Russell, Bertrand.

English logician,  mathematician and philosopher, 1872-1970.









1.     ”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.”

2.     A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.”

3.     “All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation.”

4.     ”All movements go too far.”

5.     “A process which led from the amoebae to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress - though whether the amoebae would agree with this opinion is not known.”

6.     ”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.”

7.     “Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.”

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

9.     "Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark."

10. ”"But," 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.”

11. “Change is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.”

12. “Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention,  largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.”

13. “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”

14. “Every isolated passion, is, in isolation, insane; sanity may be defined as synthesis of insanities. Every dominant passion generates a dominant fear, the fear of its non-fulfillment. Every dominant fear generates a nightmare, sometimes in form of explicit and conscious fanaticism, sometimes in paralyzing timidity, sometimes in an unconscious or subconscious terror which finds expression only in dreams. the man who wishes to preserve sanity in a dangerous world should summon in his own mind a parliament of fears, in which each in turn is voted absurd by all the others.”

15. “Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

16. “Hatred of enemies is easier and more intense than love of friends. But from men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.”

17. “If 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.”

18. ”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.”

19. “If the old morality is to be re-established, certain things are essential; some of them are already done, but experience shows that these alone are not effective. The first essential is that the education of girls should be such as to make them stupid and superstitious and ignorant; this requisite is already fulfilled in schools over which the churches have any control. The next requisite is a very severe censorship upon all books giving information on sex subjects; this condition also is coming to be fulfilled in England and in America, since the censorship, without change in the law, is being tightened up by the increasing zeal of the police. These conditions, however, since they exist already, are clearly insufficient. The only thing that will suffice is to remove from young women all opportunity of being alone with men: girls must be forbidden to earn their living by work outside the home; they must never be allowed an outing unless accompanied by their mother or an aunt; the regrettable practice of going to dances without a chaperon must be sternly stamped out. It must be illegal for an unmarried woman under fifty to possess a motor-car, and perhaps it would be wise to subject all unmarried women once a month to medical examination by police doctors, and to send to a penitentiary all such as were found to be not virgins. The use of contraceptives must, of course, be eradicated, and it must be illegal in conversation with unmarried women to throw doubt upon the dogma of eternal damnation. These measures, if carried out vigorously for a hundred years or more, may perhaps do something to stem the rising tide of immorality. I think, however, that in order to avoid the risk of certain abuses, it would be necessary that all policemen and all medical men should be castrated. Perhaps it would be wise to carry this policy a step further, in view of the inherent depravity of the male character. I am inclined to think that moralists would be well advised to advocate that all men should be castrated, with the exception of ministers of religion since reading Elmer Gantry, I have begun to feel that even this exception is perhaps not quite wise.”

20. “If we were all given by magic the power to read each other's thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be to dissolve all friendships.”

21. “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.”

22. “I've always thought respectable people scoundrels, and I look anxiously at my face every morning for signs of my becoming a scoundrel.”

23. “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”

24. “Language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.”

25. “Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.”

26. “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.”

27. “Man can be scientifically manipulated.”

28. “Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope and enterprise and change.”

29. “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.”

30. “Mathematics . . . possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.”

31. "Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do."

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

33. “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.”

34. “Men have from time immemorial been allowed in practice, if not in theory, to indulge in illicit sexual relations. It has not been expected of a man that he should be a virgin on entering marriage, and even after marriage, infidelities are not viewed very gravely if they never come to the knowledge of a man's wife and neighbors. The possibility of this system has depended upon prostitution. This institution, however, is one which it is difficult for a modern to defend, and few will suggest that women should acquire the same rights as men through the establishment of a class of male prostitutes for the satisfaction of women who wish, like their husbands, to seem virtuous without being so.... Every conventional moralist who takes the trouble to think it out will see that he is committed in practice to what is called the double standard, that is to say, the view that sexual virtue is more essential in a woman than in a man. It is all very well to argue that his theoretical ethic demands continence of men also. To this there is the obvious retort that the demand cannot be enforced on the men since it is easy for them to sin secretly. The conventional moralist is thus committed against his will not only to an inequality as between men and women, but also to the view that it is better for a young man to have intercourse with prostitutes than with girls of his own class, in spite of the fact that with the latter, though not with the former, his relations are not mercenary and may be affectionate and altogether delightful. Moralists, of course, do not think out the consequences of advocating a morality which they know will not be obeyed; they think that so long as they do not advocate prostitution they are not responsible for the fact that prostitution is the inevitable outcome of their teaching. This, however, is only another illustration of the well-known fact that the professional moralist in our day is a man of less than average intelligence.”

35. “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 that he is the 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.”

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

37. “Most men and women, given suitable conditions, will feel passionate love at some period of their lives. For the inexperienced, however, it is very difficult to distinguish passionate love from mere sex hunger; especially is this the case with well-brought-up girls, who have been taught that they could not possibly like to kiss a man unless they loved him. If a girl is expected to be a virgin when she marries, it will very often happen that she is trapped by a transient and trivial sex attraction, which a woman with sexual experience could easily distinguish from love. This has undoubtedly been a frequent cause of unhappy marriages. Even where mutual love exists, it may be poisoned by the belief of one or both that it is sinful. This belief may, of course, be well founded. Parnell, for example, undoubtedly sinned in committing adultery, since he thereby postponed the fulfillment of the hopes of Ireland for many years.”

38. “Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.”

39. ”No man treats a motor car as foolishly as he treats another human being.  When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behavior 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 set it right.” 

40. ”No one gossips about other people's secret virtues.”

41. “Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.” 

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

43. “One should 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.”

44. “Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as catalogues and encyclopedias.”

45. ”Ordinary 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.”

46. “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”

47. “Prophets, mystics, poets, scientific discoverers are men whose lives are dominated by a vision; they are essentially solitary men . . . whose thoughts and emotions are not subject to the dominion of the herd.”

48. “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.”

49. “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.”

50. “Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know.”

51. “Sin is geographical.”

52. “Some would sooner die than think. In fact, they often do.”

53. “The commonest objection to birth control is that it is against 'nature.' (For some reason we are not allowed to say that celibacy is against nature; the only reason I can think of is that it is not new.) Malthus saw only three ways of keeping down the population: moral restraint, vice, and misery. Moral restraint, he admitted, was not likely to be practiced on a large scale. 'Vice,' i.e., birth control, he, as a clergyman, viewed with abhorrence. There remained misery. In his comfortable parsonage, he contemplated the misery of the great majority of mankind with equanimity, and pointed out the fallacies of the reformers who hoped to alleviate it.”

54. “The completely untraveled person will view all foreigners as the savage regards the members of another herd. But the man who has traveled, or who has studied international politics, will have discovered that, if he had to prosper, it must, to some degree, become amalgamated with other herds. If you are English and someone says to you: "The French are your brothers," your instinctive feeling will be "Nonsense, they shrug their shoulders, and talk French. And I am even told that they eat frogs. If he explains to you that one may have to fight the Russians, that, if so, it will be desirable to defend the line of the Rhine, and that, if the line of the Rhine is to be defended, the help of the French is essential, you will begin to see what he means when he says that French are our brothers. But if some fellow-traveler were to go on and say that the Russians are also your brothers, he would be unable to persuade you, unless he could show that we are in danger from the Martians. We love those who hate our enemies, and if we had no enemies, there would be very few people whom we should love.”

55. “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.”

56. ”The degree of one's emotion varies inversely with one's know - ledge of the facts -- the less you know the hotter you get.”

57. “The desire for excitement is very deep-seated in human beings, especially in males. I suppose that in the hunting stage it was more easily gratified than it has been since. The chase was exciting, war was exciting, courtship was exciting. A savage would manage to commit adultery with a woman while her husband is asleep beside her. This situation, I imagine, is not boring. But with the coming of agriculture life began to grow dull, except, of course, for the aristocrats, who remained, and still remain, in the hunting stage.”

58. “... The difference between mind and brain is not a difference of quality, but a difference of arrangement. It is like the difference between arranging people in geographical order or in alphabetical order, both of which are done in the post office directory. The same people are arranged in both cases, but in different contexts. In like manner, the context of visual sensation for physics is physical, and outside the brain. Going backwards, it takes you to the eye, and thence to a photon and thence to a quantum transition in some distant object. The context of visual sensation for psychology is quite different. Suppose, for example, the visual sensation is tat of a telegram saying that you are ruined. A number of events will take place in your mind in accordance with the laws of physical causation, and it may be quite a long time before there is any purely physical effect, such as tearing your hair or exclaiming "Woe is me!"”

59. “The frequency with which a man experiences lust depends upon his own physical condition, whereas the occasion which rouse such feelings in him depend upon the social conventions to which he is accustomed. To an early Victorian man a woman's ankles were sufficient stimulus, whereas the modern man remains untouched by anything up to the thigh. This is merely a question of fashion in clothing. If nakedness were the fashion, it would cease to excite us, and women would be forced, as they are in certain savage tribes, to adopt clothing as means of making themselves sexually attractive. Exactly similar considerations apply to the literature and pictures: 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. Nine-tents of thew appeal of pornography is due to indecent feelings which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tents is psychological, and will occur in one way of another, whatever the state of the law may be. On these grounds, although I fear that few will agree with me, I am firmly persuaded that there ought to be no law whatsoever on the subject of obscene publications.”

60. “The fundamental defect of fathers is that they want their children to be a credit to them.”

61. “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.”

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

63. “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.”

64. “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.” 

65. “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.”

66. "There is much pleasure to be gained in useless knowledge."

67. “The root of the matter is a very simple and old-fashioned thing, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it for fear of the derisive smile with which cynics will greet my words. The thing I mean -- please forgive me for mentioning it -- is love, or compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a reason for courage, a guide in action, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty. If you feel this, you have all that anybody should need in the way of religion.”

68. “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.”

69. "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

70. “The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.” 

71. “The view of the orthodox moralist (this includes the police and the magistrates, but hardly any modern educators) on the question of sex knowledge may, I fancy, be fairly stated as follows.... There is no doubt that sexual misconduct is promoted by sexual thoughts, and that the best road to virtue is to keep the young occupied in mind and body with matters wholly unconnected with sex. They must, therefore, be told nothing whatever about sex; they must as far as possible be prevented from talking about it with each other, and grownups must pretend that there is no such topic. It is possible by these means to keep a girl in ignorance until the night of her marriage, when it is to be expected that the facts will so shock her as to produce exactly that attitude towards sex which every sound moralist considers desirable in women.”

72. "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."

73. “This is patently absurd; but whoever wishes to become a philosopher must learn not to be frightened by absurdities.”

74. “To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.”

75. “To fear love is to fear life.”

76. “To teach men how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing philosophy can still do.”

77. Vanity is a motive of immense potency. Anyone who has much to do with children knows how they are constantly performing some antic, and saying: "Look at me." "Look at me" is one of the fundamental desires of human heart. It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame. There was a Renaissance Italian princeling who was asked by a priest on his death-bed if he had anything to repent of. "Yes," he said, "there is one thing. On one occasion I had a visit from Emperor and the Pope simultaneously. I took them to the top of my tower to see the view, and I neglected the opportunity to throw them both down, which would have given me immortal fame." History does not relate whether the priest gave him absolution.”

78. Very few men or women who have had a conventional upbringing have learnt to feel decently about sex and marriage. Their education has taught them that deceitfulness and lying are considered virtues by parents and teachers; that sexual relations, even within marriage, are more or less disgusting, and that in propagating the species men are yielding to their animal nature while women are submitting to a painful duty. This attitude has made marriage unsatisfying both to men and to women, and the lack of instinctive satisfaction has turned to cruelty masquerading as morality.”

79. ”War does not determine who is right - only who is left.” 

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

81. “We know very little, and yet it is astonishing that we know so much, and still more astonishing that so little knowledge can give us so much power.”

82. “What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out.”

83. ”With 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.”

84. “Young men and young women meet each other with much less difficulty than was formerly the case, and every housemaid expects at least once a week as much excitement as would have lasted a Jane Austen heroine throughout a whole novel.”



Last update: June 4th, 2002.