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Wisdom of the West, prologue, 1959, by Bertrand Russell - the beginning of Prologue

Bertrand Russell Quotes 366
What are the philosophers doing when they are at work? This is indeed an odd question, and we might try to answer it by first setting out what they are not doing. There are, in the world around us, many things which are understood fairly well. Take, for instance, the working of a steam engine. This falls within the fields of mechanics and thermo-dynamics. Again, we know quite a lot about the way in which the human body is built and functions. These are matters that are studied in anatomy and physiology. Or, finally, consider the movement of the stars about which we know a great deal. This comes under the heading of astronomy. All such pieces of well defined knowledge belong to one or other of the sciences.

But all these provinces of knowledge border on a circumambient area of the unknown. As one comes into the border regions and beyond, one passes from science into the field of speculation. This speculative activity is a kind of exploration, and this, among other things, is what philosophy is. As we shall see later, the various fields of science all started as philosophic exploration in this sense. Once a science becomes solidly grounded, it proceeds more or less independently, except for borderline problems and questions of method. But in a way the exploratory process does not advance as such, it simply goes on and finds new employment.

At the same time we must distinguish philosophy from other kinds of speculation. In itself philosophy sets out neither to solve our troubles nor to save our souls. It is, as the Greeks put it, a kind of sightseeing adventure undertaken for its own sake. There is thus in principle no question of dogma, or rites, or sacred entities of any kind, even though individual philosophers may of course turn out to be stubbornly dogmatic. There are indeed two attitudes that might be adopted towards the unknown. One is to accept the pronouncements of people who say they know, on the basis of books, mysteries or other sources of inspiration. The other way is to go out and look for oneself, and this is the way of science and philosophy. ...