Bertrand Russell’s Advice to People Living 1,000 Years in the Future: “Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish”

In these times of high anxiety, battles over “free speech”—on college campuses, in corporate offices, on airwaves and the internet—can seem extremely myopic from a certain perspective. The perspective I mean is one in which a disturbing number of messages broadcast perpetually to millions of people bear little relationship to scientific, historical, or social facts, so that it becomes increasingly difficult for many people to tell fact from fiction. Debating whether or not such speech is “free” outside of any consideration for what purpose it serves, who it harms, and why it should drown out other speech because it appeals to widespread prejudices or powerful, monied interests seems grossly irresponsible at best.

Most philosophers who have considered these matters have stressed the important relationship between reason and ethics. In the classical formula, persuasive speech was considered to have three dimensions: logos—the use of facts and logical arguments; ethos—the appeal to common standards of value; and pathos—a consideration for the emotional resonance of language. While the forceful dialectical reasoning of Plato and his contemporaries valued parrhesia—which Michel Foucault translates as “free speech,” but which can also means “bold” or “candid” speech—classical thinkers also valued social harmony and did not intend that philosophical debate be a scorched-earth war with the intention to win at all costs.




Bertrand Russell, the brilliant mathematician, philosopher, and anti-war activist, invoked this tradition often (as in his letter declining a debate with British fascist Oswald Mosley). In the video above he answers the question, “what would you think it’s worth telling future generations about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it.” His answer may not validate the prejudices of certain partisans, but neither does it evince any kind of special partisanship itself. Russell breaks his advice into two, interdependent categories, “intellectual and moral.”

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.

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 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 should learn the kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

The gist: our speech should conform to the facts of the matter; rather than wishful thinking, we should accept that people will say things we don’t like, but if we cannot love but only hate each other, we’ll probably end up destroying ourselves.

The video above, from the BBC program Face-to-Face, was recorded in 1959.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Entire Archives of Radical Philosophy Go Online: Read Essays by Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler & More (1972-2018)

On a seemingly daily basis, we see attacks against the intellectual culture of the academic humanities, which, since the 1960s, have opened up spaces for leftists to develop critical theories of all kinds. Attacks from supposedly liberal professors and centrist op-ed columnists, from well-funded conservative think tanks and white supremacists on college campus tours. All rail against the evils of feminism, post-modernism, and something called “neo-Marxism” with outsized agitation.

For students and professors, the onslaughts are exhausting, and not only because they have very real, often dangerous, consequences, but because they all attack the same straw men (or “straw people”) and refuse to engage with academic thought on its own terms. Rarely, in the exasperating proliferation of cranky, cherry-picked anti-academia op-eds do we encounter people actually reading and grappling with the ideas of their supposed ideological nemeses.




Were non-academic critics to take academic work seriously, they might notice that debates over “political correctness,” "thought policing," "identity politics," etc. have been going on for thirty years now, and among left intellectuals themselves. Contrary to what many seem to think, criticism of liberal ideology has not been banned in the academy. It is absolutely the case that the humanities have become increasingly hostile to irresponsible opinions that dehumanize people, like emergency room doctors become hostile to drunk driving. But it does not follow therefore that one cannot disagree with the establishment, as though the University system were still beholden to the Vatican.

Understanding this requires work many people are unwilling to do, either because they’re busy and distracted or, perhaps more often, because they have other, bad faith agendas. Should one decide to survey the philosophical debates on the left, however, an excellent place to start would be Radical Philosophy, which describes itself as a “UK-based journal of socialist and feminist philosophy.” Founded in 1972, in response to “the widely-felt discontent with the sterility of academic philosophy at the time,” the journal was itself an act of protest against the culture of academia.

Radical Philosophy has published essays and interviews with nearly all of the big names in academic philosophy on the left—from Marxists, to post-structuralists, to post-colonialists, to phenomenologists, to critical theorists, to Lacanians, to queer theorists, to radical theologians, to the pragmatist Richard Rorty, who made arguments for national pride and made several critiques of critical theory as an illiberal enterprise. The full range of radical critical theory over the past 45 years appears here, as well as contrarian responses from philosophers on the left.

Rorty was hardly the only one in the journal’s pages to critique certain prominent trends. Sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant launched a 2001 protest against what they called “a strange Newspeak,” or “NewLiberalSpeak” that included words like “globalization,” “governance,” “employability,” “underclass,” “communitarianism,” “multiculturalism” and “their so-called postmodern cousins.” Bourdieu and Wacquant argued that this discourse obscures “the terms ‘capitalism,’ ‘class,’ ‘exploitation,’ ‘domination,’ and ‘inequality,’” as part of a “neoliberal revolution,” that intends to “remake the world by sweeping away the social and economic conquests of a century of social struggles.”

One can also find in the pages of Radical Philosophy philosopher Alain Badiou’s 2005 critique of “democratic materialism,” which he identifies as a “postmodernism” that “recognizes the objective existence of bodies alone. Who would ever speak today, other than to conform to a certain rhetoric? Of the separability of our immortal soul?” Badiou identifies the ideal of maximum tolerance as one that also, paradoxically, “guides us, irresistibly” to war. But he refuses to counter democratic materialism’s maxim that “there are only bodies and languages” with what he calls “its formal opposite… ‘aristocratic idealism.’” Instead, he adds the supplementary phrase, “except that there are truths.”

Badiou’s polemic includes an oblique swipe at Stalinism, a critique Michel Foucault makes in more depth in a 1975 interview, in which he approvingly cites phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty’s “argument against the Communism of the time… that it has destroyed the dialectic of individual and history—and hence the possibility of a humanistic society and individual freedom.” Foucault made a case for this “dialectical relationship” as that “in which the free and open human project consists.” In an interview two years later, he talks of prisons as institutions “no less perfect than school or barracks or hospital” for repressing and transforming individuals.

Foucault’s political philosophy inspired feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler, whose arguments inspired many of today’s gender theorists, and who is deeply concerned with questions of ethics, morality, and social responsibility. Her Adorno Prize Lecture, published in a 2012 issue, took up Theodor Adorno’s challenge of how it is possible to live a good life in bad circumstances (under fascism, for example)—a classical political question that she engages through the work of Orlando Patterson, Hannah Arendt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hegel. Her lecture ends with a discussion of the ethical duty to actively resist and protest an intolerable status quo.

You can now read for free all of these essays and hundreds more at the Radical Philosophy archive, either on the site itself or in downloadable PDFs. The journal, run by an ‘Editorial Collective,” still appears three times a year. The most recent issue features an essay by Lars T. Lih on the Russian Revolution through the lens of Thomas Hobbes, a detailed historical account by Nathan Brown of the term “postmodern,” and its inapplicability to the present moment, and an essay by Jamila M.H. Mascat on the problem of Hegelian abstraction.

If nothing else, these essays and many others should upend facile notions of leftist academic philosophy as dominated by “postmodern” denials of truth, morality, freedom, and Enlightenment thought, as doctrinaire Stalinism, or little more than thought policing through dogmatic political correctness. For every argument in the pages of Radical Philosophy that might confirm certain readers' biases, there are dozens more that will challenge their assumptions, bearing out Foucault’s observation that “philosophy cannot be an endless scrutiny of its own propositions.”

Enter the Radical Philosophy archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Impressive Audio Archive of John Cage Lectures & Interviews: Hear Recordings from 1963-1991

History has remembered John Cage as a composer, but to do justice to his legacy one has to allow that title the widest possible interpretation. He did, of course, compose music: music that strikes the ears of many listeners as quite unconventional even today, more than a quarter-century after his death, but recognizable as music nonetheless. He also composed with silence, an artistic choice that still intrigues people enough to get them taking the plunge into his wider body of work, which also includes compositions of words, many thousands of them written and many hours of them recorded.

Ubuweb offers an impressive audio archive of Cage's spoken word, beginning with material from the 1960s and ending with a talk (embedded at the top of the post) he gave at the San Francisco Art Institute in the penultimate year of his life. There he read a 30-minute piece called "One 7" consisting of "brief vocalizations interspersed with long periods of silence" before taking audience questions which "range from inquiries about the process by which Cage composes, his lack of interest in pleasing an audience, his love of mushrooms, Buddhism, chance operations, and whether Cage can stand on his head."

Turn the Cage clock back 28 years from there and we can hear a spirited 1963 conversation between him and Jonathan Cott, the young music journalist later known for conducting John Lennon's last interview. "At every turn Cott antagonizes Cage with challenging questions," says Ubuweb, adding that he marshals "quotes from numerous sources (including Norman Mailer, Michael Steinberg, Igor Stravinsky and others) criticizing Cage and his music."




Cage, in characteristic response, "parries Cott's thrusts with a veritable tai chi practice of music theory." This contrasts with the mood of Cage's 1972 interview alongside pianist David Tudor embedded just above, presented in both English and French and featuring references to the work of Henry David Thoreau and Marcel Duchamp.

Cage has more to say about Duchamp, and other artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, in the undated lecture clip from the archives of Pacifica Radio just above. Have a listen through the rest of Ubuweb's collection and you'll hear the master of silence speak voluminously, if sometimes cryptically, on such subjects as Zen Buddhism, anarchism, utopia, the work of Buckminster Fuller, and "the role of art and technology in modern society." The contexts vary, both in the sense of time and place as well as in the sense of the performative expectations placed on Cage himself. But even a sampling of the recordings here suggests that being John Cage, in whatever setting, constituted a productive artistic project all its own.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Oxford’s Free Introduction to Philosophy: Stream 41 Lectures

You don't need to go to Oxford to study philosophy. Not when it will come to you. Above, find a playlist that features 41 lectures from Oxford's course called General Philosophy. Here's what it has to offer:

A series of lectures delivered by Peter Millican to first-year philosophy students at the University of Oxford. The lectures comprise of the 8-week General Philosophy course, delivered to first year undergraduates. These lectures aim to provide a thorough introduction to many philosophical topics and to get students and others interested in thinking about key areas of philosophy. Taking a chronological view of the history of philosophy, each lecture is split into 3 or 4 sections which outline a particular philosophical problem and how different philosophers have attempted to resolve the issue. Individuals interested in the 'big' questions about life such as how we perceive the world, who we are in the world and whether we are free to act will find this series informative, comprehensive and accessible.

Philosophers covered in the course include Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume.

The lectures can be accessed on YouTube, iTunes or the Web. General Philosophy will be added to our list of 150+ Free Online Philosophy Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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What Ancient Chinese Philosophy Can Teach Us About Living the Good Life Today: Lessons from Harvard’s Popular Professor, Michael Puett

It has at times been concerning for some Buddhist scholars and teachers to watch mindfulness become an integral part of self-help programs. A casual attitude toward the practice of mindfulness meditation can make it seem accessible by making it seem relaxing and effortless, which often results in missing the point entirely. Whatever the school, lineage, or particular tradition from which they come, the source texts and sages tend to agree: the purpose of meditation is not self improvement—but to realize that there may, indeed, be no such thing as a self.

Instead, we are all epiphenomenon arising from combinations of ever-shifting elements (the aggregates, or skandhas). The self is a conventionally useful illusion. This notion in the ancient Indian texts has its echo in Scottish enlightenment philosopher David Hume’s so-called “bundle theory,” but Hume's thoughts about the self have mostly remained obscure footnotes in western thought, rather than central premises in its philosophies and religions. But as thinkers in India took the self apart, so too did philosophers in ancient China, before Buddhism reached the country during the Han Dynasty.




Harvard Professor Michael Puett has been lecturing on Chinese philosophy to audiences of hundreds of students—and at 21st century temples of self-actualization like TED and the School of Life. He has co-authored a book on the subject, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, drawn from his enormously popular university courses, in which he expounds the philosophies of Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi. The book has found a ready audience, and Puett’s “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory” is the 3rd most popular class among Harvard undergraduates, behind intro to economics and computer science. What Professor Puett offers, in his distillation of ancient Chinese wisdom, is not at all to be construed as self-help.

Rather, he says, “I think of it as sort of anti-self-help. Self-help tends to be about learning to love yourself and embrace yourself for who you are. A lot of these ideas are saying precisely the opposite—no, you overcome the self, you break the self. You should not be happy with who you are.” Lest this sound like some form of violence, we must understand, Puett tells Tim Dowling at The Guardian, that in “breaking” the self, we are only doing harm to an illusion. As in the Buddhist thought that took root in China, so too in the earlier Confucianism: there is no self, just a “a messy and potentially ugly bunch of stuff.”

While our current circumstances may seem unique in world history, Puett shows his students how Chinese philosophers 2,500 years ago also experienced rapid societal change and upheaval, as his co-author Christine Gross-Loh writes at The Atlantic; they navigated and understood "a world where human relationships are challenging, narcissism and self-centeredness are on the rise, and there is disagreement on the best way for people to live harmoniously together." A majority of students at Harvard are driven to pursue "practical, predetermined" careers. By teaching them Confucian and Daoist philosophy, Puett tries to help them become more spontaneous and open to change.

Whatever we call it, the interacting phenomenon that give rise to the self cannot, we know, be observed in anything resembling an unchanging steady state. Yet Western culture (for several motivated reasons) has lagged far behind both intuitive and scientific observations of this fact. Puett's students have been told, “’Find your true self, especially during these four years of college,’” and “try and be sincere and authentic to who you really are” in making choices about careers, partners, passions, and consumer products. They take to his class because “they’ve spent 20 years looking for this true self and not finding it.”

In the two lectures above—a shorter one at the top from TEDx Nashville and a longer talk above for Ivy, “The Social University”—you can get a taste of Puett’s enthusiastic style. Chinese philosophy, “in its strong form,” he says above, “can truly change one’s life.” Not by making us more empowered, personally-fulfilled agents who re-create reality to better meet our narrow specs. But rather, as he tells Dowling, by training us “to become incredibly good at dealing with this capricious world.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear a 19-Hour Playlist of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Favorite Music: Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and… Yvette Guilbert

Among his many varied interests—which, in addition to philosophy, included aeronautical engineering and architectureLudwig Wittgenstein was also a great lover of music. Given his well-deserved reputation for intellectual austerity, we might assume his musical tastes would tend toward minimalist composers of the early 20th century like fellow Austrian Arnold Schoenberg. The “orderly serialism,” of Schoenberg’s atonal music “does seem an obvious complement to Wittgenstein’s philosophy,” writes Grant Chu Covell. “Observers have wondered why the famously arrogant thinker who attempted to infuse philosophy with logic didn’t find Schoenberg’s 12-tone system attractive.”

But indeed, he did not—in fact, Wittgenstein despised almost all modern music and seemed to believe that “nothing of value had been composed after the 19th century’s demise.” While his philosophical work made as radical a break with the past as Schoenberg’s theory, when it came to music, the philosopher was a strict traditionalist who “liked to say that there were only six truly great composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Labor.”




This last name will hardly be familiar to most readers. Labor, a blind organist and composer, was a close friend of the Wittgenstein family and a teacher of Ludwig’s brother Paul (and of Schoenberg as well). Although he lived into the twentieth century, Labor mainly drew his influence from early music.

The extravagantly wealthy Wittgensteins were a musical family—both Ludwig’s older brothers became musicians. Wittgenstein’s parents and grandparents knew Brahms, adopted violinist Joseph Joachim, a distant cousin, into the family, and frequently hosted such luminaries as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Ludwig himself learned to play the clarinet and “was a fastidious listener,” Covell notes. “Acquaintances marveled at his virtuoso whistling. His repertoire included Brahms’ Haydn Variations and other symphonic works. He would unhesitatingly correct others’ inaccurate humming or singing.” He supposedly had an “untiring obsession with perfect recreations of the classics.”

The philosopher’s perfectionism lead to some harsh critical judgments. “Brahms is Mendelssohn without the flaws,” he wrote. He declared Mahler “worthless… quite obviously it took a set of very rare talents to produce this bad music.” What did Wittgenstein value in music besides an ideal of perfection? Grammar, silence, and profundity. “The music of the Baroque era… made use of the special effect of silence,” writes Yael Kaduri at Contemporary Aesthetics. “The general pause of the Baroque was used to illustrate concepts such as eternity, death, infinity and silence in vocal music.” These concepts “did not disappear in the transition to the classic era.” Haydn’s music in particular “contains so many general pauses that it seems they form an intrinsic component of his musical language.”

Wittgenstein had other criteria as well, much of it, surely, as enigmatic as the principles that governed his thought. What does become clear, Covell argues, is that “Wittgenstein could only have been attracted to common-practice tonality, with its codified rules and delineation between ornament and form.” He needed “a system the details of which enhance an underlying structure.” In the playlist above, you can hear a selection of the philosopher's favorites. Compiled by Wittgenstein biographer Ray Monk, the playlist omits Haydn, for some reason, but includes Wagner and Romantic composer Georges Bizet.

You’ll also find one rare exception to Wittgenstein’s obsession with classical musical order: cabaret actress and singer Yvette Guilbert, favorite subject of artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and onetime star of the Moulin Rouge. The famously solitary, severe, and ill-tempered philosopher may have, it seems, nurtured a softer side after all.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated Introduction to the Existentialist Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre… and How It Can Open Our Eyes to Life’s Possibilities

Among the vogue names of midcentury Western philosophy, few ever rose to such cultural heights as that of Jean-Paul Sartre. Fans once dropped it whenever they could, and made sure to be seen reading Being and Nothingness wherever they could. But why did his particular ideas so captivate his readers, and what — now that French philosophy fever has, for the most part died down — do we still stand to gain from familiarizing ourselves with them? This six-and-a-half-minute animated Sartre primer from Alain de Botton's School of Life can get us started understanding them.

Sartre's entry in the accompanying site The Book of Life breaks his existentialist philosophy down into four key insights: "Things are weirder than we think," "We are free," "We shouldn’t live in ‘Bad faith’," and "We’re free to dismantle Capitalism."




Or in other words, everyday logic can give way to sheer absurdity; that absurdity provides us glimpses of the vast and usually unacknowledged possibilities of life (which exist not least because nothing has any fixed purpose); we have an obligation to acknowledge those possibilities and our freedom to choose between them; and we need not live under a system that operates to limit those possibilities. But how do we actually act on any of this?

On the most basic level, Sartre helps us realize that "things do not have to be the way they are." He "urges us to accept the fluidity of existence and to create new institutions, habits, outlooks and ideas. The admission that life doesn’t have some preordained logic and is not inherently meaningful can be a source of immense relief when we feel oppressed by the weight of tradition and the status quo." That notion must have exuded a special appeal in the postwar West, when the enormous growth of large-scale industrial and corporate organizations started to make life seem frighteningly regimented.

Things may look quite different here in the 21st century, nearly 40 years after Sartre's death, but even after all our supposed enlightenment and empowerment since then, we'd do well to heed his insistence that nothing in our lives, or thoughts, or our economy really has to be the way it is. And since none of it, in his view, came down to us divinely ordained, we can change any of it whenever and however we wish. We have that great power, but with great power, as the Spider-Man comics say, comes great responsibility. No wonder we so often prefer to pretend we have no choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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