„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.“
Source: 1940s, A History of Western Philosophy (1945)
Birthdate: 18. May 1872
Date of death: 2. February 1970
Other names: Bertrand Arthur William Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate. At various points in his life, Russell considered himself a liberal, a socialist and a pacifist, although he also confessed that his sceptical nature had led him to feel that he had "never been any of these things, in any profound sense." Russell was born in Monmouthshire into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the United Kingdom.In the early 20th century, Russell led the British "revolt against idealism". He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, colleague G. E. Moore and protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century's premier logicians. With A. N. Whitehead he wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics, the quintessential work of classical logic. His philosophical essay "On Denoting" has been considered a "paradigm of philosophy". His work has had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science and philosophy, especially the philosophy of language, epistemology and metaphysics.
Russell was a prominent anti-war activist and he championed anti-imperialism. Occasionally, he advocated preventive nuclear war, before the opportunity provided by the atomic monopoly had passed and he decided he would "welcome with enthusiasm" world government. He went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. Later, Russell concluded that war against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany was a necessary "lesser of two evils" and criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".
Source: 1940s, A History of Western Philosophy (1945)
Variant: The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
Source: 1910s, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays http://archive.org/stream/mysticism00russuoft/mysticism00russuoft_djvu.txt (1918), Ch. 1: Mysticism and Logic
Letter to W. W. Norton, 11 March, 1931
"A Liberal Decalogue" http://www.panarchy.org/russell/decalogue.1951.html, 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
Context: 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.
Source: 1930s, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)
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."
Compare: "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." B. Russell, New Hopes for a Changing World (1951). Compare also: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming (1919).
See also: Dunning-Kruger effect, Historical Antecedents https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect#Historical_antecedents.
1930s, Mortals and Others (1931-35)
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Bertrand Russell's Best: Silhouettes in Satire (1958), "On Religion".<!--originally taken from What is an Agnostic? (1953).-->
Context: 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.
Context: 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.
As quoted in The Reader's Digest, Vol. 37 (1940), p. 90; no specific source given.
Variant: 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.
Part III: Man and Himself, Ch. 16: Ideas Which Have Become Obsolete, p. 158
Source: 1950s, New Hopes for a Changing World (1951)
The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell: Contemplation and Action, 1902-1914, ed. Richard A. Rempel, Andrew Brink and Margaret Moran (Routledge, 1993, : Textual Notes, p. 555; also in Laurence J. Peter Quotations for our time (1978), p. 188
Attributed from posthumous publications
Context: 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.
1940s, Philosophy for Laymen (1946)
Context: The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. If you take your children for a picnic on a doubtful day, they will demand a dogmatic answer as to whether it will be fine or wet, and be disappointed in you when you cannot be sure. The same sort of assurance is demanded, in later life, of those who undertake to lead populations into the Promised Land. “Liquidate the capitalists and the survivors will enjoy eternal bliss.” “Exterminate the Jews and everyone will be virtuous.” “Kill the Croats and let the Serbs reign.” “Kill the Serbs and let the Croats reign.” These are samples of the slogans that have won wide popular acceptance in our time. Even a modicum of philosophy would make it impossible to accept such bloodthirsty nonsense. But so 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.
But if philosophy is to serve a positive purpose, it must not teach mere skepticism, for, while the dogmatist is harmful, the skeptic is useless. Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance.
Context: 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.
1950s, What Desires Are Politically Important? (1950)
Context: 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.