By definition, anything that occupies space is matter. Matter exists in four different distinct states. Matter takes the form of solid, gas, plasma or liquid. Under extreme conditions, matter is said to take other forms like Bose-Einstein and neutron degenerate. In his book ‘The Problems of Philosophy’, Bertrand Russell digs deeper in to the significant issue of matter. The second chapter of the book is dedicated solely in to address the philosophical problem of matter. He attempts to convince readers of its existence.
Russell begins the chapter by bringing the attention of the readers to the issue of matter. He gets the attention by questioning the sense that the definition makes. Right after presenting his question, he follows up by giving out the consequences that a negative answer may present. In a bid to prove the existence of matter, Russell uses a table to represent a physical object since matter gets identified with physical objects. He implores his readers to distinguish the reality of the table from a dream or imagination. “ For if we cannot be sure of the independent existence of objects, we cannot be sure of the independent existence of other people’s bodies, and therefore still less of the other people’s minds, since we have no grounds for believing in their minds except such as derived from observing their bodies.” (Russel, 2009). In the above statement, Russell seeks surety and certainty to back up his philosophy). The statement is also a way to convince and rid doubt from his audience by proving the existence of data.
Bertrand Russell argues that there is a physical reality which is separate from what goes on in our brains. His argument implies that there is an existence of a material world that is outside us. He introduces in to picture a cat which he asks his readers to imagine its presence in one position, then its presence in another position. The human mind and common sense will basically argue that the cat has moved. In response to the cat’s movement, Russell points out that the cat must be present in order for it to get seen. On the same note, he introduces a hungry cat and explains that if a cat exists, then it is easy to imagine him being hungry between meals that it is to imagine a hungry cat that is not logged in to our minds.
Russell delves deeper in to the real topic by introducing sense data. While he understands that there is a high possibility that his argument on the existence of the material world may face doubt, he is also aware that sense data is less likely to be doubted (Russell, 2009). Maybe Russell assumes that his cat explanation on how sense data works are not convincing enough. He, therefore, decides to introduce humans in to the picture. He says that humans can perceive an impression of their surrounding through signals of varied sensations. The sensations cannot, however, provide us with the real definition or truth of what the object may be.
The strongest objection to Russell’s argument is the existence of matter. Philosophers deny the existence of matter as opposed to the mind. Philosophers who do not support Russell Bertrand’s viewpoint out that reality exists mentally in our minds, similarly to the way we dream. The philosophers put it that there is no existence to something else that is physical other than what we perceive mentally. Objections can also be raised from his veneration of simplicity. His argument on the case of instinctive beliefs favoring others and rejecting others is questionable.
While Russell’s argument may somewhat relatable, it is not decisive and does not cut across as convincing. In his conclusion on the existence of matter, he claims that the external world exists and does not depend on our continuous perceiving. In his claim, he also argues that reality can only be felt indirectly and not directly. Reality according to Russell is not just as simple as a case of dreaming (Russell, 2009). Direct knowledge of a physical object is in his argument, something one cannot have. The direct knowledge argument leaves a big room for doubt which he steers off by not being conclusive over it. Therefore, the objections against his arguments may succeed because his arguments are left hanging, leaving the readers in a dilemma.
Since Russell Bertrand’s argument is doubtful, I will have to conclude that it is weak and ineffective. As much as he tries to bring in other explanations, we are left with one central point of sense data. Sense data in itself does not accurately prove an existence to the physical world of matter in this case. His case is presented by a series of logical inconsistencies, and his premise of matter existence by direct acquaintance with our sense data seems to fail its task of providing strong grounds and having a positive effect to his readers.
Russell, B. (2009). The problems of philosophy. OUP Oxford.
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy