Analyzing Controversy: Beliefs of Bertrand Russell Versus Rene Descartes

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Analysing controversy: All that I know I must know because I derived it from my sense


This essay aims to examine the controversy i.e., “All that I know I must know because I derived it from my senses” by relating it further to the perspectives of Bertrand Russell (supporter) and Rene Descartes (opposition). By reviewing both sides of this controversy, a logical and rational explanation could be founded which is also the aim of this essay. Any controversy could be kept under scrutiny by reviewing both perspectives thereby allowing in having a better insight of the situation.

Critical analysis and discussion

Section 1

Russell has presented very unique and realistic imagery of the controversy by suggesting that “what the senses immediately tell us is not the truth about the object as it is apart from us” (p. 59). The statement presented by Russell is crucial to understanding the various social institutes and social behaviour of the people.

For instance, a person might view another individual who appears to be from a certain religion as a threat to his safety. This would be the first response i.e., derived from his senses. Upon analysing the situation and relating it further to the actual behaviour of the individual, he may come to a conclusion that the person is not a threat but the initial response was merely subjective.

Therefore, Russell’s presentation of the response further relates to the ‘power of asking questions. He also signifies the importance of evidence that surrounds the sensory response which could further assist in answering the questions or relating the issue further to the sensory response. Therefore, according to Russell, the controversy could be negated in a way that the sensory response of an individual is not evidence-based and is more like a reaction which does not hold a lot of meaning or importance.

Russell further adds up by suggesting that asking questions about a matter allows in going to the depth of it thereby allowing the person to know about the existence of another possible explanation. In simple words, there could be a logical explanation to the things that surround us (Russell, 2003, p. 1-2). By relating this notion further to the controversy, it could be implied that the senses may not always be true and ought to be challenged as well as cross-checked in order to reach out to the root cause of the situation.

Section 2

Rene Descartes takes this controversy to another level which opposes their viewpoint of Russell. He states “All this seems to be so evident as to be hardly worth stating, except in answer to a man who doubts whether I know anything” (p. 58). Therefore, Descartes is of the view that anything that has been deciphered by an individual could be negated and contested by any other person. This is primarily due to the fact that all individuals have their own way of interpreting things besides looking at them which allows them to decode the situation as per their own ways of looking at them.

Descartes is also establishing an argument that anything being experienced or viewed by someone could not be validated by another person for the reason that the other person does not hold a similar amount of knowledge or experiences. When this point of view is further related to the controversy selected for analysis, it could be put forward that Descartes does not look at it the same way.

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According to Descartes, some people would be able to derive their thoughts from their sensations while others may not do the same. These differences that exist could be both important and unimportant at the same time depending on the way of looking at them.

Descartes further relates the argument to ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’. Therefore, reality may appear as different to the sensory response of an individual. His statement “I think, therefore I am” (Lockhart, 2019) holds a lot of significance in further deciphering this controversy.

In addition to that, he also talks about the experiences shaping the perception of things which further suggests that the controversy could be regarded as questionable as per Descartes's frame of reference. It would also not be wrong to imply that Descartes’s view could be used to negate any controversy.

Section 3

In light of both the perspectives that have been analysed so far, it could be put forward that Russell’s explanation of the controversy was much stronger than Descartes's. The reason behind stating this verdict is primarily due to the fact that Russell talked more about the objective or the logical explanation of the sensory response. Moreover, his argument related to questioning the matter allows the person to go deeper into the reality of a situation.

When this notion is further connected to the controversy that is under analysis, it would not be wrong to imply that the controversy itself is questioned by Russell’s point of view. For instance, the sensory response could be questioned that had earlier been explained with an example. It could be any other situation in which the sensory response might be too subtle or abrupt and the person may start rationalising the situation by asking more questions. Eventually, it would lead the individual to go into the root cause of the problem which would help in validating or negating the sensory response of the situation.

In addition to that, questioning or examining the objective element of any situation is a very useful strategy that could be adopted under any circumstances other than the controversy itself. By collecting evidence and data against the sensory response, an individual is able to redefine or add up further to the sensory response. One such example that could be linked here is following a rightful leader. The follower may think of a person as charismatic at first by looking at the leader’s looks or communication skills. However, with time, he/she could further analyse the leader by reviewing his works and his actions as to whether or not they are associated with one another. This is how the situation could be examined and validated.


Upon examining the controversy and relating it further to the two points of view, there are various aspects that could be unravelled. It could be implied that reviewing two sides of a situation allows in critically analysing the situation besides coming up with a rational outcome or a suggestion. In this case, Russell presented a more logical explanation of the situation as compared to Descartes which assisted in a better analysis of the selected controversy. In conclusion, any controversy could be deciphered from any frame of reference depending on the logic that has been put forward by the philosopher.


  1. Lockhart, D. (2019). The Appearance of Presencing Individuals
  2. Russell, B. (2003). Russell on Metaphysics: Selections from the writings of Bertrand Russell. Routledge.
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Analyzing Controversy: Beliefs of Bertrand Russell Versus Rene Descartes. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“Analyzing Controversy: Beliefs of Bertrand Russell Versus Rene Descartes.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Analyzing Controversy: Beliefs of Bertrand Russell Versus Rene Descartes. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2024].
Analyzing Controversy: Beliefs of Bertrand Russell Versus Rene Descartes [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 May 26]. Available from:

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