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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.



A fact, in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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All the conditions of happiness are realized in the life of the man of science.
— Bertrand Russell
The Conquest of Happiness (1930), 146.
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Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in infering that he is an inexact man. Every careful measurement in science is always given with the probable error ... every observer admits that he is likely wrong, and knows about how much wrong he is likely to be.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 42.
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Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.
— Bertrand Russell
What I Believe (1925). In The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1903-1959 (1992), 370.
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Gradually, … the aspect of science as knowledge is being thrust into the background by the aspect of science as the power of manipulating nature. It is because science gives us the power of manipulating nature that it has more social importance than art. Science as the pursuit of truth is the equal, but not the superior, of art. Science as a technique, though it may have little intrinsic value, has a practical importance to which art cannot aspire.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), xxiv.
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I am compelled to fear that science will be used to promote the power of dominant groups rather than to make men happy.
— Bertrand Russell
In Icarus, or the Future of Science (1924), 5.
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I conclude that, 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.
— Bertrand Russell
Religion and Science (1935), 243.
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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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In general … science per se does not increase the destructiveness of war, since, as a rule, it strengthens the defense as much as the attack.
— Bertrand Russell
In 'Boredom or Doom in a Scientific World', United Nations World (Sep 1948), Vol. 2, No. 8, 14.
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In science men have discovered an activity of the very highest value in which they are no longer, as in art, dependent for progress upon the appearance of continually greater genius, for in science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it. … In art nothing worth doing can be done without genius; in science even a very moderate capacity can contribute to a supreme achievement.
— Bertrand Russell
Essay, 'The Place Of Science In A Liberal Education.' In Mysticism and Logic: and Other Essays (1919), 41.
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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.
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Philosophy is that part of science which at present people chose to have opinions about, but which they have no knowledge about. Therefore every advance in knowledge robs philosophy of some problems which formerly it had …and will belong to science.
— Bertrand Russell
'The Philosophy of Logical Atomism' (1918). In Betrand Russell and Robert Charles Marsh (Ed.), Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901-1950 (1988), 281.
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Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting. Given the laws governing the motions of electrons and protons, the rest is merely geography—a collection of particular facts.
— Bertrand Russell
In What I Believe (1925), 2.
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Physics, owing to the simplicity of its subject matter, has reached a higher state of development than any other science. (1931)
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 42.
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Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion of what it means.
— Bertrand Russell
In Lecture (1929), as quoted in E.T. Bell (ed.), Development of Mathematics (1940), 540.
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Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt read on and science as our guidelines.
— Bertrand Russell
Unverified. Included here to provide this caution that it is widely attributed on the web, but without citation. Webmaster has not found it in a major book of quotations. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Science is what we know, and philosophy is what we don't know.
— Bertrand Russell
In Bertrand Russell Speaks his Mind (1960), 11.
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Science is what you know, philosophy what you don’t know.
— Bertrand Russell
…...
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Science is what you more or less know and philosophy is what you do not know.
— Bertrand Russell
'The Philosophy of Logical Atomism' (1918). In Betrand Russell and Robert Charles Marsh (Ed.), Logic and Knowledge: Essays, 1901-1950 (1988), 281.
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Science may be a boon if war can be abolished and democracy and cultural liberty preserved. If this cannot be done, science will precipitate evils greater than any that mankind has ever experienced.
— Bertrand Russell
In 'Boredom or Doom in a Scientific World', United Nations World (Sep 1948), Vol. 2, No. 8, 16.
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Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.
— Bertrand Russell
In History of Western Philosophy (2004), 26.
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Science, by itself, cannot supply us with an ethic. It can show us how to achieve a given end, and it may show us that some ends cannot be achieved. But among ends that can be achieved our choice must be decided by other than purely scientific considerations. If a man were to say, “I hate the human race, and I think it would be a good thing if it were exterminated,” we could say, “Well, my dear sir, let us begin the process with you.” But this is hardly argument, and no amount of science could prove such a man mistaken.
— Bertrand Russell
'The Science to Save us from Science', New York Times Magazine (19 Mar 1950). Collected in M. Gardner (ed.), Great Essays in Science (1950), 396-397.
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Science, in its ultimate ideal, consists of a set of propositions arranged in a hierarchy, the lowest level of the hierarchy being concerned with particular facts, and the highest with some general law, governing everything in the universe. The various levels in the hierarchy have a two-fold logical connection, travelling one up, one down; the upward connection proceeds by induction, the downward by deduction.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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The distinctive Western character begins with the Greeks, who invented the habit of deductive reasoning and the science of geometry.
— Bertrand Russell
In 'Western Civilization', collected in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (1935), 161.
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The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.
— Bertrand Russell
Power: A New Social Analysis (1938), 10.
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The results of science, in the form of mechanism, poison gas, and the yellow press, bid fair to lead to the total downfall of our civilization.
— Bertrand Russell
In Conway Memorial Lecture (24 Mar 1922) at South Place Institute, published as Free Thought and Official Propaganda (1922), 55.
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The significance of a fact is relative to [the general body of scientific] knowledge. To say that a fact is significant in science, is to say that it helps to establish or refute some general law; for science, though it starts from observation of the particular, is not concerned essentially with the particular, but with the general. A fact, in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance. In this the scientist differs from the artist, who, if he deigns to notice facts at all, is likely to notice them in all their particularity.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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Throughout the last four hundred years, during which the growth of science had gradually shown men how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another. After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against scientific theories of psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is.
— Bertrand Russell
From An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1937, 1943), 6. Collected in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (2009), 47.
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When a man of science speaks of his “data,” he knows very well in practice what he means. Certain experiments have been conducted, and have yielded certain observed results, which have been recorded. But when we try to define a “datum” theoretically, the task is not altogether easy. A datum, obviously, must be a fact known by perception. But it is very difficult to arrive at a fact in which there is no element of inference, and yet it would seem improper to call something a “datum” if it involved inferences as well as observation. This constitutes a problem. …
— Bertrand Russell
In The Analysis of Matter (1954).
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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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- 90 -
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- 70 -
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