated as the progressive and mutual critique of those epistemologically related sciences like psychology, linguistics, physics, etc. By ‘complementary,’ therefore, it does not have to construct a dogmatic single system of thought like that of Hegel. Its significance lies in the enlargement of the horizon of discourse through critique and the need to find common grounds upon which those different disciplines can meaningfully contribute to every epistemological problem.

1    Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, n.d.), 7.
2    Robert Charles Marsh, ed., Logic and Knowledge: Essays 1901-1950 (London: Unwin Hyman Limited, 1956), 180. The stress is mine.
3    Cf. Elizabeth Eames, Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge, (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1969), 46 & 47. See also: (i) Règis’s presentation of “The Modern Epistemological Problem” in which he notes that epistemological renascence in science, covers all the aspects of the contemporary problem. He identifies this kind of inquiry as ‘Scientific epistemology’ (L. M. Règis, Epistemology, trans. Imelda Choquette Byrne, New York: The Macmillian Company, 1959), 63; (ii) Hans Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), 117f.
4    Russell writes as follows: “After this I found my thoughts turning to theory of knowledge and to those parts of psychology and of linguistics which seemed relevant to that subject. This was a more or less permanent change in my philosophical interests. The outcome, so far as my own thinking was concerned, is embodied in three books: The Analysis of mind (1921); An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940); Human Knowledge : Its Scope and Limits (1948)” (Cf. Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, ch. 11).
5    Bertrand Russell, “Philosophy and Science”, Bertrand Russell Speaks: An Interview with Woodrow Wyatt (USA: Caedmon Records, 1962), side one. The stress is mine.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements    13

List of abbreviations    15

Preface    17

Introduction    19


    Introductory Notes    29
1.1    Russell’s Earliest Years: A Religious-Solitary Environment    29
1.2    Russell’s “New Life” at Cambridge     35
1.3    Reviews of Philosophical Theories Encountered    40
1.3.1    Russell’s Turn to Philosophy    40
1.3.2    Hegelianism: Adopted and Discarded     42
1.3.3    Modified Platonism, Naive Realism and Dualism as ‘Revolts’    46
1.3.4    The ‘New Philosophy’ and its Challenges    51
1.3.5    British Empiricism as a Heritage: the Case of Locke    56
1.3.6    Scepticism: A Perennial Attraction    61
1.3.7    Neutral Monism: Discarded and Partially Adopted    64
1.4    Russell’s “Scientific Philosophy” or “Philosophy of Logical Atomism”    70
1.4.1    Beginnings in 1914    70
1.4.2    Philosophy of Logical Atomism: Its Developed Stage (1918-24)    78
1.5    Reviewing Russell’s Epistemological Literature    83

    Introductory Notes    89
    The Statement of the Problem    90
2.1    Russell 1: Relevant Works [1912-1918]    90
2.1.1    P P    90
2.1.2    The 1913 Manuscript    99
2.1.3    OKEW    106
2.2    Russell II:  Relevant Works [1921—1928]    107
2.2.1    AM    108
2.2.2    OP and AMa    110
2.3    Russell III:   Relevant Works [1940-1959]    113
2.3.1    An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (Inquiry)    115
2.3.2    Human Knowledge and Philosophical Development    117

    Introductory Notes    123
    The Statement of the Problem    123
3.1    Russell 1: Relevant Works [1912-1918]    124
3.1.1    PP    124
3.1.2    The 1913 Manuscript    128
3.1.3    The Philosophy of Logical Atomism    136
3.2    Russell II:  Relevant Works (1921-1928)    139
3.2.1    A M    139
3.2.2    OP  and Sceptical Essays    141
3.3    Russell  III:  Relevant Works (1940—1959)    144
3.3.1    An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth    144
3.3.2    Human Knowledge and my Philosophical Development    147
3.4    Kinds of Belief in Historico-critical Review    151
3.4.1    Memory as a Kind of Belief    152
3.4.2    Expectation as a Kind of Belief    156
3.4.3    Bare assent as a Kind of Belief    158
3.4.4    ‘Data’ as Basic Beliefs: Some Misconceptions and Complexities    161


    Introductory Notes    171
4.1    Mistaken Inquiries and Needful “Prejudices”     172
4.2    Knowledge: Psychological Considerations    179
4.2.1    Mind’s Essential Character:  ‘Consciousness’ or Desiring’?    179
4.2.2    Sensation-Perception Relation and Some Difficulties    190
4.2.3    The Problem with “Perception Itself”    193
4.2.4    The Inadequacy of ‘Knowledge-Memory’    196
4.2.5    ‘General Ideas’ Re-examined     200
4.2.6    Knowing as Complicated External Relation    206
4.3    Knowledge: Linguistic Considerations    211
4.3.1    Meanings and Uses of “Words” with their Difficulties    211
4.3.2    The Problem of the Notion of “Knowledge”    221
4.3.3    Possibilities and Difficulties of Sentences as Knowledge-conveyors”    231
4.3.4    Epistemological Premises and Basis for Knowledge    239
4.4    Knowledge: Epistemological Considerations    243
4.4.1    Reviewing Some Perennial Issues in Knowledge    243
4.4.2    The Place of ‘Experience’ in Knowledge Re-visited     249
4.4.3    Perception and Problem of Causal Law and Causal Line    255
4.4.4    The Illusory Nature of Mind-Matter Dichotomy    261

    Introductory Notes    271
5.1    Belief: Psychological Considerations     271
5.1.1    Behaviourist Theories of Belief Re-examined    271
5.1.2    The Complexity of ‘what is believed’ and ‘Believing’    278
5.1.3    Verification of Beliefs:  The Intrinsic and Extrinsic Criteria (or Properties)    283
5.2    Belief: Linguistic Considerations     302
5.2.1    Articulating the Notion of ‘Belief’    304
5.2.2    Truth and Falsehood of Beliefs: A Formal Definition    310
5.2.3    Beliefs as Propositional Attitudes and their Difficulties    314

    Introductory Notes    323
6.1    ‘Epistemological Probability’: Proximate Background and Meaning    324
6.2    Determining Degrees of Credibility in Knowledge and Belief    333
6.2.1    Kinds of Knowledge and their Degrees of Credibility    335    On ‘Knowledge of facts’ and degree of credibility    336    On ‘Knowledge of General Connections between Facts’ and Degree of Credibility    337    On ‘Evidence‘ and Degree of Credibility    339
6.2.2    Kinds of Belief and Their Degrees of Credibility    347    On ‘Perception’ and Degree of Credibility    347    On ‘Memory’ and Degree of Credibility    350    On ‘Expectation’ and Degree of Credibility    354
6.3    The Postulates and their Degrees of Credibility    357
6.4    Russell’s “Five Postulates”: Theses and Applications    358
6.4.1    First Postulate: The Postulate of Quasi-Permanence     358
6.4.2    Second Postulate: The Postulate of Separable Causal Lines    362
6.4.3    Third Postulate: The Postulate of Spatio-Temporal Continuity    365
6.4.4    Fourth Postulate: The Structural Postulate    368
6.4.5    Fifth Postulate: The Postulate of Analogy    371
6.5    Epistemological Implications of the Postulate-Question    375
6.5.1    Indications on the Inadequacy of Empiricism    375
6.5.2    Indications on the Inadequacy of Rationalism    380
6.5.3    Some General Remarks    381

    Introductory Notes    383
7.1    Criticisms and Replies    384
7.1.1    The Obscurity of Discussing ‘Knowledge’ while Denying ‘Consciousness’    384
7.1.2    Limitations of Analysis as a Philosophical Method    394
7.1.3    Russell’s ‘Movement’: From ‘Search for Certainty’ through Comparative Degrees of Credibility to the Postulates as Erroneous     402
7.1.4    Russell’s Assumption of Postulates  as a Sign of Failure    412
7.2    From ‘Probable’ to ‘Complementary Knowledge’    420
7.3    Conclusion    424


INDEX        437

Alan Wood
Articulate hesitation
Astronomy and geology  
Basic proposition  
State of organism  
Vague and complex  
Business of philosophy
Causal efficacy  
Causal law
Causal line
Certainty is not possible  
Character of the mind
Complementary epistemology
As a relation  
Critique of Pure Reason
Definite answers
Degree of credibility
Degree of probability
Degrees of belief
Degrees of certainty
Degrees of probability
Dogmatic certainty
Egocentric words  
Epistemological premiss
Epistemological probability  
Essence of philosophy
External relations
G. E. Moore  
General proposition
Hypothetical subject
I alone exist  
Ideal language  
Ideal language
Imageless thinking  
Image propositions
Inarticulate certainty
Internal relations
I think Philosophy  
Kinds of belief  
Kinds of knowledge
Knowing as complicated  
Knowledge a matter of degree
Knowledge by acquaintance  
Knowledge by description  
Logical atomism
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Matter of degree
Matters of fact
Meaning and significance
Naive realism
Neutral monism
Neutral stuff
New philosophy  
Niels Bohr
Notion of belief
Notion of knowledge
Notion of philosophy
Notion of substance
Notion of the Ideal Language  
Occam’s razor  
Ostensive definition
Paradoxical constants  
Perfect language
Philosophy of organism
Physics and psychology
Platonic universals  
Principle of complementarity  
Probability of truth
Probability the guide of life
Propositional attitudes  
Quantum physics  
Science is what we know
Scientific method  
Scientific philosophy
Series of events  
Similar is a vague word  
Sound philosophizing  
Spatio-temporal continuity
Theory of knowledge
Transition to philosophy
Use of words
Values of philosophy  
Verbal definition
Verification of beliefs
William James  
Series of  


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