Saturday, January 02, 2010

Chesterton and Bertrand Russell--the sources

 In Maisie Ward's book: Ward, GKC page 640
But he was later asked to talk in a series on Freedom as a Catholic and also to debate with Bertrand Russell on "Who should bring up our children." In this debate he was especially brilliant, says Maurice Baring; and another friend wrote "I have just been listening not without joy to your putting it across Mr. Bertrand Russell....
In the Chesterton Review number (which is I think
V15N4/V16N1 in the Boyd system (Nov 1989/Feb 1990)

Pearce has it in his book - pg. 458
It was in London town the following month that Chesterton crossed swords with Bertrand Russell, one of the century's most gifted atheists. The occasion was a debate, broadcast by the BBC, on 'Who Should Bring Up Our Children?'. Russell was, during this phase of his life, a keen and controversial educationist. In 1927 he had established a progressive school near Petersfield with his second wife, Dora Winifred Black, having published his educationist theories in his book On Education during the previous year. In 1932 he published Education and the Social Order, and it was the principles set out in this book which Russell sought to defend, and which Chesterton challenged, in the BBC debate. Russell contended that poor parents could not give their children the food, clothing and space they needed, while rich parents spoilt their children by giving them too much and expecting too much in return. All children should therefore be put in the care of officials, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, in especially adapted institutions. Chesterton countered that the family was a natural institution and that parents were fitted by nature to bring up their children. Instead of spending money on the special institutions desired by Russell, it could be more properly and profitably spent by providing the poor with better living conditions. Maurice Baring, admittedly a biased judge, considered Chesterton 'especially brilliant' during the debate.
This is from the Chesterton Review:here is the intro from the CR--
The following account of a radio debate between G.K Chesterton and Bertrand Russell, the well-known Mathematician and Philosopher, was first published in the B.B.C. magazine, The Listener on November 27, 1935. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was known for his modern views about education and about the family. Part of Chesterton's criticism of him will be lost on readers who forget that Russell was also well known for his radical pacifism during the First World War. In the debate, Chesterton makes a teasing reference to Russell's inconsistent admiration for the "military loyalty" of those whom he would have had look after other people's children. Russell argued that "parents are unfitted by nature to bring up their own children"; Chesterton, of course, opposed that view. Although their debate has little direct connection with the themes developed in this special Bernanos issue, Chesterton is, nevertheless, defending a view dear to Bernanos. Both he and Chesterton were concerned with everything in modern life which threatened the child. The separation of the child from its natural protectors, the parents, was a modern development which both authors viewed with alarm.
Thanks to Dr. Peter Floriani for help with the references.


  1. One recalls the story that, when Russell outlined his views of peace and freedom to Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein didn't like them.

    "Well," said Russell, "would you rather I worked for war and slavery?"

    "Yes," said Wittgenstein, "rather that, rather that!"

    That's really all we need to know about Russell's views on matters of policy.

    On the other hand, he had a great demonstration of how inconsistent logic can be used to prove anything (I'm sure Dr. Thursday has heard the story; it was connected, somehow, to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem). Russell's example was, "If 1=0, Bertrand Russell is the Pope." See, Bertrand Russell is one person, and so is the Pope: 1+1. But 1=0, so it's 1+0, and 1+0=1, therefore there's only one person present, and it follows that Bertrand Russell and the Pope are the same person. The fact that's utter nonsense is, well, because it's inconsistent logic; one is not equal to zero. But the moment you grant that it is, you can prove anything by it.

    One is intrigued, though, that there ever was a person who could understand that well enough to explain it with a joke, but couldn't grasp that children ought to be raised by their parents. If you wrote that in fiction people would call it a caricature. I trust everyone's saying either of the Chesterton quotes about fiction, the one involving "to suit ourselves" and the other "congenial to it"? Good.

  2. The most common argument today against home-schooling one's children is a social one. But you never hear this argument when they were talking about setting up schools, implying that kids were probably doing alright socially back then. Just from anecdotal evidence, people seemed to be more respectful and civil to eachother. Maybe it's the school system that is the problem when it comes to children's social development?

  3. For an atheist, Bertrand Russell seemed to have a pretty strong sense of original sin. Or even retrobation.

    Such a pity we can't hear the debate.

  4. Sophia's Favorite:

    Russell's "proof" that he was the Pope was facetious, but it illustrates a basic tenet of propositional logic: namely, that a false proposition implies any proposition. (It should be noted that in this context, "imply" has nothing to do with causation.) The proof's fallacy lies not in the logic, but rather in the premise. Chesterton understood this distinction: He set it forth clearly in his book on St. Thomas Aquinas.

    Although Russell championed this tenet early in his career, it is my understanding that he came to repudiate it, although I don't know on what grounds. Perhaps a better-informed commenter can tell me.

    As far as I can see, Godel's Incompleteness Theorem has no direct pertinence here, though I speak very much under correction. You may be thinking of Godel's demonstration that no axiomatic system (to be precise, no "sufficiently complex" axiomatic system) is able to establish its own consistency.

  5. Anonymous:
    Really? Is that what it illustrates? Gosh, that might be why I said that was what it illustrates, don't you think? Read the last two sentences of the second to last paragraph: I state that exact logic principle.

    And Gödel Incompleteness's relevance is, it was during the development of the theorem that Russell came up with that example. He was explaining about inconsistent logic, because Gödel Incompleteness has to do with consistent logic. Explaining Gödel was the occasion of Russell coming up with that example, that's its direct pertinence.

  6. Sophia's Favorite:

    With respect, that's not what you said. You refer (twice) to "inconsistent logic." I was trying to make a distinction between faulty logic and faulty premises. It's true, as you wrote, that "the moment you grant that [one is equal to zero], you can prove anything." But that's the fault of the premise, not of the logic.

    I'm not familiar with the context of Russell's joke. I'd be grateful if you could provide the citation.

  7. Unknown:
    Your anonymous comments indicate a lack of willingness to engage in honest dialog.

    Besides that, this conversation is over three years old and is no longer active.

    Besides that, it is the right of a blogger to accept or reject comments according to his or her own preferences.

    As an antidote, as Chesterton suggests, feel free to create your own blog and post as you see fit.


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