Bertrand Russell’s Message to People Living in the Year 2959: “Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish”

Bertrand Russell, the great British philosopher and social critic, appeared on the BBC program Face-to-Face in 1959 and was asked a closing question: What would you tell a generation living 1,000 years from now about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned. His answer is short, but pithy. You can read a transcript below:

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral:

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say: Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

No truer words have been spoken.

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  • Paul Tatara says:

    Putting up with the fact that people say things that we don’t like is not the same as putting up with people who actively try to suppress people that they don’t like. Obviously, what he says is true, but it over-simplifies the core struggle of human existence. If only people were just “saying” things. Wouldn’t that be great?

  • Hanoch says:

    The two lessons do not seem as helpful as they might first appear.

    With regard to lesson one, there are at least two problems. First, humans must frequently act on incomplete information, i.e., the “facts” are frequently unknown and/or unknowable. Second, even when the facts are known, it often does not end the analysis, e.g., moral issues cannot be resolved merely by reference to facts.

    On lesson two, I tend to agree with Mr. Tatara, i.e., its value appears limited. There really is no such thing as absolute tolerance, and advocating in its favor seems tantamount to preaching for a valueless society. We do not tolerate murder, theft, tax evasion, and many other things because we deem such acts improper and/or morally wrong. Thus tolerance is well and good, except when it is not.

  • jkop says:

    @Paul: Unlike hatred a tolerant response enables rational or desired betterment. For example, while you tolerate someone’s suppressive talk you may also inform him or her about the facts of life together with his or her victims. Few people want to be known, or even less die, as a former tyrant.

    @Hanoch: Russell neither says, nor is it implied, that reference to facts would resolve moral issues. He explicitly distinguishes moral issues from intellectual, so it must have taken you discipline to confuse them.

    Likewise, why would you deliberately misrepresent his plea for charity and tolerance of what people say to eachother as if it would imply tolerance of murder, theft, or tax evasion? Your dismissal makes little sense.

  • Andrew Roddy says:

    Allow yourself to be diverted by what you wish to believe. If you wish to believe there is an answer or a better way then look for it. Your curiosity is a fact that has (according to Albert Einstein) ‘its own reason for existing’. In intellectual and moral matters allow yourself to be diverted and driven by your desires and passion. Let reason be your navigator and even let it take a turn at the wheel but it’s not fair to expect it to know where to go.

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