A sampling of Bertrand Russell quotes

July 17, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Yesterday I wrote a post describing how I discovered Bertrand Russell while I was an intellectually frustrated and isolated teen-aged boy.  Back then, I was startled to see someone else who was publicly critical of religious institutions.  Thinking about those days yesterday provoked me to scour the Internet today for some of Russell’s well-known quotes.  There are many more Russell quotes out there than these; he was a prolific writer.

Russell, best known for being a mathematician and logician, dismayed many people while he was alive. After all, he didn’t believe in God. He spoke openly of sexual pleasure being a good thing; he protested against the Vietnam war.  Now, however, many of his writings seem only like common sense.

I admired Russell’s clean writing style, his sense of wit, his astute observations and his good heart. 

  • It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.
  • “The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in 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.”
  • The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
  • One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
  • 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.
  • The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
  • Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.
  • No nation was ever so virtuous as each believes itself, and none was ever so wicked as each believes the other.
  • As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles.
  • Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
  • Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.
  • I did not know I loved you until I heard myself telling so, for one instance I thought, “Good God, what have I said?” and then I knew it was true.
  • If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years.
  • Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.
  • One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.
  • Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.
  • Sin is geographical.
  • The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
  • Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin — more even than death…. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. 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.

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Category: Education, Good and Evil, Psychology Cognition, Quotes, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. A wise man once said that "Sin is Geographical". Little did he know how true it has become. It turns out that those who have limited access to education are more likely to believe in GOD.

    Percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements:

    Religion is Religion can

    "very important "answer all or most

    Respondents in their life" of today's problems"


    Attended college 53 percent 54percent

    No college 63 65

    Income over $50,000 48 56

    $30,000 – $50,000 56 62

    $20,000 – $30,000 56 60

    Under $20,000 66 66

    Why does this correlation exist? The first answer that comes to mind is that religious beliefs tend to be more illogical or incoherent than secular beliefs, and intelligent people tend to recognize that more quickly. But this explanation will surely be rejected by religious people, who will seek other explanations and rationalizations.

    A possible counter-argument is that intelligent people tend to be more successful than others. The lure of worldly success and materialism draws many of these intellectually gifted individuals away from God. After all, who needs God when you (apparently) are making it on your own?

    However, this argument does not withstand closer scrutiny. Most of the studies outlined above describe the religious attitudes of students, who have yet to enter the working world, much less succeed in it. Some might then argue that the most intelligent students are nonetheless succeeding in school. But "success" in school (for those who may have forgotten!) is more measured in terms of popularity, sports, physical attractiveness, personality, clothes, etc. Grades are but one of many measures of success in a young person's life — one that is increasingly becoming less important, as many social critics point out.

    The simplest and most parsimonious explanation is that religion is a set of logical and factual claims, and those with the most logic and facts at their disposal are rejecting it largely on those grounds.

    –Dr. Vaswanthan "swarthy sammy" Djbouti, University of Iowa

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another Bertrand Russell quote for the collection:

    The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

    Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

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