The Return of Metaphysics: Russell and Realism

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Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore saw their revolt against Hegelian idealism, and their embrace of realism, as ushering in a ‘new philosophy’, what eventually became known as ‘analytic philosophy’. For Hegel and his followers, reality only made sense as a whole: to understand anything you needed to understand how it was a manifestation of reality overall. Russell and Moore, on the other hand, thought that science and common sense taught us that reality is made of individual things that can be understood on their own, separately from everything else. This metaphysical picture, however, depended on an epistemological one: direct realism. According to Russell, we come to know about the world by direct acquaintance with its objects. As it turns out, a critique of that position lied at the foundation of Hegel’s thought, a critique that continues to haunt analytic philosophy today, writes Fraser MacBride.This is the fourth installment in our series The Return of Metaphysics, in partnership wit…

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