Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) was an English aristocrat who was a philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth.
Bertrand Russell, philosopher
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Quotations from Bertrand Russell
The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed
4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found
6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
Most people would rather die than think; many do
We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.
When people begin to philosophize they seem to think it necessary to make themselves artificially stupid.
Philosophy seems to me on the whole a rather hopeless business.
Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.
I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe – because, like’s God, it won’t love us in return.
People are said to believe in God, or to disbelieve in Adam and Eve. But in such cases what is believed or disbelieved is that there is an entity answering a certain description. This, which can be believed or disbelieved is quite different from the actual entity (if any) which does answer the description. Thus the matter of belief is, in all cases, different in kind from the matter of sensation or presentation, and error is in no way analogous to hallucination. A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.
The most essential characteristic of scientific technique is that it proceeds from experiment, not from tradition. The experimental habit of mind is a difficult one for most people to maintain; indeed, the science of one generation has already become the tradition of the next… All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.
When you tell people that happiness is a simple matter, they get annoyed with you.
While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. What ever is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.
There is no excuse for deceiving children. And when, as must happen in conventional families, they find that their parents have lied, they lose confidence in them, and feel justified in lying to them.
The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of a deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis.
It is entirely clear that there is only one way in which great wars can be permanently prevented, and that is the establishment of an international government with a monopoly of serious armed force.
Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel God, and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case.
I do not believe that I am now dreaming, but I cannot prove that I am not. I am, however, quite certain that I am having certain experiences, whether they be those of a dream or those of waking life.
I should say that the universe is just there, and that is all.
If there were a God, I think it very unlikely that he would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt his existence.
When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted, either by what you wish to believe, or what you think could have beneficent social effects if it were believed; but look only and solely at what are the facts.
The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction.
[When asked “Does philosophy contribute to happiness?”] Yes, if you happen to be interested in philosophy and good at it, but not otherwise – but so does bricklaying. Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.
The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.
COMMENTS on Bertrand Russell
I should say that the universe is just there, and that is all. Russell wrote this nearly a hundred years ago, but since then there seem to be meaningful speculations about how the Universe came into existence. And there is precise experimental knowledge about the energy states of the first seconds of our universe. We live totally within the physical universe and its properties are understood with ever increasing accuracy.
Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority. I have observed this quality about people nearly every time I am in public; but why shouldn’t nearly everyone nearly all the time be fearful of new thoughts? Nearly all new thoughts are wrong, and it takes a lot of effort to find the workable ideas; thus to follow a new train of thought will probably bring about a problem. Of course it is new thoughts that revolutionize the world into a much better place for all of us to live. Most people must realize they don’t have the ability to discern worthwhile new ideas and are safer just rejecting everything new.
Most people would rather die than think; many do. Most people are more likely to come into difficulties if they do think, so they reject thinking and reject those people they encounter who appear that they might be thinking. But there is no excuse for deceiving children when they are seeking their place in the world. And when, as must happen in conventional families, they find that their parents have lied, they lose confidence in them, and feel justified in lying to them. I have been personally horrified by this ongoing trend in our society, and wrote a critical blog several years ago on the perennial Christmas story, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Beneath this cute story is a vicious malice that ruins children’s chances for ever becoming fully functioning human beings.
When you tell people that happiness is a simple matter, they get annoyed with you. This is a slightly veiled critique of William James’ theory of assuming a quality so that you will soon possess that quality. It appears that Bertie had tried the experiment a few times, as I have, and discovered telling people how they should improve their lives gets a surprising quantity of blow-back.
The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of a deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis. The problem resides in human good intentions, for themselves and toward those whom they care for; out-groups are created by this love, and the more vigorously the good intentions are held the more violence the out-group is likely to suffer.
If there were a God, I think it very unlikely that he would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt his existence. It becomes apparent that Russell is referring to Pascal’s Wager, “It is in one’s rational self-interest to act as if God exists, since the infinite punishments of hell, provided they have a positive probability, however small, outweigh any countervailing advantage.” What seems obvious is that an omnipotent God would instantly perceive the attempt to work a simple confidence trick on him, and he would then send the perpetrator into the deepest and hottest Hell.
When asked “Does philosophy contribute to happiness?” Russell replied: Yes, if you happen to be interested in philosophy and good at it, but not otherwise – but so does bricklaying. Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness. Seeing real progress resulting from one’s efforts is satisfying, but it generates happiness only if the goal is a worthy one toward which one wants to be striving.