Liberal Arts Blog — Bertrand Russell: Philosopher, Pundit, Pacifist (Well, Sort of)

Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Religion, and Culture Day

Today’s Topic: Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) — philosopher, pundit, pacifist (well, sort of)

The son of an atheist aristocrat with plenty of other unconventional views, Bertrand Russell grew up to be an influential philosopher and logician as well as to write books and articles for a broader audience on a wide range of topics that would earn him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. He was jailed for his pacifism during World War I but came around to supporting World War II and for two years thereafter advocated preventive nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Subsequently, he became a supporter of nuclear disarmament and an opponent of the war in Vietnam. Russell’s renowned student Ludwig Wittgenstein, would write of him: “Russell’s books should be bound in two colors, 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.” I disagree with Ludwig. Some excerpts from his non-technical works follow. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “I would not die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”

2. “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.”

3. “Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.”

NB: “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”


1. “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”

2. “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: a longing for love, the search for knowledge, and an unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”

3. “Much that passes for idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.”

NB: “The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”


1. “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.”

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

3. “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

NB: “There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.”

Bertrand Russell — Wikiquote

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell — Wikiquote


1. Letter of Albert Einstein to 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 unrivaled not only in our generation.”

2. George Orwell on Russell:

“Mr. Russell is one of the most readable of living writers, and it is very reassuring to know that he exists. So long as he and a few others like him are alive and out of jail, we know that the world is still sane in parts. He has rather an eclectic mind, he is capable of saying shallow things and profoundly interesting things in alternate sentences, and sometimes, even in this book, he is less serious than his subject. But he has an essentially decent intellect, a kind of intellectual chivalry which is far rarer than mere cleverness. Few people during the past thirty years have been so consistently impervious to the fashionable bunk of the moment.”

3. Alfred North Whitehead (mathematician) on Russell: “He is a Platonic dialogue in himself.”


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


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