Archive for the ‘Bertrand Russell’ Category

How hateful is the light of day to me, And all the weary tasks of daily life

November 17, 2009

How hateful is the light of day to me,
And all the weary tasks of daily life.
Without the faith, which ever led me on,
And gave me hope through thickest clouds of pain!

Bertrand Russell, on giving up faith in God

in Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell (vol.1), p.40

Russell’s life seems to have been inexorably drawn towards disaster, determined on its course by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity

November 15, 2009

Ray Monk spent more than 10 years on his two volume biography of Bertrand Russell. He comments:

Another reason – perhaps the main one – that this has been a difficult book to write has been my growing realisation of the tragedy of Russell’s life . . .I do not just mean that there was sadness in Russell’s life, though, to be sure, the degree of suffering he endured – and caused – has been one of the hardest revelations of my work on this book…what I mean when I speak of tragedy is principally that Russell’s life seems to have been inexorably drawn towards disaster, determined on its course by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity…He was, it sometimes seems, simply not capable of loving another human being.  Russell had what he considered to be an exalted conception of love — which he expressed in Marriage and Morals and in numerous other places — according to which love takes the form of ‘merging’ one ego with another.  In many of his political writings this notion reappears as the duty to love humanity in the sense of regarding all humanity as, in some sense, coextensive with one’s ego.  One might regard this as a harmlessly fanciful way of urging people to empathise with each other, but Russell’s relations with those close to him suggest another interpretation: that he was unable to conceive of loving another person unless he could regard that person as part of himself.  In other words, loving another was, for him, inconceivable. He was, as it were (as, indeed, his epistemology maintains we all are), trapped inside the boundaries of his own ego. He could imagine — and frequently did imagine — extending those boundaries, but what he could not imagine doing was reaching out beyond them. Would that this was only a theoretical problem, but the experience of Russell’s wives, children and friends suggests that, on this point, theory and practice combined in the most devastating manner.

Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness: 1921-1970 (xi-xii)

I can respect the men who argue that religion is true and therefore ought to be believed, but I can feel only reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time

November 14, 2009

I can respect the men who argue that religion is true and therefore ought to be believed, but I can feel only reprobation for those who say that religion ought to be believed because it is useful, and that to ask whether it is true is a waste of time.

Bertrand Russell, Why I am no0t a Christian, London, 1957,. p.172

I do not think any spiritual force outside human beings actually helps us

October 29, 2009

I do not think any spiritual force outside human beings actually helps us — there may be such a force, but if so it is only as incarnated in human beings that it helps us. Therefore I cannot pray or lean on God. What strength I need I must get from myself or those whom I advise. And this view does seem to me nobler, sterner, braver than the view which looks for help from without, besides seeming to me truer.

Bertrand Russell, Ray Monk, vol. 1, p.244

If one needs strength (as he says) then looking for it within is to (attempt to) pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. NB it ‘seem(s) to me’ sums up the relativistic or subjectivism of the man who rejects God.

I can’t justify it, but it was a deep and sincere prayer – a prayer for strength to subdue my instincts

October 13, 2009

Despite being a critic of religion,  Bertrand Russell’s biographer, Ray Monk, writes that he once prayed on his knees to God in the San Zeno Maggiore, Verona. He was struggling to control his sexual passions. Russell wrote:

I can’t justify it, but it was a deep and sincere prayer – a prayer for strength to subdue my instincts.

Clearly his rationalism wasn’t of much help at that time.

The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains

October 13, 2009

The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite – the beatific vision – God…I can’t explain it or make it seem anything but foolishness.

Bertrand Russell, in Bertrand Russell, Ray Monk, vol.1, p.317

There must be something more important, one feels, though I don’t believe there is

October 13, 2009

Writing to Ottoline from prison, in 1918, (his punishment for his anti-war activity) Russell explained that one of his most important motivations in his work and life was “the quest for something elusive, and yet omnipresent, and at once subtle and infinite: one seeks it in music, and the sea, and sunsets…But if one lets oneself imagine one has found it, some cruel irony is sure to come and show one that it is not really found. The outcome is that one is a ghost, floating through the world without any real contact…There must be something more important, one feels, though I don’t believe there is.

Bertrand Russell, in Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude, vol.1, Ray Monk, p.530

Or rather, he didn’t want a God who might tell him to leave a married woman alone (Ottoline) and be sexually faithful.

I do not believe that there is any way of obtaining knowledge except the scientific way

October 11, 2009

I do not believe that there is any way of obtaining knowledge except the scientific way. Some of the problems with which philosophy has concerned itself can be solved by scientific methods; others cannot. Those which cannot are insoluble.

Bertrand Russell (speaking in 1922), in Bertrand Russell; The Ghost of Madness, Ray Monk, p.20

Does he know this through the scientific method? Of course, it would be impossible to prove scientifically. But then, he claims to know one thing that isn’t proven by science. Not the first of Mr Russell’s problems that are ‘insoluble’.

Turbulent, restless, inwardly raging – I shall always be – hungry for your God and blaspheming him. I could pour forth a flood of worship – the longing for religion is at times almost unbearably strong

October 7, 2009

I long to have the inward poise that you have,'( Bertrand Russell said to Lady Ottoline Morrell, his lover and a believer in God) but that is not for me. I shall never have it while I am alive. Turbulent, restless, inwardly raging – I shall always be – hungry for your God and blaspheming him. I could pour forth a flood of worship – the longing for religion is at times almost unbearably strong.

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk,Bertrand Russell: Spirit of Solitude, p.243

How weak and foolish seem now the paltry motives, the mean fears which I vainly endeavoured to mistake for a broad-minded freedom from prejudice

October 7, 2009

On 5/12/1892 Bertrand Russell wrote a prayer in is journal before he gave up belief in God: O God forgive me; I have sinned grievously. What the others did, that I did also for fear…lest I should seem prig…How weak and foolish seem now the paltry motives, the mean fears which I vainly endeavoured to mistake for a broad-minded freedom from prejudice…grant that I may…draw the line justly between harmless merriment and vicious jesting. May I no more do that which in my heart I abhor to win the paltry and ephemeral good will of those whose respect I forfeit by the very course which deference to them has led me into.

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell, vol.1, 1997, pp.49-50