Thursday, January 28, 2010

What I Believe - Bertrand Russell

"A good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge" - Bertrand Russell

"What I believe", an essay outlining Russell's thoughts and hopes, written early in the 20th century (1925) is a 40-page successor to his pessimistic world view outlined in "Icarus" . Perhaps one of the boldest and brightest philosopher and writer the past century has seen, most of Russell's thinking has stood the test of time. The reason being pretty simple, his thoughts far-sighted and their basis not ephemeral.

In this essay, Russell starts off with the neutrality of nature, nature being neither good nor bad. This is a direct attack against Liebniz-like optimism and extreme pessimism. He then moves on to define a "good life" (quote at the beginning of this post) and talks in length the importance of both love and knowledge, it's key components. Russell points out the dangers of having one but not the other component with examples. Russell moves onto discussions around morals, quoting that morals and ethics are derived from conflicting desires, a code or rule book that prevents or avoids such conflicts. In the entire essay, Russell is particularly harsh on the church, on religion and even nationalism.

The author also delves into the concept of salvation, the fallacies of education and the tradeoffs involving scientific advancement. Russell is not convinced with the education system in his times (I am not sure if it has changed much) and feels that children lose their faculty in curiosity as they spend their precious years in schools.

Overall, a quick read, many issues that author has brought into light are very much pertinent even to this day. Russell is pretty caustic in some places, but that's when he is at his best.