06 October 2008

Bertrand Russell

This quote showed up on Pharyngula's random quote generator, and I just had to steal it:

What makes a free thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful though, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.

Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth-Seeker and Break the Chains of Mental Slavery" (1944) in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), pp. 239-40

I've only read a little bit of Russell (many of his texts can be found here), but I've rather liked what I have read. I have read his essay, Why I Am Not a Christian. It's a fairly methodical (and short) look at the common justifications for belief. My impression is that he's not trying to convince anyone so much as just listing his own reasons not to believe. Worth reading.

And while I'm posting semi-random quotes, there's a good one from Hume at Evolving Thoughts today.

Edit: added missing 'L's to "Russell". ^/^


James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for sharing this quote.

(You've been leaving the last "l" off his surname, by the way).

Qalmlea said...

Oops. Thanks for the heads-up.

John said...

A few of my favorite quotes from Russell:

"While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know."
-Religion and Science (1935), ch. IX: Science of Ethics

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."
-source unknown (to me)

"There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge."
-Headnote to "Three Papers on Useless Knowledge", 1933-1935

I read "Why I am not a Christian" a long time ago. It was very good. I keep a copy around (conspicuously) to annoy relatives.

Qalmlea said...

Nice. I know we're going to be reading some Russell in my Theory of Knowledge class, but I don't remember from which work. Also, our instructor wrote his dissertation on something of Russell's.

We just got to Kant. He seems to have a requirement of a minimum of three subclauses per sentence. That, or the translator had that as a rule.