Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was a logician, a philosopher, and one of the twentieth century’s most visible public intellectuals. Science and Apocalypse in Bertrand Russell: A Cultural Sociology brings those three aspects together to trace Russell’s changing views on the role of science and technology in society throughout his long intellectual career.
Drawing from cultural sociology, history of science, and philosophy, Javier Pérez-Jara and Lino Camprubí provide a fresh multidimensional analysis of the general themes of science, technology, utopia, and apocalypse. The book critically examines Russell’s influential interpretations of the turn-of-the-century mathematical logic, World War I, the metaphysics and epistemology of mind and matter, World War II, nuclear holocaust, and the Vietnam War.
In Russell’s compelling narratives, humanity was a powder keg and the match was represented by different meta-adversaries, such as religion, communism, and American imperialism. And the only way to avoid a coming global Holocaust was to follow his own salvific recipes.
In working around Russell’s role in the cultural perception of the final destiny of humanity, Science and Apocalypse in Bertrand Russell invites the reader to think about the place of the techno-scientific sphere in human progress and decadence in both our current epoch and the distant future.
Javier Pérez-Jara is a faculty fellow at Yale University's Center for Cultural Sociology and assistant professor of philosophy and sociology at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Lino Camprubí is a Ramón y Cajal Researcher at the University of Seville and PI of ERC-CoG DEEPMED.
Introduction: The Wings of Icarus
Chapter 1: The Dying Sacred Fire of Mathematics and Logic
Chapter 2: World War I and the Dethronement of Science
Chapter 3: The Tortuous Mazes of Mind and Matter
Chapter 4: Lights and Shadows of Nuclear Death
Chapter 5: The Vietnam War and the Judgment Day
Conclusion: The History of Humankind and the Rashomon Effect
Pérez-Jara and Camprubí have created a strikingly new and persuasive framework for understanding Bertrand Russell as a public figure. They show how the rhetoric of this seemingly most rational of philosophers was deeply affected by "primitive" experiences of social trauma and saturated by simplistic binaries about evil and apocalypse. The influence of public intellectuals, they demonstrate, comes less from the quality of their thought than the power of their cultural performances. Science and Apocalypse in Bertrand Russell sets a new standard for understanding the public life of intellectuals.
This is a fascinating sociological account of one of the main figures of analytical philosophy and one of the most prominent public intellectuals of the twentieth century. Anyone interested in Bertrand Russel’s rich intellectual life must read this book, but it is also particularly interesting for its deft use of cultural sociology and positioning theory.
In this innovative new study, Pérez-Jara and Camprubí provide a powerful cultural sociological analysis of one of the 20th Century’s most iconic public intellectuals. The book focuses not so much on Russell as an academic philosopher, but more on his evolving eschatological concern with how science and technology promised to pave the way to both paradise and hell. Through careful reconstruction and theoretical nous, the authors reveal how Russell attempted to forge a public morality that would help avoid humanity’s drift toward apocalypse. This book is a significant contribution to Russell studies and is essential reading for historians of philosophy, as well as cultural sociologists and sociologists of ideas and intellectuals.