Russell on the Objective Point of View

Russell, p. 12:  "The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable."  Here's a little chart based on this passage with my glosses on what I think Russell is talking about:

  partiality, subjectivity impartiality, objectivity

contemplation

concern for the way things appear from my own partial and limited perspective, and relative to my particular desires and goals

"unalloyed desire for truth" (a search for the way things actually are, not how they look from my point of view; a search for the "view from nowhere," to use Thomas Nagel's phrase)

action

acting in ways that particularly benefit me or my friends, or harm my enemies (e.g. wanting revenge on someone who has treated you badly)

"justice" (concern for what is fair, not what helps you or hurts your enemies)

emotion

particular concern for oneself and those close to one

"universal love" (love for everyone, not just those close to you)

The last point is particularly interesting and controversial.  Is the impartial perspective advocated by Russell compatible with any sort of emotion?  Another issue to consider is how to balance these two kinds of attitudes.  If we grant that impartiality is essential to the search for objective truth and the search for justice, does that mean that we should always take as impartial an attitude as possible, or is there a legitimate place for a more subjective point of view?



Last update: January 11, 2001.
Curtis Brown  |  Introduction to Philosophy  |  Philosophy Department  |  Trinity University
cbrown@trinity.edu