Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Simple Book Review: "What I Believe" (1925)

What I Believe (1925) by Bertrand Russell

For Bertrand Russell, the leading philosopher of the 20th century, nothing is sacred. Sex, morality, politics, society – all are fair games for him. I wish to read his tick and massive volume of History of Western Philosophy but I have to say no for now. But I will read his second famous book, Why I am not a Christian (Once Russell was declared unfit or ‘heretic’ to teach college-level philosophy because of his attacked on organized religion).

In this short book or rather essay, Russell attempts to say what he think of man’s place in the universe and possible way of achieving the good life. This is how he sums up his idea of what constitutes a life well-lived: “My view is this: The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life.”

No doubt, Russell was an agnostic-atheist. But he was also the great champion of humanism and rational thought. On human rights and ethical issues, for example, on the criminal justice system, he maintains that “Suffering to the criminal can never be justified by the notion of vindictive punishment. If education combined with kindness is equally effective, it is to be preferred; still more is it to be preferred if it is more effective.”

In this book, he put a great emphasis on science and research in contrast to belief and dogma as our main practical tool (as for now) to improve and better the condition of humankind. “An able physician is more useful to a patient than the most devoted friend, and progress in medical knowledge does more for the health of the community than ill-informed philanthropy,” writes Russell. “For example, the spread of cancer is alarming—what are we to do about it? At the moment, no one can answer the question for lack of knowledge; and the knowledge is not likely to emerge except through endowed research.”

Ideas contained in this 42 pages book were and are controversial, contentious and – to the religious keyboard warriors in my Facebook circle – downright blasphemous. I think the arguments within this essay will continue to challenge one’s faith and assumptions. Alan Ryan, who wrote preface of this book thought that Bertrand was “a deeply religious thinker.”

You don’t have to agree with Russell, not all, but keep an open mind.
Ah, dangerous of course. 


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