The Rational Wisdom of Bertrand Russell

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Discussion by: Russell W
Bertrand Russell is someone whom I have found to be of great inspiration. While I am sure many of the readers here will be more than familiar with him, I wanted to share a quotation from him which I believe serves as a good “creed” (if you can pardon the expression!) in a rationalist / scientific / objectivist sense:

“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.”
— Bertrand Russell

Here is Russell himself speaking to the point:

http://youtu.be/O8h-xEuLfm8

21 COMMENTS

  1. In reply to #1 by Garrick Worthing:

    Thank you, Russell W. That is a fine word of advice from the old master himself.

    Thank you as well. This quotation struck me when I heard it the first time (then a practising believer) and still does so today for the simple fact that it is so eminently reasonable; so simple; so plainly a matter of common sense.

  2. I go to a local bookstore about once a month just to buy something from Bertrand Russel or Chris Hitchens or whoever is available in that vein. There’s a cashier at the store who reads a bible in her slack time and she acts like those books will bite her. As long as I keep looking for that type of book she has to stock and sell them no matter what her feelings on the subject.I know it’s inelegant, and indelicate of me but I would just once like to get a comment out of her instead of thinly veiled contempt for my choice of reading material. The one attempt at a comment I did get out of her was when I bought a cookbook for my daughter (She’s in to Alton Brown like I’m in to Eugenie Scott) and the lady said something about a decent book for once under her breath. I couldn’t quit grinning and she knew, absolutely knew at that moment, exactly what the scam was.

  3. Yes! I am currently reading ‘Why I am not a Christian’ Its amazing that his lecture was given in 1927 and he was clearly ahead of his time. I like to think of him as the Hitchens/Dawkins of his era. So rational, eloquent and right!

    • In reply to #5 by Peter Grant:

      You had me until I saw objectivist.

      Excellent quote etc, huge fan of old Bertie.

      Ayn Rand, not so much…

      Yeah. The problem with philosophies that preach to us about how we should live our lives is that they’re often extreme, untested, and based upon some ludicrous basis like “If only everyone would obey this one principle then this would work!”

      “There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.” -Cicero (I happen to like Russell, and I think that Rand had a pretty good grasp of many of the problems in the US, but her solutions were severely lacking).

  4. I agree with Peter Grant on the Objectivist thing… ugh…

    And the quote is trivial. What kinds of things are facts? What’s that idea of facts bearing out truths? What does that mean? Oh Bertie.

    What he means will have plenty of resonance with people living in his time, just not perhaps the same resonance with the descendents that discover the video…

    I’m much more enjoying his moral message, particularly ‘love is wise, hatred is foolish’. Surely in this day and age foolishness is recognized as one of the only healthy ways to love, and that wisdom needs to be thoroughly criticised because it is usually a cover for hatred! Oh, Bertie.

  5. In reply to #6 by Stardroid:

    …the quote is trivial. What kinds of things are facts? What’s that idea of facts bearing out truths? What does that mean? Oh Bertie.

    What he means will have plenty of resonance with people living in his time, just not perhaps the same resonance with the descendents that discover the video…

    Is that a fact? ;)

  6. In reply to #5 by Peter Grant:

    You had me until I saw objectivist.

    I should clarify that I am not intending to refer to the objectivist movement, Ayn Rand, etc. Instead I am speaking merely to ‘objectivity’ as compared to subjectivity/subjective beliefs.

  7. Unlike most of the champaign socialist intellectuals of his era, he at least saw Soviet communism for the murderous ideology it was. Probably realised inteligentsia like himself would be the first up against a brick wall !!!

  8. In reply to #8 by Russell W:

    I should clarify that I am not intending to refer to the objectivist movement, Ayn Rand, etc. Instead I am speaking merely to ‘objectivity’ as compared to subjectivity/subjective beliefs.

    Fair enough. I suppose in that case you could call me a weak objectivist in that I would stop just sort of making any metaphysical claims about objective reality.

  9. In reply to #9 by JeffVader67:

    Unlike most of the champaign socialist intellectuals of his era, he at least saw Soviet communism for the murderous ideology it was. Probably realised inteligentsia like himself would be the first up against a brick wall !!!

    He was a big fan- until he visited and saw the reality differed somewhat from theory!

  10. BR is top of my list of philosophers mainly due to these quotes-

    Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.

    The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd.

    Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.*
    (I can vouch for this- despite a fairly good education my life has been lived in a primarily stupid manner)

    • In reply to #14 by Nodhimmi:

      In reply to #9 by JeffVader67:

      Unlike most of the champaign socialist intellectuals of his era, he at least saw Soviet communism for the murderous ideology it was. Probably realised inteligentsia like himself would be the first up against a brick wall !!!

      http://ci.champaign.il.us/ Que??

      My crap spelling strikes again. Champagne the drink. Doh!

  11. Wasn’t it Russell who claimed to see the irrefutable logic in the ontological argument. I presume he had been drinking or smoking something at the time. I suppose he was being true to his own advice of never believe/ disbelieve something not based on the facts/logic even if it is counter to what one wants to believe.

  12. In reply to #15 by jjbircham:

    Wasn’t it Russell who claimed to see the irrefutable logic in the ontological argument. I presume he had been drinking or smoking something at the time. I suppose he was being true to his own advice of never believe/ disbelieve something not based on the facts/logic even if it is counter to what one wants to believe.

    The basic flaw it the ontological arguments lies in the hidden assumption that one’s own logic will hold for describing other ontological possibilities. Admittedly it’s such a difficult assumption to spot that it may even require chemical assistance.

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