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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index R > Bertrand Russell Quotes > Belief

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Bertrand Russell
(18 May 1872 - 2 Feb 1970)

Welsh mathematician, logician and philosopher known for his work in mathematical logic, but was also active in social and political campaigns, advocating pacifism and nuclear disarmament.



But, you might say, “none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.” You are quite right, except in marginal cases—and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition “2 and 2 are 4” is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. “Well, at any rate there are four animals,” you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. “Well, then living organisms,” you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: “Two entities and two entities are four entities.” When you have told me what you mean by “entity,” we will resume the argument.
— Bertrand Russell
In Basic Writings, 1903-1959 (1961), 108.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (617)  |  Applied (176)  |  Apply (160)  |  Argument (138)  |  Arise (158)  |  Belief (578)  |  Case (99)  |  Certain (550)  |  Certainly (185)  |  Concern (228)  |  Correct (87)  |  Dog (70)  |  Doubt (305)  |  Doubtful (29)  |  Entity (35)  |  Length (23)  |  Live (629)  |  Living (491)  |  Marginal (3)  |  Mean (809)  |  Meter (9)  |  Microorganism (28)  |  Must (1526)  |  Organism (220)  |  Plant (295)  |  Proposition (123)  |  Resume (4)  |  Right (452)  |  Say (984)  |  Shake (41)  |  Something (719)  |  Tell (340)  |  Thing (1915)  |  Two (937)  |  Useless (33)  |  Will (2354)

Descartes, the father of modern philosophy … would never—so he assures us—have been led to construct his philosophy if he had had only one teacher, for then he would have believed what he had been told; but, finding that his professors disagreed with each other, he was forced to conclude that no existing doctrine was certain.
— Bertrand Russell
From 'Philosophy For Laymen', collected in Unpopular Essays (1950, 1996), 57.
Science quotes on:  |  Assure (15)  |  Belief (578)  |  Certain (550)  |  Certainty (174)  |  Conclude (65)  |  Construct (124)  |  Renι Descartes (81)  |  Disagreed (4)  |  Doctrine (75)  |  Existing (10)  |  Father (110)  |  Forced (3)  |  Modern (385)  |  Never (1087)  |  Other (2236)  |  Philosophy (382)  |  Professor (129)  |  Teacher (143)  |  Told (4)

I do not believe that science per se is an adequate source of happiness, nor do I think that my own scientific outlook has contributed very greatly to my own happiness, which I attribute to defecating twice a day with unfailing regularity. Science in itself appears to me neutral, that is to say, it increases men’s power whether for good or for evil. An appreciation of the ends of life is something which must be superadded to science if it is to bring happiness, but only the kind of society to which science is apt to give rise. I am afraid you may be disappointed that I am not more of an apostle of science, but as I grow older, and no doubt—as a result of the decay of my tissues, I begin to see the good life more and more as a matter of balance and to dread all over-emphasis upon anyone ingredient.
— Bertrand Russell
Letter to W. W. Norton, Publisher (27 Jan 1931). In The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 1914-1944 (1968), Vol. 2, 200.
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It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it to be true.
— Bertrand Russell
In Sceptical Essays (1928), ii.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (578)  |  Ground (218)  |  Proposition (123)  |  Suppose (156)  |  Truth (1062)  |  Undesirable (3)  |  Whatever (234)

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
— Bertrand Russell
…...
Science quotes on:  |  Absence (18)  |  Animal (617)  |  Bad (180)  |  Belief (578)  |  Credulous (9)  |  Good (889)  |  Ground (218)  |  Man (2249)  |  Must (1526)  |  Satisfied (23)  |  Something (719)  |  Will (2354)

One of the main purposes of scientific inference is to justify beliefs which we entertain already; but as a rule they are justified with a difference. Our pre-scientific general beliefs are hardly ever without exceptions; in science, a law with exceptions can only be tolerated as a makeshift. Scientific laws, when we have reason to think them accurate, are different in form from the common-sense rules which have exceptions: they are always, at least in physics, either differential equations, or statistical averages. It might be thought that a statistical average is not very different from a rule with exceptions, but this would be a mistake. Statistics, ideally, are accurate laws about large groups; they differ from other laws only in being about groups, not about individuals. Statistical laws are inferred by induction from particular statistics, just as other laws are inferred from particular single occurrences.
— Bertrand Russell
The Analysis of Matter (1927), 191.
Science quotes on:  |  Accuracy (78)  |  Accurate (87)  |  Already (222)  |  Average (82)  |  Being (1278)  |  Belief (578)  |  Common (436)  |  Common Sense (130)  |  Differ (85)  |  Difference (337)  |  Different (577)  |  Differential Equation (18)  |  Entertain (24)  |  Entertainment (18)  |  Equation (132)  |  Exception (73)  |  Form (960)  |  General (511)  |  Group (78)  |  Individual (404)  |  Induction (77)  |  Inference (45)  |  Justification (49)  |  Large (394)  |  Law (895)  |  Makeshift (2)  |  Mistake (170)  |  Occurrence (53)  |  Other (2236)  |  Physic (516)  |  Physics (533)  |  Pre-Scientific (5)  |  Purpose (317)  |  Reason (744)  |  Rule (295)  |  Science (3880)  |  Scientific (940)  |  Sense (770)  |  Single (354)  |  Statistics (157)  |  Think (1086)  |  Thought (954)  |  Toleration (7)

One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
— Bertrand Russell
Autobiography
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (578)  |  Symptom (34)  |  Work (1351)

Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard, you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants?
— Bertrand Russell
In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), 22.
Science quotes on:  |  Anger (20)  |  Arithmetic (139)  |  Belief (578)  |  Beyond (308)  |  Difference (337)  |  Evidence (248)  |  Examination (98)  |  Find (999)  |  Knowledge (1536)  |  Opinion (281)  |  Persecution (13)  |  Theology (53)  |  Warrant (8)  |  Whenever (81)  |  Will (2354)

When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favor of the belief which he finds in himself.
— Bertrand Russell
In Mysticism and Logic (2004), 15.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (578)  |  Conviction (98)  |  Emotion (100)  |  Emotional (17)  |  Favor (64)  |  Find (999)  |  Ground (218)  |  Habit (168)  |  Himself (461)  |  Intensity (34)  |  Logic (287)  |  Logical (55)  |  Man (2249)  |  Reason (744)  |  Reasoning (207)  |  Search (162)  |  Subside (5)  |  Will (2354)

William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” … What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
— Bertrand Russell
From Conway Memorial Lecture, South Place Institute, London (24 Mar 1922), printed as Free Thought and Official Propaganda (1922), 14. Collected in Sceptical Essays (1928, 2004), 129.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (578)  |  Doubt (305)  |  Enquiry (87)  |  Find (999)  |  Opposite (104)  |  Want (497)  |  Will (2354)  |  Wish (212)

[Man] … his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labour of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins…
— Bertrand Russell
From 'A Free Man's Worship', Independent Review (Dec 1903). Collected in Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays (1918), 47-48.
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See also:
  • 18 May - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Russell's birth.
  • Bertrand Russell - context of quote “A process which led from the amoeba to man” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Bertrand Russell - context of quote “A process which led from the amoeba to man” - Large image (800 x 600 px)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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