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Mini-Bio of Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell quotations
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Sir Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher, logician, essayist, and social critic. He is best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy.

He became determined early in life not to be beguiled by human pretensions to knowledge or by unbacked assumptions either about the foundations of knowledge or about what may be said to exist. Thus, one of his primary aims was to inquire, with skeptical and parsimonious intent, "how much we can be said to know and with what degree of certainty or doubtfulness."

Along with G.E. Moore, Russell is recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy. With Kurt Gödel he is also credited with being one of the two most important logicians of the twentieth century.

After a life marked by controversy (including dismissals from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York), Russell was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Also noted for many spirited anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, Russell remained a prominent public figure till he died 97 years old. For after finishing the first of his two terms of imprisonment for trying to save mankind from itself Russell had not had enough. He used those last 52 years as he had used the previous four; and never ceased to work on at philosophy, but he also never ceased from what William Blake had called "mental strife". Russell’s vivacity and a self-confidence was his aristocratic social heritage, and followed him.

Russell remained youthful to the end. "His insatiable relish for getting into trouble kept him always young in spirit." (Arnold Toynbee)

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Bertrand Russell Quotations

A good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which make it seem, at times, like a live teacher. [Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, also in J. R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956]

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as to seem not worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it." [Bertrand Russell in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918) [Rla 48]

I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine (...) this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true." [Bertrand Russell, from "Introduction: On the Value of Scepticism", in Sceptical Essays published by Allen & Unwin in London, 1928]

A great challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution. [With Bertrand Russell]

A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers. [Bertrand Russell, In G. Simmons Calculus Gems, New York: McGraw Hill Inc., 1992.]

A life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short. [Bertrand Russell]

A million million years gives us some time to prepare for the end . . . let us make the best of it. [Bertrand Russell]

A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not be endured with patient resignation. [Bertrand Russell]

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand. [Bertrand Russell]

Africans had to be taught that nudity is wicked; this was done very cheaply by missionaries. [Bertrand Russell]

Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century. [Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, (London, 1979) 512.]

Americans need rest, but do not know it. [Bertrand Russell]

Among the Tibetans, one wife has many husbands, because men are too poor to support a whole wife. [Bertrand Russell]

Aristotle and Plato considered Greeks so innately superior to barbarians that slavery is justified so long as the master is Greek and the slave barbarian. [Bertrand Russell]

Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. He said also that children would be healthier if conceived when the wind is in the north. . . . He states that a man bitten by a mad dog will not go mad, . . . ; that the bite of the shrewmouse is dangerous to horses, especially if the mouse is pregnant; that elephants suffering from insomnia can be cured by rubbing their shoulders with salt, olive oil, and warm water; and so on and so on. Nevertheless, classical dons, who have never observed any animal except the cat and the dog, continue to praise Aristotle for his fidelity to observation. [Bertrand Russell, Impact of Science on Society (1952) ch. 1]

As men begin to grow civilized, they cease to be satisfied with mere taboos. [Bertrand Russell]

As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our trouble. . . . No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a Bishop should be the husband of one wife. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 81-2]

At least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of boredom. [With Bertrand Russell]

By acquiring a knowledge of natural laws you cause things to go as you wish — This is not discussed by St. Thomas [Bertrand Russell Mod.]

But, you might say, none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4. You are quite right — Two entities and two entities are four entities. When you have told me what you mean by entity, we will resume the argument. [Bertrand Russell, Quoted in N Rose Mathematical Maxims and Minims (Raleigh N C 1988).

Christ . . . said that a man who had looked after a woman lustfully had sinned as much as the man who had seduced her. How absurd! [Bertrand Russell, An Interview with Kenneth Harris]

Civilized life, if it is to be stable, must provide a harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting. In Australia, where people are few, and rabbits are many, I watched the whole populace satisfying the primitive impulse in the primitive manner by the skilful slaughter of many thousands of rabbits. [Bertrand Russell]

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric. [Bertrand Russell]

Dr. Arnold . . . the admired reformer of public schools, came across some cranks who thought it a mistake to flog boys. Anyone reading his outburst of furious indignation against this opinion will be forced to the conclusion that he enjoyed inflicting floggings. [Bertrand Russell]

Education, which was at first made universal in order that all might be able to read and write, has been found capable of serving quite other purposes. By instilling nonsense it . . . generates collective enthusiasm. [Bertrand Russell]

Escape from boredom is one of the really powerful desires of almost all human beings. [Bertrand Russell]

European travellers find the Japanese a smiling race. [Bertrand Russell]

Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken. [Bertrand Russell]

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, Sceptical Essays (1928), Dreams and Facts]

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. [Bertrand Russell]

Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation or creed. [Bertrand Russell, Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002).

Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. [Bertrand Russell]

For the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 26-7]

Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure. [Bertrand Russell]

Herd pressure is to be judged by two things: first, its intensity, and second, its direction. [Bertrand Russell]

How about Pithecanthropus Erectus? Was it really he who ate the apple? Or was it Homo Pekiniensis? [Or none such?] [Bertrand Russell]

Human activity is prompted by desire. [With Bertrand Russell]

I am allowed to use plain English because everybody knows that I could use mathematical logic if I chose. [Bertrand Russell]

I cannot favour laws such as that of Idaho, which allows sterilization of 'mental defectives, epileptics, habitual criminals, moral degenerates, and sex perverts.' The last two categories here are very vague . . . The law of Idaho would have justified the sterilization of Socrates, Plato, Julius Caesar, and St. Paul. [Bertrand Russell, M.M. p 259-60]

I feel life is so small unless it has windows into other worlds. [Bertrand Russell, Letters]

I mean by intellectual integrity the habit of deciding vexed questions in accordance with the evidence, or of leaving them undecided where the evidence is inconclusive. This virtue, though it is underestimated by almost all adherents of any system of dogma, is to my mind of the very greatest social importance and far more likely to benefit the world than Christianity or any other system of organized beliefs. [Bertrand Russell, Can Religion Cure Our Troubles? (1954]

I often long to . . . give up my life to love of my neighbour. This is really a temptation. [Bertrand Russell, Letters]

I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organised in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world. [Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian]

I should wish to preach the will to doubt. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out. [Bertrand Russell, attributed: source unknown]

I suggest to young professors that their first work should be written in a jargon only to be understood by the erudite few. With that behind them, they can ever after say what they have to say in a language 'understand of the people.' [Bertrand Russell, P.F.M. p 213-4, Abr.]

I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. [Bertrand Russell, From Introduction: On the Value of Scepticism, Sceptical Essays (London: Allen & Unwin, 1928)]

I would gladly live again if the chance were offered me. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, What I Have Lived For, the prologue to his Autobiography, vol. I. p. 4]

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. [Bertrand Russell, attributed]

If one holds that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?, 1947]

If the State does not acquire supremacy over [vast private] enterprises, it becomes their puppet, and they become the real State. [Bertrand Russell]

If the West can claim superiority in anything, it is . . . in science and scientific technique. [Bertrand Russell, N.H.C.W. p 118-9]

If throughout your life you abstain from murder, theft, fornication, perjury, blasphemy, and disrespect towards 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 . . . has done untold harm. [Bertrand Russell, H.S.E.P. p 40]

If we compare Europe with other continents, it is marked out as [another] persecuting continent. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, N.H.C.W. p 118-9]

If your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to [some] persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called 'education.' This last is peculiarly dastardly since it takes advantage of the defencelessness of immature minds. Unfortunately it is practiced in a greater or less degree in the schools of every civilized country. [Bertrand Russell]

In a Balkan country, not so many years ago, a party which had been beaten by a narrow margin in a general election retrieved its fortunes by shooting a sufficient number of the representatives of the other side to give it a majority. . . . Cromwell and Robespierre . . . acted likewise.. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 180-1]

In America everybody is of opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards. [Bertrand Russell]

In detective stories . . . I alternately identify myself with the murderer and the huntsman-detective, but . . . there are those to which this vicarious outlet is too mild. [Bertrand Russell, A.I. p 8]

[Industrialism's soon diminishing] capacity to supply human needs could be prevented if men exercised any restraint or foresight in their present frenzied exploitation. [Bertrand Russell, Abr]

In many affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. [With Bertrand Russell]

In mass cruelty, the expulsions of Germans ordered by the Russians fall not very far short of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. [Bertrand Russell]

In the great depression, things could only be set right by causing the idle plant to work again . . . Roosevelt . . . 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.' . . . [It's one more] striking example of inability to learn from experience. [Bertrand Russell, N.H.C.W. p 132-3]

In the ordinary business of life punctuality is . . . necessary. [Bertrand Russell, E.S.O. p 34-5]

In time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 8-9]

In very abstract studies such as philosophical logic, ... the subject-matter that you are supposed to be thinking of is so exceedingly difficult and elusive that any person who has ever tried to think about it knows you do not think about it except perhaps once in six months for half a minute. The rest of the time you think about the symbols, because they are tangible, for the thing you are supposed to be thinking about is fearfully difficult and one does not often manage to think about it. The really good philosopher is the one who does once in six months think about it for a minute. Bad philosophers never do. [Bertrand Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Logic and Knowledge, ed. R.C. Marsh (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956), p. 185]

Insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth. [Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic]

It could be a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. [With Bertrand Russell]

It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. [Bertrand Russell]

It is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. [Bertrand Russell]

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, Sceptical Essays (1928), Recrudescence of Puritanism]

It was the duty of wives to submit to husbands, not of husbands to submit to wives. . . men have stronger muscles than women. [Bertrand Russell, N.H.C.W. p. 68-9]

It would be irrational to hope that the present heyday of industrialism will not develop far beyond its present level. [Bertrand Russell]

Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy. [Bertrand Russell]

It's 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. [Bertrand Russell]

Let your interests be wide rather than narrow, and there could be a way out. And next let your responses to some of the things and persons that interest you be rather friendly and pertinent, preferably very little hostile. [Cf. Bertrand Russell]

Life is, to many people, a rather long and tedious compromise between the ideal and the possible [With Bertrand Russell]

Look at me. Look at me is one of the fundamental desires of human heart. [Bertrand Russell, N.P.A.S]

Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens. [Bertrand Russell]

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. [With Bertrand Russell]

Man can be scientifically manipulated. [Bertrand Russell]

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. [Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1950), p. 149, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief]

Many a conception of a God is derived from the ancient oriental despotisms, and an error unworthy of free men . . . We ought to make the best we can of the world in our time. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, Little Blue Book No. 1372 edited by E. Haldeman-Julius]

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. [Bertrand Russell, Is There a God? 1952: repr. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Volume 11: Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68, ed. John G. Slater and Peter Köllner (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 543-48, quoted from S. T. Joshi, Atheism: A Reader]

Many people when they fall in love look for a little haven of refuge from the world, where they can be sure of being admired when they are not admirable, and praised when they are not praiseworthy. [Bertrand Russell]

Many savage controversies are about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1950), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief]

Mass hysteria is not confined to human beings. I once saw a photograph of a large herd of wild elephants in Central Africa Seeing an airplane for the first time, and all in a state of wild collective terror. As, however, there were no journalists among them, the terror died down when the airplane was out of sight. [Bertrand Russell, Abr. T.F.D. p 7]

Mathematics is only the art of saying the same thing in different words. [Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, Vol. 3, penultimate par.]

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. [Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic, ch 4, 1917]

May anything you're good at contribute to your happiness. [Cf. Bertrand Russell]

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education. [Bertrand Russell]

Modern life cannot be constructed on . . . physically strenuous principles. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises only a few specialized muscles. [Bertrand Russell, N.P.A.S.)

Morally, a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery. [Bertrand Russell]

More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given. [Bertrand Russell]

Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety. [Bertrand Russell, abr. Why I Am Not a Christian, and other essays on religion and related subjects, 1957]

Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power. [Bertrand Russell]

My first advice (on how not to grow old) would be to choose you ancestors carefully. [Bertrand Russell, P.F.M. p 50]

My own view on religion is . . . It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and . . . to chronicle eclipses . . . These two services I am prepared to acknowledge. [Bertrand Russell, Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization? (1930]

Neither the Church nor modern public opinion condemns petting, provided it stops short at a certain point. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 80]

No one gossips about other people's secret virtues. [Bertrand Russell, Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002).

No satisfaction based upon self-deception is solid. [Bertrand Russell]

Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality. [Bertrand Russell, Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?, 1947]

One eminently orthodox Catholic divine laid it down that a confessor may fondle a nun's breasts, provided he does it without evil intent. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 80]

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny. [Bertrand Russell) quotes]

Opinions are to be held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology. [With Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, Philosophy and Politics (1950), p. 149, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief]

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. [Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 1]

Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons. [Bertrand Russell]

People are zealous for a cause when they are not quite positive that it is true. [Bertrand Russell]

People who are regarded as moral luminaries might be among those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others. [With Bertrand Russell]

People who are vigorous and brutal often find war enjoyable. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 147]

Perhaps the nuclear physicists have come so near to the ultimate secrets that He thinks it time to bring their activities to a stop. And what simpler method could He devise than to let them carry their ingenuity to the point where they exterminate the human race? [Bertrand Russell]

Prison is a severe and terrible punishment; but for me, thanks to Arthur Balfour, this was not so. I was much cheered on my arrival by the warder at the gate, who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion, and I replied 'agnostic.' He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh: 'Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.' This remark kept me cheerful for about a week. [Bertrand Russell, P.F.M. p. 30]

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. [Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, and other essays on religion and related subjects, 1957]

Religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it. [Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian]

Science . . . should not set limits to imagination. [Bertrand Russell]

Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know. (Quoted by Alan Wood - Bertrand Russell - Simon & Schuster 58 http://www.bartleby.com/63/20/3220.html]

Shakespeare . . . If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him [if you can]. [Bertrand Russell, N.H.C.W. p 201]

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence. [Bertrand Russell, Education and the Social Order, also quoted in Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations]

Suppose atomic bombs had reduced the population of the world to one brother and sister; should they let the human race die out? I do not know the answer, but . . . [Bertrand Russell, H.S.E.P. p 47.]

That an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind. [Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals (1929) ch. 5]

The . . . increase in the power of officials is a constant source of irritation to everybody else. [Bertrand Russell]

The desire for legitimate offspring is, in fact, according to the Catholic Church, the only motive which can justify sexual intercourse. [Bertrand Russell]

The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress. [Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals.

The doctrine (of) maintaining that the language of daily life, with words used in their ordinary meanings, suffices for philosophy . . . I find myself totally unable to accept . . . . Because it makes almost inevitable the perpetuation amongst philosophers of the muddle-headedness they have taken over from common sense. [Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory - http://www.rbjones.com/rbjpub/philos/history/brq001.htm]

The Eugenic Society . . . is perpetually bewailing the fact that wage-earners breed faster than middle-class people. [Bertrand Russell]

The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. [Bertrand Russell, H.W.P. p. 463]

The free intellect is the chief engine of human progress. [Bertrand Russell]

The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. [Bertrand Russell, Christian Ethics from Marriage and Morals (1950), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief]

The main thing needed to make men happy is intelligence [ and moral - TK]. [Bertrand Russell]

The more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. [Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, Little Blue Book No. 1372 edited by E. Haldeman-Julius.]

The Mormons had a divine revelation in favour of polygamy, but under pressure from the United States Government they discovered that the revelation was not binding. [Bertrand Russell, (H.S.E.P. p 45-6]

The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms, not even houses and lands, stocks and bonds, cars and real estate, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith. [With Bertrand Russell]

The Opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction. -- Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays]

The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one. [Bertrand Russell]

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, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism]

The real reason why people accept religion is: They accept religion on emotional grounds. [Bertrand Russell]

The secret to happiness is to face the fact that the world is [cerebellummied TK]. [Cf. Bertrand Russell]

The Stoic assures us that what is happening now will happen over and over again. [If so, Providende would] ultimately grow weary through despair. [Bertrand Russell, H.W.P. p 255]

The teaching of Christ, as it appears in the Gospels, has had extraordinarily little to do with the ethics of Christians. [Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, and other essays on religion and related subjects, 1957. [Bertrand Russell]

The time you enjoy wasting is not all wasted time. [With Bertrand Russell]

The white tails of rabbits, according to some theologians, have a purpose, namely to make it easier for sportsmen to shoot them. [Bertrand Russell]

The will to believe and the will to find out are opposites. [With Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (1928]

The wise think about their troubles when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times they think of others things. [Cf. Bertrand Russell]

[There are m]oral precepts that we consider really important, such as 'don't pick your nose' or 'don't eat peas with a knife'. There may, for ought I know, be admirable reasons for eating peas with a knife, but . . . early persuasion has made me completely incapable of appreciating them. [Bertrand Russell, Abr.]

There are some simple maxims which I think might be commended to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short word will do. So, if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end. [Bertrand Russell, Abr.]

There have been poverty, pestilence, and famine, which were due to man's inadequate mastery of nature. There have been wars, oppressions and tortures which have been due to men's hostility to their fellow men. [Bertrand Russell]

There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere. [Bertrand Russell]

There is in Aristotle an almost complete absence of what may be called benevolence or philanthropy. The sufferings of mankind . . . there is no evidence that they cause him unhappiness except when the sufferers happen to be his friends. [Bertrand Russell, H.W.P. p 183-4]

There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate government action. [Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish]

There may be no good reasons for very many opinions that are held with passion. [Cf. Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays On the Value of Skepticism (1950), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief]

There was a law in Connecticut - I believe it is still formally unrepealed - making it illegal for a man to kiss his wife on Sunday. [Bertrand Russell]

Thomas Aquinas states parenthetically, as something entirely obvious, that men are more rational than women. For my part, I see no evidence of this. [Bertrand Russell]

Those who advocate common usage in philosophy sometimes speak in a manner that suggests the mystique of the 'common man.' [Bertrand Russell]

Thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. [Bertrand Russell]

To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.] [Bertrand Russell]

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization. [Bertrand Russell]

To fear love is to fear life. [Bertrand Russell]

Tobacco . . . is not prohibited in the Scriptures, though, as Samuel Butler points out, St. Paul would no doubt have denounced it if he had known of it. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 79]

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]

Vanity is a motive of immense potency. [Bertrand Russell]

We are told that Sin consists in acting contrary to God's commands, but we are also told that God is omnipotent. . . . This leads to frightful results. . . . The British State considers it the duty of an Englishman to kill people who are not English whenever a collection of elderly gentlemen in Westminster tells him to do so. . . . Church and State are placable enemies of both intelligence and virtue. [Bertrand Russell, Abr. E.S.O. p 72]

We have almost reached the point where praise of rationality is held to mark a man as an old fogey regrettably surviving from a bygone age. [Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays]

We love our habits more than our income, often more than our life. [Bertrand Russell]

We must be sceptical even of our scepticism. [Bertrand Russell]

We ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine. [Bertrand Russell]

We ought to look the world frankly in the face. [With Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, Little Blue Book No. 1372 edited by E. Haldeman-Julius]

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite. [Bertrand Russell]

What makes a free thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them . . . if he holds them because, after careful thought, he finds a balance in their favour, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem. [Bertrand Russell, The Value of Free Thought]

What men really want is not knowledge but certainty. [Bertrand Russell]

What the world needs is . . . an attitude of scientific inquiry, combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable. [Bertrand Russell]

What the world needs is not dogma but an attitude of scientific inquiry. [Bertrand Russell]

What was exciting in the Victorian Age, would leave a man of franker epoch quite unmoved. The more prudes restrict the permissible degree of sexual appeal, the less is required to make such an appeal effective. [Bertrand Russell, M.M. p 115-6]

When anaesthetics were invented they were thought to be wicked as being an attempt to thwart God's will. Insanity was thought to be due to diabolic possession, and it was believed that demons inhabiting a madman could be driven out by inflicting pain upon him, and so making them uncomfortable. In pursuit of this opinion, lunatics were treated for years on end with systematic and conscientious brutality. [Bertrand Russell, U.E. p 148]

When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning-rod, the clergy, both in England and America, with enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God. [Bertrand Russell]

When I was a child . . . Only virtue was prized, virtue at the expense of intellect, health, happiness, and every mundane good. [Bertrand Russell]

When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also add that some things are more nearly certain than others (Bertrand Russell, 'Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?'] — AHEM. How certain is it that nothing is certain? - TK

When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself. [Bertrand Russell]


Bertrand Russell quotations, Literature  

Rla: Pears, David, ed. Russell's Logical Atomism. London: Collins, 1972, p. 48.

Some links; the first one is best:

www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/2528/russell.htm#Best%20quotes

www.bartleby.com/63/20/3220.html

www.rbjones.com/rbjpub/philos/history/brq001.htm

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