Philosophy and Nuclear War

Awhile back I ran across some citations from the years 1947-1952 which showed philosophy in a rather odd light. The topic is nuclear warfare, and the authors are Ludwig Wittgenstein, the process philosopher and Christian theologian Charles Hartshorne, and the world-famous philosopher and public intellectual Bertrand Russell.

From these citations it seems pretty clear that in 1947 and 1948 Russell proposed a nuclear war against the Soviet Union which the Soviets could have escaped only by abject surrender and the renunciation of Communism. The fact that this was was to be preceded by an ultimatum rather done as a surprise attack than makes little difference, nor does the fact that at times Russell believed that it probably wouldn’t lead to war. The Mongols themselves, also in the name of world peace, would always sent ultimatums to the cities and nations they planned to attack, offering unconditional surrender as the alternative to total destruction. (See Kotwicz and Richard).


All three of Russell’s statements are reminders of the enormous anxiety that the Soviet threat caused after the end of WWII and the degree to which WWII had conditioned people, even philosophers, to regard desperate measures as acceptable and mass killing as thinkable. There’s nothing in them or in Wittgenstein’s or Harteshorne’s statements that can be used as evidence that philosophers as a group are wiser or more benign than the average citizen.

more ….

Author: John Emerson

An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur.

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