Russell's Progress: Spatial Dimensions, the From-Which, and the At-Which

In Dina Emundts (ed.), Self, World, and Art: Metaphysical Topics in Kant and Hegel. De Gruyter. pp. 321–44 (2013)
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The chapter concerns some aspects of Russell’s epistemological turn in the period after 1911. In particular, it focuses on two aspects of his philosophy in this period: his attempt to render material objects as constructions out of sense data, and his attitude toward sense data as “hard data.” It examines closely Russell’s “breakthrough” of early 1914, in which he concluded that, viewed from the standpoint of epistemology and analytic construction, space has six dimensions, not merely three. Russell posits a three-dimensional personal or “perspective” space that is inhabited by sense data. This space then forms the basis for constructing the three dimensional space of physics (and of public things). I am concerned with the specifics of this construction: with the properties of the private spaces, the relations among those spaces, and their relation to physical space and to constructed “things,” such as pennies or tables. There are difficulties of interpretation with respect to these relations, which stem from the difficulty of finding a coherent interpretation of Russell’s claim that objects such as tables and pennies look smaller at a greater distance (or look trapezoidal or elliptical from some points of view). I don’t mean to challenge the phenomenal claim that objects do, in some sense, look small in the distance. Rather, I raise difficulties with Russell’s analysis of this fact, in which he appeals to both phenomenal experience and the findings of sensory psychology. I hold that if he wishes to maintain his phenomenal claim about objects appearing smaller with greater distance, he must alter or redescribe aspects of his construction of ordinary things. However, if his construction of things and physical space is based on a problematic description of the private spaces, then his claim that private or perspective spaces are very well known and provide the hard data for knowledge of the physical world faces a challenge.

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Gary Hatfield
University of Pennsylvania


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