English mathematician and philosopher
(1872 - 1970)
Bertrand Arthur William Russell was a British
philosopher, logician, essayist, and social critic, best known for his
work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy. His most influential
contributions include his defense of logicism (the view that mathematics
is in some important sense reducible to logic), and his theories of
definite descriptions and logical atomism. Along with G.E. Moore, Russell
is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy.
Along with Kurt Gödel, he is also regularly credited with being one of
the two most important logicians of the twentieth century.
Over the course of his long career, Russell made significant contributions, not just to logic and philosophy, but to a broad range of other subjects including education, history, political theory and religious studies. In addition, many of his writings on a wide variety of topics in both the sciences and the humanities have influenced generations of general readers. 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 his many spirited anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, Russell remained a prominent public figure until his death at the age of 97.
A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but
a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure
to be short.
Against my will, in the course of my travels, the belief that everything worth knowing was known at Cambridge gradually wore off. In this respect my travels were very useful to me.
good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times make it
almost seem like a live teacher.
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.
hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment
based upon it.
A personality is an
aggregate, or an organization, like a cricket club. I can accept the
dissolution of the MCC.
sense of duty is useful in work but offensive in personal relations.
Certain characteristics of the subject are clear. To begin with, we do
not, in this subject, deal with particular things or particular
properties: we deal formally with what can be said about "any"
thing or "any" property. We are prepared to say that one and one
are two, but not that Socrates and Plato are two, because, in our capacity
of logicians or pure mathematicians, we have never heard of Socrates or
Plato. A world in which there were no such individuals would still be a
world in which one and one are two. It is not open to us, as pure
mathematicians or logicians, to mention anything at all, because, if we do
so we introduce something irrelevant and not formal.
human activity is prompted by desire.
All movements go too far.
Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century.
this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of
you're good at contributes to happiness.
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.
first it seems obvious, but the more you think about it the stranger the
deductions from this axiom seem to become; in the end you cease to
understand what is meant by it.
the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was
one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not
imagined there was anything so delicious in the world. From that moment
until I was thirty-eight, mathematics was my chief interest and my chief
source of happiness.
Boredom is... a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.
Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.
you might say, "none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are
4." You are quite right, except in marginal cases -- and it is only
in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog
or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something,
and the proposition "2 and 2 are 4" is useless unless it can be
applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in
which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. "Well, at any
rate there are four animals," you may say. But there are
microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or
plants. "Well, then living organisms," you say. But there are
things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not.
You will be driven into saying: "Two entities and two entities are
four entities." When you have told me what you mean by
"entity," we will resume the argument.
required continuity, and continuity was supposed to require the infinitely
little; but nobody could discover what the infinitely little might be.
Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.
Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who'll get the blame.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
is temporary suicide: the happiness it brings is merely negative, a
momentary cessation of unhappiness.
advance in civilization has been denounced as unnatural while it was
living thing is a sort of imperialist, seeking to transform as much as
possible of its environment into itself... When we compare the (present)
human population of the globe with... that of former times, we see that
"chemical imperialism" has been... the main end to which human
intelligence has been devoted.
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation or creed.
my part I distrust all generalizations about women, favorable and
unfavorable, masculine and feminine, ancient and modern; all alike, I
should say, result from paucity of experience.
Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure.
God is a reality of spirit... He cannot... be conceived as an object, not even as the very highest object. God is not to be found in the world of objects.
is not best achieved by those who seek it directly.
Hatred of some sort is
quite necessary—it needn’t be towards people. But without some
admixture of hatred one becomes soft and loses energy.
I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex.
I did not know I loved you until I heard myself telling so, for one instance I thought, "Good God, what have I said?" and then I knew it was true.
I don’t believe in
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.
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.
I think 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.
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.
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.
I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
I've made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite.
a law were passed giving six months to every writer of a first book, only
the good ones would do it.
all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is
difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.
I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who
considered his work important.
If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years.
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 America everybody is of the 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.
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.
can be shown that a mathematical web of some kind can be woven about any
universe containing several objects. The fact that our universe lends
itself to mathematical treatment is not a fact of any great philosophical
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.
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.
It seems to be the fate of idealists to obtain what they have struggled for in a form which destroys their ideals.
Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.
made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure
that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my
gardener, I'm convinced of the opposite.
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.
Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope and enterprise and change.
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.
Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
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.
Mathematics may be
defined as the subject where we never know what we are talking about, nor
whether what we are saying is true.
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
... mathematics is
only the art of saying the same thing in different words.
Mathematics takes us into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the actual word, but every possible word, must conform.
Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.
who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.
Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.
Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.
Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power.
No one gossips about other people's secret virtues.
No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful?
None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.
Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
One should have a
general attitude of welcoming to everybody.
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.
Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as catalogues and encyclopedias.
language is totally unsuited for expressing what physics really asserts,
since the words of everyday life are not sufficiently abstract. Only
mathematics and mathematical logic can say as little as the physicist
means to say.
Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.
Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.
is an unusually ingenious attempt to think fallaciously.
Probably in time
physiologists will be able to make nerves connecting the bodies of
different people; this will have the advantage that we shall be able to
feel another man’s tooth aching.
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.
is a harmonizing, controlling force rather than a creative one.
Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.
Religions that teach brotherly love have been used as an excuse for persecution, and our profoundest scientific insight is made into a means of mass destruction.
Right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in the habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities.
Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know.
Sin is geographical.
... since one never
knows what will be the line of advance, it is always most rash to condemn
what is not quite in the fashion of the moment.
So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.
Supposing you got a
crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of
oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so
as to redress the balance’; You would say, ‘Probably the whole lot is
a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would
say about the universe.
That which exists through itself is called The Eternal. The Eternal has neither name nor shape. It is the one essence, the one primal spirit. Essence and life cannot be seen. They are contained in the light of heaven. The light of heaven cannot be seen. It is contained in the two eyes.
The coward wretch whose hand and heart Can bear to torture aught below, Is ever first to quail and start From the slightest pain or equal foe.
The degree of one's emotions varies inversely with one's knowledge of the facts.
desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two
great engines of progress.
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.
The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.
The fundamental defect of fathers, in our competitive society, is that they want their children to be a credit to them.
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
method of "postulating" what we want has many advantages; they
are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.
The most savage controversies are those about matters as to
which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in
theology, not in arithmetic.
most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The
really important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds,
automobiles and real estate, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy,
mercy, love and faith.
The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.
The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one, particularly if he plays golf.
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.
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.
The secret of
happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible....
The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.
The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, Thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought is great and swift and free.
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.
To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.
To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.
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.
hearing via Littlewood an exposition on the theory of relativity:] To
think I have spent my life on absolute muck.
United with his
fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the
free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every
daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the
night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain,
towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.
One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by
the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we
can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours
to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of
sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to
strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us
not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think
only of their need, of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the
blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that
they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy
War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
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.
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the
hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried
to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway about the
flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relative to other matter; second, telling other people to do so.