Bertrand Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (1872-1970), was one of the foremost philosophers, mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century, famous for being the co-author (along with Alfred Whitehead) of the Principia Mathematica, one of history's most important and seminal works in mathematical logic.
Equally impressive is Russell's legacy as an essayist and social critic. He was imprisoned for his involvement in pacifist activities during World War I. After World War II, he became one of the leading activists for nuclear disarmament. He won the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature for "his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought". (Russell accepted the prize, but commented: "I feel like that intellectual but plain-looking lady who was warmly complimented on her beauty.") He remained politically active until the end of his life, vigorously protesting The Vietnam War in the 1960s.
Incidentally, the grandson of the Earl Russell, Prime Minister 1846-52 and 1865-66; the title Bertrand inherited was created for his grandfather. His grandfather, being a prominent liberal but a devout Presbyterian, would probably have had mixed feelings at worst about Bertrand's politics, which have been passed down to his descendants, the 4th-7th (current) Earls Russell—all have been vaguely leftists and/or disarmament advocates (the 5th Earl, Conrad, was the first Liberal Democrat Lord (and also a distinguished historian), the 6th a Labour councillor; both advocate(d) the abolition of the Lords) making them oddballs among the British aristocracy.
Bertrand Russell is associated with the following tropes:
- Blue Blood: The Russells were old British aristocracy, tracing themselves back at least to the time of Henry VIII, and are cousins of the Dukes of Bedford.
- Deadpan Snarker: "In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying."
- Logic Bomb: Russell's Paradox. Set theory was a crucial part of the basic foundations of mathematics, when Russell discovered a paradox within it: Some sets are members of themselves, and some are not. So a set of sets that are not members of themselves must exist. Is it a member of itself? If not, then it must be, but if it is, then it can't be. Entire theories of mathematics collapsed as a result.
- Older Than They Think: He was a scathing critic of religion whose writings wouldn't be out of place among the so-called New Atheists. "You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress of humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or even mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."
- Raised by Grandparents: His father and mother died young, leaving him to be raised by his grandfather—the aforementioned Earl Russell (whom Bertrand remembered as "a kindly old man in a wheelchair")—and grandmother Frances, Countess Russell at the age of four. The Earl died two years later—leaving the title to Bertrand's older brother Frank—and his grandmother took charge of the boys. The Countess was a formidable woman and substantially more conservative than his parents—but given that his parents were very radical for their time, this merely meant that the same dose of freethought would be allowed in secular affairs, while still being indoctrinated as Presbyterians.
- Writer on Board: In his History of Western Philosophy he doesn't attempt to hide his opinion of certain philosophers, though it can be argued that he still provides a well-rounded view of each figure. Most notably he gives two The Reason You Suck Speeches on Plato and Aristotle, which point out pretty much any objection any modern student would raise with their philosophy.