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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Selections Annotated and Explained by Malaspina Great Books Web Editor Russell McNeil PhD
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In 1862 the English literary critic and poet Matthew Arnold described Marcus Aurelius as "the most beautiful figure in history." The Stoicism of Aurelius is grounded in rationality and rests solidly on an ethical approach rooted in nature. Stoicism promises real happiness and joy in this life and a serenity that can never be soured by personal misfortune. This philosophy has universal appeal with practical implications on problems ranging from climate change and terrorism to the personal management of sickness, aging, depression and addiction. I truly believe that the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius has much to offer us now...(Click on book cover for more)

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Name:Bertrand Russell - Math, Philosophy
Birth Year:1872
Death Year:1970
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Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872 - 1970), the third Earl Russell, was a philosopher and influential logician, an important political liberal, activist and a popularizer of philosophy. Millions looked up to Russell as a sort of prophet of the creative and rational life; at the same time, his stance on many topics was extremely controversial. He was born in 1872, at the height of Britain's economic and political ascendancy, and died in 1970 when Britain's empire had all but vanished and her power had been drained in two victorious but debilitating world wars. At his death, however, his voice still carried moral authority, for he was one of the world's most influential critics of nuclear weapons and the American war in Vietnam. In 1950, Russell was made Nobel Laureate in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".

Russell's philosophical and logical work

In mathematical logic, Russell established Russell's paradox, which exposed an inconsistency in naive set theory and led directly to the creation of modern axiomatic set theory. He defended logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic) by creating, with Alfred North Whitehead, the Principia Mathematica, a clean axiomatic system on which all of mathematics can be built, but which was never fully completed. Russell is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy. His most influential contributions include his theories of definite descriptions and logical atomism. Wittgenstein was his student, but he disagreed with Wittgenstein's later linguistic approach to philosophy.

Russell's activism

Russell was an outspoken pacifist. He opposed England's participation in World War I and as a result was first fined, then lost his professorship at Trinity College of Cambridge University and later imprisoned for six months. In the years leading to World War II, he supported the policy of appeasement, but later acknowledged that Hitler had to be defeated. Indeed, on November 20, 1948, in a public speech at Westminster School, Russell advocated a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Addressing a gathering arranged by a peace-loving foundation, Russell shocked most of his listeners by advising that a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviets would be a humanitarian gesture, as it would foreclose the chance of going to full nuclear war with the Soviets in the future, a confrontation sure to be far more devastating to the world. Starting in the 1950s, Russell became a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons, released a manifesto together with Albert Einstein and organized several conferences. In 1961, he was imprisoned for a week in connection with his nuclear disarmament protests. He opposed the Vietnam War and along with Jean-Paul Sartre organized a tribunal intended to expose American war crimes. In matters of religion, Russell classified himself as a philosphical agnostic and a practical atheist. He wrote that his attitude towards the Christian God was the same as his attitude towards the Greek gods: strongly convinced that they don't exist, but not able to rigorously prove it. His position is explained in the essays Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? and Why I am not a Christian. While a socialist at heart, he was extremely critical of the totalitarianism exhibited by Stalin's regime.

Russell's life

Russell's mother died when he was 2, his father died when he was 4. He was raised by his grandparents. Russell first met the American Quaker, Alys Pearsall Smith, when he was seventeen years old. Russell fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded Alys, and married her in December 1894. Their marriage was ended by separation in 1911. Russell studied philosphy and logic at Cambridge University, starting in 1890. He joined the faculty of Trinity College in 1908. In 1920, Russell travelled to Russia and subsequently lectured in Peking on philosophy for one year. In 1921, after Russell had lost his professorship, he divorced Alys and married Dora Russell. Their children were John Russell and Katharine Russell. Russell supported himself during this time by writing popular books explaining matters of physics, ethics and education to the layman. Together with Dora, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill school in 1927. After Russell's marriage to Dora broke up, in 1936 he took as his third wife an attractive Oxford undergraduate, Patricia ("Peter") Spence. She had been his children's governess in the summer of 1930. In Spring of 1939, Russell moved to Santa Barbara to lecture at the University of California at Los Angeles. He was appointed professor at the City College of New York shortly thereafter, but after public outcries, the appointment was annulled by the courts: his radical opinions made him "morally unfit" to teach at the college. He returned to Britain in 1944 and rejoined the faculty of Trinity College. In 1952, Russell divorced Peter and married his fourth wife, Edith (Finch). They had known each other since 1925. Edith had lectured in English at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Bertrand Russell.]

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This web page is part of a biographical database on Great Ideas. These are living ideas that have shaped, defined and directed world culture for over 2,500 years. By definition the Great Ideas are radical. As such they are sometimes misread, or distorted by popular simplifications. Understanding a Great Idea demands personal engagement. Our selection of Great Ideas is drawn from literature and philosophy, science, art, music, theatre, and cinema. We also include biographies of pivotal historical and religious figures, as well as contributions from women and other historically under-represented minorities. The result is an integrated multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary database built upon the framework of the always controversial Great Books Core List published in 1940 by the late Great Books Pioneer Mortimer Adler (1902-2001). Most of the works on that list are available in the 60 volume Great Books of the Western World.

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