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Monday, August 17, 2020

Russell on Aristotle’s Definition of Man

Aristotle defines man as a rational animal—in his essay, “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” (Chapter 7, Unpopular Essays), Bertrand Russell responds to the Aristotelian notion by invoking a list of human irrationalities and follies. Russell writes: “Man is a rational animal—so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents. On the contrary, I have seen the world plunging continually further into madness. I have seen great nations, formerly leaders of civilization, led astray by preachers of bombastic nonsense. I have seen cruelty, persecution, and superstition increasing by leaps and bounds, until we have almost reached the point where praise of rationality is held to mark a man as an old fogey regrettably surviving from a bygone age.”  Russell is right in calling men irrational because he is judging their actions by rational standards and when Aristotle defines man as a rational being he too is invoking the rational standards. Russell is, therefore, not rejecting the Aristotelian definition of man.