is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.
whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of
themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
wish I believed in a timeless Platonic world, where whatever has had a momentary
existence in the stream of time survives timelessly in heaven. The moments of
ecstasy in love, of sudden intellectual insight, of intoxicating glory in storms
on a rocky coast. . . I should like to think of these as forever part of the
universe. But that is mysticism and folly, born of fear. If we must die, let us
die sober, not drunk with pleasant lies. . .I should like to end gloriously and
greatly like a Shakespeare hero; it is shocking to think that as the bomb bursts
I shall be wondering how to find the money for next month’s bills.
world needs open hearts and open minds and it is not through rigid systems,
whether old or new that these can be derived. What people need is not dogma but
an attitude of scientific inquiry combined with the belief that the torture of
millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity. Many
religious leaders have shown great personal courage, but what they invariably
lacked was the intellectual courage to face the world without the security of
comfortable myths. For, in the final analysis, it is personal responsibility
which is significant in human affairs.
own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear
and as a source of untold misery to the human race.
appears to justify persecution is dogmatic belief. . .The spirit of tolerance
which some modern Christians regard as essentially Christian is, in fact, a
product of the temper which allows doubt and is suspicious of absolute
think all the great religions of the world 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 exceptions, the religion which a man accepts is
that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the
influence of environment is what led him to accept the religion in question.
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
militarists and ecclesiastics co-operate in education because all depend for
their power on the prevalence of emotionalism and the rarity of critical
like to be good and have invented theology in order to keep themselves so,
whereas Catholics like to be bad and have invented theology in order to keep
their neighbors good.
most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good
evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because
in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion.
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 ignorance.
fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth - more than death. Men would
rather die than think - in fact they do! 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 to the well-tried wisdom of the
ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid ...
Thought is great and swift
and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
if thought is to become the possession of the many, and not the privilege of the
few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back - fear that
their cherished belief should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by
which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves prove less
worthy to the respect then they have supposed themselves to be.
rationality is no doubt an unattainable ideal, but as long as we continue to
classify some men as lunatics it is clear that we think some men are more
rational than others.
is a credulous animal and must believe something. In the absence of good grounds
for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
method of postulating what we want has many advantages. They are the same as the
advantages of theft over honest toil
you think 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
love those who hate our enemies, and if we had no enemies there would be very
few people whom we should love.
hold that their faith does good, but other faiths do harm . . . What I wish to
maintain is that all faiths do harm.
We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no
evidence. When there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith”. We do not speak
of faith that two plus two is four or that the earth is round. We only speak of
faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
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
Indian’s view, that the world rested upon a tortoise; and when someone said,
“How about the tortoise?”, the Indian said, “Suppose we change the
is something feeble and 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
comfortable. 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
Haiti, when they make statues of Christ and Satan, they make Christ black and
Satan white. Aristotle and Plato considered Greeks so innately superior to
barbarians that slavery is justified so long as the master is Greek and the
attitude that one ought to believe such and such a proposition, independently of
whether there is evidence in its favor, is an attitude which produces hostility
to evidence and causes us to close our minds to every fact that does not suit
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.
is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why
he believes it
think that in philosophical strictness at the level where one doubts the
existence of material
objects and holds that the world
may have existed for only five minutes, I ought to call myself an
agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not
think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than
the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another
illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between Earth and
Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptic orbit, but nobody thinks
this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the
Christian God just as unlikely.
do not pretend to be able to prove that there is no God. I equally cannot prove
that Satan is a fiction. The Christian God may exist; so may the gods of
Olympus, or of ancient Egypt, or of Babylon. But no one of these hypotheses is
more probable than any other: they lie outside the region of even probable
knowledge, and therefore there is no reason to consider any of them. The fact
that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly
absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread
belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible.
are zealous for a cause when they are not quite positive that it is true.
universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this
purpose has any similarity to ours.
do not understand where the “beauty” and “harmony” of nature are
supposed to be found. Throughout the animal kingdom, animals ruthlessly prey
upon each other. Most of them are either cruelly killed by other animals or
slowly die of hunger. For my part, I am unable to see any great beauty or
harmony in the tapeworm.
is little of the true philosophic spirit in Thomas Aquinas. He does not, like
Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not
engaged in an inquiry, the result of which is impossible to know in advance.
Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in
the Catholic faith.
in God and a future life makes it possible to go through life with a less stoic
courage than is needed by skeptics. . . Christianity offers reasons for not
fearing death or the universe, and in doing so it fails to teach adequately the
virtue of courage . . .
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.
is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of
the unknown, and partly the wish to feel that you have an 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.
can teach us, and I think our own hearts 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
everything happens according to God’s will, God must have wanted Nero to
murder his mother; therefore since God is good, the murder must have been a good
thing. From this argument there is no escape.
since Plato most philosophers have considered it part of their business to
produce “proofs” for immortality and the existence of God. They have found
fault with the proofs of their predecessors - St. Thomas rejected St. Anselm’s
proofs, and Kant rejected Descartes’ -
but they have supplied proofs of their own. In order to make their proofs
they have had to falsify logic, make mathematics mystical, ,and to pretend that
deep-seated prejudices were heaven-sent intuitions.
Kant invented a
new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was
extremely popular during the nineteenth century.... The point I am concerned
with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and
wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat
or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no
difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant
statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians
do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some
meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and
not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going
to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that
right and wrong come into being, but that they are in their essence
logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that
there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God who made this world,
or 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
sacrificed his magnificent mathematical intellect to his God, thereby
attributing to Him a barbarity which was a cosmic enlargement of Pascal’s
morbid mental tortures. Dostoyevsky would have nothing to do with “proper
pride”; he would sin in order to repent to enjoy the luxury of confession.
in origin was simply the codification of the power of dominant groups, and it
did not aim at anything that to a modern man would appear to be justice. . .
Wherever aristocracy existed, its members had various privileges that were not
accorded to the plebs. In Japan before the Meiji era began a man who omitted to
smile in the presence of a social superior could legally be killed then and
there by the superior in question. This explains why European travelers find the
Japanese a smiling race.
is nothing accidental about this difference between a church and its founder. As
soon as absolute truth is supposed to be contained in the sayings of a certain
man, there is a body of experts to interpret his sayings, and these experts
infallibly acquire power, since they hold the key to truth. Like any other
privileged caste, they use their power for their own advantage. They are,
however, in one respect worse than any other privileged caste, since it is their
business to expound an unchanging truth, revealed once for all in utter
perfection, so that they become necessarily opponents of all intellectual and
soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there
is no end to our trouble. Whose authority? The New Testament? The Old Testament?
The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the
community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts
they like, ignoring the others.
i.e., disbelief in objective fact, arises almost always from the desire to
assert something for which there is no evidence, or to deny something for which
there is very good evidence.
good man is one whose opinions and actions are pleasing to the holders of power.
is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the
utility of intelligence is admitted only theoretically, not practically: it is
not desired that people should think for themselves, because it is felt that
people who think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative
of the chief obstacles to intelligence is credulity. . .The aim of education
should be to cure people of the habit of believing propositions for which there
is no evidence.
essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what
opinions are held, but 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.
This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the
way they are held in theology. Science is empirical, tentative, and
un-dogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific. The scientific outlook,
accordingly, is the intellectual counterpart of what is, in the practical
sphere, the outlook of Liberalism.
pursuit of philosophy is founded on the belief that knowledge is good, even if
what is known is painful. A man imbued with the philosophic spirit, whether a
professional philosopher or not, will wish his beliefs to be as true as he can
make them, and will, in equal measure, love to know and hate to be in error.
sobriety will lead us to scrutinize our beliefs closely, with a view to
discovering which of them there is any reason to believe true. If we are wise,
we shall apply solvent criticism especially to the beliefs which it is most
painful to doubt, and those most likely to involve us in violent conflict with
men who hold opposite but equally groundless beliefs.
the last 400 years, during which the growth of science had gradually shown men
how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces,
the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and
geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology.
Ousted from one position, they have taken up another. After being worsted in
astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought
against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against scientific
theories of psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the public
forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may
not be recognized for what it is.
expression 'free thought' is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the
prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but
invariable. 'Free thought' means thinking freely -- as freely, at least, as is
possible for a human being. The person who is free in any respect is free from
something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must
be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own
passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's
emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker.
moderns differ from the men of the thirteenth century both in aim and in
method. Democracy has substituted co-operation for submission and herd-instinct
for reverence; the group in regard to which herd-instinct is to be most
operative has become the nation, which was formerly rendered unimportant by the
universality of the Church. Meanwhile propaganda has become persuasive rather
than forceful, and has learnt to proceed by the instilling of suitable
sentiments in early youth. Church music, school songs, and the flag determine,
by their influence on the boy, the subsequent actions of the man in moments of
strong emotion. Against these influences the assaults of reason have but little
values are not matters as to which argument is possible. If a man maintains that
misery is desirable, and that it would be a good thing if everybody always had
violent toothache, we may disagree with him, and we may laugh at him when we
catch him going to the dentist, but we cannot prove that he is mistaken, as we
could if he said that iron is lighter than water. If a prophet were to advance
the theory that happiness should be confined to those whose first name begins
with Z, he might receive the enthusiastic support of an army of Zacharys and
Zedekiabs and Zebedees, but would ultimately be defeated by the solid legions
of Johns and Georges. This would, however, be only a pragmatic refutation of
the prophet's message, which would remain logically just as good as its
contradictory. As to ultimate values, men may agree or disagree, they may
fight with guns or with ballot-papers, but they cannot reason logically.
practical life, questions as to ultimate values hardly ever arise in their
logical purity, since men are concerned with what should be done. Whether an act
should be performed depends upon two considerations: first, what its effects
are likely to be; second, whether these effects are on the whole good, or, more
accurately, whether, on the balance, they are better than the effects of any
other act which is possible in the circumstances. Of these two questions, the
first is scientific, not ethical, and is amenable to rational argument, like
every other scientific question. It is only when a dispute as to what should be
done turns on the second question that there is no theoretical possibility of
deciding it by argument.
is said that Caesar was killed on the Ides of March. I have not examined the
evidence with any care, but I have read the statement in various books which
appear reliable, and I therefore believe it. In youth it may be useful to
believe it, since it may be a help in getting through examinations; but when
once the period of examinations is passed, this belief ceases to serve any
useful purpose. At any rate, to come to our second assumption, it is clearly
easier to know the truth of the proposition 'Caesar was killed on the Ides of
March' than it is to know its utility, which, except to examinees, is extremely
question-able. In saying this, I may seem to contradict my third assumption,
namely, that as a general rule it is more useful to believe what is true than
what is false. This is only correct when there is utility in one or other. Most
propositions are not worth either believing or disbelieving. Imagine the
multiplication table extended indefinitely to larger and larger numbers: it
would contain an infinite number of propositions, of which only a finite number
would be useful in practice. But whenever, for some reason, one of these
propositions is needed, it is in the highest degree improbable that it will be
better to get it wrong than right. It is not impossible, since you may have made
a previous mistake which is just balanced by your new mistake. But this
possibility is too remote to concern the politician, who rightly demands that
children shall do their sums right.
imaginable has been believed by someone. Some optimists imagine that the
credulity which existed in the past has become less in our time, but that, I
fear, is a delusion. What has happened is that the capacity for unfounded
belief has passed from theology to politics and economics.
idealistic doctrines are usually a cloak for self-interest. When you hear
any body of men proclaiming lofty principles, you should ask yourself: whose
income is likely to be increased by this "idealism"?
tell us, or used to tell us, that it is contrary to the will of God to work
on Sundays. But Jews say that it is on Saturdays that God objects to work.
Disagreement on this point has persisted for nineteen centuries, and I know
no method of putting an end to the disagreement except Hitler's lethal
chambers, which would not generally be regarded as a legitimate method in
scientific controversy. Jews and Mohammedans assure us that God forbids
pork, but Hindus say that it is beef that he forbids. Disagreement on this
point has caused hundreds of thousands to be massacred in recent years. It
can hardly be said, therefore, that the Will of God gives a basis for an
I do not deny
that there is a great deal too much lying in the world and that we should
all be the better for an increase in truthfulness; but I do deny, as I think
every rational person must, that lying is in no circumstances justified. I
once in the course of a country walk saw a tired fox at the last stages of
exhaustion still forcing himself to run. A few minutes afterwards I saw the
hunt. They asked me if I had seen the fox and I said I had. They asked me
which way he had gone and I lied to them. I do not think I should have been
a better man if I had told the truth.
uncommon victim of persecution mania is a certain type of philanthropist,
who is always doing good to people against their will, and is amazed and
horrified that they display no gratitude. Our motives in doing good are
seldom as pure as we imagine them to be. Love of power is insidious; it has
many disguises, and is often the source of the pleasure we derive from doing
what we believe to be good to other people. Not infrequently, yet another
element enters in. "Doing good" to people generally consists in depriving
them of some pleasure: drink, or gambling, or idleness, or what not. In this
case there is an element which is typical of much social morality, namely,
envy of those who are in a position to commit sins from which we have to
abstain if we are to retain the respect of our friends.
Paragraph from Bertrand Russell’s Power (1938)
importance of the role of the liberal educator in the amelioration of power
philosophies and political demagogues
far from `annihilating the freedom of the will', he will aim at strengthening
individual judgment; he will instill what he can of the scientific attitude
towards the pursuit of knowledge; he will try to make beliefs tentative and
responsive to evidence; he will not pose before his pupils as omniscient, nor
will he yield to the love of power on the pretence that he is pursuing some
absolute good. Love of power is the chief danger of the educator, as of the
politician; the man who can be trusted in education must care for his pupils
on their own account, not merely as potential soldiers in an army of
propagandists for a cause. Fichte and the powerful men who have inherited his
ideals, when they see children, think: `Here is material that I can
manipulate, that I can teach to behave like a machine in furtherance of my
purposes; for the moment I may be impeded by joy of life, spontaneity, the
impulse to play, the desire to live for purposes springing from within, not
imposed from without; but all this, after the years of schooling that I shall
impose, will be dead; fancy, imagination, art, and the power of thought shall
have been destroyed by obedience; the death of joy will have bred
receptiveness to fanaticism; and in the end I shall find my human material as
passive as stone from a quarry or coal from a mine. In the battles to which I
shall lead them, some will die, some will live; those who die will die
exultantly, as heroes, those who live will live on as my slaves, with that
deep mental slavery to which my schools will have accustomed them? All this,
to any person with natural affection for the young, is horrible; 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 skeptical 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 to
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 splendor which some few have shown that it can achieve.