Bertrand Russell

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (May 18, 1872February 2, 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. In 1950, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.

See also:
The Problems of Philosophy (1912)
Political Ideals (1917)
Marriage and Morals (1929)
The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
Mortals and Others (1931-35)
A History of Western Philosophy (1945)
Unpopular Essays (1950)
The Impact of Science on Society (1952)
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967-1969)



My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.
Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.
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.
  • I do wish I believed in the life eternal, for it makes me quite miserable to think man is merely a kind of machine endowed, unhappily for himself, with consciousness.
    • Greek Exercises (1888). At the age of fifteen, Russell used to write down his reflections in this book, for fear that his people should find out what he was thinking.
  • I should like to believe my people's religion, which was just what I could wish, but alas, it is impossible. I have really no religion, for my God, being a spirit shown merely by reason to exist, his properties utterly unknown, is no help to my life. I have nor the parson's comfortable doctrine that every good action has its reward, and every sin is forgiven. My whole religion is this: do every duty, and expect no reward for it, either here or hereafter.
    • Greek Exercises (1888), written two days after his sixteenth birthday.


  • I am looking forward very much to getting back to Cambridge, and being able to say what I think and not to mean what I say: two things which at home are impossible. Cambridge is one of the few places where one can talk unlimited nonsense and generalities without anyone pulling one up or confronting one with them when one says just the opposite the next day.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1893); published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1: The Private Years (1884–1914), edited by Nicholas Griffin.
  • Thee will find out in time that I have a great love of professing vile sentiments, I don’t know why, unless it springs from long efforts to avoid priggery.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1894). Smith was a Quaker, thus the archaic use of "Thee" in this and other letters to her.
  • Thee might observe incidentally that if the state paid for child-bearing it might and ought to require a medical certificate that the parents were such as to give a reasonable result of a healthy child – this would afford a very good inducement to some sort of care for the race, and gradually as public opinion became educated by the law, it might react on the law and make that more stringent, until one got to some state of things in which there would be a little genuine care for the race, instead of the present haphazard higgledy-piggledy ways.
    • Letter to Alys Pearsall Smith (1894); published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1: The Private Years (1884–1914), edited by Nicholas Griffin. It should be noted that in his talk of "the race", he is referring to "the human race". Smith married Russell in December 1894; they divorced in 1921.


  • Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. We start, in pure mathematics, from certain rules of inference, by which we can infer that if one proposition is true, then so is some other proposition. These rules of inference constitute the major part of the principles of formal logic. We then take any hypothesis that seems amusing, and deduce its consequences. If our hypothesis is about anything, and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus 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. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
  • [Unlike the] utilitarian... I judge pleasure and pain to be of small importance compared to knowledge, the appreciation and contemplation of beauty, and a certain intrinsic excellence of mind which, apart from its practical effects, appears to me to deserve the name of virtue. [For] many years it seemed to me perfectly self-evident that pleasure is the only good and pain the only evil. Now, however, the opposite seems to me self-evident.
    What first turned me away from utilitarianism was the persuasion that I myself ought to pursue philosophy, although I had (and have still) no doubt that by doing economics and the theory of politics I could add more to human happiness. It appeared to me that the dignity of which human existence is capable is not attainable by devotion to the mechanism of life, and that unless the contemplation of eternal things is preserved, mankind will become no better than well-fed pigs. But I do not believe that such contemplation on the whole tends to happiness. It gives moments of delight, but these are outweighed by years of effort and depression.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902.
  • It seems to me now that mathematics is capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater; not because the pleasure it gives (although very pure) is comparable, either in intensity or in the number of people who feel it, to that of music, but because it gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect and yet true.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902.
  • Again, in regard to actual human existence, I have found myself giving honour to those who feel its tragedy, who think truly about Death, who are oppressed by ignoble things even when they are inevitable; yet these qualities appear to me to militate against happiness, not only to the possessors, but to all whom they affect. And, generally, the best life seems to me one which thinks truly and feels greatly about human things, and which, in addition, contemplates the world of beauty and of abstract truths. This last is, perhaps, my most anti-utilitarian opinion: I hold all knowledge that is concerned with things that actually exist – all that is commonly called Science – to be of very slight value compared to the knowledge which, like philosophy and mathematics, is concerned with ideal and eternal objects, and is freed from this miserable world which God has made.
    [Utilitarians] have been strangely anxious to prove that the life of the pig is not happier than that of the philosopher – a most dubious proposition...
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, April 3, 1902.
  • What a monstrous thing that a University should teach journalism! I thought that was only done at Oxford. This respect for the filthy multitude is ruining civilisation.
    • Letter to Lucy Martin Donnely, July 6, 1902.
  • Only in thought is man a God; in action and desire we are the slaves of circumstance.
    • Letter to Lucy Donnely, November 25, 1902.
  • Philosophy seems to me on the whole a rather hopeless business.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, December 28, 1902.
  • Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form “p implies q,” where p and q are propositions containing one or more variables, the same in the two propositions, and neither p nor q contains any constants except logical constants. And logical constants are all notions definable in terms of the following: Implication, the relation of a term to a class of which it is a member, the notion of such that, the notion of relation, and such further notions as may be involved in the general notion of propositions of the above form. In addition to these, mathematics uses a notion which is not a constituent of the propositions which it considers, namely the notion of truth.
  • The 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.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. I: Definition of Pure Mathematics, p. 5.
  • I may as well say at once that I do not distinguish between inference and deduction. What is called induction appears to me to be either disguised deduction or a mere method of making plausible guesses.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. II: Symbolic Logic, p. 11.
  • What does not exist must be something, or it would be meaningless to deny its existence; and hence we need the concept of being, as that which belongs even to the non-existent.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), p. 450.
  • Arithmetic must be discovered in just the same sense in which Columbus discovered the West Indies, and we no more create numbers than he created the Indians.
    • Principles of Mathematics (1903), p. 451
  • I have been merely oppressed by the weariness and tedium and vanity of things lately: nothing stirs me, nothing seems worth doing or worth having done: the only thing that I strongly feel worth while would be to murder as many people as possible so as to diminish the amount of consciousness in the world. These times have to be lived through: there is nothing to be done with them.
    • Letter to Gilbert Murray, March 21, 1903.
  • It is true that numerous instances are not always necessary to establish a law, provided the essential and relevant circumstances can easily be disentangled. But, in history, so many circumstances of a small and accidental nature are relevant, that no broad and simple uniformities are possible. Where our main endeavour is to discover general laws, we regard these as intrinsically more valuable than any of the facts which they inter-connect. In astronomy, the law of gravitation is plainly better worth knowing than the position of a particular planet on a particular night, or even on every night throughout a year. There are in the law a splendour and simplicity and sense of mastery which illuminate a mass of otherwise uninteresting details... But in history the matter is far otherwise... Historical facts, many of them, have an intrinsic value, a profound interest on their own account, which makes them worthy of study, quite apart from any possibility of linking them together by means of causal laws.
    • On History (1904).
  • The past alone is truly real: the present is but a painful, struggling birth into the immutable being of what is no longer. Only the dead exist fully. The lives of the living are fragmentary, doubtful, and subject to change; but the lives of the dead are complete, free from the sway of Time, the all but omnipotent lord of the world. Their failures and successes, their hopes and fears, their joys and pains, have become eternal—our efforts cannot now abate one jot of them. Sorrows long buried in the grave, tragedies of which only a fading memory remains, loves immortalized by Death's hallowing touch these have a power, a magic, an untroubled calm, to which no present can attain. ...On the banks of the river of Time, the sad procession of human generations is marching slowly to the grave; in the quiet country of the Past, the march is ended, the tired wanderers rest, and the weeping is hushed.
    • On History (1904)
  • A logical theory may be tested by its capacity for dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose as is served by experiments in physical science.
    • "On Denoting", Mind, Vol. 14, No. 56 (October 1905), pp. 479–493; as reprinted in Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901–1950, (1956).
  • All's well that ends well; which is the epitaph I should put on my tombstone if I were the last man left alive.
    • Letter to Lucy Donnely, April 22, 1906.
  • We tend to believe the premises because we can see that their consequences are true, instead of believing the consequences because we know the premises to be true. But the inferring of premises from consequences is the essence of induction; thus the method in investigating the principles of mathematics is really an inductive method, and is substantially the same as the method of discovering general laws in any other science.
    • "The Regressive Method of Discovering the Premises of Mathematics" (1907), in Essays in Analysis (1973), pp. 273–274
  • Take the question whether other people exist. ...It is plain that it makes for happiness to believe that they exist – for even the greatest misanthropist would not wish to be deprived of the objects of his hate. Hence the belief that other people exist is, pragmatically, a true belief. But if I am troubled by solipsism, the discovery that a belief in the existence of others is 'true' in the pragmatist's sense is not enough to allay my sense of loneliness: the perception that I should profit by rejecting solipsism is not alone sufficient to make me reject it. For what I desire is not that the belief in solipsism should be false in the pragmatic sense, but that other people should in fact exist. And with the pragmatist's meaning of truth, these two do not necessarily go together. The belief in solipsism might be false even if I were the only person or thing in the universe.
    • "William James's Conception of Truth" [1908], published in Philosophical Essays (London, 1910).
  • Ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth.
    • Quoted in The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal, Vol. 209 (1909), p. 387.

The Study of Mathematics (1902)Edit

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.
  • To those who inquire as to the purpose of mathematics, the usual answer will be that it facilitates the making of machines, the travelling from place to place, and the victory over foreign nations, whether in war or commerce. … The reasoning faculty itself is generally conceived, by those who urge its cultivation, as merely a means for the avoidance of pitfalls and a help in the discovery of rules for the guidance of practical life.
  • Mathematics, rightly 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 show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement.
  • 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 embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.
  • The rules of logic are to mathematics what those of structure are to architecture.
  • Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.

A Free Man's Worship (1903)Edit

Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.
  • That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
  • In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticise, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.
  • In action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free, free from our fellowmen, free from the petty planet on which our bodies impotently crawl, free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death.
  • Indignation is a submission of our thoughts, but not of our desires.
  • Freedom comes only to those who no longer ask of life that it shall yield them any of those personal goods that are subject to the mutations of time.
  • The slave is doomed to worship time and fate and death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour.
  • 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.
  • Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.


  • The number of syllables in the English names of finite integers tends to increase as the integers grow larger, and must gradually increase indefinitely, since only a finite number of names can be made with a given finite number of syllables. Hence the names of some integers must consist of at least nineteen syllables, and among these there must be a least. Hence "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" must denote a definite integer; in fact, it denotes 111, 777. But "the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables" is itself a name consisting of eighteen syllables; hence the least integer not nameable in fewer than nineteen syllables can be named in eighteen syllables, which is a contradiction. This contradiction was suggested to us by Mr. G. G. Berry of the Bodleian Library.
  • 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.
    • Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, March, 1912,
      The above proposition is occasionally useful.
      as quoted in Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2012), p. 1318.
  • Life seems to me essentially passion, conflict, rage... It is only intellect that keeps me sane; perhaps this makes me overvalue intellect against feeling.
    • Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell in 1912, as quoted in Clark The life of Bertrand Russell (1976), p. 174.
  • The above proposition is occasionally useful.
    • Comment after the proof that 1+1=2, completed in Principia Mathematica, Volume II, 1st edition (1912), page 86.
  • When people begin to philosophize they seem to think it necessary to make themselves artificially stupid.
    • Theory of Knowledge (1913).
  • People are said to believe in God, or to disbelieve in Adam and Eve. But in such cases what is believed or disbelieved is that there is an entity answering a certain description. This, which can be believed or disbelieved is quite different from the actual entity (if any) which does answer the description. Thus the matter of belief is, in all cases, different in kind from the matter of sensation or presentation, and error is in no way analogous to hallucination. A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.
    • On the Nature of Acquaintance: Neutral Monism (1914).
  • In the revolt against idealism, the ambiguities of the word “experience” have been perceived, with the result that realists have more and more avoided the word. It is to be feared, however, that if the word is avoided the confusions of thought with which it has been associated may persist.
    • On the Nature of Acquaintance: Neutral Monism (1914).
  • Of all evils of war the greatest is the purely spiritual evil: the hatred, the injustice, the repudiation of truth, the artificial conflict.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 27.
  • No nation was ever so virtuous as each believes itself, and none was ever so wicked as each believes the other.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 70.
  • Righteousness cannot be born until self-righteousness is dead.
    • Justice in War-Time (1916), p. 192.
  • It seems clear to me that marriage ought to be constituted by children, and relations not involving children ought to be ignored by the law and treated as indifferent by public opinion. It is only through children that relations cease to be a purely private matter.
    • Letter to Ottoline Morrell, January 30, 1916.
  • I don't care for the applause one gets by saying what others are thinking; I want actually to change people's thoughts. Power over people's minds is the main personal desire of my life; and this sort of power is not acquired by saying popular things.
    • Letter to Lucy Martin Donnelly, February 10, 1916.
  • I don't like the spirit of socialism – I think freedom is the basis of everything.
    • Letter to Constance Malleson (Colette), September 29, 1916.
  • [One] must look into hell before one has any right to speak of heaven.
    • Letter to Colette O'Niel, October 23, 1916; published in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970, p. 87.
  • I hate the world and almost all the people in it. I hate the Labour Congress and the journalists who send men to be slaughtered, and the fathers who feel a smug pride when their sons are killed, and even the pacifists who keep saying human nature is essentially good, in spite of all the daily proofs to the contrary. I hate the planet and the human race – I am ashamed to belong to such a species.
    • Letter to Colette, December 28, 1916.
      It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.
  • How much good it would do if one could exterminate the human race.
    • A characteristic saying of Russell, reported in a letter of 8 October 1917 to Lady Ottoline Morrell, by Huxley (p. 395); Bibliography of Bertrand Russell (Routledge, 2013).
  • It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.
    • Principles of Social Reconstruction (1917).
  • The principal source of the harm done by the State is the fact that power is its chief end.
    • Principles of Social Reconstruction (1917).
  • That I, a funny little gesticulating animal on two legs, should stand beneath the stars and declaim in a passion about my rights – it seems so laughable, so out of all proportion. Much better, like Archimedes, to be killed because of absorption in eternal things...
    There is a possibility in human minds of something mysterious as the night-wind, deep as the sea, calm as the stars, and strong as Death, a mystic contemplation, the "intellectual love of God." Those who have known it cannot believe in wars any longer, or in any kind of hot struggle. If I could give to others what has come to me in this way, I could make them too feel the futility of fighting. But I do not know how to communicate it: when I speak, they stare, applaud, or smile, but do not understand.
    • Letter to Miss Rinder, July 30, 1918.
  • What a queer work the Bible is.
    ...Some texts are very funny. Deut. XXIV, 5: "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken." I should never have guessed "cheer up" was a Biblical expression. Here is another really inspiring text: "Cursed be he that lieth with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen." St Paul on marriage: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." This has remained the doctrine of the Church to this day. It is clear that the Divine purpose in the text "it is better to marry than to burn" is to make us all feel how very dreadful the torments of Hell must be.
    • Letter to Colette, August 10, 1918.
  • In the visible world, the Milky Way is a tiny fragment; within this fragment, the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and of this speck our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water, of complicated structure, with somewhat unusual physical and chemical properties, crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded.
    • Dreams and Facts (1919).
  • No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until he has allowed himself to see his own littleness.
    • Dreams and Facts (1919).

The Problems of Philosophy (1912)Edit

  • Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?
  • Philosophy, if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.
  • Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind is also rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

Our Knowledge of the External World (1914)Edit

To realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.
  • The conception of the necessary unit of all that is resolves itself into the poverty of the imagination, and a freer logic emancipates us from the straitwaistcoated benevolent institution which idealism palms off as the totality of being.
    • p. 9.
  • The true function of logic … as applied to matters of experience … is analytic rather than constructive; taken a priori, it shows the possibility of hitherto unsuspected alternatives more often than the impossibility of alternatives which seemed prima facie possible. Thus, while it liberates imagination as to what the world may be, it refuses to legislate as to what the world is.
    • p. 8.
  • In fact the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or confutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists, in the last analysis, of agreement with other beliefs no less instinctive. Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realms, it is insight that first arrives at what is new.
    • p. 21.
  • Every philosophical problem, when it is subjected to the necessary analysis and justification, is found either to be not really philosophical at all, or else to be, in the sense in which we are using the word, logical.
    • p. 33.
  • We are thus led to a somewhat vague distinction between what we may call "hard" data and "soft" data. This distinction is a matter of degree, and must not be pressed; but if not taken too seriously it may help to make the situation clear. I mean by "hard" data those which resist the solvent influence of critical reflection, and by " soft " data those which, under the operation of this process, become to our minds more or less doubtful.
    • p. 70.
  • Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.
    • p. 167.

Why Men Fight (1917)Edit

  • There are three forces on the side of life which require no exceptional mental endowment, which are not very rare at present, and might be very common under better social institutions. They are love, the instinct of constructiveness, and the joy of life. All three are checked and enfeebled at present by the conditions under which men live—not only the less outwardly fortunate, but also the majority of the well-to-do. Our institutions rest upon injustice and authority: it is only by closing our hearts against sympathy and our minds against truth that we can endure the oppressions and unfairnesses by which we profit. The conventional conception of what constitutes success leads most men to live a life in which their most vital impulses are sacrificed, and the joy of life is lost in listless weariness. Our economic system compels almost all men to carry out the purposes of others rather than their own, making them feel impotent in action and only able to secure a certain modicum of passive pleasure. All these things destroy the vigor of the community, the expansive affections of individuals, and the power of viewing the world generously. All these things are unnecessary and can be ended by wisdom and courage. If they were ended, the impulsive life of men would become wholly different, and the human race might travel towards a new happiness and a new vigor.
    • pp. 18-19.
  • The power of the State may be brought to bear, as it often is in England, through public opinion rather than through the laws. By oratory and the influence of the Press, public opinion is largely created by the State, and a tyrannous public opinion is as great an enemy to liberty as tyrannous laws. If the young man who will not fight finds that he is dismissed from his employment, insulted in the streets, cold-shouldered by his friends, and thrown over with scorn by any woman who may formerly have liked him, he will feel the penalty quite as hard to bear as a death sentence. A free community requires not only legal freedom, but a tolerant public opinion, an absence of that instinctive inquisition into our neighbors' affairs which, under the guise of upholding a high moral standard, enables good people to indulge unconsciously a disposition to cruelty and persecution. Thinking ill of others is not in itself a good reason for thinking well of ourselves. But so long as this is not recognized, and so long as the State can manufacture public opinion, except in the rare cases where it is revolutionary, public opinion must be reckoned as a definite part of the power of the State.
    • pp. 48-50.
  • 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 habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
    • pp. 178-179.

Political Ideals (1917)Edit

Main article: Political Ideals
  • Political ideals must be based upon ideals for the individual life. The aim of politics should be to make the lives of individuals as good as possible.
  • The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the largest part and the possessive impulses the smallest.

The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918)Edit

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.
  • An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalization would be just as well founded as the generalization which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.
  • The process of philosophizing, to my mind, consists mainly in passing from those obvious, vague, ambiguous things, that we feel quite sure of, to something precise, clear, definite, which by reflection and analysis we find is involved in the vague thing that we start from, and is, so to speak, the real truth of which that vague thing is a sort of shadow.
  • I do not pretend to start with precise questions. I do not think you can start with anything precise. You have to achieve such precision as you can, as you go along.
  • My desire and wish is that the things I start with should be so obvious that you wonder why I spend my time stating them. This is what I aim at because 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 reason that I call my doctrine logical atomism is because the atoms that I wish to arrive at as the sort of last residue in analysis are logical atoms and not physical atoms. Some of them will be what I call "particulars" – such things as little patches of color or sounds, momentary things – and some of them will be predicates or relations and so on.
  • To understand a name you must be acquainted with the particular of which it is a name.
  • In a logically perfect language, there will be one word and no more for every simple object, and everything that is not simple will be expressed by a combination of words, by a combination derived, of course, from the words for the simple things that enter in, one word for each simple component.

Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918)Edit

  • Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • The facts of science, as they appeared to him [Heraclitus], fed the flame in his soul, and in its light, he saw into the depths of the world.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • Reason is a harmonising, controlling force rather than a creative one.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • The theoretical understanding of the world, which is the aim of philosophy, is not a matter of great practical importance to animals, or to savages, or even to most civilized men.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • A truer image of the world, I think, is obtained by picturing things as entering into the stream of time from an eternal world outside, than from a view which regards time as the devouring tyrant of all that is.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • A process which led from the amœba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress – though whether the amœba would agree with this opinion is not known.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • Those who forget good and evil and seek only to know the facts are more likely to achieve good than those who view the world through the distorting medium of their own desires.
    • Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic.
  • In science men have discovered an activity of the very highest value in which they are no longer, as in art, dependent for progress upon the appearance of continually greater genius, for in science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it.
    • Ch. 2: The Place of Science in a Liberal Education.
  • A life devoted to science is therefore a happy life, and its happiness is derived from the very best sources that are open to dwellers on this troubled and passionate planet.
    • Ch. 2: The Place of Science in a Liberal Education.
  • Such... but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
    • Ch. 3: A Free Man's Worship
  • The scientific attitude of mind involves a sweeping away of all other desires in the interests of the desire to know—it involves suppression of hopes and fears, loves and hates, and the whole subjective emotional life, until we become subdued to the material, able to see it frankly, without preconceptions, without bias, without any wish except to see it as it is, and without any belief that what it is must be determined by some relation, positive or negative, to what we should like it to be, or to what we can easily imagine it to be.
  • Every great study is not only an end in itself, but also a means of creating and sustaining a lofty habit of mind.
    • Ch. 4: The Study of Mathematics.
  • The Calculus required continuity, and continuity was supposed to require the infinitely little; but nobody could discover what the infinitely little might be.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians.
  • If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians.
  • Thus 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.
    • Ch. 5: Mathematics and the Metaphysicians.
  • An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection; and this generalisation would be just as well founded as the generalisation which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy.
      Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
  • Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy.
  • Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
    • Ch. 6: On the Scientific Method in Philosophy.
  • The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.
    • Ch. 9: On the Notion of Cause.

Proposed Roads To Freedom (1918)Edit

  • The great majority of men and women, in ordinary times, pass through life without ever contemplating or criticising, as a whole, either their own conditions or those of the world at large. They find themselves born into a certain place in society, and they accept what each day brings forth, without any effort of thought beyond what the immediate present requires. Almost as instinctively as the beasts of the field, they seek the satisfaction of the needs of the moment, without much forethought, and without considering that by sufficient effort the whole conditions of their lives could be changed.
    • Introduction, p. 4.
  • My own opinion—which I may as well indicate at the outset—is that pure Anarchism, though it should be the ultimate ideal, to which society should continually approximate, is for the present impossible, and would not survive more than a year or two at most if it were adopted. On the other hand, both Marxian Socialism and Syndicalism, in spite of many drawbacks, seem to me calculated to give rise to a happier and better world than that in which we live. I do not, however, regard either of them as the best practicable system. Marxian Socialism, I fear, would give far too much power to the State, while Syndicalism, which aims at abolishing the State, would, I believe, find itself forced to reconstruct a central authority in order to put an end to the rivalries of different groups of producers. The best practicable system, to my mind, is that of Guild Socialism, which concedes what is valid both in the claims of the State Socialists and in the Syndicalist fear of the State, by adopting a system of federalism among trades for reasons similar to those which are recommending federalism among nations.
    • Introduction, p. 6.
  • Whatever bitterness and hate may be found in the movements which we are to examine, it is not bitterness or hate, but love, that is their mainspring. It is difficult not to hate those who torture the objects of our love. Though difficult, it is not impossible; but it requires a breadth of outlook and a comprehensiveness of understanding which are not easy to preserve amid a desperate contest. If ultimate wisdom has not always been preserved by Socialists and Anarchists, they have not differed in this from their opponents; and in the source of their inspiration they have shown themselves superior to those who acquiesce ignorantly or supinely in the injustices and oppressions by which the existing system is preserved.
    • Introduction, p. 10.
  • [Freedom] is the greatest of political goods. I do not say freedom is the greatest of all goods: the best things come from within—they are such things as creative art, and love, and thought. Such things can be helped or hindered by political conditions, but not actually produced by them; and freedom is, both in itself and in its relation to these other goods the best thing that political and economic conditions can secure.
    • Ch. V: Government and Law, p. 75.
  • 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 with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 97.
  • I believe that the abolition of private ownership of land and capital is a necessary step toward any world in which the nations are to live at peace with one another.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 99.
  • A world full of happiness is not beyond human power to create; the obstacles imposed by inanimate nature are not insuperable. The real obstacles lie in the heart of man, and the cure for these is a firm hope, informed and fortified by thought.
    • Ch. VI: International relations, p. 106.
Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from.
  • One of the most horrible things about commercialism is the way in which it poisons the relations of men and women. The evils of prostitution are generally recognized, but, great as they are, the effect of economic conditions on marriage seems to me even worse. There is not infrequently, in marriage, a suggestion of purchase, of acquiring a woman on condition of keeping her in a certain standard of material comfort. Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from. The whole basis of these evils is economic. Economic causes make marriage a matter of bargain and contract, in which affection is quite secondary, and its absence constitutes no recognized reason for liberation. Marriage should be a free, spontaneous meeting of mutual instinct, filled with happiness not unmixed with a feeling akin to awe: it should involve that degree of respect of each for the other that makes even the most trifling interference with liberty an utter impossibility, and a common life enforced by one against the will of the other an unthinkable thing of deep horror.
    • Ch VIII: The World As It Could Be Made, p. 129-130.

Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919)Edit

  • The method of "postulating" what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.
    • Ch. 7: Rational, Real and Complex Numbers.
  • The question of "unreality," which confronts us at this point, is a very important one. Misled by grammar, the great majority of those logicians who have dealt with this question have dealt with it on mistaken lines. They have regarded grammatical form as a surer guide in analysis than, in fact, it is. And they have not known what differences in grammatical form are important.
    • Ch. 16: Descriptions.
  • For want of the apparatus of propositional functions, many logicians have been driven to the conclusion that there are unreal objects. It is argued, e.g., by Meinong, that we can speak about "the golden mountain," "the round square," and so on; we can make true propositions of which these are the subjects; hence they must have some kind of logical being, since otherwise the propositions in which they occur would be meaningless. In such theories, it seems to me, there is a failure of that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies. Logic, I should maintain, must no more admit a unicorn than zoology can; for logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as zoology, though with its more abstract and general features.
    • Ch. 16: Descriptions.
  • In obedience to the feeling of reality, we shall insist that, in the analysis of propositions, nothing "unreal" is to be admitted. But, after all, if there is nothing unreal, how, it may be asked, could we admit anything unreal? The reply is that, in dealing with propositions, we are dealing in the first instance with symbols, and if we attribute significance to groups of symbols which have no significance, we shall fall into the error of admitting unrealities, in the only sense in which this is possible, namely, as objects described.
    • Ch. 16: Descriptions.
  • So much of modern mathematical work is obviously on the border-line of logic, so much of modern logic is symbolic and formal, that the very close relationship of logic and mathematics has become obvious to every instructed student. The proof of their identity is, of course, a matter of detail: starting with premisses which would be universally admitted to belong to logic, and arriving by deduction at results which as obviously belong to mathematics, we find that there is no point at which a sharp line can be drawn, with logic to the left and mathematics to the right. If there are still those who do not admit the identity of logic and mathematics, we may challenge them to indicate at what point, in the successive definitions and deductions of Principia Mathematica, they consider that logic ends and mathematics begins. It will then be obvious that any answer must be quite arbitrary.
    • Ch. 18: Mathematics and Logic.


Mystery is delightful, but unscientific, since it depends upon ignorance.
  • People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.
    • Letter to Ottoline Morrell, 17 December, 1920.
  • I must confess that I am unable to appreciate the merits of Confucius. His writings are largely occupied with trivial points of etiquette, and his main concern is to teach people how to behave correctly on various occasions. When one compares him, however, with the traditional religious teachers of some other ages and races, one must admit that he has great merits, even if they are mainly negative. His system, as developed by his followers, is one of pure ethics, without religious dogma; it has not given rise to a powerful priesthood, and it has not led to persecution. It certainly has succeeded in producing a whole nation possessed of exquisite manners and perfect courtesy. Nor is Chinese courtesy merely conventional; it is quite as reliable in situations for which no precedent has been provided. And it is not confined to one class; it exists even in the humblest coolie. It is humiliating to watch the brutal insolence of white men received by the Chinese with a quiet dignity which cannot demean itself to answer rudeness with rudeness. Europeans often regard this as weakness, but it is really strength, the strength by which the Chinese have hitherto conquered all their conquerors.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XI: Chinese and Western Civilization Contrasted.
  • The typical Westerner wishes to be the cause of as many changes as possible in his environment; the typical Chinaman wishes to enjoy as much and as delicately as possible.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XII: The Chinese Character.
  • Nine-tenths of the activities of a modern Government are harmful; therefore the worse they are performed, the better.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XII: The Chinese Character.
  • The Chinese are a great nation, incapable of permanent suppression by foreigners. They will not consent to adopt our vices in order to acquire military strength; but they are willing to adopt our virtues in order to advance in wisdom. I think they are the only people in the world who quite genuinely believe that wisdom is more precious than rubies. That is why the West regards them as uncivilized.
    • The Problem of China (1922), Ch. XIII: Higher education in China.
  • Mystery is delightful, but unscientific, since it depends upon ignorance.
  • There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.
    • The Analysis of Mind (1921), Lecture IX: Memory, p. 159.
  • The supreme maxim in scientific philosophising is this: wherever possible, logical constructions are to be substituted for inferred entities.
    • Quoted in Hawes The Logic of Contemporary English Realism (1923), p. 110;
      Most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.
      cf. Ockham's maxim: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
  • All traditional logic habitually assumes that precise symbols are being employed. It is therefore not applicable to this terrestial life but only to an imagined celestial existence... logic takes us nearer to heaven than other studies.
    • 'Vagueness', first published in The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, 1 June, 1923.
  • It seems to me that science has a much greater likelihood of being true in the main than any philosophy hitherto advanced (I do not, of course, except my own). In science there are many matters about which people are agreed; in philosophy there are none. Therefore, although each proposition in a science may be false, and it is practically certain that there are some that are false, yet we shall be wise to build our philosophy upon science, because the risk of error in philosophy is pretty sure to be greater than in science. If we could hope for certainty in philosophy, the matter would be otherwise, but so far as I can see such a hope would be chimerical.
    • Logical Atomism (1924).
  • We all have a tendency to think that the world must conform to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think – in fact they do so.
    • The ABC of Relativity (1925), p. 166.
      • Variant: "Most people would rather die than think; many do."
  • Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult, it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when widespread, produce social disaster.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 2: The Aims of Education, p. 36.
      No one gossips about other people's secret virtues.
  • The instinctive foundation of the intellectual life is curiosity, which is found among animals in its elementary forms. Intelligence demands an alert curiosity, but it must be of a certain kind. The sort that leads village neighbours to try to peer through curtains after dark has no very high value. The widespread interest in gossip is inspired, not by a love of knowledge but by malice: no one gossips about other people's secret virtues, but only about their secret vices. Accordingly most gossip is untrue, but care is taken not to verify it. Our neighbour's sins, like the consolations of religion, are so agreeable that we do not stop to scrutinise the evidence closely.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 2: The Aims of Education, p. 50.
  • An irrational fear should never be simply let alone, but should be gradually overcome by familiarity with its fainter forms.
    • On Education, Especially in Early Childhood (1926), Ch. 4: Fear.
  • Written words differ from spoken words in being material structures. A spoken word is a process in the physical world, having an essential time-order; a written word is a series of pieces of matter, having an essential space-order.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.4 Language (1927)
  • Our words tend to conceal what is private and particular in our impressions, and to make us believe that different people live in a common world to a greater extent than is in fact the case.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • The tendency of our perceptions is to emphasise increasingly the objective elements in an impression, unless we have some special reason, as artists have, for doing the opposite.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • It must not be supposed that the subjective elements are any less 'real' than the objective elements; they are only less important... because they do not point to anything beyond ourselves...
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • The camera is as subjective as we are.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • There is a connected set of events (light-waves) travelling outward from a centre... there are some respects in which all events are alike, and others in which they differ... We must not think of a light-wave as a 'thing', but as a connected group of rhythmical events. The mathematical characteristics of such a group can be inferred by physics, but the intrinsic character of the component events cannot be inferred.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • Modern physics... reduces matter to a set of events which proceed outward from a centre. If there is something further in the centre itself, we cannot know about it, and it is irrelevant to physics.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.
    • An Outline of Philosophy Ch.15 The Nature of our Knowledge of Physics (1927)
  • I went to Salt Lake City and the Mormons tried to convert me, but when I found they forbade tea and tobacco I thought it was no religion for me.
    • Letter to C. P. Sanger, 23 December, 1929.

The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920)Edit

  • I believe that Communism is necessary to the world, and I believe that the heroism of Russia has fired men's hopes in a way which was essential to the realization of Communism in the future. Regarded as a splendid attempt, without which ultimate success would have been very improbable, Bolshevism deserves the gratitude and admiration of all the progressive part of mankind.
    • Preface
  • A fundamental economic reconstruction, bringing with it very far-reaching changes in ways of thinking and feeling, in philosophy and art and private relations, seems absolutely necessary if industrialism is to become the servant of man instead of his master. In all this, I am at one with the Bolsheviks; politically, I criticize them only when their methods seem to involve a departure from their own ideals.
    • Preface
  • The hopes which inspire communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically and are as likely to do as much harm.
    • Part I, The Present Condition of Russia, Ch. 1: What Is Hoped From Bolshevism.
  • Soon after my arrival in Moscow I had an hour's conversation with Lenin in English, which he speaks fairly well... I have never met a personage so destitute of self-importance. He looks at his visitors very closely, and screws up one eye, which seems to increase alarmingly the penetrating power of the other. He laughs a great deal; at first his laugh seems merely friendly and jolly, but gradually I came to feel it rather grim. He is dictatorial, calm, incapable of fear, extraordinarily devoid of self-seeking, an embodied theory. The materialist conception of history, one feels, is his life-blood. He resembles a professor in his desire to have the theory understood and in his fury with those who misunderstand or disagree, as also in his love of expounding, I got the impression that he despises a great many people and is an intellectual aristocrat.
    ...When I suggested that whatever is possible in England can be achieved without bloodshed, he waved aside the suggestion as fantastic... He described the division between rich and poor peasants, and the Government propaganda among the latter against the former, leading to acts of violence which he seemed to find amusing.
    • Part I, Ch. 3: Lenin, Trotsky and Gorky.
  • I think if I had met him [Lenin] without knowing who he was, I should not have guessed that he was a great man; he struck me as too opinionated and narrowly orthodox. His strength comes, I imagine, from his honesty, courage, and unwavering faith—religious faith in the Marxian gospel, which takes the place of the Christian martyr's hopes of Paradise, except that it is less egotistical... I went to Russia a Communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not as to Communism in itself, but as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.
    • Part I, Ch. 3: Lenin, Trotsky and Gorky.
  • [is] possible to suppose that, if Russia is allowed to have peace, an amazing industrial development may take place, making Russia a rival of the United States.
    • Part I, Ch. 5: Communism and the Soviet Constitution.
  • One who believes, as I do, that the free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism, as much as to the Church of Rome.
    • Part I, Ch. 9: International Policy.

The Prospects of Industrial Civilization (1923)Edit

  • The white population of the world will soon cease to increase. The Asiatic races will be longer, and the negroes still longer, before their birth rate falls sufficiently to make their numbers stable without help of war and pestilence.... Until that happens, the benefits aimed at by socialism can only be partially realized, and the less prolific races will have to defend themselves against the more prolific by methods which are disgusting even if they are necessary.
  • To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.
  • 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 harm.

What I Believe (1925)Edit

Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other's liberty... and that jealousy and possessiveness kill love.
  • The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
  • We are and irrefutable arbiters of value, and in the world of value Nature is only a part. Thus in this world we are greater than Nature. In the world of values, Nature in itself is neutral, neither good nor bad deserving of neither admiration nor censure. It is we who create value and our desires which confer value. In this realm we are kings, and we debase our kingship if we bow down to Nature. It is for us to determine our good life, not for Nature – not even for Nature personified as God.
  • Love is better than hate, because it brings harmony instead of conflict into the desires of the persons concerned. Two people between whom there is love succeed or fail together, but when two people hate each other the success of either is the failure of the other.
  • At puberty, the elements of an unsuperstitious sexual morality ought to be taught. Boys and girls should be taught that nothing can justify sexual intercourse unless there is mutual inclination... Boys and girls should be taught respect for each other's liberty; they should be made to feel that nothing gives one human being rights over another, and that jealousy and possessiveness kill love. They should be taught that to bring another human being into the world is a very serious matter, only to be undertaken when the child will have a reasonable prospect of health, good surroundings, and parental care. But they should also be taught methods of birth control, so as to insure that children shall only come when they are wanted. Finally, they should be taught the dangers of venereal disease, and the methods of prevention and cure. The increase of human happiness to be expected from sex education on these lines is immeasurable.
Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.
  • Certain forms of sex which do not lead to children are at present punished by the criminal law: this is purely superstitious, since the matter is one which affects no one except the parties directly concerned... The peculiar importance attached, at present, to adultery is quite irrational... Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.
  • We cannot suppose that an individual’s thinking survives bodily death, since that destroys the organization of the brain and dissipates the energy which utilized the brain tracks. God and immortality, the central dogma of the Christian religion, find no support in science. But we in the West have come to think of them as the irreducible minimum of theology. No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any grounds for either. I do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist, so might the Gods of Olympus, Ancient Egypt or Babylon; but no one of these hypotheses is more probable than any other. They lie outside the region of provable knowledge and there is no reason to consider any of them.
  • Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear and made people think them not disgraceful. In this it has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad. I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man's place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own.
    • Cf. Richard Dawkins (2003), A Devil's Chaplain: «There is more than just grandeur in this view of life, bleak and cold though it can seem from under the security blanket of ignorance. There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up and facing straight into the strong keen wind of understanding: Yeats's 'Winds that blow through the starry ways'.»
  • The philosophy of nature must not be unduly terrestrial; for it, the earth is merely one of the smaller planets of one of the smaller starts of the Milky Way. It would be ridiculous to warp the philosophy of nature in order to bring out results that are pleasing to the tiny parasites of this insignificant planet. Vitalism as a philosophy, and evolutionism, show, in this respect, a lack of sense of proportion and logical relevance. They regard the facts of life, which are personally interesting to us, as having a cosmic significance, not a significance confined to the earth's surface. Optimism and pessimism, as cosmic philosophies, show the same naive humanism; the great world, so far as we know it from the philosophy of nature, is neither good nor bad, and is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy. All such philosophies spring from self-importance and are best corrected by a little astronomy.
  • The old often envy the young; when they do, they are apt to treat them cruelly.

Review of The Meaning of Meaning (1926)Edit

Dial (August 1926), Vol. 81, pp. 114-121.
Cf. C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (1923), The Meaning of Meaning.
  • When, in youth, I learned what was called "philosophy" … no one ever mentioned to me the question of "meaning." Later, I became acquainted with Lady Welby's work on the subject, but failed to take it seriously. I imagined that logic could be pursued by taking it for granted that symbols were always, so to speak, transparent, and in no way distorted the objects they were supposed to "mean." Purely logical problems have gradually led me further and further from this point of view. Beginning with the question whether the class of all those classes which are not members of themselves is, or is not, a member of itself; continuing with the problem whether the man who says "I am lying" is lying or speaking the truth; passing through the riddle "is the present King of France bald or not bald, or is the law of excluded middle false?" I have now come to believe that the order of words in time or space is an ineradicable part of much of their significance – in fact, that the reason they can express space-time occurrences is that they are space-time occurrences, so that a logic independent of the accidental nature of spacetime becomes an idle dream. These conclusions are unpleasant to my vanity, but pleasant to my love of philosophical activity: until vitality fails, there is no reason to be wedded to one's past theories. (p. 114).
  • [Messrs Ogden and Richards] will reply that they are considering the meaning of a "thought," not of a word. A "thought" is not a social phenomenon, like speech, and therefore does not have the two sides, active and passive, which can be distinguished in speech. I should urge, however, that all the reasons which led our authors to avoid introducing images in explaining meaning should have also led them to avoid introducing "thoughts." If a theory of meaning is to be fitted into natural science as they desire, it is necessary to define the meaning of words without introducing anything "mental" in the sense in which what is "mental" is not subject to the laws of physics. Therefore, for the same reasons for which I now hold that the meaning of words should be explained without introducing images – which I argued to be possible in the above-quoted passage – I also hold that meaning in general should be treated without introducing "thoughts," and should be regarded as a property of words considered as physical phenomena. Let us therefore amend their theory. They say: "'I am thinking of A' is the same thing as 'My thought is being caused by A.'" Let us substitute: "'I am speaking of A' is the same thing as 'My speech is being caused by A.'" Can this theory be true?

Why I Am Not a Christian (1927)Edit

I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.
  • I think all the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Communism - both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. With very few exception, the religions which a man accepts is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of environment is what has led him to accept the religion in question.
    • Preface
  • Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae, would consider Himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and Stalin and the H-bomb.
    • Preface
  • If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that.
    • "The First-cause Argument"
  • If you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system... You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending – something dead, cold, and lifeless.
    I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out – at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation – it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.
    • "The Argument from Design"
  • ...You could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up – a line which I often thought was a very plausible one – that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.
    • "The Moral Arguments for Deity"
  • There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.
    • "The Moral Problem"
  • I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it.
    • "The Emotional Factor"
  • You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress of humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or even mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
    • "The Emotional Factor"
      Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear.
    • Often paraphrased as "The Christian religion has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."
  • [The church] is in its major part an opponent still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. "What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy."
    • "How The Churches Have Retarded Progress"
  • Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by the help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hears can teach us, no longer to look around 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.
    • "Fear, the Foundation of Religion".
  • The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.
    • "What We Must Do"

Sceptical Essays (1928)Edit

  • 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.
    • Ch. 1: The Value of Scepticism.
  • The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.
    • Ch. 1: The Value of Scepticism.
  • Man is essentially a dreamer, wakened sometimes for a moment by some peculiarly obtrusive element in the outer world, but lapsing again quickly into the happy somnolence of imagination. Freud has shown how largely our dreams at night are the pictured fulfilment of our wishes; he has, with an equal measure of truth, said the same of day-dreams; and he might have included the day-dreams which we call beliefs.
    • Ch. 2: Dreams and Facts
  • Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.
    • Ch. 2: Dreams and Facts.
  • Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous and loathed because they impose slavery.
    • Ch. 6: Machines and the Emotions.
  • A European who goes to New York and Chicago sees the future... when he goes to Asia he sees the past.
    • Ch. 8: Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness.
  • 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.
    • Ch. 8: Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness.
  • The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others.
    • Ch. 8: Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness.
  • 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."
    • Ch. 10: Recrudescence of Puritanism.
  • Next to enjoying ourselves, the next greatest pleasure consists in preventing others from enjoying themselves, or, more generally, in the acquisition of power.
    • Ch. 10: Recrudescence of Puritanism.
  • William James used to preach the "will-to-believe." For my part, I should wish to preach the "will-to-doubt." None of our beliefs are quite true; all at least have a penumbra of vagueness and error. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
    • Ch. 12: Free Thought and Official Propaganda.
  • The State is a collection of officials, different for difference purposes, drawing comfortable incomes so long as the status quo is preserved. The only alteration they are likely to desire in the status quo is an increase of bureaucracy and the power of bureaucrats.
  • We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
    • Ch. 12: Free Thought and Official Propaganda.
  • Americans need rest, but do not know it. I believe this to be a large part of the explanation of the crime wave in the United States.
    • Ch. 13: Freedom in Society.
The fundamental defect of fathers is that they want their children to be a credit to them.
  • Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.
    • Ch. 13: Freedom in Society.
  • Children must be under authority, and are themselves aware that they must be, although they like to play a game of rebellion at times. The case of children is unique in the fact that those who have authority over them are sometimes fond of them. Where this is the case, the children do not resent the authority in general, even when they resist it on particular occasions. Education authorities, as opposed to teachers, have not this merit, and do in fact sacrifice the children to what they consider the good of the State by teaching them "patriotism," i.e., a willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.
    • Ch. 13: Freedom in Society.
  • The fundamental defect of fathers, in our competitive society, is that they want their children to be a credit to them.
    • Ch. 14: Freedom Versus Authority in Education.
  • If human nature were unchangeable, as ignorant people still suppose it to be, the situation would indeed be hopeless.
    • Ch. 17: Some Prospects: Cheerful and Otherwise.

Marriage and Morals (1929)Edit

I believe marriage to be the best and most important relation that can exist between two human beings.
To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.
Main article: Marriage and Morals
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.


The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one – particularly if he plays golf.
  • The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one – particularly if he plays golf, which he usually does.
  • Apart from autograph hunters, I get... many letters from Hindus, beseeching me to adopt some form of mysticism, from young Americans, asking me where I think the line should be drawn in petting, and from Poles, urging me to admit that while all other nationalism may be bad that of Poland is wholly noble. I get letters from engineers who cannot understand Einstein, and from parsons who think that I cannot understand Genesis, from husbands whose wives have deserted them – not (they say) that that would matter, but the wives have taken the furniture with them, and what in these circumstances should an enlightened male do? ...I get letters (concerning whose genuineness I am suspicious) trying to get me to advocate abortion, and I get letters from young mothers asking my opinion of bottle-feeding.
    • Letter to Mr C. L. Aiken, March 19, 1930.
  • It is likely that America will be more important during the next century or two, but after that it may well be the turn of China.
    • Letter to Rachel Gleason Brooks, May 5, 1930.
  • I quite understand the principle of confining employment as far as possible to the British without regard for efficiency. I think, however, that the Ministry is not applying the principle sufficiently widely. I know many Englishmen who have married foreigners, and many English potential wives who are out of a job. Would not a year be long enough to train an English wife to replace the existing foreign one in such cases?
    • Enclosed reply to the Ministry of Labour, in defense of A. S. Neill (who declined to send it), 27 January, 1931.
  • 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.
    • The Scientific Outlook (1931).
  • The most essential characteristic of scientific technique is that it proceeds from experiment, not from tradition. The experimental habit of mind is a difficult one for most people to maintain; indeed, the science of one generation has already become the tradition of the next...
    • The Scientific Outlook (1931).
  • A world without delight and without affection is a world destitute of value.
    • The Scientific Outlook (1931).
  • All exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in infering that he is an inexact man.
    • As quoted in World Unity, Vol. IX, 3rd edition (1931), p. 190.
  • I do not believe that science per se is an adequate source of happiness, nor do I think that my own scientific outlook has contributed very greatly to my own happiness, which I attribute to defecating twice a day with unfailing regularity.
    • Letter to W. W. Norton (publisher), 27 January, 1931.
  • I think people who are unhappy are always proud of being so, and therefore do not like to be told that there is nothing grand about their unhappiness. A man who is melancholy because lack of exercise has upset his liver always believes that it is the loss of God, or the menace of Bolshevism, or some such dignified cause that makes him sad. When you tell people that happiness is a simple matter, they get annoyed with you.
    • Letter to W. W. Norton, 17 February, 1931.
  • I shall keep it [the manuscript] by me until the end of May for purposes of revision, and of adding malicious foot-notes.
    • Letter to W. W. Norton, 17 February, 1931.
  • You will have seen that my brother died suddenly in Marseilles. I inherit from him a title, but not a penny of money, as he was bankrupt. A title is a great nuisance to me, and I am at a loss what to do, but at any rate I do not wish it employed in connection with any of my literary work. There is, so far as I know, only one method of getting rid of it, which is to be attainted of high treason, and this would involve my head being cut off on Tower Hill. This method seems to me perhaps somewhat extreme...
    • Letter to W. W. Norton, 11 March, 1931.
  • I am sorry to say that at the moment I am so busy as to be convinced that life has no meaning whatever... I do not see that we can judge what would be the result of the discovery of truth, since none has hitherto been discovered.
    • Letter to Will Durant, 20 June, 1931.
  • A religious creed differs from a scientific theory in claiming to embody eternal and absolutely certain truth, whereas science is always tentative, expecting that modification in its present theories will sooner or later be found necessary, and aware that its method is one which is logically incapable of arriving at a complete and final demonstration.
    • Religion and Science (1935), Ch. I: Ground of Conflict.
  • While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.
    • Religion and Science (1935), Ch. IX: Science of Ethics.
    • Variant: "What science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know." (Attributed to Russell in Ted Peters' Cosmos As Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance [1989], p. 14, with a note that it was "told [to] a BBC audience [earlier this century]").
  • Why in any case, this glorification of man? How about lions and tigers? They destroy fewer animals or human lives than we do, and they are much more beautiful than we are. How about ants? They manage the Corporate State much better than any Fascist. Would not a world of nightingales and larks and deer be better than our human world of cruelty and injustice and war? The believers in Cosmic Purpose make much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it. If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts.
    • Religion and Science (1935).
  • New truth is often uncomfortable, especially to the holders of power; nevertheless, amid the long record of cruelty and bigotry, it is the most important achievement of our intelligent but wayward species. '"
    • Religion and Science (1935), Ch. X: Conclusion.
  • When I say that children should be told about sex, I do not mean that they should be told only the bare physiological facts; they should be told whatever they wish to know. There should be no attempt to represent adults as more virtuous than they are, or sex as occurring only in marriage. There is no excuse for deceiving children. And when, as must happen in conventional families, they find that their parents have lied, they lose confidence in them, and feel justified in lying to them.
  • It is only when we think abstractly that we have such a high opinion of man. Of men in the concrete, most of us think the vast majority very bad. Civilized states spend more than half their revenue on killing each other's citizens. Consider the long history of the activities inspired by moral fervour: human sacrifices, persecutions of heretics, witch-hunts, pogroms leading up to wholesale extermination by poison gases … Are these abominations, and the ethical doctrines by which they are prompted, really evidence of an intelligent Creator? And can we really wish that the men who practised them should live for ever? The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of a deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis.
    • Essay Do We Survive Death? (1936).
  • Religions, which condemn the pleasures of sense, drive men to seek the pleasures of power. Throughout history power has been the vice of the ascetic.
    • The New York Herald-Tribune Magazine (1938-03-06).

The Conquest of Happiness (1930)Edit

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
  • Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.
  • Drunkenness is temporary suicide.
  • To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
  • There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.
  • One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.
  • 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.
  • Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.

Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization? (1930)Edit

Online text

I regard religion as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.
  • I regard [religion] as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.
  • It is amusing to hear the modern Christian telling you how mild and rationalistic Christianity really is and ignoring the fact that all its mildness and rationalism is due to the teaching of men who in their own day were persecuted by all orthodox Christians.
    • "Sources of Intolerance"
  • If, when a man writes a poem or commits a murder, the bodily movements involved in his act result solely from physical causes, it would seem absurd to put up a statue to him in the one case and to hang him in the other.
    • "The Doctrine of Free Will"
  • No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour 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 to set it right. An analogous way of treating human beings is, however, considered to be contrary to the truths of our holy religion.
    • "The Doctrine of Free Will"
  • Now, what is 'unrighteousness' in practice? It is in practice behavior of a kind disliked by the herd. By calling it unrighteousness, and by arranging an elaborate system of ethics around this conception, the herd justifies itself in wreaking punishment upon the objects of its own dislike, while at the same time, since the herd is righteous by definition, it enhances its own self-esteem at the very moment when it lets loose its impulse to cruelty. This is the psychology of lynching, and of the other ways in which criminals are punished. The essence of the conception of righteousness, therefore, is to afford an outlet for sadism by cloaking cruelty as justice.
    • "The Idea of Righteousness"
  • With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world's population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception. The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.
    • "The Idea of Righteousness"

Education and the Social Order (1932)Edit

  • 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.
    • p. 31.
  • Belief in God and a future life makes it possible to go through life with less of stoic courage than is needed by skeptics. A great many young people lose faith in these dogmas at an age at which despair is easy, and thus have to face a much more intense unhappiness than that which falls to the lot of those who have never had a religious upbringing. Christianity offers reasons for not fearing death or the universe, and in so doing it fails to teach adequately the virtue of courage. The craving for religious faith being largely an outcome of fear, the advocates of faith tend to think that certain kinds of fear are not to be deprecated. In this, to my mind, they are gravely mistaken. To allow oneself to entertain pleasant beliefs as a means of avoiding fear is not to live in the best way. In so far as religion makes its appeal to fear, it is lowering to human dignity.
    • p. 107.
  • Owing to the identification of religion with virtue, together with the fact that the most religious men are not the most intelligent, a religious education gives courage to the stupid to resist the authority of educated men, as has happened, for example, where the teaching of evolution has been made illegal. So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence; and in this respect ministers of religion follow gospel authority more closely than in some others.
    • p. 110.
  • I am sure that university life would be better, both intellectually and morally, if most university students had temporary childless marriages. This would afford a solution to the sexual urge neither restless nor surreptitious, neither mercenary nor casual, and of such a nature that it need not take up time which ought to be given to work.
    • "Sex in Education", p. 119-120.
  • There are those who blame the Press, but in this I think they are mistaken. The Press is such as the public demands, and the public demands bad newspapers because it has been badly educated.
    • p. 133.

Mortals and Others (1931-35)Edit

Main article: Mortals and Others
  • It is generally admitted that most grown-up people, however regrettably, will try to have a good time.
  • The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
    • Often paraphrased as "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
    • Cf. Russell (1951) New Hopes for a Changing World, "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."
    • Cf. also W. B. Yeats (1919), The Second Coming, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."
  • To understand the actual world as it is, not as we should wish it to be, is the beginning of wisdom.

In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935)Edit

  • First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.
    • Ch. 1: In Praise of Idleness.
  • Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
    • Ch. 1: In Praise of Idleness.
There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
I think modern educational theorists are inclined to attach too much importance to the negative virtue of not interfering with children, and too little to the positive merit of enjoying their company.
  • The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich.
    • Ch. 1: In Praise of Idleness.
  • Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for the others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever.
    • Ch. 1: In Praise of Idleness.
  • There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.
    • Ch. 2: 'Useless' Knowledge.
  • For my part, while I am as convinced a Socialist as the most ardent Marxian, I do not regard Socialism as a gospel of proletarian revenge, nor even, primarily, as a means of securing economic justice. I regard it primarily as an adjustment to machine production demanded by considerations of common sense, and calculated to increase the happiness, not only of proletarians, but of all except a tiny minority of the human race.
    • Ch. 7: The Case for Socialism.
  • I cannot escape from the conclusion that the great ages of progress have depended upon a small number of individuals of transcendent ability.
    • Ch. 8: Western Civilisation.
  • It is, of course, clear that a country with a large foreign population must endeavour, through its schools, to assimilate the children of immigrants. It is, however, unfortunate that a large part of this process should be effected by means of a somewhat blatant nationalism.
    • Ch. 10: Modern Homogeneity.
  • No rules, however wise, are a substitute for affection and tact.
    • Ch. 12: Education and Discipline.
  • I think modern educational theorists are inclined to attach too much importance to the negative virtue of not interfering with children, and too little to the positive merit of enjoying their company.
    • Ch. 12: Education and Discipline.
  • Two men who differ as to the ends of life cannot hope to agree about education.
    • Ch. 12: Education and Discipline.

Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)Edit

Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility.
  • Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility.
    • Ch. 1: The Impulse to Power.
  • The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.
    • Ch. 1: The Impulse to Power.
  • Most men do not feel in themselves the competence required for leading their group to victory, and therefore seek out a captain who appears to possess the courage and sagacity necessary for the achievement of supremacy. Even in religion this impulse appears. Nietzsche accused Christianity of inculcating a slave-morality, but ultimate triumph was always the goal. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
    • Ch. 2: Leaders and Followers.
  • I greatly doubt whether the men who become pirate chiefs are those who are filled with retrospective terror of their fathers, or whether Napoleon, at Austerlitz, really felt that he was getting even with Madame Mère. I know nothing of the mother of Attila, but I rather suspect that she spoilt the little darling, who subsequently found the world irritating because it sometimes resisted his whims.
    • Ch. 2: Leaders and Followers.
  • In former days, men sold themselves to the Devil to acquire magical powers. Nowadays they acquire those powers from science, and find themselves compelled to become devils. There is no hope for the world unless power can be tamed, and brought into the service, not of this or that group of fanatical tyrants, but of the whole human race, white and yellow and black, fascist and communist and democrat; for science has made it inevitable that all must live or all must die.
    • Ch. 2: Leaders and Followers.
  • Power may be defined as the production of intended effects.
    • Ch. 3: The Forms of Power.
  • Most people, at a crisis, feel more loyalty to their nation than to their class.
    • Ch. 8: Economic Power.
  • We thus have a kind of see-saw: first, pure persuasion leading to the conversion of a minority; then force exerted to secure that the rest of the community shall be exposed to the right propaganda; and finally a genuine belief on the part of the great majority, which makes the use of force again unnecessary.
    • Ch. 9: Power over opinion.
  • Competition for power is of two sorts: between organizations, and between individuals for leadership within an organization.
    • p. 165.
  • In democratic countries, the most important private organizations are economic. Unlike secret societies, they are able to exercize their terrorism without illegality, since they do not threaten to kill their enemies, but only to starve them.
    • Ch. 12: Powers and forms of governments.
  • The "social contract," in the only sense in which it is not completely mythical, is a contract among conquerors, which loses its raison d'être if they are deprived of the benefits of conquest.
    • Ch. 12: Powers and forms of governments.
  • Among human beings, the subjection of women is much more complete at a certain level of civilization than it is among savages. And the subjection is always reinforced by morality.
    • Ch. 15: Power and moral codes.
  • An individual may perceive a way of life, or a method of social organisation, by which more of the desires of mankind could be satisfied than under the existing method. If he perceives truly, and can persuade men to adopt his reform, he is justified. Without rebellion, mankind would stagnate, and injustice would be irremediable.
    • Ch. 15: Power and moral codes.
  • The love of power is a part of human nature, but power-philosophies are, in a certain precise sense, insane. The existence of the external world, both that of matter and of other human beings, is a datum, which may be humiliating to a certain kind of pride, but can only be denied by a madman. 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 he is 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. Certified lunatics are shut up because of the proneness to violence when their pretensions are questioned; the uncertified variety are given control of powerful armies, and can inflict death and disaster upon all sane men within their reach.
    • Ch. 16: Power philosophies.
  • It is not altogether true that persuasion is one thing and force is another. Many forms of persuasion – even many of which everybody approves – are really a kind of force. Consider what we do to our children. We do not say to them: "Some people think the earth is round, and others think it is flat; when you grow up, you can, if you like, examine the evidence and form your own conclusion." Instead of this we say: "The earth is round." By the time our children are old enough to examine the evidence, our propaganda has closed their minds.
    • Ch. 17: The Ethics of Power.
  • To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.
    • Ch. 18: The Taming of Power.
  • Just as we teach children to avoid being destroyed by motor cars if they can, so we should teach them to avoid being destroyed by cruel fanatics, and to this end we should seek to produce independence of mind, somewhat sceptical and wholly scientific, and to preserve, as far as possible, the instinctive joy of life that is natural to healthy children. This is the task of a liberal education: to give a sense of the value of things other than domination, to help create wise citizens of a free community, and through the combination of citizenship with liberty in individual creativeness to enable men to give to human life that splendour which some few have shown that it can achieve.
    • Ch. 18: The Taming of Power.


  • 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.
    • An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), Introduction, p. 15.
  • Science seems to be at war with itself.... Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows naive realism to be false. Therefore naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.
    • An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), Introduction, p. 15.
  • I remain convinced that obstinate addiction to ordinary language in our private thoughts is one of the main obstacles to progress in philosophy.
    • Quoted in Library of Living Philosophers: The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1944).
  • It is entirely clear that there is only one way in which great wars can be permanently prevented, and that is the establishment of an international government with a monopoly of serious armed force.
    • "The Atomic Bomb and the Prevention of War" in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1945-10-01).
  • There are a number of purely theoretical questions, of perennial and passionate interest, which science is unable to answer, at any rate at present. Do we survive death in any sense, and if so, do we survive for a time or for ever? Can mind dominate matter, or does matter completely dominate mind, or has each, perhaps, a certain limited independence? Has the universe a purpose? Or is it driven by blind necessity? Or is it a mere chaos and jumble, in which the natural laws that we think we find are only a phantasy generated by our own love of order? If there is a cosmic scheme, has life more importance in it than astronomy would lead us to suppose, or is our emphasis upon life mere parochialism and self-importance? I do not know the answer to these questions, and I do not believe that anybody else does, but I think human life would be impoverished if they were forgotten, or if definite answers were accepted without adequate evidence. To keep alive the interest in such questions, and to scrutinize suggested answers, is one of the functions of philosophy.
  • The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. [S]o long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. For the learning of every virtue there is an appropriate discipline, and for the learning of suspended judgment the best discipline is philosophy.
    • Philosophy for Laymen (1946)
  • I am ashamed of belonging to the species Homo Sapiens...You & I may be thankful to have lived in happier times – you more than I, because you have no children.
    • Letter to Lucy Donnelly, 23 June, 1946.
  • Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel God, and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case.
  • There is a further advantage [to hydrogen bombs]: the supply of uranium in the planet is very limited, and it might be feared that it would be used up before the human race was exterminated, but now that the practically unlimited supply of hydrogen can be utilized, there is considerable reason to hope that homo sapiens may put an end to himself, to the great advantage of such less ferocious animals as may survive. But it is time to return to less cheerful topics.
    • Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), part I, "The World of Science", chapter 3, "The World of Physics", p. 41.
  • A dog cannot relate his autobiography; however eloquently he may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were honest but poor.
    • Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), part II, chapter 1, p. 74.
  • I do not believe that I am now dreaming, but I cannot prove that I am not. I am, however, quite certain that I am having certain experiences, whether they be those of a dream or those of waking life.
    • Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), p. 172.
The universe is just there, and that is all.
  • Whatever we know without inference is mental.
    • Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), p. 224.
  • 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.
    • Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948), p. 493.
  • I should say that the universe is just there, and that is all.
  • A physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn't he's had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes.
    • BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God, Russell vs. Copleston, 1948.
  • The fact that a belief has a good moral effect upon a man is no evidence whatsoever in favor of its truth.
    • BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God, Russell vs. Copleston, 1948.
  • Instinctively we divide mankind into friends and foes - friends, towards whom we have the morality of co-operation; foes, towards whom we have that of competition. But this division is constantly changing; at one moment a man hates his business competitor, at another, when both are threatened by Socialism or by an external enemy, he suddenly begins to view him as a brother. Always when we pass beyond the limits of the family it is the external enemy which supplies the cohesive force. In times of safety we can afford to hate our neighbour, but in times of danger we must love him.
    • Authority and the Individual (1949)
  • 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.
    • Authority and the Individual (1949)
  • Too little liberty brings stagnation, and too much brings chaos.
    • Authority and the Individual (1949), p. 37.
  • Self-respect will keep a man from being abject when he is in the power of enemies, and will enable him to feel that he may be in the right when the world is against him.
    • Authority and the Individual (1949), p. 59.
  • Can a society in which thought and technique are scientific persist for a long period, as, for example, ancient Egypt persisted, or does it necessarily contain within itself forces which must bring either decay or explosion?
    • "Can a Scientific Community Be Stable?," Lecture, Royal Society of Medicine, London (29 November 1949).

A History of Western Philosophy (1945)Edit

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.
Science is what we know, and philosophy is what we don't know.
Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told.
"Look at me" is one of the most fundamental desires of the human heart.
  • Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.
  • A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand.

Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? (1947)Edit

  • Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
    • "Don't Be Too Certain!"
  • 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 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.
    • "Proof of God"
  • When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. It is much more nearly certain that we are assembled here tonight than it is that this or that political party is in the right. Certainly there are degrees of certainty, and one should be very careful to emphasize that fact, because otherwise one is landed in an utter skepticism, and complete skepticism would, of course, be totally barren and completely useless.
    • "Skepticism"


  • All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things. That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. Many people desire those things only for themselves and their friends; they are quite content that their enemies should suffer. These people can only be refuted by science: Humankind has become so much one family that we cannot ensure our own prosperity except by ensuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.
    • "The Science to Save Us from Science," The New York Times Magazine (19 March 1950).
  • As geological time goes, it is but a moment since the human race began and only the twinkling of an eye since the arts of civilization were first invented. In spite of some alarmists, it is hardly likely that our species will completely exterminate itself. And so long as man continues to exist, we may be pretty sure that, whatever he may suffer for a time, and whatever brightness may be eclipsed, he will emerge sooner or later, perhaps strengthened and reinvigorated by a period of mental sleep. The universe is vast and men are but tiny specks on an insignificant planet. But the more we realize our minuteness and our impotence in the face of cosmic forces, the more astonishing becomes what human beings have achieved.
    • "If We are to Survive this Dark Time", The New York Times Magazine (3 September 1950).
  • I feel like that intellectual but plain-looking lady who was warmly complimented on her beauty.
    • In accepting his Nobel Prize, in December 1950; Russell denied that he had contributed anything in particular to literature. Quoted in LIFE, Editorials: "A great mind is still annoying and adorning our age", 26 May 1952.
  • The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
    1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
    2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
    3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
    4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
    5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
    6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
    7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
    8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
    9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
    10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
    • "A Liberal Decalogue", from "The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism", New York Times Magazine (16/December/1951); later printed in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1969), vol. 3: 1944-1967, pp. 71-2.
  • We need a science to save us from science.
    • NY Times Magazine, as reported in High Points in the Work of the High Schools of New York City, Vol. 34 (1952), p. 46.
  • I have been accused of a habit of changing my opinions … I am not myself in any degree ashamed of having changed my opinions. What physicist who was already active in 1900 would dream of boasting that his opinions had not changed during the last half century? In science men change their opinions when new knowledge becomes available; but philosophy in the minds of many is assimilated rather to theology than to science. … The kind of philosophy that I value and have endeavoured to pursue is scientific, in the sense that there is some definite knowledge to be obtained and that new discoveries can make the admission of former error inevitable to any candid mind. For what I have said, whether early or late, I do not claim the kind of truth which theologians claim for their creeds. I claim only, at best, that the opinion expressed was a sensible one to hold at the time when it was expressed. I should be much surprised if subsequent research did not show that it needed to be modified. I hope, therefore, that whoever uses this dictionary will not suppose the remarks which it quotes to be intended as pontifical pronouncements, but only as the best I could do at the time towards the promotion of clear and accurate thinking. Clarity, above all, has been my aim.
    • Preface to The Bertrand Russell Dictionary of Mind, Matter and Morals (1952) edited by Lester E. Denonn.
  • 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. 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 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.
    • "Is There a God?" (1952), commissioned by Illustrated Magazine but not published until its appearance in 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.
  • It is said (I do not know with what truth) that a certain Hindu thinker believed the earth to rest upon an elephant. When asked what the elephant rested upon, he replied that it rested upon a tortoise. When asked what the tortoise rested upon, he said, "I am tired of this. Suppose we change the subject." This illustrates the unsatisfactory character of the First-Cause argument.
    • "Is There a God?" (1952).
  • People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward's argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool's paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other.
    • "Is There a God?" (1952).
  • When I come to my own beliefs, I find myself quite unable to discern any purpose in the universe, and still more unable to wish to discern one.
    • "Is There a God?" (1952).
  • An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism. His attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would have towards the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments. An Agnostic may think the Christian God as improbable as the Olympians; in that case, he is, for practical purposes, at one with the atheists.
    • What is an Agnostic? (1953).
  • Many agnostics (including myself) are quite as doubtful of the body as they are of the soul, but this is a long story taking one into difficult metaphysics. Mind and matter alike, I should say, are only convenient symbol in discourse, not actually existing things.
    • What is an Agnostic? (1953).
  • There are some simple maxims [...] which I think might be commanded to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short word will do. Second: 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.
    • "How I Write", The Writer, September 1954.
  • Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.
    • Quoted in Look (New York, 23 February 1954).
    • Cf. Russell (1928), Sceptical Essays, «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".»
  • Cock-sure certainty is the source of much that is worst in our present world, and it is something of which the contemplation of history ought to cure us, not only or chiefly because there were wise men in the past, but because so much that was thought wisdom turned out to be folly – which suggests that much of our own supposed wisdom is no better. I do not mean to maintain that we should lapse into a lazy scepticism. We should hold our beliefs, and hold them strongly. Nothing great is achieved without passion, but underneath the passion there should always be that large impersonal survey which sets limits to actions that our passions inspire.
    • History as an Art (1954), p. 9
  • What modern apologists call 'true' Christianity is something depending upon a very selective process. It ignores much that is to be found in the Gospels: for example, the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the doctrine that the wicked will suffer eternal torment in Hell fire. It picks out certain parts of the Sermon on the Mount, though even these it often rejects in practice. It leaves the doctrine of non-resistance, for example, to be practised only by non-Christians such as Gandhi. The precepts that it particularly favours are held to embody such a lofty morality that they must have had a divine origin. And yet … these precepts were uttered by Jews before the time of Christ.
    • "Can Religion Cure Our Troubles?", in Stockholm newspaper Dagens Nyheter, part II (11 November 1954)
  • All the time that he can spare from the adornment of his person, he devotes to the neglect of his duties.
  • When I found myself regarded as respectable, I began to wonder what sins I had committed. I must be very wicked, I thought. I began to engage in the most uncomfortable introspection.
    • Interview with Irwin Ross, September 1957;
      If there were a God, I think it very unlikely that he would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt his existence.
      Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (2005), p. 385.
  • Choose your parents wisely.
    • On the recipe for longevity; Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 29 (2012).
  • The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible.
    • Said in conversation with Mrs. Alan Wood; quoted in Alan Wood's Bertrand Russell, the Passionate Sceptic (Allen and Unwin, 1957), pp. 236-7.
  • If the Communists conquered the world, it would be very unpleasant for a while, but not forever. But if the human race is wiped out, that is the end.
    • Television interview on March 24, 1958, as quoted in The United States in World Affairs (1959), p. 12.
  • What is new in our time is the increased power of the authorities to enforce their prejudices.
    • Quoted on Who Said That?, BBC TV (1958-08-08).
  • I observe that a very large portion of the human race does not believe in God and suffers no visible punishment in consequence. And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that he would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt his existence.
    • Bertrand Russell's Best: Silhouettes in Satire (1958), "On Religion".
  • I have always thought respectable people scoundrels, and I look anxiously at my face every morning for signs of my becoming a scoundrel.
    • Quoted in Alan Wood Bertrand Russell: The Passionate Skeptic: A Biography, Vol. 2 (1958), p. 233.
  • Thank you for your letter and for the enclosure which I return herewith. I have been wondering whether there is any means of preventing the confusion between you and me, and I half-thought that we might write a joint letter to The Times in the following terms: Sir, To prevent the continuation of confusions which frequently occur, we beg to state that neither of us is the other. Do you think this would be a good plan?
    • Letter to Lord Russell of Liverpool, February 18, 1959.
  • There is no need to worry about mere size. We do not necessarily respect a fat man more than a thin man. Sir Isaac Newton was very much smaller than a hippopotamus, but we do not on that account value him less.
    • "The Expanding Mental Universe", Saturday Evening Post (July 1959).
  • When I was 4 years old … I dreamt that I'd been eaten by a wolf, and to my great surprise I was in the wolf's stomach and not in heaven.
    • BBC interview on "Face to Face" (1959); The Listener, Vol. 61 (1959), p. 503.
  • I should like to say two things. One intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: "When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: What are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted, either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed; but look only and solely at what are the facts." That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say. The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple; I should say: "Love is wise – Hatred is foolish." In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact, that some people say things we don't like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital, to the continuation of human life on this planet.
    • Response to the question "Suppose Lord Russell, this film were to be looked at by our descendants, like a dead sea scroll in a thousand years time. What would you think it's worth telling that generation about the life you've lived and the lessons you've learned from it?" in a BBC interview on "Face to Face" (1959).
  • Since Adam and Eve ate the apple, man has never refrained from any folly of which he was capable. The End.
    • Full text of Russell's book History of the World in Epitome (For Use in Martian Infant Schools), written in 1959 and published on his ninetieth birthday, as quoted in Slater Bertrand Russell (1994), p. 136.
  • Fanaticism is the danger of the world, and always has been, and has done untold harm. I might almost say that I was fanatical against fanaticism.
    • The Future of Science (1959), p. 79; also in BBC The Listener, Vol. 61 (1959), p. 505.
  • When I was a boy, I had a clock with a pendulum that could be lifted off. I found that the clock went very much faster without the pendulum. If the main purpose of a clock is to go, the clock was the better for losing its pendulum. True, it could no longer tell the time, but that did not matter if one could teach oneself to be indifferent to the passage of time. The linguistic philosophy which cares only about language and not about the world, is like the boy who preferred the clock without the pendulum because, although it no longer told the time, it went more easily than before and at a more exhilarating pace.
    • Foreword to Ernest Gellner Words and Things (1959).

Unpopular Essays (1950)Edit

Main article: Unpopular Essays
  • Change is one thing, progress is another.
  • The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.
  • Science is what we know, and philosophy is what we don't know.
  • All movements go too far.
  • Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents.
    • Often paraphrased as "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."
  • Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.

What Desires Are Politically Important? (1950)Edit

Nobel Lecture, Stockholm (11 December 1950)
  • All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.
  • Man differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this.
  • Acquisitiveness – the wish to possess as much as possible of goods, or the title to goods – is a motive which, I suppose, has its origin in a combination of fear with the desire for necessaries.
  • The world would be a happier place than it is if acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry. But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete ruin for their rivals. Hence the present level of taxation.
    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 most fundamental desires of the human heart. It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery to the pursuit of posthumous fame.
  • One of the troubles about vanity is that it grows with what it feeds on. The more you are talked about, the more you will wish to be talked about. The condemned murderer who is allowed to see the account of his trial in the press is indignant if he finds a newspaper which has reported it inadequately. And the more he finds about himself in other newspapers, the more indignant he will be with the one whose reports are meagre. Politicians and literary men are in the same case... It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of vanity throughout the range of human life, from the child of three to the potentate at whose frown the world trembles. Mankind have even committed the impiety of attributing similar desires to the Deity, whom they imagine avid for continual praise.
    But great as is the influence of the motives we have been considering, there is one which outweighs them all. I mean the love of power. Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power. The people who enjoy the greatest glory in the United States are film stars, but they can be put in their place by the Committee for Un-American Activities, which enjoys no glory whatever.
The pursuit of knowledge is, I think, mainly actuated by love of power.
  • Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.
    Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates.
  • The pursuit of knowledge is, I think, mainly actuated by love of power. And so are all advances in scientific technique. In politics, also, a reformer may have just as strong a love of power as a despot. It would be a complete mistake to decry love of power altogether as a motive. Whether you will be led by this motive to actions which are useful, or to actions which are pernicious, depends upon the social system, and upon your capacities.
  • The politician may change sides so frequently as to find himself always in the majority, but most politicians have a preference for one party to the other, and subordinate their love of power to this preference.
  • A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises only a few specialized muscles. When crowds assemble in Trafalgar Square to cheer to the echo an announcement that the government has decided to have them killed, they would not do so if they had all walked twenty-five miles that day. This cure for bellicosity is, however, impracticable, and if the human race is to survive – a thing which is, perhaps, undesirable – other means must be found for securing an innocent outlet for the unused physical energy that produces love of excitement. This is a matter which has been too little considered, both by moralists and by social reformers. The social reformers are of the opinion that they have more serious things to consider. The moralists, on the other hand, are immensely impressed with the seriousness of all the permitted outlets of the love of excitement; the seriousness, however, in their minds, is that of Sin. Dance halls, cinemas, this age of jazz, are all, if we may believe our ears, gateways to Hell, and we should be better employed sitting at home contemplating our sins. I find myself unable to be in entire agreement with the grave men who utter these warnings. The devil has many forms, some designed to deceive the young, some designed to deceive the old and serious. If it is the devil that tempts the young to enjoy themselves, is it not, perhaps, the same personage that persuades the old to condemn their enjoyment? And is not condemnation perhaps merely a form of excitement appropriate to old age? And is it not, perhaps, a drug which – like opium – has to be taken in continually stronger doses to produce the desired effect? Is it not to be feared that, beginning with the wickedness of the cinema, we should be led step by step to condemn the opposite political party, dagoes, wops, Asiatics, and, in short, everybody except the fellow members of our club? And it is from just such condemnations, when widespread, that wars proceed. I have never heard of a war that proceeded from dance halls.
  • What is serious about excitement is that so many of its forms are destructive. It is destructive in those who cannot resist excess in alcohol or gambling. It is destructive when it takes the form of mob violence. And above all it is destructive when it leads to war. It is so deep a need that it will find harmful outlets of this kind unless innocent outlets are at hand. There are such innocent outlets at present in sport, and in politics so long as it is kept within constitutional bounds. But these are not sufficient, especially as the kind of politics that is most exciting is also the kind that does most harm. Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting.
  • It is normal to hate what we fear, and it happens frequently, though not always, that we fear what we hate. I think it may be taken as the rule among primitive men, that they both fear and hate whatever is unfamiliar. They have their own herd, originally a very small one. And within one herd, all are friends, unless there is some special ground of enmity. Other herds are potential or actual enemies; a single member of one of them who strays by accident will be killed. An alien herd as a whole will be avoided or fought according to circumstances. It is this primitive mechanism which still controls our instinctive reaction to foreign nations. The completely untravelled person will view all foreigners as the savage regards a member of another herd. But the man who has travelled, or who has studied international politics, will have discovered that, if his herd is to prosper, it must, to some degree, become amalgamated with other herds.
  • We love those who hate our enemies, and if we had no enemies there would be very few people whom we should love.
    All this, however, is only true so long as we are concerned solely with attitudes towards other human beings. You might regard the soil as your enemy because it yields reluctantly a niggardly subsistence. You might regard Mother Nature in general as your enemy, and envisage human life as a struggle to get the better of Mother Nature. If men viewed life in this way, cooperation of the whole human race would become easy. And men could easily be brought to view life in this way if schools, newspapers, and politicians devoted themselves to this end. But schools are out to teach patriotism; newspapers are out to stir up excitement; and politicians are out to get re-elected. None of the three, therefore, can do anything towards saving the human race from reciprocal suicide.
  • There are two ways of coping with fear: one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to cultivate Stoic endurance. The latter can be reinforced, except where immediate action is necessary, by turning our thoughts away from the cause of fear. The conquest of fear is of very great importance. Fear is in itself degrading; it easily becomes an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. Nothing has so beneficent an effect on human beings as security. If an international system could be established which would remove the fear of war, the improvement in everyday mentality of everyday people would be enormous and very rapid. Fear, at present, overshadows the world. The atom bomb and the bacterial bomb, wielded by the wicked communist or the wicked capitalist as the case may be, make Washington and the Kremlin tremble, and drive men further along the road toward the abyss. If matters are to improve, the first and essential step is to find a way of diminishing fear.
  • The world at present is obsessed by the conflict of rival ideologies, and one of the apparent causes of conflict is the desire for the victory of our own ideology and the defeat of the other. I do not think that the fundamental motive here has much to do with ideologies. I think the ideologies are merely a way of grouping people, and that the passions involved are merely those which always arise between rival groups. Ideologies, in fact, are one of the methods by which herds are created, and the psychology is much the same however the herd may have been generated.
  • I do not think it can be questioned that sympathy is a genuine motive, and that some people at some times are made somewhat uncomfortable by the sufferings of some other people. It is sympathy that has produced the many humanitarian advances of the last hundred years. We are shocked when we hear stories ofthe ill-treatment of lunatics, and there are now quite a number of asylums in which they are not ill-treated. Prisoners in Western countries are not supposed to be tortured, and when they are, there is an outcry if the facts are discovered. We do not approve of treating orphans as they are treated in Oliver Twist.
  • Perhaps the best hope for the future of mankind is that ways will be found of increasing the scope and intensity of sympathy.
  • Politics is concerned with herds rather than with individuals, and the passions which are important in politics are, therefore, those in which the various members of a given herd can feel alike.
The main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence.
  • Killing an enemy in a modern war is a very expensive operation... It is obvious that modern war is not good business from a financial point of view. Although we won both the world wars, we should now be much richer if they had not occured. If men were actuated by self-interest, which they are not – except in the case of a few saints – the whole human race would cooperate. There would be no more wars, no more armies, no more navies, no more atom bombs. There would not be armies of propagandists employed in poisoning the minds of Nation A against Nation B, and reciprocally of Nation B against Nation A. There would not be armies of officials at frontiers to prevent the entry of foreign books and foreign ideas, however excellent in themselves. There would not be customs barriers to ensure the existence of many small enterprises where one big enterprise would be more economic. All this would happen very quickly if men desired their own happiness as ardently as they desired the misery of their neighbors. But, you will tell me, what is the use of these utopian dreams? Moralists will see to it that we do not become wholly selfish, and until we do the millennium will be impossible.
  • I do not wish to seem to end upon a note of cynicism. I do not deny that there are better things than selfishness, and that some people achieve these things. I maintain, however, on the one hand, that there are few occasions upon which large bodies of men, such as politics is concerned with, can rise above selfishness, while, on the other hand, there are a very great many circumstances in which populations will fall below selfishness, if selfishness is interpreted as enlightened self-interest.
    And among those occasions on which people fall below self-interest are most of the occasions on which they are convinced that they are acting from idealistic motives. Much that passes as idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power. When you see large masses of men swayed by what appear to be noble motives, it is as well to look below the surface and ask yourself what it is that makes these motives effective. It is partly because it is so easy to be taken in by a facade of nobility that a psychological inquiry, such as I have been attempting, is worth making. I would say, in conclusion, that if what I have said is right, the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence. And this, after all, is an optimistic conclusion, because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education.

New Hopes for a Changing World (1951)Edit

  • Consider MacArthur and his Republican supporters. So limited is his intelligence and his imagination that he is never puzzled for one moment. All we have to do is to go back to the days of the Opium War. After we have killed a sufficient number of millions of Chinese, the survivors among them will perceive our moral superiority and hail MacArthur as a saviour. But let us not be one-sided. Stalin, I should say, is equally simple- minded and equally out of date. He, too, believes that if his armies could occupy Britain and reduce us all to the economic level of Soviet peasants and the political level of convicts, we should hail him as a great deliverer and bless the day when we were freed from the shackles of democracy. One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.
    • Part I: Man and Nature, Ch. 1: Current Perplexities, pp. 4–5.
  • 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.
    • Part I: Man and Nature, Ch. 1: Current Perplexities, p. 10.
  • It is sometimes maintained that racial mixture is biologically undesirable. There is no evidence whatever for this view. Nor is there, apparently, any reason to think that Negroes are congenitally less intelligent than white people, but as to that it will be difficult to judge until they have equal scope and equally good social conditions.
  • Dread of disaster makes everybody act in the very way that increases the disaster. Psychologically the situation is analogous to that of people trampled to death when there is a panic in a theatre caused by a cry of 'Fire!' In the situation that existed in the great depression, things could only be set right by causing the idle plant to work again. But everybody felt that to do so was to risk almost certain loss. Within the framework of classical economics there was no solution. Roosevelt saved the situation by bold and heretical action. He 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.' Except for Fabre's investigation of the behavior of insects, I do not know any equally striking example of inability to learn from experience.
    • Part II: Man and Man, Ch. 14: Economic Co-operation and Competition, pp. 132–3.
  • Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.
    • Part III: Man and Himself, Ch. 16: Ideas Which Have Become Obsolete, p. 158.
  • 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.
    • Part III: Man and Himself, Ch. 17: Fear, p. 175.
Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences. If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him.
  • Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished, and if they had never heard of him before they might be led by his jollity to see what he had written. But if at school they had been inoculated against him, they will never be able to enjoy him. The same sort of thing applies to music lessons. Human beings have certain capacities for spontaneous enjoyment, but moralists and pedants possess themselves of the apparatus of these enjoyments, and having extracted what they consider the poison of pleasure they leave them dreary and dismal and devoid of everything that gives them value. Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences. If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him.
    • Part III: Man and Himself, Ch. 20: The Happy Man, p. 201.
  • Man, in the long ages since he descended from the trees, has passed arduously and perilously through a vast dusty desert, surrounded by the whitening bones of those who have perished by the way, maddened by hunger and thirst, by fear of wild beasts, by dread of enemies, not only living enemies, but spectres of dead rivals projected on to the dangerous world by the intensity of his own fears. At last he has emerged from the desert into a smiling land, but in the long night he has forgotten how to smile. We cannot believe in the brightness of the morning. We think it trivial and deceptive; we cling to old myths that allow us to go on living with fear and hate – above all, hate of ourselves, miserable sinners. This is folly. Man now needs for his salvation only one thing: to open his heart to joy, and leave fear to gibber through the glimmering darkness of a forgotten past. He must lift up his eyes and say: "No, I am not a miserable sinner; I am a being who, by a long and arduous road, has discovered how to make intelligence master natural obstacles, how to live in freedom and joy, at peace with myself and therefore with all mankind." This will happen if men choose joy rather than sorrow. If not, eternal death will bury man in deserved oblivion.
    • Part III: Man and Himself, Ch. 21: The Happy World, pp. 212–3.

The Impact of Science on Society (1952)Edit

  • It is not by prayer and humility that you cause things to go as you wish, but by acquiring a knowledge of natural laws.
  • Science, ever since the time of the Arabs, has had two functions: (1) to enable us to know things, and (2) to enable us to do things.
  • Some part of life – perhaps the most important part – must be left to the spontaneous action of individual impulse, for where all is system there will be mental and spiritual death.

Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954)Edit

Human Society in Ethics and Politics. London: G. Allen & Unwin. 1954. 
The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation.
  • If throughout your life you abstain from murder, theft, fornication, perjury, blasphemy, and disrespect toward 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 is an outcome of taboo morality, and has done untold harm.
    • p. 32.
  • Suppose atomic bombs had reduced the population of the world to one brother and one sister, should they let the human race die out? I do not know the answer, but I do not think it can be in the affirmative merely on the ground that incest is wicked.
    • p. 47.
  • The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation, and the first step towards co-operation lies in the hearts of individuals.
    • p. 212.
  • We may define "faith" as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where 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. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups substitute different emotions.
    • p. 215.
  • 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 his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.
    • p. 219-220.
  • If you think that your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called "education". This last is particularly dastardly, since it takes advantage of the defencelessness of immature minds. Unfortunately it is practiced in greater or less degree in the schools of every civilised country.
    • p. 220.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto (1955)Edit

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was issued in London on 9 July 1955 by Bertrand Russell and signed by 11 prominent intellectuals and scientists, most notably Albert Einstein.
We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.
  • We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.
  • The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.
    Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.
    We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.
  • We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?
People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly.
  • The best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.
    Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert's knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.
  • Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.
    The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term "mankind" feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.
    This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.
We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.
  • Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.
  • There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.
  • We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:
    "In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them".

Portraits from Memory and Other Essays (1956)Edit

  • When I was a child the atmosphere in the house was one of puritan piety and austerity. There were family prayers at eight o'clock every morning. Although there were eight servants, food was always of Spartan simplicity, and even what there was, if it was at all nice, was considered too good for children. For instance, if there was apple tart and rice pudding, I was only allowed the rice pudding. Cold baths all the year round were insisted upon, and I had to practice the piano from seven-thirty to eight every morning although the fires were not yet lit. My grandmother never allowed herself to sit in an armchair until the evening. Alcohol and tobacco were viewed with disfavor although stern convention compelled them to serve a little wine to guests. Only virtue was prized, virtue at the expense of intellect, health, happiness, and every mundane good.
    • p. 9.
  • I was a solitary, shy, priggish youth. I had no experience of the social pleasures of boyhood and did not miss them. But I liked mathematics, and mathematics was suspect because it has no ethical content. I came also to disagree with the theological opinions of my family, and as I grew up I became increasingly interested in philosophy, of which they profoundly disapproved. Every time the subject came up they repeated with unfailing regularity, 'What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.' After some fifty or sixty repetitions, this remark ceased to amuse me.
    • p. 9.
  • I think the first thing that led me toward philosophy (though at that time the word 'philosophy' was still unknown to me) occurred at the age of eleven. My childhood was mainly solitary as my only brother was seven years older than I was. No doubt as a result of much solitude I became rather solemn, with a great deal of time for thinking but not much knowledge for my thoughtfulness to exercise itself upon. I had, though I was not yet aware of it, the pleasure in demonstrations which is typical of the mathematical mind. After I grew up I found others who felt as I did on this matter. My friend G. H. Hardy, who was professor of pure mathematics, enjoyed this pleasure in a very high degree. He told me once that if he could find a proof that I was going to die in five minutes he would of course be sorry to lose me, but this sorrow would be quite outweighed by pleasure in the proof. I entirely sympathized with him and was not at all offended. Before I began the study of geometry somebody had told me that it proved things and this caused me to feel delight when my brother said he would teach it to me. Geometry in those days was still 'Euclid.' My brother began at the beginning with the definitions. These I accepted readily enough. But he came next to the axioms. 'These,' he said, 'can't be proved, but they have to be assumed before the rest can be proved.' At these words my hopes crumbled. I had thought it would be wonderful to find something that one could prove, and then it turned out that this could only be done by means of assumptions of which there was no proof. I looked at my brother with a sort of indignation and said: 'But why should I admit these things if they can't be proved?' He replied, 'Well, if you won't, we can't go on.'
    • p. 19.
  • My first advice (on how not to grow old) would be to choose you ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth, at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off.
    • p. 50.
  • I 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.
    • p. 53.
  • Those who advocate common usage in philosophy sometimes speak in a manner that suggests the mystique of the 'common man.' They may admit that in organic chemistry there is need of long words, and that quantum physics requires formulas that are difficult to translate into ordinary English, but philosophy (they think) is different. 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 that those who are really superior can show their skill by making sense of common sense. No one wants to alter the language of common sense, any more than we wish to give up talking of the sun rising and setting. But astronomers find a different language better, and I contend that a different language is better in philosophy. Let us take an example, that of perception. There is here an admixture of philosophical and scientific questions, but this admixture is inevitable in many questions, or, if not inevitable, can only be avoided by confining ourselves to comparatively unimportant aspects of the matter in hand. Here is a series of questions and answers.
    Q. When I see a table, will what I see be still there if I shut my eyes?
    A. That depends upon the sense in which you use the word 'see.'
    Q. What is still there when I shut my eyes?
    A. This is an empirical question. Don't bother me with it, but ask the physicists.
    Q. What exists when my eyes are open, but not when they are shut?
    A. This again is empirical, but in deference to previous philosophers I will answer you: colored surfaces.
    Q. May I infer that there are two senses of 'see'? In the first, when I 'see' a table, I 'see' something conjectural about which physics has vague notions that are probably wrong. In the second, I 'see' colored surfaces which cease to exist when I shut my eyes.
    A. That is correct if you want to think clearly, but our philosophy makes clear thinking unnecessary. By oscillating between the two meanings, we avoid paradox and shock, which is more than most philosophers do.
    • p. 159.
  • In fact, contempt for happiness is usually contempt for other people's happiness, and is an elegant disguise for hatred of the human race.
    • p. 198.
  • My objections to Marx are of two sorts: one, that he was muddle-headed; and the other, that his thinking was almost entirely inspired by hatred. The doctrine of surplus value, which is supposed to demonstrate the exploitation of wage-earners under capitalism, is arrived at: (a) by surreptitiously accepting Malthus's doctrine of population, which Marx and all his disciples explicitly repudiate; (b) by applying Ricardo's theory of value to wages, but not to the prices of manufactured articles. He is entirely satisfied with the result, not because it is in accordance with the facts or because it is logically coherent, but because it is calculated to rouse fury in wage-earners. Marx's doctrine that all historical events have been motivated by class conflicts is a rash and untrue extension to world history of certain features prominent in England and France a hundred years ago. His belief that there is a cosmic force called Dialectical Materialism which governs human history independently of human volitions, is mere mythology. His theoretical errors, however, would not have mattered so much but for the fact that, like Tertullian and Carlyle, his chief desire was to see his enemies punished, and he cared little what happened to his friends in the process.
    • p. 211.

My Philosophical Development (1959)Edit

  • there was once a millionaire who bought an infinite number of pairs of shoes and, whenever he bought a pair of shoes, he also bought a pair of socks. We can make a selection choosing one out of each pair of shoes, because we can choose always the right shoe or always the left shoe. Thus, so far as the shoes are concerned, selections exist. But, as regards the socks, where there is no distinction of right and left, we cannot use this rule of selection.
    • pp. 93-93
  • Some modern philosophers have gone so far as to say that words should never be confronted with facts but should live in a pure, autonomous world where they are compared only with other words. When you say, ‘the cat is a carnivorous animal,’ you do not mean that actual cats eat actual meat, but only that in zoology books the cat is classified among carnivora. These authors tell us that the attempt to confront language with fact is ‘metaphysics’ and is on this ground to be condemned. This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.
    • p. 110.
  • I do not think it possible to get anywhere if we start from scepticism. We must start from a broad acceptance of whatever seems to be knowledge and is not rejected for some specific reason.
    • p. 200.
  • My abandonment of former beliefs was, however, never complete. Some things remained with me, and still remain: I still think that truth depends upon a relation to fact, and that facts in general are nonhuman; I still think that man is cosmically unimportant, and that a Being, if there were one, who could view the universe impartially, without the bias of here and now, would hardly mention man, except perhaps in a footnote near the end of the volume; but I no longer have the wish to thrust out human elements from regions where they belong; I have no longer the feeling that intellect is superior to sense, and that only Plato's world of ideas gives access to the 'real' world. I used to think of sense, and of thought which is built on sense, as a prison from which we can be freed by thought which is emancipated from sense. I now have no such feelings. I think of sense, and of thoughts built on sense, as windows, not as prison bars. I think that we can, however imperfectly, mirror the world, like Leibniz's monads; and I think it is the duty of the philosopher to make himself as undistorting a mirror as he can. But it is also his duty to recognize such distortions as are inevitable from our very nature. Of these, the most fundamental is that we view the world from the point of view of the here and now, not with that large impartiality which theists attribute to the Deity. To achieve such impartiality is impossible for us, but we can travel a certain distance towards it. To show the road to this end is the supreme duty of the philosopher.
    • p. 213
  • I must before I die, find some way to say the essential thing that is in me, that I have never said yet – a thing that is not love or hate or pity or scorn, but the very breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vastness and fearful passionless force of non-human things...
    • p. 261


  • I find that the whiter my hair becomes the more ready people are to believe what I say.
    • Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1960), p. 80.
  • The state is primarily an organization for killing foreigners.
    • Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1960), p. 83.
  • You, your families, your friends and your countries are to be exterminated by the common decision of a few brutal but powerful men. To please these men, all the private affections, all the public hopes, all that has been achieved in art, and knowledge and thought and all that might be achieved hereafter is to be wiped out forever.
    Our ruined lifeless planet will continue for countless ages to circle aimlessly round the sun unredeemed by the joys and loves, the occasional wisdom and the power to create beauty which have given value to human life.
    • Leaflet issued while Russell was in Brixton Prison, 1961.
  • We used to think that Hitler was wicked when he wanted to kill all the Jews, but what Kennedy and Macmillan and others both in the East and in the West pursue policies which will probably lead to killing not only all the Jews but all the rest of us too. They are much more wicked than Hitler and this idea of weapons of mass extermination is utterly and absolutely horrible and it is a thing which no man with one spark of humanity can tolerate and I will not pretend to obey a government which is organising the massacre of the whole of mankind. I will do anything I can to oppose such Governments in any non-violent way that seems likely to be fruitful, and I should exhort all of you to feel the same way. We cannot obey these murderers. They are wicked and abominable. They are the wickedest people that ever lived in the history of man and it is our duty to do what we can.
    • "On Civil Disobedience", April 15th, 1961.
  • No, I won't.
    • Reply to a magistrate's request that he pledge himself to "good behavior", after an anti-nuclear demonstration in London, for which Russell was arrested (in September 1961), as quoted in Intercontinental Press, Vol. VIII (1970), p. 132.
  • 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. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.
    • Introduction to 1961 edition of Sceptical Essays (1961).
  • This idea of weapons of mass extermination is utterly horrible and is something which no one with one spark of humanity can tolerate. I will not pretend to obey a government which is organising a mass massacre of mankind.
    • Speech in Birmingham, England encouraging civil disobedience in support of nuclear disarmament (1961-04-15).
  • 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.
    • Fact and Fiction, "University Education", 1961.
  • I resolved from the beginning of my quest that I would not be misled by sentiment and desire into beliefs for which there was no good evidence.
    • Fact and Fiction, "The Pursuit of Truth", 1961.
  • Friends,
    I have a very simple creed: that life and joy and beauty are better than dusty death.
    This is an occasion that I hardly know how to find words for. I am more touched than I can say, and more deeply than I can ever hope to express. I have to give my very warmest possible thanks to those who have worked to produce this occasion: to the performers, whose exquisite music, exquisitely performed, was so full of delight; to those who worked in less conspicuous ways, like my friend Mr Schoenman; and to all those who have given me gifts – gifts which are valuable in themselves, and also as expressions of an undying hope for this dangerous world.
    I have a very simple creed: that life and joy and beauty are better than dusty death, and I think when we listen to such music as we heard today we must all of us feel that the capacity to produce such music, and the capacity to hear such music, is a thing worth preserving and should not be thrown away in foolish squabbles. You may say it's a simple creed, but I think everything important is very simple indeed. I've found that creed sufficient, and I should think that a great many of you would also find it sufficient, or else you would hardly be here.
    But now I just want to say how it's difficult, when one has embarked upon a course which invites a greater or less degree of persecution and obloquy and abuse, to find instead that one is welcomed as I have been today. It makes one feel rather humble, and I feel I must try to live up to the feelings that have produced this occasion. I hope I shall; and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    • Ninetieth birthday celebration speech, 18 May 1962.
  • I must confess that I am deeply troubled. I fear that human beings are intent upon acting out a vast deathwish and that it lies with us now to make every effort to promote resistance to the insanity and brutality of policies which encompass the extermination of hundreds of millions of human beings.
  • Patriots always talk of dying for their country, and never of killing for their country.
    • Has Man a Future? (1962), p. 78.
  • I dislike Communism because it is undemocratic, and capitalism because it favors exploitation.
    • Unarmed Victory (1963), p. 14.
  • I am writing to you to tell you of my decision to return to your Government the Carl von Ossietzsky medal for peace. I do so reluctantly and after two years of private approaches on behalf of Heinz Brandt, whose continued imprisonment is a barrier to coexistence, relaxation of tension and understanding between East and West... I regret not to have heard from you on this subject. I hope that you will yet find it possible to release Brandt through an amnesty which would be a boon to the cause of peace and to your country.
    • Letter to Walter Ulbricht, January 7, 1964. Russell would later write, in his autobiography: "The abduction and imprisonment by the East Germans of Brandt, who had survived Hitler's concentration camps, seemed to me so inhuman that I was obliged to return to the East German Government the Carl von Ossietzky medal which it had awarded me. I was impressed by the speed with which Brandt was soon released".
  • In the name of national security, the Commission’s hearings were held in secret, thereby continuing the policy which has marked the entire course of the case. This prompts my second question: If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security? Indeed, precisely the same question must be put here as was posed in France during the Dreyfus case: If the Government is so certain of its case, why has it conducted all its inquiries in the strictest secrecy?
  • Your comments on the Cuban crisis are, to me, utterly amazing. You say that the way the solution was arrived at was that 'the Russians discontinued their suicidal policy; and President Kennedy by his resolution and farsightedness saved the world'. This seems to me a complete reversal of the truth. Russia and America had policies leading directly to nuclear war. Khrushchev, when he saw the danger, abandoned his policy. Kennedy did not. It was Khrushchev who allowed the human race to continue, not Kennedy.
    • Letter to Lord Gladwyn, November 14, 1964.
      There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.
  • The degree of one's emotion varies inversely with one's knowledge of the facts – the less you know the hotter you get.
    • Attributed to Russell in Distilled Wisdom (1964) by Alfred Armand Montapert, p. 145.
  • Whatever happens, I cannot be a silent witness to murder or torture. Anyone who is a partner in this is a despicable individual. I am sorry I cannot be moderate about it...
    • Quoted in The New York Times Biographical Service, Vol. I (1970), p. 294 (said by Russell "in the spring of 1967").
  • There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.
    • Last Essay: "1967".
  • The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was "given" by a foreign power to another people for the creation of a new state. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their numbers increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.
    • "Message from Bertrand Russell to the International Conference of Parlimentarians in Cairo, February 1970," reprinted in The New York Times (1970-02-23).

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1967-1969)Edit

  • 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. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
  • 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.
  • We later learned that all the nineteen passengers in the non-smoking compartment had been killed. When the plane had hit the water a hole had been made in the plane and the water had rushed in. I had told a friend at Oslo who was finding me a place that he must find me a place where I could smoke, remarking jocularly, 'If I cannot smoke, I shall die'. Unexpectedly, this turned out to be true.
  • I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times. Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them. These things I believe, and the world, for all its horrors, has left me unshaken.

Attributed from posthumous publicationsEdit

Anything you're good at contributes to happiness.
  • I've got a one-dimensional mind.
    • Said to Rupert Crawshay-Williams; Russell Remembered (1970), p. 31.
  • There's a Bible on that shelf there. But I keep it next to Voltaire – poison and antidote.
    • In Kenneth Harris Talking To: Bertrand Russell (1971)
  • Why? Surely they can find other men.
    • Russell's reply when asked “if it wasn’t unkind of him to love and leave so many women”; as quoted in My Father – Bertrand Russell (1975) by Katharine Tait, p. 106.
  • "I don't want to! Why should I?"
    "Because more people will be happier if you do than if you don't."
    "So what? I don't care about other people."
    "You should."
    "But why?"
    "Because more people will be happier if you do than if you don't."
    • Dialogue between Russell and his daugther Katharine, as quoted in My Father – Bertrand Russell (1975).
  • It's not the experience that happens to you: it's what you do with the experience that happens to you.
    • Attributed to Russell in Slaby's Sixty Ways to Make Stress Work for You (1987).
  • Yes, if you happen to be interested in philosophy and good at it, but not otherwise – but so does bricklaying. Anything you're good at contributes to happiness.
    • When asked "Does philosophy contribute to happiness?" (SHM 76), as quoted in The quotable Bertrand Russell (1993), p. 149.
  • Wherever one finds oneself inclined to bitterness, it is a sign of emotional failure: a larger heart, and a greater self-restraint, would put a calm autumnal sadness in the place of the instinctive outcry of pain.
    • The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell: Contemplation and Action, 1902-1914, ed. Richard A. Rempel, Andrew Brink and Margaret Moran (Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-415-10462-9): Textual Notes, p. 555; also in Laurence J. Peter Quotations for our time (1978), p. 188.
  • I cannot believe – and I say this with all the emphasis of which I am capable – that there can ever be any good excuse for refusing to face the evidence in favour of something unwelcome. It is not by delusion, however exalted, that mankind can prosper, but only by unswerving courage in the pursuit of truth.
    • "The Pursuit of Truth" in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (1993).
  • There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, nor vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment and then nothing.
    • Attributed to Russell in Ken Davis' Fire Up Your Life! (1995), p. 33.
  • No man who believes that all is for the best in this suffering world can keep his ethical values unimpaired, since he is always having to find excuses for pain and misery.
    • The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell: A fresh look at empiricism, 1927-42 (G. Allen & Unwin, 1996), p. 217.
  • Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken.
    • Ibid., p. 281.
  • It seems that sin is geographical. From this conclusion, it is only a small step to the further conclusion that the notion of "sin" is illusory, and that the cruelty habitually practised in punishing it is unnecessary.
    • Ibid., p. 283.
  • Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure...
    • Ibid., p. 443.
  • 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. The difference is that you can compel your car to go to a garage, but you cannot compel Hitler to go to a psychiatrist.
    • Ibid., p. 544.
  • The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
    • Attributed to Russell in Crainer's The Ultimate Book of Business Quotations (1997), p. 258.
  • To choose one sock from each of infinitely many pairs of socks requires the Axiom of Choice, but for shoes the Axiom is not needed.
    • As quoted in Williams' Weighing the Odds: A Course in Probability and Statistics (2001), p. 498.
  • Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who'll get the blame.
    • Attributed to Russell in Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists (2007), p. 346.


  • War does not determine who is right – only who is left.
    • This has often been published as a quotation of Russell, when an author is given (e.g. in Quote Unquote – A HandBook of Quotation, 2005, p. 291), but without any sourced citations, and seems to have circulated as an anonymous proverb as early as 1932.
  • In all affairs – love, religion, politics, or business – it's a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
  • 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.
    • As quoted in Think, Vol. 27 (1961), p. 32.
  • Of course not. After all, I may be wrong.
    • When asked asked if he was willing to die for his beliefs.
    • The Times book of quotations (2000), p. 84
    • Variant: "I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong."
  • Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.
    • Attributed to Russell in Prochnow's Speakers Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms (1955), p. 132.
  • 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.
  • One must care about a world one will not see.
    • Attributed to Russell in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 450, and in Robertson's Dictionary of Quotations (1998), p. 362, but no specific source is ever given.


  • Better red than dead.
    • Bertrand Russel, attributes this phrase to 'West German friends of peace' but adopted this slogan for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament he helped found[1] William Safire, Safire's Political Dictionary, (2008) p. 49–50
  • None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.
    • Attributed to Russell in M. Kumar Dictionary of Quotations, p. 76, but actually said by Marshal Lannes, according to The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences (1824), p. 664.
  • If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.
    • W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer's Notebook (1949), entry for 1901
    • Sometimes misquoted as "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
    • Sometimes misattributed to Anatole France
    • Note that Russell does say something similar in Marriage and Morals (1929): "The fact 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, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."
  • The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
    • From Marthe Troly-Curtin's Phrynette Married (1912). Misattributed to Bertrand Russell due to an ambiguous entry in Laurence J. Peter's Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time (1977). [2]
  • The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
    • Attributed to Reverend Theodore Hesburgh in Sol Gordon Let's Make Sex a Household Word: A Guide for Parents and Children (John Day Company, 1975), p. 79.
  • Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.
    • Attributed to Russell in the New York Times article So God's Really in the Details? (May 11, 2002) by Emily Eakin, where she writes: "Asked what he would say if God appeared to him after his death and demanded to know why he had failed to believe, the British philosopher and staunch evidentialist Bertrand Russell replied that he would say, 'Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence.'
      Actually, the quote is slightly inaccurate. The original source of this line comes from an article by Leo Rosten published in Saturday Review/World (February 23, 1974) which features an interview with Russell. There, Rosten writes: "Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, 'Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?'"
  • If a "religion" is defined to be a system of ideas that contains unprovable statements, then Gödel taught us that mathematics is not only a religion, it is the only religion that can prove itself to be one.
    • John D. Barrow, Between Inner and Outer Space: Essays on Science, Art and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-192-88041-1), Part 4, ch. 13: Why is the Universe Mathematical? (p. 88). Also found in Barrow's "The Mathematical Universe" (1989) and The Artful Universe Expanded (Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-192-80569-X), ch. 5, Player Piano: Hearing by Numbers, p. 250.

Quotes about RussellEdit

Bertrand Russell would not have wished to be called a saint of any description; but he was a great and good man. ~ A.J. Ayer
It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Russell's thought dominated twentieth century analytic philosophy: virtually every strand in its development either originated with him or was transformed by being transmitted through him. ~ Nicholas Griffin
He was the most fascinating man I have ever known, the only man I ever loved, the greatest man I shall ever meet, the wittiest, the gayest, the most charming. It was a privilege to know him, and I thank God he was my father. ~ Lady Katherine Tait
It is impossible to describe Bertrand Russell except by saying that he looks like the Mad Hatter. ~ Norbert Wiener
  • The popular conception of a philosopher as one who combines universal learning with the direction of human conduct was more nearly satisfied by Bertrand Russell than by any other philosopher of our time.
    • A. J. Ayer, Bertrand Russell As a Philosopher (1972), p. 3
  • Bertrand Russell would not have wished to be called a saint of any description; but he was a great and good man.
  • Bertrand Russell found Frege's famous error: Frege had overlooked what is now known as the Russell paradox. Namely, Frege's rules allowed one to define the class of x such that P(x) is true for any "concept" P. Frege's idea was that such a class was an object itself, the class of objects "falling under the concept P." Russel used this principle to define the class R of concepts that do not fall under themselves. This concept leads to a contradiction... argument: (1) if R falls under itself then it does not fall under itself; (2) this contradiction shows that it does not fall under itself; (3) therefore by definition it does fall under itself after all.
    • Michael J. Beeson, "The Mechanization of Mathematics," in Alan Turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker (2004)
  • As we all know, Mr. Russell produces a different system of philosophy every few years...
    • C. D. Broad, 'Critical and Speculative Philosophy' (1924), as quoted in Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements, ed. J. H. Muirhead, Volume 20, p. 79.
  • Bertrand Russell is the key defining figure of analytic philosophy.
    • Nicholas Capaldi, in The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation (1998), p. 28.
  • The great thing about [Russell] is that he will not give in – to prudence, cynicism or simple horse sense. Sometime, somewhere, he agonizes, the rational man will make a decent world of his instincts. Considered as a type, he is a perennial scold. But considered as Bertrand Russell, he is surely one of the glories of our time... For he is at once a man of unyielding honesty, a first-class intellect and the possessor of one of the master styles of the English language. It is the last of these gifts that guarantees the onlooker an unflagging fascination with his life. For it gives charm to many a frailty, makes the world over every day in the light of his intelligence and his irony, and converts every political crusade, exchange of learned correspondence and lovers' quarrel into an episode as enchanting as a Mozart concerto.
    • Alistair Cooke, 'Act II of a Prodigious Life', a LIFE book review of Russell's Autobiography, 9 August 1968.
  • Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
  • Lieber Bertrand Russell!
    Ich habe schon lange den Wunsch, Ihnen zu schreiben. Nichts anderes wollte ich dabei, als Ihnen meine hohe Bewunderung ausdrücken. Die Klarheit, Sicherheit und Unparteilichkeit, mit der Sie die logischen, philosophischen und menschlichen Dinge in Ihren Büchern behandelt haben, steht nicht nur in unserer Generation unerreicht da.
    • Dear Bertrand Russell
      For a long time I have had the wish to write you. All I wanted to do, was to express my feeling of high admiration of you. The clarity, sureness, and impartiality which you have brought to bear to the logical, philosophical and human problems dealt with in your books are unrivalled not only in our generation.
    • Albert Einstein, letter to Bertrand Russell (14 October 1931) (translation by Otto Nathan), in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1914-1944, Vol. 2 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1968)
  • My husband, T.S. Eliot, loved to recount how late one evening he stopped a taxi. As he got in, the driver said: 'You're T.S. Eliot.' When asked how he knew, he replied: 'Ah, I've got an eye for a celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him: "Well, Lord Russell, what's it all about?" And, do you know, he couldn't tell me.'
  • What is it about the study of philosophy that tends to make brilliant minds stupid when it comes down to what are known as actual cases? Consider Martin Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the four great names in twentieth-century philosophy: the first was a Nazi, the second died certain that America was responsible for all the world’s evil, the third was a Stalinist long after any justification for being so could be adduced, and the fourth lived on the borders of madness most of his life. Contemplation of the lives of philosophers is enough to drive one to the study of sociology.
  • It is difficult to overstate the extent to which Russell's thought dominated twentieth century analytic philosophy: virtually every strand in its development either originated with him or was transformed by being transmitted through him. Analytic philosophy itself owes its existence more to Russell than to any other philosopher.
    • Nicholas Griffin, in The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell (2003).
  • I can remember Bertrand Russell telling me of a horrible dream. He was in the top floor of the University Library, about A.D. 2100. A library assistant was going round the shelves carrying an enormous bucket, taking down books, glancing at them, restoring them to the shelves or dumping them into the bucket. At last he came to three large volumes which Russell could recognize as the last surviving copy of Principia Mathematica. He took down one of the volumes, turned over a few pages, seemed puzzled for a moment by the curious symbolism, closed the volume, balanced it in his hand and hesitated....
  • Russell's prose has been compared by T.S. Eliot to that of David Hume's. I would rank it higher, for it had more color, juice, and humor. But to be lucid, exciting and profound in the main body of one's work is a combination of virtues given to few philosophers. Bertrand Russell has achieved immortality by his philosophical writings.
    • Sydney Hook, Out of Step, An Unquiet Life in the 20th Century (1988).
  • As an admirer and reader of his, one day I could not contain myself and spoke to him. "Mr. Russell," I said, "I know why I eat here. It is because I am poor. But why do you eat here?" "Because," he said, "I am never interrupted."
    • William Jovanovich (American publisher), in University: A Princeton Magazine (1964), p. 67.
  • When Bertrand Russell had, by his second wife, a first child, a friend accosted him with, "Congratulations, Bertie! Is it a girl or a boy?" Russell replied, "Yes, of course, what else could it be?"
  • I felt the theory [of relativity] was about the greatest intellectual advance and illumination that had ever happened. I explained it to Russell, who at that time knew no physics. He was similarly staggered. Suddenly he burst out (to Dora's consternation): 'To think I have spent my life on absolute muck.'
  • All Bertrand Russell said about [his meeting with Einstein] (apart from how wonderful Einstein looked, and his wonderful eyes) was that Einstein told him a dirty story. I said that Einstein was well known for consummate tact in adapting himself to his company.
  • The mind of Bertrand Russell is the anthropomorphized apex of supreme intelligence.
    • Ethel Mannin, in Confessions and Impressions (1930), p. 274.
  • Russell, when asked to give an example of how any statement whatever, say that Russell (a renowned atheist) is the Pope, might follow from the self-contradictory statement 5=2+2, suggested that 3 be subtracted from both sides of this supposed equality; it follows that 2=1, thus two different persons, viz. Bertrand Russell and the Pope, form one person; hence Russell is the Pope.
    • Witold Marciszewski, in Logic from a Rhetorical Point of View (1994), p. 109.
  • At one time, many philosophers held that faultless "laws of thought" were somehow inherent, a priori, in the very nature of mind. This belief was twice shaken in the past century; first when Russell and his successors showed how the logic men employ can be defective, and later when Freud and Piaget started to reveal the tortuous ways in which our minds actually develop. After Russell observed that the seemingly frivolous "Who shaves the Barber, who shaves everyone who does not shave himself?" was a truly serious obstacle to formalizing common sense logic, he and others tried to develop new formalisms that voided such problems -- by preventing the fatal self-references. But the proposed substitutes were much too complicated to serve for everyday use.
  • Not since Lucretius has there been so much eloquence spent on proving the validity of "unyielding despair" as the foundation of our "safety." But whatever we think of this text, it is easy to derive from it the bitter attitude of Sisyphus who knows the meaninglessness of his task and who performs it nonetheless (instead of choosing suicide) because of the supposed dignity of the gesture. It is equally easy to derive from it the only remaining program for man—other than absurd action, acte gratuit—the esthetic creation by which he creates meaning (beauty) in a universe where none pre-exists him and none will survive him.
    • Thomas Molnar, The Decline of the Intellectual (1961) Ch. 4 "The Intellectual as a Progressive," referencing Russell's Mysticism and Logic, Ch.3... "That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end... Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins..."
  • Mr. Bertrand Russell has noted that each improvement in locomotion has increased the area over which people are compelled to move: so that a person who would have had to spend half an hour to walk to work a century ago must still spend half an hour to reach his destination, because the contrivance that would have enabled him to save time had he remained in his original situation now—by driving him to a more distant residential area—effectually cancels out the gain.
  • Its enduring value was simply a deeper understanding of the central concepts of mathematics and their basic laws and interrelationships. Their total translatability into just elementary logic and a simple familiar two-place predicate, membership, is of itself a philosophical sensation.
  • Russell's is undeniably one of the great minds of our time. It has always been impelled by a passionate and relentless curiosity and a hatred of cruelty and injustice. An aristocratic gadfly, he has never for any reason hesitated to speak out on any issue that engaged him.
    Although born in the Victorian era... he seems more like an 18th Century figure from the Age of Reason like Voltaire, whom he strikingly resembles both in physiognomy and spirit. Philosophy is an abstruse subject, which Russell once defined as an unusually ingenious attempt to think fallaciously; the fame of philosophers seldom spreads beyond the confines of university campuses. But Russell's has, because for the last 40 years he has striven to think about complex current issues – politics, history, ethics, economics – and to convey his thoughts to those who longed for insight in language they could understand. And whatever Bertrand Russell has done, wherever he has gone there has usually been laughter.
    • LIFE, Editorials, Bertrand Russell is 80, 'A great mind is still annoying and adorning our age', 26 May 1952.
  • Russell is the greatest logician since Aristotle, but he is not always quite reasonable or consistent, partly, I think, because he is a socialist who has never discarded an aristocratic outlook.
    • Nancy Mitford, 'Bertrand Bedazzled by Euclid and Free Love', a LIFE book review of Russell's Autobiography, 28 April 1967.
  • Bertrand Russell won immortality with his contributions to our understanding of logic.
    • Marshall H. Stone, in a review of Russell's Autobiography, featured in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 1968.
  • Christians were mocked for imagining that man is important in the vast scheme of the universe, even the high point of all creation – and yet my father thought man and his preservation the most important thing in the world, and he lived in hopes of a better life to come. He was by temperament a profoundly religious man, a sort of passionate moralist who would have been a saint in a more believing age. I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God... Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put it in.
  • I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life. I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be in vain. But it was hopeless. He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding.
  • He was the most fascinating man I have ever known, the only man I ever loved, the greatest man I shall ever meet, the wittiest, the gayest, the most charming. It was a privilege to know him, and I thank God he was my father.
  • Russell is the most gifted Englishman alive.
  • Russell doesn't understand the importance of the past, or of tradition, and—he won't qualify.
  • Bertie says that I am muddle headed, but I say that he is simple minded.
  • Russell is a Platonic dialogue in himself.
    • Alfred North Whitehead, as quoted in Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge (Routledge, 2013), 'Conclusion', p. 222.
  • A gentle, even shy man, Russell was delightful as a conversationalist, companion and friend. He was capable of a pyrotechnical display of wit, erudition and curiosity, and he bubbled with anecdotes about the world's greats.
  • It is impossible to describe Bertrand Russell except by saying that he looks like the Mad Hatter.
  • Russell's books should be bound in two colours, those dealing with mathematical logic in red – and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue – and no one should be allowed to read them.
  • This is the great paradox of Russell. All his instincts were on the side of the "rationalists"; his greatest hatred was for those who exalted emotion, or any sort of mystic intuition, at the expense of reason. But because Russell was the greatest rationalist of all, he had to admit that reason cannot prove the mystics wrong. In fact, in some private moods he was a mystic himself.
    • Alan Wood, in Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography (1958), Volume 2, p. 62
  • I used generally to have tea with in his [Russell's] rooms in Trinity when I went to Cambridge. A more brilliant intellect I never met, but he was much more approachable than McTaggart had been at first; and he had a peculiar charm of his own. His writings were most pessimistic, but he himself always appeared in the best of spirits—a feature which I had also noticed in pessimists on frontier expeditions. Apparently the way really to enjoy oneself is to be full of dark forebodings and expect the worst; then if the worst actually happens it is only what one had expected, and if anything less than the worst occurs one can be in uproarious good-humour.
    • Francis Younghusband, The Light of Experience: A Review of Some Men and Events of My Time (1927), p. 219

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