Bertrand Russell, the father of modern philosophy, had a special weakness for spoons, as a result of a childhood in a household in which he couldn’t stop being spanked for not having completed all the tasks on his daily schedule. For many parents, the children in this households were considered expendable and it was a family tradition that the children were treated as though they were not worth it — for instance, if one parent was absent, the children were often left home alone so that the parent can pick the children up. The children might be left for three or four hours at least, and some were left out of school.
But with their own hands. Russell had the privilege not of being in that house, but of living in a completely different one as a professor at Cambridge, in Britain, where he was one of an elite group of professors. If his children were not treated like expendable or not worth it to him, he thought, he might as well let them continue to exist and be productive. That they were, as they were in the 1950s, still producing and performing in classrooms with all the rigor of their elders would have been a surprise to him, as far as he was concerned.
In one of his papers, Russell discusses spoons as a matter of logic:
… it seems as though all the facts are now in dispute and that there are not enough spoons in the world, as the proportion of them, in any given quantity, is far less than, say, the total number of spoons in the world in 1900… [S]tandardly, therefore, I would prefer to use forks, because they fit into the hands much better and are harder to use than spoons…
For some people, it was the spoons used to spoon that changed the situation for them. Russell suggests that one reason they preferred to sponges was that it was a more reliable method for distributing the object of manipulation rather than a fork. Other times, the spoons simply became less convenient for their usage, as a result of being used in the wrong way. With this in mind, it is interesting to know not only when and why they switched, but also why they left, why they did not switch back, and what consequences there may be for them as a result.
So in the early 1950s, Russell’s daughter, Helen, had a rather special role to play in relation to her master’s work: it was her job to
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