The Impact of Science on Society – Bertrand Russell

The Impact of Science on Society
The Impact of Science on Society is the publication of a series of lectures Russell gave in the late 1940s He was at this stage a well-respected philosopher mathematician and social critic, trying to explain the new world that had been created following the use of the atomic bomb along with social change that had occurred in his lifetime.

Of course from this perspective a single world government controlled under scientific principles looked to be the only solution which would avoid world annihilation, and he explored the ways that this could be as positive a move as possible. I found the interest in this book as evidence that the “establishment” were/are trying to create a new world order to be slightly amusing. Especially as surely by now we would have the one government if that was the aim, not the continued drawing of the lines between the USA and Russia over sixty years later.

He gives a few draft “rights of man”, which is a stark reminder that the now well-known human rights were being drafted in this era, and how very necessary they were in the wake of world war two. This is tied with a reflection of how very much society and government had changed in his life, and a reflection that people in communities working for a common purpose as they had during the war were often happier than they were in peacetime.

He also explores the limits of science, that the need to exploit finite raw materials will always place constraints on growth, and that in the absence of world wars we will need to find a new way to place brakes on population growth.

There is an inherent optimism in this book that humanity will choose reason over death, and I think he would be happy to discover that the Cold War did end, and for the time being at least reason has been chosen over death, even though he was wrong as to what shape that reason would take.

3 thoughts on “The Impact of Science on Society – Bertrand Russell

  1. Sadly the superstitious belief that growth — capital, energy, cities, markets, profits — is infinitely sustainable in a finite environment has put the kibosh on any rational sensible planning for the future that Russell partly envisaged.

    1. That and human nature itself I think. In the absence of war such rational planning would require some people to lose some power.

      I would argue that we are getting there in Europe with the EU, and worldwide with the UN being much more effective than the League of Nations however.

  2. Despite its occasional ineffectiveness — eg over Syria — I’d agree that without the UN and also the EU we’d be in a far worse mess than we are.

    And despite its positive aspects I do despair of so many manifestations of the worse side of human nature. Gotta hope though, and act appropriately…

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