Bertrand Russell Quotes

Bertrand Russell, who collaborated with Whitehead in the writing of Mathematica Principia, pursued a quite different philosophical line from Whitehead.  Whereas Whitehead paid attention to the detail, he also sought the larger picture, the process, Bertrand Russell, on the other hand maintained his mathematical attention to detail to contribute to a form of Analytic Philosophy called Logical Atomism.  Although his philosophical notions have their place, I have less interest in the intense details of his philosophy than I have in his statements concerning the challenges of his day.  Despite his claim of atheism, he believed in the power of Civil Disobedience and was jailed for a time because of his principles, which Gandhi would have attributed to the power Satyagraha, or Truth.  As I perceive it, it is not so important to me that he claimed atheism.  I’ve discovered in my lifetime that many atheists see a wonderful mystery in life, not magic, but a profound reverence; and yet they claim atheism simply because they disagree with the commonly accepted notion of God.  From my perspective, Matthew got it right in quoting Jesus: “By their fruits you will know them.”  Bertrand Russell bore good fruits.

Here are some quotes of Bertrand Russell which I have found interesting and thought provoking:

What I wish to maintain is that all faiths do harm. We may define ‘faith’ as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. When there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith’. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

For four and a half months in 1918 I was in prison for pacifist propaganda; but, by the intervention of Arthur Balfour, I was placed in the first division, so that while in prison I was able to read and write as much as I liked, provided I did no pacifist propaganda. I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. . . . I was rather interested in my fellow prisoners, who seemed to me in no way morally interior to the rest of the population, though they were on the whole slightly below the usual level of intelligence, as was shown by their having been caught.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, notes that his original philosophical interest was two‑fold: 1) could philosophy provide a defense for religious belief, however vague; and 2) desire to believe that something could be known, in pure mathematics if nothing else. In regard to religion, he came first to disbelieve free will, then immortality, and finally God.

As regards the foundations of mathematics, I got nowhere.” It is an odd fact that subjective certainty is inversely proportional to objective certainty. . . . It is a practice of theologians to laugh at science because it changes. . . . Men who speak in this way have not grasped the great idea of successive approximations.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. . . . Fear is the basis of the whole thing ‑ fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. . . . Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round 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’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

For my part, I should regard an unchanging system of philosophical doctrines as proof of intellectual stagnation.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E.

With me it is purely a practical question of whether to do it or not, a method of propaganda. I have no right to complain about being punished for breaking the law. I complain only if I am permitted to break it.

Best of Playboy Interviews

What the world needs is not dogma, but an attitude of scientific inquiry, combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity imagined in the likeness of the believer.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

I have found . . . that by analyzing physics and perception the problem of the relation of mind and matter can be completely solved. It is true that nobody has accepted what seems to be the solution, but I believe and hope that this is only because my theory has not been understood.

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development

Education ought to foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, notes that his original philosophical interest was two‑fold: 1) could philosophy provide a defense for religious belief, however vague; and 2) desire to believe that something could be known, in pure mathematics if nothing else. In regard to religion, he came first to disbelieve free will, then immortality, and finally God.

As regards the foundations of mathematics, I got nowhere.” It is an odd fact that subjective certainty is inversely proportional to objective certainty. . . . It is a practice of theologians to laugh at science because it changes. . . . Men who speak in this way have not grasped the great idea of successive approximations.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

For my part, I should regard an unchanging system of philosophical doctrines as proof of intellectual stagnation.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E.

Bertrand Russell: With me it is purely a practical question of whether to do it or not, a method of propaganda. I have no right to complain about being punished for breaking the law. I complain only if I am permitted to break it.

Best of Playboy Interviews

What the world needs is not dogma, but an attitude of scientific inquiry, combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity imagined in the likeness of the believer.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

I have found . . . that by analyzing physics and perception the problem of the relation of mind and matter can be completely solved. It is true that nobody has accepted what seems to be the solution, but I believe and hope that this is only because my theory has not been understood.

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development

Education ought to foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Mankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner. [Note and compare, however, Fromm’s definition of religion and his conclusion that healthy religion is necessary to mental health.]

The business of a philosopher is to understand the world and if people solve their social problems Religion will die out.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

If you consider the Politbureau or the American technocrats you will see that there are those who escape atheism by impiously imagining themselves on the throne of the Almighty.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

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

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Bertrand Russell has demonstrated that induction by simple enumeration, if conducted without regard to common sense, leads very much more often to error than to truth. And such dependence on common sense is not satisfactory to a logician. “Introduction” to Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development.

Bertrand Russell was asked about his old age and what he had not achieved:

Since boyhood, my life has been devoted to two different objectives which for a long time remained separate . . . One has been to discover whether anything could actually be known; this was a matter of philosophical inquiry. The other has been to do whatever I could to help create a happier world. . . . It is easier to have an immense effect if you dogmatically preach a precise gospel such as communism. But I do not believe that mankind needs anything dogmatic. I think it essential to teach a certain hesitancy about dogma. Whatever you believe, you must have reservations. You must envisage the possibility that you may be wrong. I have lived in pursuit of a vision, both personal and social, noble, beautiful, . . . gentle, . . . insight, . . . imagination, . . . attainable society in which hate and greed and envy would die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I still believe. So you can see that the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken.

Best of Playboy Interviews.

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 these opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, addresses perception:

It results from the synthesis of physics, physiology, psychology and mathematical logic. Traditional approach of philosophers has been from how we know to what we know.

He believes this to be mistaken because how we know is but a compartment of what we know. Moreover, the traditional approach gives mind a supremacy over the non‑mental universe it does not deserve. He believes one must look first to theoretical physics for an understanding of the major processes in the history of the universe. . . .

The next step is an approximation to perception. . . . He analogizes to the photographic image of stars, different ones of some portion of sky yielding similar results. Or similar results from recordation of several movie cameras of the same play. There appears to be a connection between the event and its recordation, which processes belong purely to physics.

. . . It begins with “events”, a fundamental notion involving a finite amount of space‑time and is overlapping with numerous other events occupying partially, but not wholly, the same region of space‑time. These events are not uncommected.

For purely physical reasons, [the event is transmitted to the brain.] . . . It is perceived in the brain, which perception bears little resemblance to the physiological processes that excite the brain’s reaction.

The above world is entirely an inferred world. But the entire world is not wholly a matter of inference. Some things we know without asking the opinion of a scientist, e.g. whether you are hot or cold, recognition of a face. Data are those matters of which we are aware without inference. They include our sensations. Common sense sees reason to attribute many of our sensations to causes outside our own bodies. Where it goes wrong is in supposing that inanimate objects resemble, in their intrinsic qualities, the perceptions which they cause.

His theory is that there is space in the world of perceptions and there is space in physics. . . . He believes that space‑order in the physical world is bound up with causation, and this, in turn, with the irreversibility of physical processes, unlike classical physics where everything was reversible. E.G. radioactive atoms disintegrate and do not put themselves back together again.

His point to which other philosophers react in shock, is that people’s thoughts are in their heads. . . . The brain consists of thoughts. People say “Nonsense, when I look at a brain through a microscope I see not thoughts, but matter.” We can witness or observe what goes on in our heads, and we cannot witness or observe anything else.

” It is not the function of philosophy ‑ so they maintain – to teach something that uneducated people do not know; on the contrary, its function is to teach superior persons that they are not as superior as they thought they were, and those who are REALLY superior can show their skill by making sense of common sense. Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Love and knowledge and delight in beauty are not negations; they are enough to fill the lives of the great men that have ever lived.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Philosophy is in the field of speculation where one goes out to look for oneself what the world is, and what it is about. It asks the following questions:]

1. . . . [W]hat is the meaning of life, if indeed it have any at all. Has the world a purpose, does the unfolding of history lead somewhere, or are these senseless questions?

2. There there are problems such as whether nature really is ruled by laws, or whether we merely think this is so because we we like to see things in some order. Again, there is the general query whether the world is divided into two disparate parts, mind and matter, and, if so, how they hang together.

3. And what are we to say of man? Is he a speck of dust crawling helplessly on a small and unimportant planet, as the astronomers see it? Or is he, as the chemist might hold, a heap of chemicals put together in some cunning way? Or finally, is a man what he appears to Hamlet, noble in reason, infinite in faculty? Is man, perhaps, all of these at once?

4. Along with this are the ethical questions about good and evil. Is there a way of life that is good, and another that is bad, or is it indifferent how we live?

The more prudes restrict the permissible degree of sexual appeal, the less is required to make such an appeal effective. Nine‑tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

I am constantly asked: What can you, with your cold rationalism, offer to the seeker after salvation that is comparable to the cosy homelike comfort of a fenced‑in dogmatic creed? . . . It is not the happiness of the individual convert that concerns me; it is the happiness of mankind. If you genuinely desire the happiness of mankind, certain forms of ignoble personal happiness are not open to you. If your child is ill, and you are a conscientious parent, you accept medical diagnosis, however doubtful and discouraging; if you accept the cheerful opinion of a quack and your child consequently dies, you are not excused by the pleasantness of belief in the quack while it lasted.  I am constantly asked: What can you, with your cold rationalism, offer to the seeker after salvation that is comparable to the cosy homelike comfort of a fenced‑in dogmatic creed? . . . It is not the happiness of the individual convert that concerns me; it is the happiness of mankind. If you genuinely desire the happiness of mankind, certain forms of ignoble personal happiness are not open to you. If your child is ill, and you are a conscientious parent, you accept medical diagnosis, however doubtful and discouraging; if you accept the cheerful opinion of a quack and your child consequently dies, you are not excused by the pleasantness of belief in the quack while it lasted.

Bertrand Russell’s Best, edited by Robert E. Egner

Perhaps the following better represents Russell in the context of the day and his contemporaries is the in the book, Best of Playboy Interviews:

Schweitzer was asked what he had yet to do. He responded that he had to continue building his hospital.

Apart from that, there is the bomb. I want, before I die, to see all atomic weapons banned, no matter who makes them or what special name they give them. This is the only possible hope for mankind if we are to avoid self‑destruction. Already I have fought against this insanity for several years with my friend Bertrand Russell and others. . . . It is not just a hope: we must achieve it. Do you want mankind to be obliterated?

Bertrand Russell responded:

I still feel that the human race may well be extinct before the end of the present century. [He gave 3:1 odds against survival] . . . For every day we continue to live, remain able to act, we must be profoundly grateful. . . . If mankind is to survive at all, intelligent people must learn to think and act in a less provocative manner than in former times. . . . If nuclear bases are intolerable in Cuba, then they are intolerable anywhere in the world.

Best of Playboy Interviews, March 1963

 

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