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An Intro to my Reflections: Journaling Through Bertrand Russel’s A History of Western Philosophy

Hello! One of the most important and valuable skills that a person can have with their study is to be able to receive information and be able to render it more concise and interesting for the layman to understand. Simply, the external purpose of this blog is to practice my skills in writing and to have something to show for it.

The internal purpose of this is to establish a daily meaningful routine with which I can situate my life outside of external demands to be a particular kind of person. I love philosophy and it would be a waste if all of the small thoughts that popped into my head were not written down somewhere at least for myself.

That is not to say that I will have something deep and insightful to say about everything that I read, and so I do not suggest that this project will be a worthwhile read every single time I go over a new topic. There is also the value of having to stand by what I say in a deeper sense, not that I will not change my mind, but rather that I will be forced to continually consider what I have written because I hope to not be wrong as much as the next person pretends to hope so.

In a decade if this remains my passion project, in one way or another, it will be interesting to see how my thoughts have changed about all of the ideas that I had when I was younger.

Journaling is a valuable exercise in our times of not being with ourselves in a proper fashion. We avoid our feelings for socially induced ideas of how a person should feel or act. We speak before we think fully about what we will say, and we act in the same way too.

Having to write is significantly slower than what we are able to think or speak and so we carefully choose our words when we journal. Because of the intentionality that goes into writing one word – w-r-i-t-i-n-g, rather than the two syllables spoken “ryt-ing” which comes out in less than half a second, compared to writing, which took me at least one and a half seconds to motion out with my hand to make this comparison.

All that is to say that while I can think whatever I want in my head and work it all out, writing it out slows me down and makes me think more carefully about the words that I choose to express myself with and thus makes me a better communicator and improves my ability to write.

Journaling for personal reasons might bring to attention one’s choice of words and importantly, the words we avoid using as well when describing oneself or other people if the situation is emotionally loaded. Being able to stop and think “why?” for more than just scientific fact is not a skill practiced often, and I hope to continue improving my ability to do so by writing about one of my favorite things in the world, thinking really hard about thinking and related topics.

So what is Philosophy? I will let Philomena Cunk give us a short 30-second summary.

With that being said, I can talk about the relevant issue at hand, the book being covered for the foreseeable future. I began reading Bertrand Russel’s A History of Western Philosophy a few years ago when one of my best friends and I decided to get a book to summarize a bunch of different philosophies rooted in the Western tradition.

Personally, I happen to also really enjoy history, and It would’ve been my third major if something like that was allowed, and if I had realized that I liked it as much as I did all that time ago. I read the book until around when Locke appears, at which point it became a much bigger chore to read through because of the nature of early modern philosophy. Nonetheless, I enjoy Russell’s writing style and insights, and I feel that it gives ground for a lot of thinking of these past philosophers and how their way of thinking may be useful in some way or another for our contemporary times.

The book is structured around giving a chapter to each author that was influential in philosophy during their time period, so while the Epicureans are not relevant to us today in the slightest, they were relevant in the development of future philosophies, so they are covered.

When Russell arrives at more relevant philosophers like Plato, he spends several chapters covering the most relevant ideas. The early modern writers beginning with Descartes carry with them a certain attitude that I find interesting and more importantly relevant to our modern day because it was the beginning of a way of thinking that has stretched to today. Descartes for example, notably established his own consciousness, by itself (or aided by god) as a starting point for understanding and thinking about the world.

This began an attitude of individualism that has stretched into modern times. The idea of a shared communally developed understanding of the external world is a nonsensical concept to us because we trust our own perception to be able to decipher the reality of the world so well because this attitude has been harbored in us so strongly over our own personal lifetime and several generations of human beings.

The early modern skeptics, for example, thought this was absurd and pointed to the faulty operation of our vision and our inadequate knowledge of knowing whether we are seeing what we are seeing truly, or just an illusion formed from many possible causes.

The skeptics eventually fell to Locke’s empiricism, which became another founding early modern philosophical thought. This is all to say that certain ways of thinking have come and gone and while the arguments may be defeated in one capacity or another, they still make very good observations that should be held in one’s head when seriously attempting to do philosophy lest I waste my time developing something half baked that has been done already.

Over the last few years, (mostly over a single summer), I read the book up until Locke, which is around page 600. I will begin with the early modern writers which begins on page 491 of my copy of the book, or “Book III” as Russell labels it. This is because, for a few hundred pages before that, all of the philosophy is Catholic and anything before that goes as far back as the Romans and the Greeks, which while it is still really interesting, I don’t want to reread that part of the book just yet. If I reach the end of the book, I might go back around and then cover some of those authors to have a complete commentary. The first of my commentaries is already up!

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