Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world. — Bertrand Russell, “The Study of Mathematics”
I’ve often thought we should value collections of philosophical snippets more than we do—and not for mere cocktail-party polish. (Does anyone still go to cocktail parties?) We should value them because we store philosophy in submerged cranial crumbs and snippets. When they surface they can provide that “oomph” toward more extended officially approved reading and thinking.
High-brows will no doubt look down at The Quotable Thoreau or The Quotable Kierkegaard (two of my recent Kindle purchases), but I find them delightful reminders of why I’ve read so extensively in these authors’ respective very large bodies of very challenging and enjoyable works. (I confess I enjoy You Tube snippets from Grand Opera and Bach Suites, too.)
We can take pleasure in having spent months with a tome, but the snippet is finding a shard or gem many years later that glistens with memories of the original. Then there is Kierkegaard, who titled a serious text, Philosophical Crumbs.
In the case of this snippet from Russell, it leads me to want to reread more of him, and as important, to take issue with him. Elsewhere. I contrast his view of philosophy as “pure thought,” a kind of frozen architecture in exile from the actual world, and thus a building no one can inhabit, with my preferred this-worldly home for philosophy as a kind 0f fluid music, as musical thought.
— Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributing Writer
Credits & Links
Bertrand Russell’s “The Study of Mathematics” appeared in The New Quarterly in 1907 and was subsequently reprinted in his Philosophical Essays (1910).
Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs, or a Crumb of Philosophy, appears in English translation, Oxford, 2009.
Is Lord Russell half-ironic in the snippet you gave? I am neither mathematician nor philosopher, and the Lord Russell I remember was involved in the actual world of human passions. The problem with a snippet is that we cannot accurately judge the author’s tone. My brow gets higher as the years go by, through hair loss, but I’m no high-brow. Presumably the collections of Thoreau and Kierkegaard give you enough to go on. Actually, the complete published works of Thoreau could probably be read in a couple of weeks; what makes his work “very large” is the diary from which Walden was distilled. He is one of America’s indispensable authors, and Walden and “On Civil Disobedience” ought to be required reading. The latter refutes Auden: It is poetry that made things happen.