Bertrand Russell in His Nineties: Aging and the Problem of Biography

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Bertrand Russell, one of the twentieth century's leading philosophers, lived to be ninety-eight, spending his last decade as a vigorous and often unpopular political activist. His generally sympathetic biographers tend to view this last decade through the prism of “senility,” but the only justification for this judgment would appear to be the objective fact of Russell's age. Almost identical behaviors from his younger years are never attributed to mental shortcomings. The treatment of Russell suggests that biographers are susceptible to powerful, distorting, and fictive predispositions as they “shape” their subjects' later years.

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