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The Quotable Russell

“One should have a general attitude of welcoming to everybody.”

(From the “shot list” of the film, The Life and Times of Bertrand Russell, BBC TV, 1964 [ts., RA1 430 BBC]) Kenneth Blackwell

“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.”

(From “Introduction: On the Value of Scepticism”, Sceptical Essays [London: Allen & Unwin, 1928])

“Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance’; You would say, ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would say about the universe.”

(From Why I Am Not a Christian [London: Watts, 1927]) Cosma Shalizi

“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.”

(From Human Knowledge [London: Allen & Unwin, 1948])

Lee Storey, who also contributed the following:

“A personality is an aggregate, or an organization, like a cricket club. I can accept the dissolution of the MCC.”

“The secret of happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible, horrible, horrible….”

“I don’t believe in meekness.”

“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.”

“Hatred of some sort is quite necessary—it needn’t be towards people. But without some admixture of hatred one becomes soft and loses energy.”

(All from Alan Wood, Bertrand Russell, the Passionate Sceptic [London: Allen & Unwin, 1957])

“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.”

(From The Prospects of Industrial Civilization [London: Allen & Unwin, 1923], p. 252; written in collaboration with Dora Russell) Michael Rockler

“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.”

(From “University Education”, Fact and Fiction [London: Allen & Unwin, 1961]) Thomas Daly

“Mathematics may be defined as the subject where we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.”

(CPBR 3: 366 : 31-3 (“Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics”, a.k.a. “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians”) Craig Burley

“… since one never knows what will be the line of advance, it is always most rash to condemn what is not quite in the fashion of the moment.”

(Review of MacColl’s Symbolic Logic and Its Applications, Mind, 15 [1906]: 260) Paul Martin

“In very abstract studies such as philosophical logic, … the subject-matter that you are supposed to be thinking of is so exceedingly difficult and elusive that any person who has ever tried to think about it knows you do not think about it except perhaps once in six months for half a minute. The rest of the time you think about the symbols, because they are tangible, for the thing you are supposed to be thinking about is fearfully difficult and one does not often manage to think about it. The really good philosopher is the one who does once in six months think about it for a minute. Bad philosophers never do.”

(“The Philosophy of Logical Atomism”, Logic and Knowledge, ed. R.C. Marsh (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956), p. 185) Nino B. Cocchiarella

“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 Study of Mathematics”) And for a nice, sobering (albeit non-contradictory) contrast try: “… mathematics is only the art of saying the same thing in different words” (Autobiography, Vol. 3, penultimate par.) Frank Smith (both); Thomas Drucker (1st only)

“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.”

(Education and the Social Order [London: Allen & Unwin, 1932]) Tim Madigan

“United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need, of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves.”

(“The Free Man’s Worship” [1903]) Dennis Darland