Bertrand Russell Quotes on Philosophy (21 Quotes)


    Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the most thoughtless, and in the absence of knowledge it is almost sure to be a silly philosophy.

    In the first place a philosophical proposition must be general. It must not deal specially with things on the surface of the earth, or within the solar system, or with any other portion of space and time.... This brings us to a second characteristic of philosophical propositions, namely that they must be a priori. A philosophical proposition must be such as can neither be proved nor disproved by empirical evidence.... Philosophy, if what has been said is correct, becomes indistinguishable from logic as that word has now come to be used.

    Philosophers, for the most part, are constitutionally timid, and dislike the unexpected. Few of them would be genuinely happy as pirates or burglars. Accordingly, they invent systems which make the future calculable, at least in its main outlines.

    The theoretical understanding of the world, which is the aim of philosophy, is not a matter of great practical importance to animals, or to savages, or even to most civilised men.

    I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.


    I remain convinced that obstinate addiction to ordinary language in our private thoughts is one of the main obstacles to progress in philosophy.

    Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.

    Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know.

    The study of logic becomes the central study in philosophy it gives the method of research in philosophy, just as mathematics gives the method in physics.... All this supposed knowledge in the traditional systems must be swept away, and a new beginning m.

    The doctrine, as I understand it, consists in maintaining that the language of daily life, with words used in their ordinary meanings, suffices for philosophy, which has no need of technical terms or of changes in the significance of common terms. I find myself totally unable to accept this view. I object to it 1. Because it is insincere 2. Because it is capable of excusing ignorance of mathematics, physics and neurology in those who have had only a classical education 3. Because it is advanced by some in a tone of unctuous rectitude, as if opposition to it were a sin against democracy 4. Because it makes philosophy trivial 5. Because it makes almost inevitable the perpetuation amongst philosophers of the muddle-headedness they have taken over from common sense.

    If a philosophy is to bring happiness it should be inspired by kindly feelings. Marx pretended that he wanted the happiness of the proletariat what he really wanted was the unhappiness of the bourgeois.

    A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.

    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.

    An extra-terrestrial philosopher, who had watched a single youth up to the age of twenty-one and had never come across any other human being, might conclude that it is the nature of human beings to grow continually taller and wiser in an indefinite progress towards perfection and this generalization would be just as well founded as the generalization which evolutionists base upon the previous history of this planet.

    Morally, a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery

    To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.

    Bad philosophers may have a certain influence good philosophers, never.

    The teacher, like the artist and the philosopher, can perform his work adequately only if he feels himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated and fettered by an outside authority.

    Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.

    On the one hand, philosophy is to keep us thinking about things that we may come to know, and on the other hand to keep us modestly aware of how much that seems like knowledge isn't knowledge

    If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all.


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