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The ABC of Armageddon: Bertrand Russell on Science, Religion, and the Next War, 1919-1938 (Suny Series in Science, Technology, and Society) [Paperback]

By Peter H. Denton (Author)
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Item Number 146179  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   174
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.16" Width: 6.2" Height: 0.45"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2001
Publisher   State University of New York Press
ISBN  0791450740  
EAN  9780791450741  


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Item Description...
Denton (history, philosophy, religious studies at the U. of Winnipeg) explores Bertrand Russell's efforts to express the kind of world he imagined possible and the world he feared following World War I. The author discusses Russell's concerns about the consequences of science and technology, the phi

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More About Peter H. Denton

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Peter H. Denton is Assistant Professor in the Departments of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at the University of Winnipeg.



Peter H. Denton was born in 1959.

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Denton on Science, and Religion, And Not on the Next War  May 24, 2007
The British philosopher Bertrand Russell will probably be remembered most through the ages for his contributions to mathematical logic at the beginning of the 20th century. But the First World War proved to be a watershed event for Russell personally. He spoke of how one of the war's effects on him was to render the world of "abstract ideas" "thin and rather trivial" in the light of the suffering perpetrated by the prevailing havoc.
Peter H. Denton is Assistant Professor in the Departments of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at the University of Winnipeg. In his book The ABC of Armageddon: Bertrand Russell on Science, Religion, and the Next War, he treats of Bertrand Russell's interwar period relative to the problem that Denton never tires of describing as "the old savage in the new civilization." To be sure, Russell had brooded over how science liberated us from needs in certain areas, on the one hand, while, on the other, fostering an industrial culture that is less free. Above all, Russell had warned that "Material progress has increased men's power of injuring one another, and there has been no correlative moral progress." And Denton explains that, however disinclined Russell had become to the "abstract world of ideas," he had hardly "become a disciple of Henry Ford." Rather "[t]he misrepresentation of science as nothing more than technique, in which the value of knowledge was measured not by its truth but by its utility, aroused Russell's ire throughout the interwar period."
Denton begins his book with a discussion of Russell's contemporaries who also addressed science's role in society. Chapter 2 is basically a synopsis of Russell's Prospects for Industrial Civilisation and The Scientific Outlook. Chapter 3 covers Russell's views on religion and the implications for religion of the then new revelations in physics. Chapters 4 and 5 are about the philosophic implications of the advances in physics for the rivalry between science and religion and how Russell saw the differences between science and religion as ultimately irreconcilable. Finally, Chapters 6 and 7 are a discussion of how the endeavors of Russell to cope with "the old savage in the new civilization" were doomed to failure because of his philosophy's lack of an "operational metaphysic."
The ABC of Armageddon is highly readable. The footnotes are good, and many helpful summaries are provided. This enables the book to be used as a convenient guide for the relevant primary source material. In the book's preface, Denton expresses his hope that, by concentrating on Russell's "largely neglected" contribution to the public discussion of the world's state between the World Wars, as well as the assorted notions to which Russell was responding, he can contribute to "a similar conversation at the start of our century." The book's biggest disappointment, however, is that it ultimately fails to make any headway in providing such a contribution.
Rather than propose fresh insights into the 21st century's counterparts to such problems, Denton is content to have his narrative culminate in contentions that Russell's irreligion prevented a coherent context for checking the growth of science as technique. As Denton would have it, "Russell's support of the inevitable conflict between science and religion...doomed his attempt to distinguish science as the pursuit of knowledge from science as the application of technique." Again, "In considering religion primarily as a social phenomenon, and in criticizing the social and historical role of Christianity in western culture, he [Russell] robbed himself of a basis on which to discuss the universal character of 'values'....Russell found himself without defensible reasons for maintaining the interests of the individual against the organization of the State." And, finally, "Russell's failure to articulate a functional social morality other than one based on power may be attributed to his separation of facts from values, a separation of the knowledge proper to science from the values proper to ethics."
While it is one thing to claim (however debatably) that Bertrand Russell's philosophy suffers from the foregoing defects, it is altogether another thing to suggest that Russell himself experienced any such misgivings about his own philosophy. Indeed, Denton's narrative in this area is ambiguous enough that readers not directly familiar with Russell are easily led into believing that Russell himself experienced misgivings about his philosophy that are in reality only Denton's. While Denton's reservations about Russell's philosophy are enough to render his book suspect, Denton's tendency to imply that his own misgivings about Russell's philosophy were shared by no less than Russell himself make this work all the more so.
 

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