BRACERS Record Detail for 79641

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Rinder, Gladys
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A transcription by Rinder of a letter no longer extant. It also appears in "Extracts from Letters Written by the Hon. Bertrand Russell in Brixton Prison, August 1918". The date is taken from that document, Rec. Acq. 71e, record 52373.


Letter 84

BRACERS 79641. TL(TC). McMaster
Previous Brixton letter, BRACERS 18688; next letter, BRACERS 18689
Edited by K. Blackwell, A. Bone, N. Griffin and S. Turcon

<Brixton Prison>1
26th August, 1918.

Dear Miss Rinder,

(messages about books, for Miss Wrinch, Stanley Unwin, etc.)

Tell Bob Trevy I love his book about Thibet2 from which I am collecting Great Thoughts: “The arch spirit in this conspiracy insisted that I should marry my host’s daughter and brought all his ingenuity to bear in assisting her to make a captive of my heart and person. Fortunately my faith proved stronger than temptation, and enabled me to remain true to the teachings of the Blessed One.” “My stay in Tsarang was not entirely devoid of results; for while there I succeededa in persuading about 15 persons to give up the use of intoxicants, and some thirty others to abandon the habit of chewing tobacco.” Has … done as much in …?b Seriously, however,c it is a delightful book and I am most grateful. There is something very restful about travels in queer outlying countries where life is quiet. …

I am thinking a great deal about knowledge. I feel more and more that in the Analysis of Mind, Desire3 is the ultimate. All the semi-biological phrases that muddle-headed people use — adjustment, behaviour, evolution, etc., all imply purpose, i.e. desire. The concept of “behaviour” as used by the behaviourists is not applicable to pure matter (? can’t read word)d, because it has implicite the idea of objects to be attained. But given desire, I think Knowledge need not be a separate ingredient of mind. I believe formally one would explain desire in physical terms, but I should be unable to make myself believe such an explanation. — The Thibetans keep an officer called “the metaphysician in chief”. I think of applying for the post. Until lately his chief dutyf was to see to it that the Dalai Lama died before the age of 21, but the present man altered all that.4

Love to everybody.

Yours v. sincerely
B. Russell


  • 1

    [document] The letter was edited from a typed carbon with corrections in Rinder’s hand, in the Russell Archives at 710.200337. Perhaps it was an “official” letter, but without the original there are no prison initials of approval to confirm it. The earliest extant version is a typed carbon (Letter 84), corrected by Rinder. A circulated, retyped copy is in the Gilbert Murray papers (BRACERS 52373). Its text underwent some regularization. Most readings are taken from the earlier version.

  • 2

    Bob Trevy ... book about Thibet Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Thibet (Benares and London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1909). The book had been sent by BR’s old Cambridge friend, the poet and translator Robert Trevelyan (1872–1951). The passages quoted by BR appear on pp. 60 and 63, respectively, but in the original, after “conspiracy” and before “assisting”, the first quotation reads, “was my own instructor Serab, who insisted that I should marry the youngest of my host’s daughters, or rather who brought all his ingenuity to bear upon”.

  • 3

    Desire BR had previously discussed with Wrinch whether desire or judgment should have explanatory priority (see Letter 51). Wrinch, focussing primarily on logic, favoured judgment, but BR, here as in Letter 5, placed desire at the centre of his theory of mind. In some ways, desire posed the hardest problem for his behaviouristically inspired theory, since it seemed directly to imply an object to the achievement of which an activity was directed, and thus to require an explanation which was teleological rather than purely causal. It is interesting to see BR linking the concepts of adjustment, evolution, and behaviour itself, central concepts in biology and psychology, as all implicitly involving the notion of purpose and thus, in a broad sense, that of desire. However, despite these prescient prison remarks, the theory of desire that BR put forward in Lecture 3 of The Analysis of Mind (1921) did not invoke desire in order to define (purposive) behaviour, but rather attempted to define desire in terms of behaviour-cycles (pp. 65–6). Maybe this was the explanation of desire “in physical terms” that he thought was formally possible, though he would be “unable to make myself believe such an explanation.” If so, one wonders how he brought himself to do so!
         His inclusion of “evolution” in the letter among the terms that presuppose purpose deserves separate consideration, for the biological theory of evolution quite explicitly has no such presupposition — as BR well knew. But BR was talking about “the semi-biological phrases that muddle-headed people use”, and “evolution” had certainly been given a teleological gloss by many muddled-headed people from Herbert Spencer to Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw. Interestingly, BR went on to include the “concept of ‘behaviour’ as used by the behaviourists”, implying, perhaps, that they, too, are muddle-headed. If so, it was a complaint that he seems to have withdrawn by the time his book was published.

  • 4

    Thibetans … “the metaphysician in chief” … Dalai Lama died before … 21 … all that No such office is mentioned either in the “book about Thibet” by Ekai Kawaguchi, from which BR quotes at the beginning of this letter to Rinder, or in the travelogue of French Jesuit Évariste Huc (Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China [French 1st ed., 1850]), which, according to Rinder (BRACERS 79625), Robert Trevelyan was also willing to send to Brixton. It is not known whether the latter work ever reached BR there, although he received it as a gift from Ottoline before visiting China in 1920 (see Papers 15: 548–9). BR was clearly amused by the idea of philosophers wielding such temporal power, despite later condemning Tibet’s Buddhist priesthood as “obscurantist, tyrannous, and cruel in the highest degree” (“Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” [1929]; Papers 10: 214). Five years before making this critical judgment, he had again alluded to Tibetan constitutional norms, in commenting upon the gradual separation of politics from western philosophy: “In Tibet ... the second official in the State is called the ‘metaphysician in chief’. Elsewhere philosophy is no longer held in such high esteem” (“Philosophy in the Twentieth Century” [1924]; Papers 9: 451). This more precise description of the position mentioned in Letter 84 suggests that BR may have been thinking of the Panchen Lama (“Great Scholar”), a figure whose standing in Tibetan Buddhism is below only that of the Dalai Lama. But he may have been referring to the office of regent (“Ti Rimpoche”), through which real political authority in Tibet was exercised more or less uninterruptedly between 1815 and 1895, as the 8th to 12th Dalai Lamas all died before reaching the age of 21. BR implicates the Tibetan court in these premature deaths, and foul play may have indeed been responsible in each case. Kawaguchi blamed ruthless and selfish officials fearful of losing rank and privilege “if a wise Dalai Lama is on the throne” (Three Years in Thibet [Benares and London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1909], p. 318). Lobsang Gyaltsen (b. 1840) was Ti Rimpoche for the 13th Dalai Lama (who died aged 57 in 1933) during the latter’s five-year exile following Britain’s invasion of Tibet in 1904. Gyaltsen also held the title of “Chief Doctor of Divinity and Metaphysics of Tibet” — at least according to Sir Francis Younghusband, the soldier, explorer and mystic who as commander of the British military expedition met this Ti Rimpoche (see Younghusband’s India and Tibet [London: John Murray, 1910], pp. 273–5). BR may have read this work of history and memoir, or at least discussed it with the author, with whom he became quite friendly in pre-war Cambridge and who later (as a senior official at the War Office) secured him an audience with the military officer responsible for upholding the prohibited areas order against him (see Papers 13: 453–4).

Textual Notes
  • a

    succeeded Mistyped as “succeedee”.

  • b

    Has … done as much in …? Omissions are in the Murray typescript. The names are omitted in the earliest typed copy.

  • c

    however, Comma added editorially.

  • d

    (? can’t read word) In Gladys Rinder’s hand.

  • e

    implicit The Murray typescript has “implicitly”.

  • f

    his chief duty The typed carbon reads “hai chief duty”.

Russell letter no.
1016 REJ
Transcription Public Access
Record no.
Record created
Feb 04, 2010
Record last modified
Oct 13, 2022
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