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Symposium IV. Bertrand Russell on Experience
MGF Martin (Oxford/Berkeley) and Donovan E Wishon (Mississipp)

2024 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association

University of Birmingham

12 - 14 July 2024

Symposium IV. Bertrand Russell on Experience


MGF Martin

University of Oxford/University of California, Berkeley


Donovan E Wishon

University of Mississippi


 Illumination Fading
Bertrand Russell abandoned the notion of acquaintance in July 1918. What changes does this force in his account of the mind? This paper focuses on one puzzle of interpretation about this. In 1913, Russell offered an account of ‘egocentric particulars’, his term for indexicals and demonstratives. He argued that the fundamental objection to neutral monism was that it could not provide an adequate theory of these terms. In 1918, Russell now embraces a form of neutral monism, but he does not return to the problem of indexicals until 1940 in his William James lectures. Is the account given in 1940 significantly different from the one given in 1913? What was the argument against neutral monism in 1913? Does Russell offer a new solution in 1940 or reject his earlier view as mistaken? The answers offered here are used to draw more general morals about the current debate concerning relational theories of sense perception.

Neutral monism is the view that ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are composed of, or grounded in, more basic elements of reality that are intrinsically neither mental nor material. Before adopting this view in 1918, Russell was a mind-matter dualist and pointed critic of it. His most ‘decisive’ objection concerns whether it can provide an adequate analysis of egocentricity and our use of indexical expressions such as ‘I’, ‘this’, ‘now’ and so on. I argue that M. G. F. Martin (2024) and other recent interpreters cannot make proper sense of Russell’s shifting views about egocentricity because they misascribe to his early dualism the thesis that experience is in some sense ‘diaphanous’ or ‘transparent’. Against this, I make the case that (1) Russell rejected the diaphaneity of experience as a dualist, (2) this rejection played a key role in his early objections to neutral monism, and (3) several decades later Russell takes his neutral monism to have key resources for answering his prior objections.


MGF (Mike) Martin is Wilde Professor of Mental Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and Fellow of Corpus Christi College; he is also Mills Adjunct Professor in the Dept of Philosophy, UC Berkeley, where he spends one semester every academic year.
Donovan Wishon is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mississippi and was previously Visiting Professor of Bertrand Russell and the History of Analytic Philosophy at McMaster University. He received his PhD from Stanford University. His central research projects include Bertrand Russell’s work in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language, as well as the epistemology and metaphysics of consciousness and the self. He is currently working on an early-stage manuscript on Russell’s philosophy of mind.

About the Joint Session

the postgraduate session

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