December 3, 2011

Bertrand Russell

Green Army: Persons of Interest

The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this:
  1. that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain;
  2. that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and
  3. that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), Sceptical Essays, 1928.

[The universe] is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), The Assayer, 1623.

Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630):
My aim is to show that the heavenly machine is not a kind of divine, live being, but a kind of clockwork … in so far as nearly all the manifold motions are caused by a most simple, magnetic, and material force, just as all motions of the clock are caused by a simple weight.
(Letter to Hans Herwart)

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543):
All the spheres revolve about the sun as their mid-point, and therefore the sun is the center of the universe. …
[And the Earth] performs a complete rotation on its fixed poles in a daily motion.
(Commentariolus, 1514)

The harmony of the whole world teaches us their truth, if only — as they say — we would look at the thing with both eyes.
(On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, 1543)

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546):
People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon.
Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best.
This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.

John Calvin (1509 – 64):
Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?

John Locke (1632 - 1704):
Good men are men still liable to mistakes, and are sometimes warmly engaged in errors, which they take for divine truths, shining in their minds with the clearest light. …
[Thus, it becomes] all men to maintain peace and the common offices of humanity and friendship in the diversity of opinions, since we cannot reasonably expect that any one should readily arid obsequiously quit his own opinion, and embrace ours with a blind resignation to an authority which the understanding of man acknowledges not. …
For where is the man that has uncontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all he condemns …
(Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690)

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970):
Science does not aim at establishing immutable truths and eternal dogmas: its aim is to approach the truth by successive approximations, without claiming that at any stage final and complete accuracy has been achieved.
(ABC of Relativity, 4th Edition, 1925, p 113)

[It] is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it.
His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.
(p 514)

We may say, in a broad way,
  • that Greek philosophy down to Aristotle expresses the mentality appropriate to the City State;
  • that Stoicism is appropriate to a cosmopolitan despotism;
  • that scholastic philosophy is an intellectual expression of the Church as an organization;
  • that philosophy since Descartes, or at any rate since Locke, tends to embody the prejudices of the commercial middle class; and
  • that Marxism and Fascism are philosophies appropriate to the modern industrial State.
(A History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Edition, 1961, Unwin, 1984, p 751)

The growth of electronic and communication engineering … is transforming the world under our very eyes in a manner more radical [than even the industrial revolution.]
(The Wisdom of the West, MacDonald, 1959, p 300)

An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943)

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.

By instilling nonsense [education] unifies populations and generates collective enthusiasm.
If all governments taught the same nonsense, the harm would not be so great.
Unfortunately each has its own brand, and the diversity serves to produce hostility between the devotees of different creeds. …

No one can deny … that it is easy, given military power, to produce a population of fanatical lunatics.
It would be equally easy to produce a population of sane and reasonable people, but many governments do not wish to do so …

Modern theological opponents of birth control … pretend to think that God will provide, however many mouths there may be to feed.
They ignore the fact that He has never done so hitherto, but has left mankind exposed to periodical famines in which millions died of hunger. …
By their own theology, most of the children whom their opposition to birth control will cause to exist will go to hell.
We must suppose, therefore, that they oppose the amelioration of life on earth because they think it a good thing that many millions should suffer eternal torment. …

When anaesthetics were discovered, pious people considered them an attempt to evade the will of God.
It was pointed out, however, that when God extracted Adam's rib He put him into a deep sleep
This proved that anaesthetics are all right for men; women, however, ought to suffer, because of the curse of Eve.
In the West votes for women proved this doctrine mistaken, but in Japan, to this day, women in childbirth are not allowed any alleviation through anaesthetics.
As the Japanese do not believe in Genesis, this piece of sadism must have some other justification. …

Thinking that you know when in fact you don't is a fatal mistake, to which we are all prone. …
The 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.
So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard …
[You] will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants. …

Fear generates impulses of cruelty, and therefore promotes such superstitious beliefs as seem to justify cruelty.

In Praise of Aristocracy

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE):
Citizens should not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue.

Scott Stephens:
I do think that social hierarchies are important.
I do think that according roles of public significance the honorability, the nobility that's due [to] them;
I do think that's important.
I think that de Tocqueville was right, that democratic society ultimately cannot survive without some latent sense of an aristocracy; that there is a virtuous class of people who have been set aside to be uncommonly selfless …

Judith Brett (1949) [Emeritus Professor of Politics, Latrobe University]:
I think all that stuff about aristocracy, that [Scott] was going on about, is just rubbish …
[What] we want in a democracy, are politicians who are both representative and larger than life … whereas, the aristocracy were [removed, they] were a different class of people.
We live in democracies; there's no going back to that.
One of the skills … of, say, John Howard, was that he was both able to represent and be recognizable.
People want to be able to recognize in their politicians someone they can … understand and identify with.
Because then, they think, that politician may understand them …

( Faith in politics: Can it be restored?, The Minefield, 6 August 2015)

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

Aristotle's opinions on moral questions are always such as were conventional in his day.
On some points they differ from those of our time, chiefly where some form of aristocracy comes in.
We think that human beings, at least in ethical theory, all have equal rights, and that Justice involves equality; Aristotle thinks that justice involves, not equality, but right proportion, which is only sometimes equality.

The justice of a master or a father is a different thing from that of a citizen, for a son or slave is property, and there can be no injustice to one's own property. …
A father can repudiate his son if he is wicked, but a son cannot repudiate his father, because he owes him more than he can possibly repay, especially existence.
(p 186)

In unequal relations, it is right, since everybody should be loved in proportion to his worth, that the inferior should love the superior more than the superior loves the inferior: wives, children, subjects, should have more love for husbands, parents, and monarchs than the latter have for them.
(p 187)

The Aristotelian view, that the highest virtue is for the few, is logically connected with the subordination of ethics to politics.
If the aim is the good community rather than the good individual, it is possible that the good community may be one in which there is subordination.
(p 189)

Aristotle never seems to have realized the difficulty of 'equality according to proportion'.
If this is to be true justice, the proportion must be of virtue.
Now virtue is difficult to measure, and is a matter of party controversy.
In political practice, therefore, virtue tends to be measured by income …
(p 201)

(Aristotle's Ethics, A History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Edition, 1961)

Religion and Science (1935)

Grounds Of Conflict

Insofar as religion consists in a way of feeling, rather than a set of beliefs, science cannot touch it. …
[However,] many free thinkers have shown, in their lives, that this way of feeling has no essential connection with a creed.
No real excellence can be inextricably bound up with unfounded beliefs.
And, if theological beliefs are unfounded, they cannot be necessary for the preservation of what is good in religious outlook.
To think otherwise is to be filled fears as to what we may discover; which will interfere with our attempts to understand the world.
But it is only in the measure in which we achieve such understanding, that true wisdom becomes possible.

The Copernican Revolution

Beside Jupiter's moons, [Galileo Galilea's (1564 – 1642)] telescope revealed other things horrifying to theologicians.
It showed that:
Venus has phases like the moon. …
The moon was found to have mountains, which, for some reason was thought shocking.
[And, more] dreadful still, the Sun had spots!
This was considered as tending to show that the Creator's work had blemishes.
Teachers in Catholic universities were therefore forbidden to mention sunspots.
And in some of them, this prohibition endured for centuries. …
At the insistence of the Pope, all books teaching that the earth moves were therefore placed upon the [Index of Forbidden Books.] …

[Following the publication of his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632, Galileo was again summoned to Rome where] he was thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition and threatened with torture if he did not recant.
Galileo accordingly, publically, and on his knees, recited a long formula drawn up by the Inquisition.
Satisfied that the interests of religion and morals had been served by causing the greatest man of the age to commit perjury.
The Inquisition allowed him to spend the rest of his days in retirement an silence.
Not in prison, it is true, but controlled in all his movements, and forbidden to see his family or friends.

Demonology and Medicine

Inoculation against smallpox aroused a storm of protest from the Church.
Many Scottish ministers joined in a manifesto saying the inoculation was:
Endeavoring to baffle a Divine Judgement.
So late as 1885, when there was a severe outbreak of smallpox in Montreal, the Catholic part of the population resisted inoculation with the support of their clergy. …

The intervention of theology in medical questions is not yet at an end.
Opinions on such subjects as birth control and the legal permission of abortion are still influenced by biblical texts and ecclesiastical decrees. …
It is difficult to resist the conclusion that, to many men, there is something enjoyable in the sufferings of women, and that therefore, there is a propensity in men to cling to any theological or ethical code that makes it a woman's duty to suffer.


I cannot admit any method of arriving at truth except than of science.
But, in the realm of emotions, I do not deny the value of the experiences that have given rise to religion.
Through association with false beliefs they have led to much evil as well as good; freed from this association, it may be hoped that the good alone will remain.

Mysticism and Logic

In religion, and in any deeply serious view of the world and of human destiny, there is an element of submission, a realization of the limits of human power, which is somewhat lacking in the modern world with its quick material successes and its insolent belief in the boundless possibilities of progress.
The submission which religion inculcates in action is essentially the same in spirit as that which science teaches in thought, and the ethical neutrality by which its victories have been achieved is the outcome of that submission.
Human beings cannot, of course, wholly transcend human nature; something subjective, if only the interest that determines the direction of our attention, must remain in all our thought. But scientific philosophy comes nearer to objective thought than any other human pursuit, and gives us therefore the closest constant and the most intimate relation with the outer world that it is possible to achieve.
Scientific philosophy represents, though only as yet in a nascent condition, a higher form of thought than any pre-scientific belief or imagination.
And, like every approach to self-transcendence it brings with it a rich reward in increase of scope and breadth and comprehension.
A truly scientific philosophy will be more humble, more arduous, offering less glitter of outward mirage to flatter fallacious hopes, but more indifferent to fate and more capable accepting the world without the tyrannous imposition of our human and temporary demands.

A History of Western Philosophy (1961)

In the welter of conflicting fanaticisms, one of the few unifying forces is scientific truthfulness, by which I mean the habit of basing our beliefs upon observations and inferences as impersonal, and as much divested of local and temperamental bias, as is possible for human beings.
(p 789)

[A] philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery.
And when he assumes, in advance of inquiry, that certain beliefs, whether true or false, are such as to promote good behaviour, he is so limiting the scope of philosophical speculation as to make philosophy trivial …
(p 788)

Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance.
Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe.

Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. …
To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it. …
(p 14, emphasis added)


Philosophy … is something intermediate between theology and science.
Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation.
All definite knowledge … belongs to science …
[All] dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology.
But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides …
[This] No Man's Land is philosophy.
(p 13, emphasis added)

Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance.
Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe.
Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. …
To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy … can still do for those who study it. …
(p 14, emphasis added)

[Since ancient times] philosophers have been divided into those who wished to tighten social bonds and those who wished to relax them. …
  • The disciplinarians have advocated some system of dogma, either old or new, and have therefore been compelled to be, in a greater or less degree, hostile to science, since their dogmas could not be proved empirically.
    They have almost invariably taught that happiness is not the good, but that "nobility" or "heroism" is to be preferred.
    They have had a sympathy with the irrational parts of human nature, since they have felt reason to be inimical to social cohesion.
  • The libertarians, on the other hand, with the exception of the extreme anarchists, have tended to be scientific, utilitarian, rationalistic, hostile to violent passion, and enemies of all the more profound forms of religion.
(p 21, emphasis added)

It is clear that each party to this dispute … is partly right and partly wrong.
Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments.
Every community is exposed to two opposite dangers:
  • ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand;
  • on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes co-operation impossible. …

The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community.
Whether this attempt can succeed only the future can determine.
p 22)


In studying a philosopher, the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude, which should resemble, as far as possible, the state of mind of a person abandoning opinions which he has hitherto held.
Contempt interferes with the first part of this process, and reverence with the second.
Two things are to be remembered:
  • that a man whose opinions and theories are worth studying may be presumed to have had some intelligence, but
  • that no man is likely to have arrived at complete and final truth on any subject whatever.
When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true.
This exercise of historical and psychological imagination at once enlarges the scope of our thinking, and helps us to realize how foolish many of our own cherished prejudices will seem to an age which has a different temper of mind.

(p 58)


[The] enlightened are politically weaker in America than they were in Athens, because they have failed to make common cause with the plutocracy. …

Athenian democracy, though it had the grave limitation of not including slaves or women, was in some respects more democratic than any modern system.
Judges and most executive officers were chosen by lot, and served for short periods; they were thus average citizens, like our jurymen, with the prejudices and lack of professionalism characteristic of average citizens.
(p 91-2)


Plato is always concerned to advocate views that will make people what he thinks virtuous …
[He] is hardly ever intellectually honest, because he allows himself to judge doctrines by their social consequences.
Even about this, he is not honest …
[He] pretends to follow the argument and to be judging by purely theoretical standards, when in fact he is twisting the discussion so as to lead to a virtuous result.
He introduced this vice into philosophy, where it has persisted ever since.
(p 95)

Lying, Plato says explicitly, is to be a prerogative of the government, just as giving medicine is of physicians.
(p 129)

[Plato] is dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. …
He was not scientific in his thinking, but was determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards.
This is treachery to truth, and the worst of philosophic sins.
(p 156)

Mohammedan Culture and Philosophy

The religion of the Prophet [Mohammed] was a simple monotheism, uncomplicated by the elaborate theology of rite Trinity and the Incarnation.
The Prophet made no claim to be divine …
He revived the Jewish prohibition of graven images, and forbade the use of wine.
It was the duty of the faithful to conquer as much of the world as possible for Islam, but there was to be no persecution of Christians, Jews, or Zoroastrians — the "people of the Book," as the Koran calls them …

The Syrians, who were largely Nestorian [Christians,] suffered persecution at the hands of the Catholics, whereas Mohammedans tolerated all sects of Christians in return for the payment of tribute.
Similarly in Egypt the Monophysites, who were the bulk of the population, welcomed the invaders. …

The populations, moreover, in order to escape the tribute, very largely abandoned Christianity for Islam.
(pp 413-4)

The Italian Renaissance

Astrology was prized especially by freethinkers; it acquired a vogue which it had not had since ancient times.
The first effect of emancipation from the Church was not to make men think rationally, but to open their minds to every sort of antique nonsense.
(p 489)

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation

[Protestant] theology was such as to diminish the power of the Church.
[Luther and Calvin] abolished purgatory, from which the souls of the dead could be delivered by masses.
They rejected the doctrine of Indulgences, upon which a large part of the papal revenue depended.
By the doctrine of predestination, the fate of the soul after death was made wholly independent of the actions of priests.
These innovations, while they helped in the struggle with the Pope, prevented the Protestant Churches from becoming as powerful in Protestant countries as the Catholic Church was in Catholic countries.
Protestant divines were (at least at first) just as bigoted as Catholic theologians, but they had less power, and were therefore less able to do harm. …

Gradually weariness resulting from the wars of religion led to the growth of belief in religious toleration, which was one of the sources of the movement which developed into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberalism.
(p 510)

The Thirty Years' War persuaded everybody that neither Protestants nor Catholics could be completely victorious; it became necessary to abandon the medieval hope of doctrinal unity, and this increased men's freedom to think for themselves, even about fundamentals.
The diversity of creeds in different countries made it possible to escape persecution by living abroad.
Disgust with theological warfare turned the attention of able men increasingly to secular learning, especially mathematics and science.
(p 511)

The Rise of Science

[It] is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it.
His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.
(p 514)

Protestant clergy were at least as bigoted as Catholic ecclesiastics; nevertheless there soon came to be much more liberty of speculation in Protestant than in Catholic countries, because in Protestant countries the clergy had less power.
The important aspect of Protestantism was schism, not heresy, for schism led to national Churches, and national Churches were not strong enough to control the lay government.
This was wholly a gain, for the Churches, everywhere, opposed as long as they could, practically every innovation that made for an increase of happiness or knowledge here on earth.
(p 515)

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

One of the most famous parts of Bacon's philosophy is his enumeration of what he calls 'idols', by which he means bad habits of mind that cause people to fall into error.
Of these he enumerates four kinds:
  • 'Idols of the tribe' are those that are inherent in human nature; he mentions in particular the habit of expecting more order in natural phenomena than is actually to be found.
  • 'Idols of the cave' are personal prejudices, characteristic of the particular investigator.
  • 'Idols of the market-place' are those that have to do with the tyranny of words.
  • 'Idols of the theatre' are those that have to do with received systems of thought; of these, naturally, Aristotle and the scholastics afforded him the most noteworthy instances.
(p 528)

David Hume (1711 – 66)

What [Hume's] arguments prove … is:
  • that induction is an independent logical principle, incapable of being inferred either from experience or from other logical principles, and
  • that without this principle science is impossible.
(p 647)

The Utilitarians

[Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)] had a great contempt for the doctrine of the rights of man.
The rights of man, he said, are plain nonsense; the imprescriptible rights of man, nonsense on stilts. …
[The articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man,] he said, could be divided into three classes:

  1. Those that are unintelligible,
  2. those that are false,
  3. those that are both.

(p 742)

Ethics is necessary because men’s desires conflict.
The primary cause of conflict is egoism: most people are more interested in their own welfare than in that of other people.
But conflicts are equally possible where there is no element of egoism.
One man may wish everybody to be Catholic, another may wish everybody to be Calvinist.
Such non-egoistic desires are frequently involved in social conflicts.
Ethics has a twofold purpose:
  • first, to find a criterion by which to distinguish good and bad desires;
  • second, by means of praise and blame, to promote good desires and discourage such as are bad.
(p 745)

The Philosophy of Logical Analysis

Morally, a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery.
And when he assumes, in advance of inquiry, that certain beliefs, whether true or false, are such as to promote good behaviour, he is so limiting the scope of philosophical speculation as to make philosophy trivial; the true philosopher is prepared to examine all preconceptions. …
(p 788)


An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish

In Praise of Aristocracy

A History of Western Philosophy

Ideology and Fanaticism

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

Nobel Prize for Literature (1950).

  • A History of Western Philosophy, 2nd Edition, 1961, Unwin, 1984.

    The Rise Of Greek Civilisation

    [The worship of Dionysus, or Bacchus] migrated from Thrace to Greece… just before the beginning of historical times.
    The cult … contained many barbaric elements, such as tearing wild animals to pieces and eating the whole of them raw. …

    The success of Bacchus in Greece is not surprising. …
    To the man or woman who, by compulsion, is more civilized in behaviour than in feeling, rationality is irksome and virtue is felt as a burden and a slavery.
    This leads to a reaction in thought, in feeling, and in conduct.

    [Something] must first be said about the reaction in feeling and conduct.
    The civilized man is distinguished from the savage mainly by prudence [or] forethought.
    (p 34)

    Civilization checks impulse not only through [individual] forethought … but also [institutionally] through law, custom, and religion. …
    Certain acts are labelled criminal, and are punished …
    [Certain] others, though not punished by law, are labelled wicked, and expose those who are guilty of them to social disapproval.
    The institution of private property brings with it the subjection of women, and usually the creation of a slave class. …

    [In physical or spiritual intoxication, the worshipper of Bacchus] recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed …

    Prudence versus passion is a conflict that runs through history.
    It is not a conflict in which we ought to side wholly with either party.

    In the sphere of thought, sober civilization is roughly synonymous with science. …
    [Among philosophers, there have been] those who were primarily scientific and those who were primarily religious …
    [The latter owing] much, directly or indirectly, to the religion of Bacchus.
    (p 35)

    [It was not, however, through its original savage form that the worship of Bacchus influenced philosophy] but … in the spiritualized form attributed to Orpheus, which was ascetic, and substituted mental for physical intoxication. …
    [The Orphics] believed in the transmigration of souls …
    [They] taught that the soul hereafter might achieve eternal bliss or suffer eternal or temporary torment according to its way of life here on earth.
    They aimed at becoming "pure," partly by ceremonies of purification [and] partly by avoiding certain kinds of contamination.
    The tearing of a wild animal and the devouring of its raw flesh by Bacchae was supposed to re-enact the tearing and eating of Bacchus by the Titans …
    [The] animal, in some sense, [being] an incarnation of the God.
    [Man] is partly of earth [and] partly divine …
    … Bacchic rites sought to make him more nearly … divine.
    (p 36)

    [Wine, to the Orphics] was only a symbol, as, later, in the Christian sacrament. …
    This mystical element entered into Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism, as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Bacchus.
    From Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree religious.

    Certain definitely Bacchic elements survived [in Orphism, including] feminism, of which there was much in Pythagoras, and which, in Plato, went so far as to claim complete political equality for women. …
    Another Bacchic element was respect for violent emotion.
    Greek tragedy grew out of the rites of Dionysus. …
    (p 38)

    To the Orphic, life in this world is pain and weariness.
    We are bound to a wheel which turns through endless cycles of birth and death …
    Only by purification and renunciation and an ascetic life can we escape from the wheel and attain at last to the ecstasy of union with God.
    (p 40)

    [The word "orgy"] was used by the Orphics to mean "sacrament," and was intended to purify the believer's soul and enable it to escape from the wheel of birth.
    The Orphics, unlike the priests of Olympian cults, founded what we may call "churches," ie religious communities to which anybody, without distinction of race or sex, could be admitted by initiation, and from their influence arose the conception of philosophy as a way of life.
    (p 42)


    The South Italian and Sicilian philosophers were more inclined to mysticism and religion than those of Ionia, who were on the whole scientific and sceptical in their tendencies.
    [Mathematics,] under the influence of Pythagoras … was entangled with mysticism. …
    He is often said to have invented logic, but what he really invented was metaphysics based on logic.

    [Parmenides argued that] both thought and language require objects outside themselves.
    And since you can think of a thing or speak of it at one time as well as at another, whatever can be thought of or spoken of must exist at all times.
    Consequently there can be no change, since change consists in things coming into being or ceasing to be.

    This is the first example in philosophy of an argument from thought and language to the world at large.
    (p 67)

    Th[e] perpetual change in the meanings of words is concealed by the fact that, in general, the change makes no difference to the truth or falsehood of the propositions in which the words occur.
    (p 68)

    Parmenides contends that, since we can now know what is commonly regarded as past, it cannot really be past, but must, in some sense, exist now.
    Hence he infers that there is no such thing as change. …

    [But, it] may be said, in a sense, that we have no knowledge of the past.
    When you recollect, the recollection occurs now, and is not identical with the event recollected.
    But the recollection affords a description of the past event, and for most practical purposes it is unnecessary to distinguish between the description and what it describes.

    This whole argument shows how easy it is to draw metaphysical conclusions from language, and how the only way to avoid fallacious arguments of this kind is to push the logical and psychological study of language further than has been done by most metaphysicians.
    (p 69)

    What subsequent philosophy, down to quite modern times, accepted from Parmenides, was not the impossibility of all change, which was too violent a paradox, but the indestructibility of substance.
    The word "substance" did not occur in his immediate successors, but the concept is already present in their speculations.
    A substance was supposed to be the persistent subject of varying predicates.
    As such it became, and remained for more than two thousand years, one of the fundamental concepts of philosophy, psychology, physics, and theology.
    (p 70)

    The Atomists

    What is amiss … after Democritus, is an undue emphasis on man as compared with the universe. …
    • First comes scepticism, with the Sophists, leading to a study of how we know rather than to the attempt to acquire fresh knowledge. …
    • with Socrates, the emphasis on ethics;
    • with Plato, the rejection of the world of sense in favour of the self-created world of pure thought; [and]
    • with Aristotle, the belief in purpose as the fundamental concept in science.
    In spite of the genius of Plato and Aristotle, their thought has vices which proved infinitely harmful.
    After their time, there was … a gradual recrudescence of popular superstition.
    A partially new outlook arose as a result of the victory of Catholic orthodoxy …
    [But] it was not until the Renaissance that philosophy regained the vigour and independence that characterize the predecessors of Socrates.
    (p 90)


    The matters that are suitable for treatment by the Socratic method are those as to which we have already enough knowledge to come to a right conclusion, but have failed, through confusion of thought or lack of analysis, to make the best logical use of what we know.
    A question such as "what is justice?" is eminently suited for discussion in a Platonic dialogue.
    We all freely use the words "just" and "unjust," and, by examining the ways in which we use them, we can arrive inductively at the definition that will best suit with usage.
    All that is needed is knowledge of how the words in question are used.
    But when our inquiry is concluded, we have made only a linguistic discovery, not a discovery in ethics. …

    Wherever what is being debated is logical rather than factual, discussion is a good method of eliciting truth.
    (p 110)

    Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe …
    [They] enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.
    Any logically coherent body of doctrine is sure to be in part painful and contrary to current prejudices.
    The dialectic method — or, more generally, the habit of unfettered discussion — tends to promote logical consistency, and is in this way useful.
    But it is quite unavailing when the object is to discover new facts.
    (p 111)

    The Sources of Plato's Opinions

    Plato and Aristotle were the most influential of all philosophers … and of the two, it was Plato who had the greater effect upon subsequent ages. I say this for two reasons:
    • first, that Aristotle himself is an outcome of Plato;
    • second, that Christian theology and philosophy, at any rate until the thirteenth century, was much more Platonic than Aristotelian.

    The most important matters in Plato's philosophy are:
    • first, his Utopia, which was the earliest of a long series;
    • second, his theory of ideas, which was a pioneer attempt to deal with the still unsolved problem of universals;
    • third, his arguments in favour of immortality;
    • fourth, his cosmogony;
    • fifth, his conception of knowledge as reminiscence rather than perception. …

    [Plato] was a young man when Athens was defeated [by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War], and he could attribute the defeat to democracy, which his social position and his family connections were likely to make him despise.
    He was a pupil of Socrates … and Socrates was put to death by the democracy.
    It is not, therefore, surprising that he should turn to Sparta for an adumbration of his ideal commonwealth.

    Plato possessed the art to dress up illiberal suggestions in such a way that they deceived future ages, which admired the Republic without ever becoming aware of what was involved in its proposals. …
    I wish to [treat him] if he were a contemporary English or American advocate of totalitarianism.
    (p 122)

    The purely philosophical influences on Plato were also such as to predispose him in favour of Sparta. …
    • From Pythagoras [he] derived the Orphic elements in his philosophy:
      • the religious trend, the belief in immortality, the other-worldliness, the priestly tone, and all that is involved in the simile of the cave; also
      • his respect for mathematics, and
      • his intimate intermingling of intellect and mysticism.
    • From Parmenides he derived the belief that reality is eternal and timeless, and that, on logical grounds, all change must be illusory.
    • From Heraclitus he derived the negative doctrine that there is nothing permanent in the sensible world.
      This, combined with the doctrine of Parmenides, led to the conclusion that knowledge is not to be derived from the senses, but is only to be achieved by the intellect.
      This, in turn fitted in well with Pythagoreanism.
    • From Socrates he probably learnt his preoccupation with ethical problems, and his tendency to seek teleological rather than mechanical explanations of the world.
      "The Good" dominated his thought more than that of the pre-Socratics [most likely due] to the influence of Socrates.

    How is all this connected with authoritarianism in politics?

    1. … Goodness and Reality being timeless, the best state will be the one which most nearly copies the heavenly model, by having a minimum of change and a maximum of static perfection, and its rulers should be those who best understand the eternal Good.

    2. [Like] all mystics [his beliefs have] a core of certainty which is essentially incommunicable except by a way of life.
      The Pythagoreans had endeavoured to set up a rule of the initiate, and this is … what Plato desires.
      If a man is to be a good statesman, he must know the Good …
      [This] he can only do by a combination of intellectual and moral discipline.
      If those who have not gone through this discipline are allowed a share in the government, they will inevitably corrupt it.

    3. [Much] education is needed to make a good ruler on Plato's principles.
      [The teaching of] geometry to the … tyrant of Syracuse, in order to make him a good king [was] from Plato's point of view … essential.
      He was sufficiently Pythagorean to think that without mathematics no true wisdom is possible.
      This view implies an oligarchy.

    4. [Most] Greek philosophers, took the view that leisure is essential to wisdom …
      [Therefore, it will only be found] among those who have independent means, or who are relieved by the state from anxieties as to their subsistence.
      This point of view is essentially aristocratic.

    (p 123)

    Two general questions arise in confronting Plato …
    • Is there such a thing as "wisdom"?
    • Granted that there is such a thing, can any constitution be devised that will give it political power?

    I think Plato would have said that [wisdom] consists in knowledge of the good, and would have supplemented this definition with the Socratic doctrine that no man sins wittingly, from which it follows that whoever knows what is good does what is right.

    To us, such a view seems remote from reality.
    We should more naturally say that there are divergent interests, and that the statesman should arrive at the best available compromise.
    The members of a class or a nation may have a common interest, but it will usually conflict with the interests of other classes or other nations.
    There are, no doubt, some interests of mankind as a whole, but they do not suffice to determine political action.
    Perhaps they will do so at some future date, but certainly not so long as there are many sovereign States.
    And even then the most difficult part of the pursuit of the general interest would consist in arriving at compromises among mutually hostile special interests.

    But even if we suppose that there is such a thing as "wisdom," is there any form of constitution which will give the government to the wise? …
    It is clear that no legally definable selection of citizens is likely to be wiser, in practice, than the whole body.

    It might be suggested that men could be given political wisdom by a suitable training.
    But the question would arise: what is a suitable training?
    And this would turn out to be a party question.

    The problem of finding a collection of "wise" men and leaving the government to them is thus an insoluble one.
    That is the ultimate reason for democracy.
    (p 124)

    The Theory of Ideas

    Plato's philosophy rests on the distinction between reality and appearance, which was first set forth by Parmenides …
    There is, however, a religious tone about reality [and] much about mathematics and music which is directly traceable to the disciples of Pythagoras.
    This combination of the logic of Parmenides with the other-worldliness of Pythagoras and the Orphics produced a doctrine which was felt to be satisfying to both the intellect and the religious emotions …
    [The] result was a very powerful synthesis, which … influenced most of the great philosophers, down to and including Hegel. …
    (p 135)

    What is the difference between "knowledge" and "opinion"?
    The man who has knowledge has knowledge of something, that is to say, of something that exists, for what does not exist is nothing. …
    Thus knowledge is infallible, since it is logically impossible for it to be mistaken.
    But opinion can be mistaken. …
    Opinion cannot be of what is not, for that is impossible; nor of what is, for then it would be knowledge.
    Therefore opinion must be of what both is and is not. …

    [Particular] things always partake of opposite characters:
    • what is beautiful is also, in some respects, ugly;
    • what is just is, in some respects, unjust; and so on.
    All particular sensible objects, so Plato contends, have this contradictory character …
    [They] are thus intermediate between being and not-being, and are suitable as objects of opinion, but not of knowledge.

    [The conclusion is] that opinion is of the world presented to the senses, whereas knowledge is of a super-sensible eternal world …
    [For] instance, opinion is concerned with particular beautiful things, but knowledge is concerned with beauty in itself.
    [It] is self-contradictory to suppose that a thing can be both beautiful and not beautiful, or both just and not just …
    [Nevertheless] particular things seem to combine such contradictory characters.
    Therefore particular things are not real.
    (p 136)

    Philosophical Liberalism

    Early liberalism was individualistic in intellectual matters, and also in economics, but was not emotionally or ethically self-assertive.
    This form of liberalism dominated
    • the English eighteenth century,
    • the founders of the American Constitution, and
    • the French encyclopaedists. …

    A new movement, which has gradually developed into the antithesis of liberalism, begins with Rousseau, and acquires strength from
    • the romantic movement and
    • the principle of nationality.
    In this movement, individualism is extended from the intellectual sphere to that of the passions, and the anarchic aspects of individualism are made explicit.
    The cult of the hero, as developed by Carlyle and Nietzsche, is typical of this philosophy. …
    There was vehement assertion
    • of the right of rebellion in the name of nationalism, and
    • of the splendour of war in defence of 'liberty'.
    Byron was the poet of this movement; Fichte, Carlyle, and Nietzsche were its philosophers.

    But since we
    • cannot all have the career of heroic leaders, and
    • cannot all make our individual will prevail,
    this philosophy, like all other forms of anarchism, inevitably leads, when adopted, to the despotic government of the most successful 'hero'.
    And when his tyranny is established, he will suppress in others the self-assertive ethic by which he has risen to power.
    This whole theory of life, therefore, is self-refuting, in the sense that its adoption in practice leads to the realization of something utterly different: a dictatorial State in which the individual is severely repressed.
    (p 580)

    [The enclosure movement] began under Henry VIII and continued under Cromwell, but did not become strong until about 1750.
    From that time onward, for about ninety years, one common after another was enclosed and handed over to the local landowners.
    Each enclosure required an Act of Parliament, and the aristocrats who controlled both Houses of Parliament ruthlessly used their legislative power to enrich themselves, while thrusting agricultural labourers down to the verge of starvation.
    Gradually, owing to the growth of industry, the position of agricultural labourers improved, since otherwise they could not be prevented from migrating to the towns.
    (p 611)

    John Locke (1632 – 1704)

    From the time of Locke down to the present day, there have been in Europe two main types of philosophy, and
    • one of these owes both its doctrines and its method to Locke, while
    • the other was derived first from Descartes and then from Kant. …
    The heirs of Locke are,
    • first, Berkeley and Hume;
    • second, those of the French philosophes who did not belong to the school of Rousseau;
    • third, Bentham and the philosophical Radicals;
    • fourth, with important accretions from Continental philosophy, Marx and his disciples. …

    Since Rousseau and Kant, there have been two schools of Liberalism, which may be distinguished as the hard-headed and the soft-hearted.
    • The hard-headed developed, through Bentham, Ricardo, and Marx, by logical stages into Stalin;
    • the soft-hearted, by other logical stages, through Fichte, Byron, Carlyle, and Nietzsche, into Hitler.
    That statement, of course, is too schematic to be quite true, but it may serve as a map and a mnemonic.
    (p 618)

    [Locke] was impressed, as all the men of his time were, by the gains to civilization that were due to rich men, chiefly as patrons of art and letters.
    The same attitude exists in modem America, where science and art are largely dependent upon the benefactions of the very rich.
    To [this] extent, civilization is furthered by social injustice.
    This fact is the basis of what is most respectable in conservatism.
    (p 613)

    In a dispute between legislative and executive, he says there is, in certain cases, no judge under Heaven.
    Since Heaven does not make explicit pronouncements, this means, in effect, that a decision can only be reached by fighting, since it is assumed that Heaven will give the victory to the better cause.
    Some such view is essential to any doctrine that divides governmental power.
    Where such a doctrine is embodied in the Constitution, the only way to avoid occasional civil war is to practise compromise and common sense.
    [However,] compromise and common sense are habits of mind, and cannot be embodied in a written constitution.
    (p 615)

    When … Leibniz wants to establish his monadology, he argues, roughly, as follows:
    • Whatever is complex must be composed of simple parts;
    • what is simple cannot be extended;
    • therefore everything is composed of parts having no extension.
    • But what is not extended is not matter.
    • Therefore the ultimate constituents of things are not material, and, if not material, then mental.
    • Consequently a table is really a colony of souls.

    The difference of method, here, may be characterized as follows:
    • In Locke or Hume, a comparatively modest conclusion is drawn from a broad survey of many facts, whereas
    • in Leibniz a vast edifice of deduction is pyramided upon a pin-point of logical principle.
    In Leibniz, if the principle is completely true and the deductions are entirely valid, all is well; but the structure is unstable, and the slightest flaw anywhere brings it down in ruins.
    In Locke or Hume, on the contrary, the base of the pyramid is on the solid ground of observed fact, and the pyramid tapers upward, not downward; consequently the equilibrium is stable, and a flaw here or there can be rectified without total disaster.
    (p 619)

    Kant's ethic is important, because it is anti-utilitarian, a priori, and what is called 'noble'. …
    Kant himself was a man whose outlook on practical affairs was kindly and humanitarian, but the same cannot be said of most of those who rejected happiness as the good.
    The sort of ethic that is called 'noble' is less associated with attempts to improve the world than is the more mundane view that we should seek to make men happier.
    This is not surprising.
    Contempt for happiness is easier when the happiness is other people's than when it is our own.
    Usually the substitute for happiness is some form of heroism.
    This affords
    • unconscious outlets for the impulse to power, and
    • abundant excuses for cruelty.
    Or, again, what is valued may be strong emotion; this was the case with the romantics.
    This led to a toleration of such passions as hatred and revenge; Byron's heroes are typical, and are never persons of exemplary behaviour.
    The men who did most to promote human happiness were — as might have been expected — those who thought happiness important, not those we who despised it in comparison with something more 'sublime'.

    The great political defect of Locke and his disciples … was their worship of property. …
    Most of the opponents of Locke's school had an admiration for war, as being heroic and involving a contempt for comfort and ease.
    Those who adopted a utilitarian ethic, on the contrary, tended to regard most wars as folly.
    This, again, at least in the nineteenth century, brought them into alliance with the capitalists, who disliked wars because they interfered with trade.
    (p 620)

    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

    [For Nietzsche, the many are merely the] means to … excellence of the few …
    He alludes habitually to ordinary human beings as the 'bungled and botched', and sees no objection to their suffering [provided] it is necessary for the production of a great man.
    (p 729)

    True virtue, as opposed to the conventional sort, is not for all, but should remain the characteristic of an aristocratic minority. …
    It is necessary for higher men to make war upon the masses, and [to] resist the democratic tendencies of the age, for in all directions mediocre people are joining hands to make themselves masters.
    Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900):
    Everything that pampers, that softens, and that brings the "people" or "woman" to the front, operates in favour of universal suffrage — that is to say, the dominion of "inferior" men. …
    The object is to attain that enormous energy of greatness which can model the man of the future by means of discipline and also by means of the annihilation of millions of the bungled and botched …

    He is not, however, a worshipper of the State; far from it.
    He is a passionate individualist, a believer in the hero.
    The misery of a whole nation, he says, is of less importance than the suffering of a great individual …

    Nietzsche is not a nationalist, and shows no excessive admiration for Germany.
    He wants an international ruling race, who are to be the lords of the earth …
    In justice to Nietzsche it must be emphasized that many modern developments which have a certain connection with his general ethical outlook are contrary to his clearly expressed opinions.
    (pp 730-1)

    [In] Thus Spake Zarathustra, he says that women are not, as yet, capable of friendship; they are still cats, or birds, or at best cows.
    Man shall be trained for war and woman for the recreation of the warrior.
    All else is folly.
    The recreation of the warrior is to be of a peculiar sort if one may trust his most emphatic aphorism on this subject:
    Thou goest to woman?
    Do not forget thy whip.

    He is not always quite so fierce, though always equally contemptuous.
    In the Will to Power he says:
    We take pleasure in woman as in a perhaps daintier, more delicate, and more ethereal kind of creature.
    What a treat it is to meet creatures who have only dancing and nonsense and finery in their minds!
    They have always been the delight of every tense and profound male soul.
    However, even these graces are only to be found in women so long as they are kept in order by manly men; as soon as they achieve any independence they become intolerable.
    Woman has so much cause for shame; in woman there is so much pedantry, superficiality, schoolmasterliness, petty presumption, unbridledness, and indiscretion concealed … which has really been best restrained and dominated hitherto by the fear of man.
    So he says in Beyond Good and Evil, where he adds that we should think of women as property, as Orientals do.
    The whole of his abuse of women is offered as self-evident truth; it is not backed up by evidence from history or from his own experience, which, so far as women were concerned, was almost [completely] confined to his sister.
    (pp 731-2)

    It is undeniable that Nietzsche has had a great influence … among people of literary and artistic culture.
    It must also be conceded that his prophecies as to the future have, so far, proved more nearly right than those of liberals or Socialists.
    If he is a mere symptom of disease, the disease must be very widespread in the modern world.
    (p 733)

    [Nietzsche] feels almost universal hatred and fear, which he would fain disguise as lordly indifference.
    His 'noble' man — who is himself in day-dreams — is a being wholly devoid of sympathy, ruthless, cunning, cruel, concerned only with his own power.
    (p 734)

    [Partly] as a result of his teaching, the real world has become very like his nightmare, but that does not make it any the less horrible. …

    [He] is so full of fear and hatred that spontaneous love of mankind seems to him impossible. …

    He holds that the happiness of common people is no part of the good per se.
    All that is good or bad in itself exists only in the superior few; what happens to the rest is of no account.
    (p 735)

    [Nietzsche believed that victors] in war, and their descendants, are usually biologically superior to the vanquished.
    It is therefore desirable that they should hold all the power, and should manage affairs exclusively in their own interests.
    (p 736)

    I dislike Nietzsche
    • because he likes the contemplation of pain,
    • because he erects conceit into a duty, [and]
    • because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die.
    But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally self-consistent ethic,
    • lies not in an appeal to facts,
    • but in an appeal to the emotions.
    Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world.
    His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end.
    (p 739)

  • The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1975 / 1967-69.

    1872-1914: What I Have Lived For

    I have sought love …
    [First,] because it brings ecstasy …
    [Next,] because it relieves loneliness …
    [And] finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of heaven that saints and poets have imagined.
    This is what I sought, and … what — at last — I have have found.

    … I have sought knowledge.
    I have wished to understand the hearts of men. …
    … I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux.
    A little of this … I have achieved.

    Love and knowledge … led upward toward the heavens.
    But always pity brought me back to earth.
    Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. …
    [The] whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be.
    I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

    This has been my life.
    I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again it the chance were offered me.

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