Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Bertrand Russell, fully Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell

British Philosopher, Logician, Mathematician, Historian, Socialist, Pacifist and Social Critic

"Don't accept superficial solutions of difficult problems. It is better to do a little than much harm."

"Every advance in civilization has been denounced as unnatural while it was recent."

"Drunkenness is temporary suicide: the happiness that it brings is merely negative, a momentary cessation of unhappiness."

"Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of conforming convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day."

"A fanatical belief in democracy makes democratic institutions impossible."

"Government can easily exist without law, but law cannot exist without government."

"Happiness is not best achieved by those who seek it directly; and it would seem that the same is true of the good."

"I do not believe that any peacock envies another peacock his tail, because every peacock is persuaded that his own tail is the finest in the world. The consequence of this is that peacocks are peaceable birds."

"History, in every country, is so taught as to magnify that country: children learn to believe that their own country has always been in the right and almost always victorious, that it has produced almost all the great men, and that it is in all respects superior to all other countries."

"If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give."

"If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?"

"In all affairs, love, religion, politics or business, it's a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on things you have long taken for granted."

"Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives."

"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more then they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years."

"It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than to hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young."

"Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope and enterprise and change."

"Love, children, and work are the great sources of fertilizing contact between the individual and the rest of the world."

"Mathematics... possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty - a beauty cold and austere, like that of a 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."

"Matter is less material and the mind less spiritual than is generally supposed. The habitual separation of physics and psychology, mind and matter, is metaphysically indefensible."

"Men can be stimulated by hope or driven by fear, but the hope and the fear must be vivid and immediate if they are to be effective without producing weariness."

"Metaphysics, or the attempt to conceive the world as a whole by means of thought, has been developed, from the first, by the union and conflict of two very different human impulses, the one urging men towards mysticism, the other urging them towards science... But the greatest men who have been philosophers have felt the need both of science and mysticism: the attempt to harmonize the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its arduous uncertainty, make philosophy, to some minds, a greater thing than either science or religion."

"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth- even more than death. Thought is subversive, and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; though its merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless to the well-trained wisdom of 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. But 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 man back - fear that their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear least they themselves prove less worthy to the respect they have supposed themselves to be."

"Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be."

"Men sometimes speak as though the progress of science must necessarily be a boon to mankind, but that, I fear, is one of the comfortable nineteenth century delusions which our more disillusioned age must discard."

"Not... what opinions are held, but... how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, [liberal] opinions are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment."

"Perhaps the most powerful solvent of the pre-scientific outlook has been the first law of motion, which the world owes to Galileo, though to some extent he was anticipated by Leonardo da Vinci. The first law of motion says that a body which is moving will go on moving in the same direction with the same velocity until something stops it."

"Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe."

"Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity."

"Science is what you know; philosophy is what you don't know."

"The average man's opinions are much less foolish than they would be if he thought for himself."

"The contention that time is unreal and that the world of sense is illusory must, I think, be regarded as based upon fallacious reasoning... Both in thought and in feeling, to realize the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom."

"The fact that the majority of a community dislikes an opinion gives it no right to interfere with those who hold it. And the fact that the majority of a community wishes not to know certain facts gives it no right to imprison those who wish to know them."

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."

"The human heart as modern civilization has made it is more prone to hatred than to friendship. And it is prone to hatred because it is dissatisfied."

"The more purely intellectual aim of education should be the endeavor to make us see and imagine the world in an objective manner as far as possible as it really is in itself, and not merely through the distorting medium of personal desires."

"The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress, without which human society would stand still or retrogress."

"There can never be any reason for rejecting one instinctive belief except that it clashes with others. It is of course possible that all or any of our beliefs may be mistaken, and therefore all ought to be held with at least some element of doubt. But we cannot have reason to reject a belief except on the ground of some other belief."

"The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things."

"The value of philosophy is to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. He who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thought and free them from the tyranny of custom."

"There is a constant relation between the state of the universe at any instant and the rate of change in the rate at which any part of the universe is changing at that instant, and this relation is man-one, i.e., such that the rate of change in the rate of change is determinate when the state of the universe I given. If the ‘law of causality’ is to be something actually discoverable in the practice of science, the above proposition has a better right to the name than any ‘law of causality’ to be found in the books of philosophers."

"There is no possible method of compelling a child to feel sympathy or affection."

"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge."

"To teach how to live with uncertainty, 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."

"To much liberty brings stagnation, and too much brings chaos."

"To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future."

"Unless a man has been taught what to do with success after getting it, the achievement of it must inevitably leave him a prey to boredom."

"What is wanted is not the will to believe but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."

"We are now again in an epoch of wars of religion, but a religion is now called an "ideology.""

"What men want is not knowledge, but certainty."

"Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?"