The Near Riot Over Negative Facts

  • Bernard LinskyEmail author
Part of the History of Analytic Philosophy book series (History of Analytic Philosophy)


In Lecture III of The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Russell says “When I was lecturing on this subject at Harvard I argued that there are negative facts, and it nearly produced a riot: the class would not hear of there being negative facts at all. I am inclined to think that there are. However, one of the men to whom I was lecturing at Harvard, Mr. Demos, subsequently wrote an article in Mind to explain why there are not negative facts. It is in Mind for April 1917.” (CPBR 8, 107) There are two sets of notes on Russell’s lectures in Philosophy 21 Advanced Logic at Harvard in 1914. One, well known, consists of notes by T.S. Eliot, who was then a graduate student writing his dissertation. Another set of notes, recently located at Trinity College Connecticut, are by Harry T. Costello. Russell brought Wittgenstein’s “Notes on Logic” with him to Harvard in March of 1914, and years later, in 1956, Costello published them in the Journal of Philosophy. Costello’s notes on the lectures, and a letter from Russell to Ottoline Morrell on April 15th, show that the lecture that “nearly produced a riot” was likely given in Philosophy 21 on April 11, 1914. The Costello notes will be used as evidence for this claim. That lecture appears to have been devoted to explaining ideas from Wittgenstein’s “Notes on Logic”. Another letter, this from Raphael Demos to Bertrand Russell, dated February 11th, 1918, suggests that Demos attended at least Lecture III of The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, on “the previous Tuesday” which would have been February 5th. I will conclude with a discussion of Russell’s views on Demos’ paper, and, more generally, why Russell would have taken negative facts seriously, but not conjunctive or disjunctive facts.


Works by Other Authors

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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