Bertrand Russell


Bertrand Russell Quotes

 

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

– Albert Einstein, as quoted in a letter to Morris Raphael Cohen, professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York, defending the controversial appointment of Russell to a teaching position at the City College of New York (19 March 1940).

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Capitalism & Democracy


“Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

– Bertrand Russell


The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich.

– Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays


Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for the others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever.

– Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays


“Dread of disaster makes everybody act in the very way that increases the disaster. Psychologically the situation is analogous to that of people trampled to death when there is a panic in a theatre caused by a cry of ‘Fire!’ In the situation that existed in the great depression, things could only be set right by causing the idle plant to work again. But everybody felt that to do so was to risk almost certain loss. Within the framework of classical economics there was no solution. Roosevelt saved the situation by bold and heretical action. He spent billions of public money and created a huge public debt, but by so doing he revived production and brought his country out of the depression. Businessmen, who in spite of such a sharp lesson continued to believe in old-fashioned economics, were infinitely shocked, and although Roosevelt saved them from ruin, they continued to curse him and to speak of him as ‘the madman in the White House.’ Except for Fabre’s investigation of the behavior of insects, I do not know any equally striking example of inability to learn from experience.”

– Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World


“In democratic countries, the most important private organizations are economic. Unlike secret societies, they are able to exercize their terrorism without illegality, since they do not threaten to kill their enemies, but only to starve them.”

– Bertrand Russell, Power: A New Social Analysis


“Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”

– Bertrand Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World


“To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.”

– Bertrand Russell, Power: A New Social Analysis


“I dislike Communism because it is undemocratic, and capitalism because it favors exploitation.”

– Bertrand Russell, Unarmed Victory (1963)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Change


“You might regard Mother Nature in general as your enemy, and envisage human life as a struggle to get the better of Mother Nature. If men viewed life in this way, cooperation of the whole human race would become easy. And men could easily be brought to view life in this way if schools, newspapers, and politicians devoted themselves to this end. But schools are out to teach patriotism; newspapers are out to stir up excitement; and politicians are out to get re-elected. None of the three, therefore, can do anything towards saving the human race from reciprocal suicide.”

– Bertrand Russell


“The world at present is obsessed by the conflict of rival ideologies, and one of the apparent causes of conflict is the desire for the victory of our own ideology and the defeat of the other. I do not think that the fundamental motive here has much to do with ideologies. I think the ideologies are merely a way of grouping people, and that the passions involved are merely those which always arise between rival groups. Ideologies, in fact, are one of the methods by which herds are created, and the psychology is much the same however the herd may have been generated.”

– Bertrand Russell


“The great majority of men and women, in ordinary times, pass through life without ever contemplating or criticising, as a whole, either their own conditions or those of the world at large. They find themselves born into a certain place in society, and they accept what each day brings forth, without any effort of thought beyond what the immediate present requires. Almost as instinctively as the beasts of the field, they seek the satisfaction of the needs of the moment, without much forethought, and without considering that by sufficient effort the whole conditions of their lives could be changed.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918) 


“I don’t care for the applause one gets by saying what others are thinking; I want actually to change people’s thoughts. Power over people’s minds is the main personal desire of my life; and this sort of power is not acquired by saying popular things.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Lucy Martin Donnelly


“I believe that the abolition of private ownership of land and capital is a necessary step toward any world in which the nations are to live at peace with one another.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)


“A fundamental economic reconstruction, bringing with it very far-reaching changes in ways of thinking and feeling, in philosophy and art and private relations, seems absolutely necessary if industrialism is to become the servant of man instead of his master. In all this, I am at one with the Bolsheviks; politically, I criticize them only when their methods seem to involve a departure from their own ideals.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920)


“One who believes, as I do, that the free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism, as much as to the Church of Rome.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920)


“Without effort and change, human life cannot remain good. It is not a finished Utopia that we ought to desire, but a world where imagination and hope are alive and active.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Political Ideals (1917)


“A world full of happiness is not beyond human power to create; the obstacles imposed by inanimate nature are not insuperable. The real obstacles lie in the heart of man, and the cure for these is a firm hope, informed and fortified by thought.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)


“The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “What We Must Do”


“With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception. The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.”

– Bertrand Russell


“To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Prospects of Industrial Civilization

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Character & Virtue


“[Unlike the] utilitarian… I judge pleasure and pain to be of small importance compared to knowledge, the appreciation and contemplation of beauty, and a certain intrinsic excellence of mind which, apart from its practical effects, appears to me to deserve the name of virtue. [For] many years it seemed to me perfectly self-evident that pleasure is the only good and pain the only evil. Now, however, the opposite seems to me self-evident.”

– Bertrand Russell


“I do not wish to seem to end upon a note of cynicism. I do not deny that there are better things than selfishness, and that some people achieve these things. I maintain, however, on the one hand, that there are few occasions upon which large bodies of men, such as politics is concerned with, can rise above selfishness, while, on the other hand, there are a very great many circumstances in which populations will fall below selfishness, if selfishness is interpreted as enlightened self-interest.”

– Bertrand Russell


“And among those occasions on which people fall below self-interest are most of the occasions on which they are convinced that they are acting from idealistic motives. Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power. When you see large masses of men swayed by what appear to be noble motives, it is as well to look below the surface and ask yourself what it is that makes these motives effective. It is partly because it is so easy to be taken in by a facade of nobility that a psychological inquiry, such as I have been attempting, is worth making. I would say, in conclusion, that if what I have said is right, the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence. And this, after all, is an optimistic conclusion, because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education.”

– Bertrand Russell


“If throughout your life you abstain from murder, theft, fornication, perjury, blasphemy, and disrespect toward your parents, your church, and your king, you are conventionally held to deserve moral admiration even if you have never done a single kind or generous or useful action. This very inadequate notion of virtue is an outcome of taboo morality, and has done untold harm.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Impact of Science on Society


“The governors of the world believe, and have always believed, that virtue can only be taught by teaching falsehood, and that any man who knew the truth would be wicked. I disbelieve this, absolutely and entirely. I believe that love of truth is the basis of all real virtue, and that virtues based upon lies can only do harm.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in What I Believe (1925)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Children


“Children must be under authority, and are themselves aware that they must be, although they like to play a game of rebellion at times. The case of children is unique in the fact that those who have authority over them are sometimes fond of them. Where this is the case, the children do not resent the authority in general, even when they resist it on particular occasions. Education authorities, as opposed to teachers, have not this merit, and do in fact sacrifice the children to what they consider the good of the State by teaching them “patriotism,” i.e., a willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished, and if they had never heard of him before they might be led by his jollity to see what he had written. But if at school they had been inoculated against him, they will never be able to enjoy him. The same sort of thing applies to music lessons. Human beings have certain capacities for spontaneous enjoyment, but moralists and pedants possess themselves of the apparatus of these enjoyments, and having extracted what they consider the poison of pleasure they leave them dreary and dismal and devoid of everything that gives them value. Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences. If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in New Hopes for a Changing Word


“It seems clear to me that marriage ought to be constituted by children, and relations not involving children ought to be ignored by the law and treated as indifferent by public opinion. It is only through children that relations cease to be a purely private matter.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Ottoline Morrell


“When I say that children should be told about sex, I do not mean that they should be told only the bare physiological facts; they should be told whatever they wish to know. There should be no attempt to represent adults as more virtuous than they are, or sex as occurring only in marriage. 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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Our Sexual Ethics (1936).


“The fundamental defect of fathers, in our competitive society, is that they want their children to be a credit to them.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“Choose your parents wisely.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On the recipe for longevity; Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 29 (2012).


“I am ashamed of belonging to the species Homo Sapiens…You & I may be thankful to have lived in happier times – you more than I, because you have no children.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in, Letter to Lucy Donnelly

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Death


“I have a very simple creed: that life and joy and beauty are better than dusty death, and I think when we listen to such music as we heard today we must all of us feel that the capacity to produce such music, and the capacity to hear such music, is a thing worth preserving and should not be thrown away in foolish squabbles. You may say it’s a simple creed, but I think everything important is very simple indeed. I’ve found that creed sufficient, and I should think that a great many of you would also find it sufficient, or else you would hardly be here.”

– Bertrand Russell


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in, The ABC of Relativity (1925)


“Again, in regard to actual human existence, I have found myself giving honour to those who feel its tragedy, who think truly about Death, who are oppressed by ignoble things even when they are inevitable; yet these qualities appear to me to militate against happiness, not only to the possessors, but to all whom they affect. And, generally, the best life seems to me one which thinks truly and feels greatly about human things, and which, in addition, contemplates the world of beauty and of abstract truths. This last is, perhaps, my most anti-utilitarian opinion: I hold all knowledge that is concerned with things that actually exist – all that is commonly called Science – to be of very slight value compared to the knowledge which, like philosophy and mathematics, is concerned with ideal and eternal objects, and is freed from this miserable world which God has made.”

– Bertrand Russell


“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man’s place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Education


“We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“I think modern educational theorists are inclined to attach too much importance to the negative virtue of not interfering with children, and too little to the positive merit of enjoying their company.”

– Bertrand Russell


“What a monstrous thing that a University should teach journalism! I thought that was only done at Oxford. This respect for the filthy multitude is ruining civilisation.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Lucy Martin Donnely, July 6, 1902


“There are those who blame the Press, but in this I think they are mistaken. The Press is such as the public demands, and the public demands bad newspapers because it has been badly educated.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926)


“The instinctive foundation of the intellectual life is curiosity, which is found among animals in its elementary forms. Intelligence demands an alert curiosity, but it must be of a certain kind. The sort that leads village neighbours to try to peer through curtains after dark has no very high value. The widespread interest in gossip is inspired, not by a love of knowledge but by malice: no one gossips about other people’s secret virtues, but only about their secret vices. Accordingly most gossip is untrue, but care is taken not to verify it. Our neighbour’s sins, like the consolations of religion, are so agreeable that we do not stop to scrutinise the evidence closely.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in, On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926)


“I am sure that university life would be better, both intellectually and morally, if most university students had temporary childless marriages. This would afford a solution to the sexual urge neither restless nor surreptitious, neither mercenary nor casual, and of such a nature that it need not take up time which ought to be given to work.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult, it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when widespread, produce social disaster.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926)


“Owing to the identification of religion with virtue, together with the fact that the most religious men are not the most intelligent, a religious education gives courage to the stupid to resist the authority of educated men, as has happened, for example, where the teaching of evolution has been made illegal. So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence; and in this respect ministers of religion follow gospel authority more closely than in some others.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Education and the Social Order


“It is not altogether true that persuasion is one thing and force is another. Many forms of persuasion – even many of which everybody approves – are really a kind of force. Consider what we do to our children. We do not say to them: “Some people think the earth is round, and others think it is flat; when you grow up, you can, if you like, examine the evidence and form your own conclusion.” Instead of this we say: “The earth is round.” By the time our children are old enough to examine the evidence, our propaganda has closed their minds.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis


“Just as we teach children to avoid being destroyed by motor cars if they can, so we should teach them to avoid being destroyed by cruel fanatics, and to this end we should seek to produce independence of mind, somewhat sceptical and wholly scientific, and to preserve, as far as possible, the instinctive joy of life that is natural to healthy children. This is the task of a liberal education: to give a sense of the value of things other than domination, to help create wise citizens of a free community, and through the combination of citizenship with liberty in individual creativeness to enable men to give to human life that splendour which some few have shown that it can achieve.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis


“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A History of Western Philosophy (1945)


“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A History of Western Philosophy (1945)


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Why Men Fight: A Method of Abolishing the International Duel (1917)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Fear


“People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward’s argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool’s paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “Is There a God?” (1952)


“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by the help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hears can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Fear, the Foundation of Religion


“Belief in God and a future life makes it possible to go through life with less of stoic courage than is needed by skeptics. A great many young people lose faith in these dogmas at an age at which despair is easy, and thus have to face a much more intense unhappiness than that which falls to the lot of those who have never had a religious upbringing. Christianity offers reasons for not fearing death or the universe, and in so doing it fails to teach adequately the virtue of courage. The craving for religious faith being largely an outcome of fear, the advocates of faith tend to think that certain kinds of fear are not to be deprecated. In this, to my mind, they are gravely mistaken. To allow oneself to entertain pleasant beliefs as a means of avoiding fear is not to live in the best way. In so far as religion makes its appeal to fear, it is lowering to human dignity.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Education and the Social Order (1932)


“There are two ways of coping with fear: one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to cultivate Stoic endurance. The latter can be reinforced, except where immediate action is necessary, by turning our thoughts away from the cause of fear. The conquest of fear is of very great importance. Fear is in itself degrading; it easily becomes an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. Nothing has so beneficent an effect on human beings as security. If an international system could be established which would remove the fear of war, the improvement in everyday mentality of everyday people would be enormous and very rapid. Fear, at present, overshadows the world. The atom bomb and the bacterial bomb, wielded by the wicked communist or the wicked capitalist as the case may be, make Washington and the Kremlin tremble, and drive men further along the road toward the abyss. If matters are to improve, the first and essential step is to find a way of diminishing fear.”

– Bertrand Russell


“To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Freedom


“It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“[Freedom] is the greatest of political goods. I do not say freedom is the greatest of all goods: the best things come from within—they are such things as creative art, and love, and thought. Such things can be helped or hindered by political conditions, but not actually produced by them; and freedom is, both in itself and in its relation to these other goods the best thing that political and economic conditions can secure.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)


“The slave is doomed to worship time and fate and death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A Free Man’s Worship


“Freedom comes only to those who no longer ask of life that it shall yield them any of those personal goods that are subject to the mutations of time.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A Free Man’s Worship


“It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1917)


“Americans need rest, but do not know it. I believe this to be a large part of the explanation of the crime wave in the United States.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until he has allowed himself to see his own littleness.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Dreams and Facts (1919)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Greatness & Leadership


“I cannot escape from the conclusion that the great ages of progress have depended upon a small number of individuals of transcendent ability.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Most men do not feel in themselves the competence required for leading their group to victory, and therefore seek out a captain who appears to possess the courage and sagacity necessary for the achievement of supremacy. Even in religion this impulse appears. Nietzsche accused Christianity of inculcating a slave-morality, but ultimate triumph was always the goal. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Happiness


“Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness


“To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness


“I think people who are unhappy are always proud of being so, and therefore do not like to be told that there is nothing grand about their unhappiness. A man who is melancholy because lack of exercise has upset his liver always believes that it is the loss of God, or the menace of Bolshevism, or some such dignified cause that makes him sad. When you tell people that happiness is a simple matter, they get annoyed with you.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to W. W. Norton


“All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things. That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. Many people desire those things only for themselves and their friends; they are quite content that their enemies should suffer. These people can only be refuted by science: Humankind has become so much one family that we cannot ensure our own prosperity except by ensuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “The Science to Save Us from Science,” The New York Times Magazine (19 March 1950).


“The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals. Hence the present level of taxation.”

– Bertrand Russell


“The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy; I mean that if you are happy you will be good.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in New Hopes for a Changing World


“The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about History


“Cock-sure certainty is the source of much that is worst in our present world, and it is something of which the contemplation of history ought to cure us, not only or chiefly because there were wise men in the past, but because so much that was thought wisdom turned out to be folly – which suggests that much of our own supposed wisdom is no better. I do not mean to maintain that we should lapse into a lazy scepticism. We should hold our beliefs, and hold them strongly. Nothing great is achieved without passion, but underneath the passion there should always be that large impersonal survey which sets limits to actions that our passions inspire.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in History as an Art (1954)


“It is true that numerous instances are not always necessary to establish a law, provided the essential and relevant circumstances can easily be disentangled. But, in history, so many circumstances of a small and accidental nature are relevant, that no broad and simple uniformities are possible. Where our main endeavour is to discover general laws, we regard these as intrinsically more valuable than any of the facts which they inter-connect. In astronomy, the law of gravitation is plainly better worth knowing than the position of a particular planet on a particular night, or even on every night throughout a year. There are in the law a splendour and simplicity and sense of mastery which illuminate a mass of otherwise uninteresting details… But in history the matter is far otherwise… Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On History (1904).


“The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death’s hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. …On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.”

Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On History (1904)


“I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: “The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that’s fair.” In these words he epitomized the history of the human race.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Education and the Social Order (1932)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Humor & Wit


“My first advice (on how not to grow old) would be to choose you ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth, at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Drunkenness is temporary suicide.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)


“I feel like that intellectual but plain-looking lady who was warmly complimented on her beauty.”

Bertrand Russell, as quote when accepting his Nobel Prize, in December 1950; Russell denied that he had contributed anything in particular to literature. Quoted in LIFE, Editorials: “A great mind is still annoying and adorning our age”, 26 May 1952.


“We need a science to save us from science.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in NY Times Magazine, as reported in High Points in the Work of the High Schools of New York City, Vol. 34 (1952)


“When I was 4 years old … I dreamt that I’d been eaten by a wolf, and to my great surprise I was in the wolf’s stomach and not in heaven.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in BBC interview on “Face to Face” (1959)


“Look at me” is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart.”

– Bertrand Russell


“We love those who hate our enemies, and if we had no enemies there would be very few people whom we should love.”

– Bertrand Russell July172x


“Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Imagination


“Consider MacArthur and his Republican supporters. So limited is his intelligence and his imagination that he is never puzzled for one moment. All we have to do is to go back to the days of the Opium War. After we have killed a sufficient number of millions of Chinese, the survivors among them will perceive our moral superiority and hail MacArthur as a saviour. But let us not be one-sided. Stalin, I should say, is equally simple- minded and equally out of date. He, too, believes that if his armies could occupy Britain and reduce us all to the economic level of Soviet peasants and the political level of convicts, we should hail him as a great deliverer and bless the day when we were freed from the shackles of democracy. One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in New Hopes for a Changing World


“Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.”

– Bertrand Russell


…One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in New Hopes for a Changing World

 


“I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe, and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Life


“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell


“Life seems to me essentially passion, conflict, rage… It is only intellect that keeps me sane; perhaps this makes me overvalue intellect against feeling.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell in 1912)


“It’s not the experience that happens to you: it’s what you do with the experience that happens to you.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Attributed to Russell in Slaby’s Sixty Ways to Make Stress Work for You (1987)


“One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness (1930)


“In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A Free Man’s Worship


“All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Only in thought is man a God; in action and desire we are the slaves of circumstance.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Lucy Donnely, November 25, 1902.


“In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellowmen, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A Free Man’s Worship


“That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in A Free Man’s Worship


“Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Principles of Mathematics (1903)


“A truer image of the world, I think, is obtained by picturing things as entering into the stream of time from an eternal world outside, than from a view which regards time as the devouring tyrant of all that is.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the largest part and the possessive impulses the smallest.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Political Ideals (1917)


“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in What I Believe (1925)


“There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Last Essay: “1967”

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Love


“Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other’s liberty… and that jealousy and possessiveness kill love.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in What I Believe (1925)


“At puberty, the elements of an unsuperstitious sexual morality ought to be taught. Boys and girls should be taught that nothing can justify sexual intercourse unless there is mutual inclination… Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other’s liberty; they should be made to feel that nothing gives one human being rights over another, and that jealousy and possessiveness kill love. They should be taught that to bring another human being into the world is a very serious matter, only to be undertaken when the child will have a reasonable prospect of health, good surroundings, and parental care. But they should also be taught methods of birth control, so as to insure that children shall only come when they are wanted. Finally, they should be taught the dangers of venereal disease, and the methods of prevention and cure. The increase of human happiness to be expected from sex education on these lines is immeasurable.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in What I Believe (1925)


“Marriage is for women the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in  Sceptical Essays


“Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Conquest of Happiness


“Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Mathematics


“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 Spinoza’s God, it won’t love us in return.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, March, 1912


“Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true … If our hypothesis is about anything, and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus 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. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics, published in International Monthly, vol. 4 (1901).


“Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form “p implies q,” where p and q are propositions containing one or more variables, the same in the two propositions, and neither p nor q contains any constants except logical constants. And logical constants are all notions definable in terms of the following: Implication, the relation of a term to a class of which it is a member, the notion of such that, the notion of relation, and such further notions as may be involved in the general notion of propositions of the above form. In addition to these, mathematics uses a notion which is not a constituent of the propositions which it considers, namely the notion of truth.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Principles of Mathematics (1903)


“The fact that all Mathematics is Symbolic Logic is one of the greatest discoveries of our age; and when this fact has been established, the remainder of the principles of mathematics consists in the analysis of Symbolic Logic itself.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Principles of Mathematics (1903)


“To those who inquire as to the purpose of mathematics, the usual answer will be that it facilitates the making of machines, the travelling from place to place, and the victory over foreign nations, whether in war or commerce. … The reasoning faculty itself is generally conceived, by those who urge its cultivation, as merely a means for the avoidance of pitfalls and a help in the discovery of rules for the guidance of practical life.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Study of Mathematics


“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Study of Mathematics


“Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Study of Mathematics


“I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith. I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere. But I discovered that many mathematical demonstrations, which my teachers expected me to accept, were full of fallacies, and that, if certainty were indeed discoverable in mathematics, it would be in a new field of mathematics, with more solid foundations than those that had hitherto been thought secure. But as the work proceeded, I was continually reminded of the fable about the elephant and the tortoise. Having constructed an elephant upon which the mathematical world could rest, I found the elephant tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise to keep the elephant from falling. But the tortoise was no more secure than the elephant, and after some twenty years of very arduous toil, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge indubitable.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Morality & Ethics


“The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in  Sceptical Essays


“We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“That I, a funny little gesticulating animal on two legs, should stand beneath the stars and declaim in a passion about my rights – it seems so laughable, so out of all proportion. Much better, like Archimedes, to be killed because of absorption in eternal things…”

– Bertrand Russell


“It is humiliating to watch the brutal insolence of white men received by the Chinese with a quiet dignity which cannot demean itself to answer rudeness with rudeness. Europeans often regard this as weakness, but it is really strength, the strength by which the Chinese have hitherto conquered all their conquerors.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problem of China (1922)


“The typical Westerner wishes to be the cause of as many changes as possible in his environment; the typical Chinaman wishes to enjoy as much and as delicately as possible.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problem of China (1922)


“The Chinese are a great nation, incapable of permanent suppression by foreigners. They will not consent to adopt our vices in order to acquire military strength; but they are willing to adopt our virtues in order to advance in wisdom. I think they are the only people in the world who quite genuinely believe that wisdom is more precious than rubies. That is why the West regards them as uncivilized.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problem of China (1922)


“Those who forget good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“[The church] is in its major part an opponent still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. “What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “How The Churches Have Retarded Progress”


“Now, what is ‘unrighteousness’ in practice? It is in practice behavior of a kind disliked by the herd. By calling it unrighteousness, and by arranging an elaborate system of ethics around this conception, the herd justifies itself in wreaking punishment upon the objects of its own dislike, while at the same time, since the herd is righteous by definition, it enhances its own self-esteem at the very moment when it lets loose its impulse to cruelty. This is the psychology of lynching, and of the other ways in which criminals are punished. The essence of the conception of righteousness, therefore, is to afford an outlet for sadism by cloaking cruelty as justice.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in What I Believe (1925)


“The moralists, on the other hand, are immensely impressed with the seriousness of all the permitted outlets of the love of excitement; the seriousness, however, in their minds, is that of Sin. Dance halls, cinemas, this age of jazz, are all, if we may believe our ears, gateways to Hell, and we should be better employed sitting at home contemplating our sins. I find myself unable to be in entire agreement with the grave men who utter these warnings. The devil has many forms, some designed to deceive the young, some designed to deceive the old and serious. If it is the devil that tempts the young to enjoy themselves, is it not, perhaps, the same personage that persuades the old to condemn their enjoyment? And is not condemnation perhaps merely a form of excitement appropriate to old age? And is it not, perhaps, a drug which – like opium – has to be taken in continually stronger doses to produce the desired effect? Is it not to be feared that, beginning with the wickedness of the cinema, we should be led step by step to condemn the opposite political party, dagoes, wops, Asiatics, and, in short, everybody except the fellow members of our club? And it is from just such condemnations, when widespread, that wars proceed. I have never heard of a war that proceeded from dance halls.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Philosophy & Logic


“I do not think it possible to get anywhere if we start from scepticism. We must start from a broad acceptance of whatever seems to be knowledge and is not rejected for some specific reason.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Science is what we know, and philosophy is what we don’t know.”

– Bertrand Russell


“My desire and wish is that the things I start with should be so obvious that you wonder why I spend my time stating them. This is what I aim at because 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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism


“Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problems of Philosophy (1912)


“Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problems of Philosophy (1912)


“A logical theory may be tested by its capacity for dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose as is served by experiments in physical science.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901–1950


“If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“Ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal, Vol. 209 (1909)


“Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“The true function of logic … as applied to matters of experience … is analytic rather than constructive; taken a priori, it shows the possibility of hitherto unsuspected alternatives more often than the impossibility of alternatives which seemed prima facie possible. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)


“In fact the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or confutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists, in the last analysis, of agreement with other beliefs no less instinctive. Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realms, it is insight that first arrives at what is new.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)


“[Utilitarians] have been strangely anxious to prove that the life of the pig is not happier than that of the philosopher – a most dubious proposition…”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902.


“My abandonment of former beliefs was, however, never complete. Some things remained with me, and still remain: I still think that truth depends upon a relation to fact, and that facts in general are nonhuman; I still think that man is cosmically unimportant, and that a Being, if there were one, who could view the universe impartially, without the bias of here and now, would hardly mention man, except perhaps in a footnote near the end of the volume; but I no longer have the wish to thrust out human elements from regions where they belong; I have no longer the feeling that intellect is superior to sense, and that only Plato’s world of ideas gives access to the ‘real’ world. I used to think of sense, and of thought which is built on sense, as a prison from which we can be freed by thought which is emancipated from sense. I now have no such feelings. I think of sense, and of thoughts built on sense, as windows, not as prison bars. I think that we can, however imperfectly, mirror the world, like Leibniz’s monads; and I think it is the duty of the philosopher to make himself as undistorting a mirror as he can. But it is also his duty to recognize such distortions as are inevitable from our very nature. Of these, the most fundamental is that we view the world from the point of view of the here and now, not with that large impartiality which theists attribute to the Deity. To achieve such impartiality is impossible for us, but we can travel a certain distance towards it. To show the road to this end is the supreme duty of the philosopher.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Politics


“Nine-tenths of the activities of a modern Government are harmful; therefore the worse they are performed, the better.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Problem of China (1922)


“Politics is concerned with herds rather than with individuals, and the passions which are important in politics are, therefore, those in which the various members of a given herd can feel alike.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Political ideals must be based upon ideals for the individual life. The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good as possible.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Political Ideals (1917)


“My own opinion—which I may as well indicate at the outset—is that pure Anarchism, though it should be the ultimate ideal, to which society should continually approximate, is for the present impossible, and would not survive more than a year or two at most if it were adopted. On the other hand, both Marxian Socialism and Syndicalism, in spite of many drawbacks, seem to me calculated to give rise to a happier and better world than that in which we live. I do not, however, regard either of them as the best practicable system. Marxian Socialism, I fear, would give far too much power to the State, while Syndicalism, which aims at abolishing the State, would, I believe, find itself forced to reconstruct a central authority in order to put an end to the rivalries of different groups of producers. The best practicable system, to my mind, is that of Guild Socialism, which concedes what is valid both in the claims of the State Socialists and in the Syndicalist fear of the State, by adopting a system of federalism among trades for reasons similar to those which are recommending federalism among nations.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)


“What first turned me away from utilitarianism was the persuasion that I myself ought to pursue philosophy, although I had (and have still) no doubt that by doing economics and the theory of politics I could add more to human happiness. It appeared to me that the dignity of which human existence is capable is not attainable by devotion to the mechanism of life, and that unless the contemplation of eternal things is preserved, mankind will become no better than well-fed pigs. But I do not believe that such contemplation on the whole tends to happiness. It gives moments of delight, but these are outweighed by years of effort and depression.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902


“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Power


“In former days, men sold themselves to the Devil to acquire magical powers. Nowadays they acquire those powers from science, and find themselves compelled to become devils. There is no hope for the world unless power can be tamed, and brought into the service, not of this or that group of fanatical tyrants, but of the whole human race, white and yellow and black, fascist and communist and democrat; for science has made it inevitable that all must live or all must die.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)


“The “social contract,” in the only sense in which it is not completely mythical, is a contract among conquerors, which loses its raison d’être if they are deprived of the benefits of conquest.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)


“Among human beings, the subjection of women is much more complete at a certain level of civilization than it is among savages. And the subjection is always reinforced by morality.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)


“The love of power is a part of human nature, but power-philosophies are, in a certain precise sense, insane. The existence of the external world, both that of matter and of other human beings, is a datum, which may be humiliating to a certain kind of pride, but can only be denied by a madman. Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one man will think he is Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God. Highly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships in philosophy; and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships. Certified lunatics are shut up because of the proneness to violence when their pretensions are questioned; the uncertified variety are given control of powerful armies, and can inflict death and disaster upon all sane men within their reach.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)


“Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Religion


“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “Proof of God”


“I should like to believe my people’s religion, which was just what I could wish, but alas, it is impossible. I have really no religion, for my God, being a spirit shown merely by reason to exist, his properties utterly unknown, is no help to my life. I have nor the parson’s comfortable doctrine that every good action has its reward, and every sin is forgiven. My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Greek Exercises (1888), written two days after his sixteenth birthday.


“It is amusing to hear the modern Christian telling you how mild and rationalistic Christianity really is and ignoring the fact that all its mildness and rationalism is due to the teaching of men who in their own day were persecuted by all orthodox Christians.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?


“No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say, “You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.” He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in On the Nature of Acquaintance: Neutral Monism


“We cannot suppose that an individual’s thinking survives bodily death, since that destroys the organization of the brain and dissipates the energy which utilized the brain tracks. God and immortality, the central dogma of the Christian religion, find no support in science. But we in the West have come to think of them as the irreducible minimum of theology. No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any grounds for either. I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist, so might the Gods of Olympus, Ancient Egypt or Babylon; but no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other. They lie outside the region of provable knowledge and there is no reason to consider any of them.”

– Bertrand Russell


“I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “The Emotional Factor”


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in In London Calling (1947)


“There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”

– Bertrand Russell


“If you think that your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather then by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called “education”. This last is particularly dastardly, since it takes advantage of the defencelessness of immature minds. Unfortunately it is practiced in greater or less degree in the schools of every civilised country.”

– Bertrand Russell


“[One] must look into hell before one has any right to speak of heaven.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Colette O’Niel


“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Moral Problem


“…You could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up – a line which I often thought was a very plausible one – that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Moral Arguments for Deity


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (2005)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Science


“Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“Can a society in which thought and technique are scientific persist for a long period, as, for example, ancient Egypt persisted, or does it necessarily contain within itself forces which must bring either decay or explosion?”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “Can a Scientific Community Be Stable?,” Lecture, Royal Society of Medicine, London (29 November 1949).


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Quoted in World Unity


“In science men have discovered an activity of the very highest value in which they are no longer, as in art, dependent for progress upon the appearance of continually greater genius, for in science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“The scientific attitude of mind involves a sweeping away of all other desires in the interests of the desire to know—it involves suppression of hopes and fears, loves and hates, and the whole subjective emotional life, until we become subdued to the material, able to see it frankly, without preconceptions, without bias, without any wish except to see it as it is, and without any belief that what it is must be determined by some relation, positive or negative, to what we should like it to be, or to what we can easily imagine it to be.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)


“It seems to me that science has a much greater likelihood of being true in the main than any philosophy hitherto advanced (I do not, of course, except my own). In science there are many matters about which people are agreed; in philosophy there are none. Therefore, although each proposition in a science may be false, and it is practically certain that there are some that are false, yet we shall be wise to build our philosophy upon science, because the risk of error in philosophy is pretty sure to be greater than in science. If we could hope for certainty in philosophy, the matter would be otherwise, but so far as I can see such a hope would be chimerical.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Logical Atomism (1924).


“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…”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Scientific Outlook (1931).


“A life devoted to science is therefore a happy life, and its happiness is derived from the very best sources that are open to dwellers on this troubled and passionate planet.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Society


“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Mortals and Others


“It is obvious that “obscenity” is not a term capable of exact legal definition; in the practice of the Courts, it means “anything that shocks the magistrate.”

Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Sceptical Essays


“Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Skeptical Essays


“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Proposed Roads To Freedom


“Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1893)


“I think if I had met him [Lenin] without knowing who he was, I should not have guessed that he was a great man; he struck me as too opinionated and narrowly orthodox. His strength comes, I imagine, from his honesty, courage, and unwavering faith—religious faith in the Marxian gospel, which takes the place of the Christian martyr’s hopes of Paradise, except that it is less egotistical… I went to Russia a Communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not as to Communism in itself, but as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920)


“I have been merely oppressed by the weariness and tedium and vanity of things lately: nothing stirs me, nothing seems worth doing or worth having done: the only thing that I strongly feel worthwhile would be to murder as many people as possible so as to diminish the amount of consciousness in the world. These times have to be lived through: there is nothing to be done with them.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Gilbert Murray, March 21, 1903.


“One of the most horrible things about commercialism is the way in which it poisons the relations of men and women. The evils of prostitution are generally recognized, but, great as they are, the effect of economic conditions on marriage seems to me even worse. There is not infrequently, in marriage, a suggestion of purchase, of acquiring a woman on condition of keeping her in a certain standard of material comfort. Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from. The whole basis of these evils is economic. Economic causes make marriage a matter of bargain and contract, in which affection is quite secondary, and its absence constitutes no recognized reason for liberation. Marriage should be a free, spontaneous meeting of mutual instinct, filled with happiness not unmixed with a feeling akin to awe: it should involve that degree of respect of each for the other that makes even the most trifling interference with liberty an utter impossibility, and a common life enforced by one against the will of the other an unthinkable thing of deep horror.”

– Bertrand Russell


“Thee might observe incidentally that if the state paid for child-bearing it might and ought to require a medical certificate that the parents were such as to give a reasonable result of a healthy child – this would afford a very good inducement to some sort of care for the race, and gradually as public opinion became educated by the law, it might react on the law and make that more stringent, until one got to some state of things in which there would be a little genuine care for the race, instead of the present haphazard higgledy-piggledy ways.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1894)


“I hate the world and almost all the people in it. I hate the Labour Congress and the journalists who send men to be slaughtered, and the fathers who feel a smug pride when their sons are killed, and even the pacifists who keep saying human nature is essentially good, in spite of all the daily proofs to the contrary. I hate the planet and the human race – I am ashamed to belong to such a species.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Colette, December 28, 1916.


“People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Ottoline Morrell, 17 December, 1920.


“It is only when we think abstractly that we have such a high opinion of man. Of men in the concrete, most of us think the vast majority very bad. Civilized states spend more than half their revenue on killing each other’s citizens. Consider the long history of the activities inspired by moral fervour: human sacrifices, persecutions of heretics, witch-hunts, pogroms leading up to wholesale extermination by poison gases … Are these abominations, and the ethical doctrines by which they are prompted, really evidence of an intelligent Creator? And can we really wish that the men who practised them should live for ever? 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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Essay Do We Survive Death?


“Why in any case, this glorification of man? How about lions and tigers? They destroy fewer animals or human lives than we do, and they are much more beautiful than we are. How about ants? They manage the Corporate State much better than any Fascist. Would not a world of nightingales and larks and deer be better than our human world of cruelty and injustice and war? The believers in Cosmic Purpose make much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it. If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Religion and Science (1935).


“You, your families, your friends and your countries are to be exterminated by the common decision of a few brutal but powerful men. To please these men, all the private affections, all the public hopes, all that has been achieved in art, and knowledge and thought and all that might be achieved hereafter is to be wiped out forever.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Time


“When I was a boy, I had a clock with a pendulum that could be lifted off. I found that the clock went very much faster without the pendulum. If the main purpose of a clock is to go, the clock was the better for losing its pendulum. True, it could no longer tell the time, but that did not matter if one could teach oneself to be indifferent to the passage of time. The linguistic philosophy which cares only about language and not about the world, is like the boy who preferred the clock without the pendulum because, although it no longer told the time, it went more easily than before and at a more exhilarating pace.”

– Bertrand Russell

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about Truth & Wisdom


“The fact that a belief has a good moral effect upon a man is no evidence whatsoever in favor of its truth.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God, Russell vs. Copleston, 1948


“Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)


“I have been accused of a habit of changing my opinions … I am not myself in any degree ashamed of having changed my opinions. What physicist who was already active in 1900 would dream of boasting that his opinions had not changed during the last half century? In science men change their opinions when new knowledge becomes available; but philosophy in the minds of many is assimilated rather to theology than to science. … The kind of philosophy that I value and have endeavoured to pursue is scientific, in the sense that there is some definite knowledge to be obtained and that new discoveries can make the admission of former error inevitable to any candid mind. For what I have said, whether early or late, I do not claim the kind of truth which theologians claim for their creeds. I claim only, at best, that the opinion expressed was a sensible one to hold at the time when it was expressed. I should be much surprised if subsequent research did not show that it needed to be modified. I hope, therefore, that whoever uses this dictionary will not suppose the remarks which it quotes to be intended as pontifical pronouncements, but only as the best I could do at the time towards the promotion of clear and accurate thinking. Clarity, above all, has been my aim.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Preface to The Bertrand Russell Dictionary of Mind, Matter and Morals (1952) edited by Lester E. Denonn.


“The conception of the necessary unit of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of the imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the straitwaistcoated benevolent institution which idealism palms off as the totality of being.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)


“To understand the actual world as it is, not as we should wish it to be, is the beginning of wisdom.”

– Bertrand Russell


“I should like to say two things. One intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: “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.” That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say. The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple; I should say: “Love is wise – Hatred is foolish.” In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact, that some people say things we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital, to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

– Bertrand Russell, Response to the question; “Suppose Lord Russell, this film were to be looked at by our descendants, like a Dead Sea scroll in a thousand years’ time. What would you think it’s worth telling that generation about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it?” in a BBC interview on “Face to Face” (1959).


“It is not by prayer and humility that you cause things to go as you wish, but by acquiring a knowledge of natural laws.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in The Impact of Science on Society


“I cannot believe – and I say this with all the emphasis of which I am capable – that there can ever be any good excuse for refusing to face the evidence in favour of something unwelcome. It is not by delusion, however exalted, that mankind can prosper, but only by unswerving courage in the pursuit of truth.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “The Pursuit of Truth” in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (1993).


“Truth is a shining goddess, always veiled, always distant, never wholly approachable, but worthy of all the devotion of which the human spirit is capable.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Fact and Fiction, “University Education”, 1961

Top

Bertrand Russell Quotes about War


“Of all evils of war the greatest is the purely spiritual evil: the hatred, the injustice, the repudiation of truth, the artificial conflict.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Justice in War-Time (1916)


“No nation was ever so virtuous as each believes itself, and none was ever so wicked as each believes the other.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Justice in War-Time (1916)


“The criminal law has, from the point of view of thwarted virtue, the merit of allowing an outlet for those impulses of aggression which cowardice, disguised as morality, restrains in their more spontaneous forms. War has the same merit. You must not kill you neighbor, whom perhaps you genuinely hate, but by a little propaganda this hate can be transferred to some foreign nation, against whom all your murderous impulses become patriotic heroism.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in New Hopes for a Changing World


“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.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “The Atomic Bomb and the Prevention of War” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


“Killing an enemy in a modern war is a very expensive operation… It is obvious that modern war is not good business from a financial point of view. Although we won both the world wars, we should now be much richer if they had not occurred. If men were actuated by self-interest, which they are not – except in the case of a few saints – the whole human race would cooperate. There would be no more wars, no more armies, no more navies, no more atom bombs. There would not be armies of propagandists employed in poisoning the minds of Nation A against Nation B, and reciprocally of Nation B against Nation A. There would not be armies of officials at frontiers to prevent the entry of foreign books and foreign ideas, however excellent in themselves. There would not be customs barriers to ensure the existence of many small enterprises where one big enterprise would be more economic. All this would happen very quickly if men desired their own happiness as ardently as they desired the misery of their neighbors. But, you will tell me, what is the use of these utopian dreams? Moralists will see to it that we do not become wholly selfish, and until we do the millennium will be impossible.”

– Bertrand Russell


“There is a possibility in human minds of something mysterious as the night-wind, deep as the sea, calm as the stars, and strong as Death, a mystic contemplation, the “intellectual love of God.” Those who have known it cannot believe in wars any longer, or in any kind of hot struggle. If I could give to others what has come to me in this way, I could make them too feel the futility of fighting. But I do not know how to communicate it: when I speak, they stare, applaud, or smile, but do not understand.”

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Letter to Miss Rinder, July 30, 1918


“There is a further advantage [to hydrogen bombs]: the supply of uranium in the planet is very limited, and it might be feared that it would be used up before the human race was exterminated, but now that the practically unlimited supply of hydrogen can be utilized, there is considerable reason to hope that homo sapiens may put an end to himself, to the great advantage of such less ferocious animals as may survive. But it is time to return to less cheerful topics.”

– Bertrand Russell


Top

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto


The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was issued in London on 9 July 1955 by Bertrand Russell and signed by 11 prominent intellectuals and scientists, most notably Albert Einstein.

 

We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.

The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.

Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.

We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.

We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?

People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly.

The best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.

Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.

Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.

The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.

This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.

We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them”.

Whatever happens, I cannot be a silent witness to murder or torture. Anyone who is a partner in this is a despicable individual. I am sorry I cannot be moderate about it…

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Quoted in The New York Times Biographical Service, Vol. I (1970)

Top

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, endeavour 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.

– Bertrand Russell, as quoted in “A Liberal Decalogue”, from “The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism”, New York Times Magazine (16/December/1951)

Top

Quotes about Bertrand Russell


“It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Russell’s thought dominated twentieth century analytic philosophy: virtually every strand in its development either originated with him or was transformed by being transmitted through him.“

– Nicholas Griffin


“A gentle, even shy man, Russell was delightful as a conversationalist, companion and friend. He was capable of a pyrotechnical display of wit, erudition and curiosity, and he bubbled with anecdotes about the world’s greats.”

– Alden Whitman, as quoted in ‘Bertrand Russell Is Dead; British Philosopher, 97’, The New York Times, February 3, 1970.


“He was the most fascinating man I have ever known, the only man I ever loved, the greatest man I shall ever meet, the wittiest, the gayest, the most charming. It was a privilege to know him, and I thank God he was my father.”

– Lady Katherine Tait


“The great thing about [Russell] is that he will not give in – to prudence, cynicism or simple horse sense. Sometime, somewhere, he agonizes, the rational man will make a decent world of his instincts. Considered as a type, he is a perennial scold. But considered as Bertrand Russell, he is surely one of the glories of our time… For he is at once a man of unyielding honesty, a first-class intellect and the possessor of one of the master styles of the English language. It is the last of these gifts that guarantees the onlooker an unflagging fascination with his life. For it gives charm to many a frailty, makes the world over every day in the light of his intelligence and his irony, and converts every political crusade, exchange of learned correspondence and lovers’ quarrel into an episode as enchanting as a Mozart concerto.”

– Alistair Cooke, as quoted in ‘Act II of a Prodigious Life’, a LIFE book review of Russell’s Autobiography, 9 August 1968.


“Russell’s prose has been compared by T.S. Eliot to that of David Hume’s. I would rank it higher, for it had more color, juice, and humor. But to be lucid, exciting and profound in the main body of one’s work is a combination of virtues given to few philosophers. Bertrand Russell has achieved immortality by his philosophical writings.”

– Sydney Hook, as quoted in Out of Step, An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (1988).

Top


 
Related Material


 


Top

Share this Page: