“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.”
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872 – 1970), was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life, he imagined himself in turn a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things, in any profound sense. He was born in Wales, into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain.
Russell led the British “revolt against idealism” in the early 1900s. He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein, and is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians. He co-authored, with A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica, an attempt to ground mathematics on logic. His philosophical essay “On Denoting” has been considered a “paradigm of philosophy.” His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, computer science, and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.
Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed free trade and anti-imperialism. Russell went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the United States of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. One of his last acts was to issue a statement which condemned Israeli aggression in the Middle East.
In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.” (this edited from and more on him at Wikipedia – there’s also a good bio of him and foray into some of his thought in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.
To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already 3-parts dead.
I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
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 to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.
The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
War doesn’t decide who is right, war decides who is left.
In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.
It’s easy to fall in love. The hard part is finding someone to catch you.
It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.
It is a waste of energy to be angry with a man who behaves badly, just as it is to be angry with a car that won’t go.
Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.
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 habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.
An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.
Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness
Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.
Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.
Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country.
There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
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 can 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.
So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.
There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.
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.
The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection.