Russell's Moral Theories

D. H. Monroa1

a1 University of Sydney

If Bertrand Russell had lived in an earlier century, no one would have hesitated to call him a moral philosopher. In our more finicking age, some academics may want to say that, great as his achievements have been in other branches of philosophy, he is less a moral philosopher than a moralist. That is to say, he has consistently advocated ideals and expressed beliefs which have made him, along with Shaw and Wells, if not quite with Marx and Freud, one of the formative influences on the modern mind; but he has usually addressed these writings to the general public, and, although writing always with great force, clarity and skill, he has not always troubled his readers with the minutiae of philosophical argument. But this point should not be exaggerated. Even in his most popular works, Russell never loses sight of the philosophical problems in his concern for the political or psychological ones, and he certainly has views on meta-morals and meta-politics as well as on morals and politics. Indeed, his attempts to reconcile the two are highly illuminating; for they show one of the clearest minds of our time faced with one of the central problems of our time: how to justify passionately-held moral convictions when all the evidence seems to lead to moral scepticism. (To guard against misunderstanding, I should perhaps say that I do not mean religious scepticism. It is demonstrable, though it would be irrelevant here to demonstrate, that religious beliefs, whether justified or not, cannot provide an intellectually satisfying basis for morality.)