Face to Face with Bertrand Russell: ‘Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish’

In April of 1959 the British philoso­pher and math­e­mati­cian Bertrand Rus­sell sat down with John Free­man of the BBC pro­gram Face to Face for a brief but wide-rang­ing and can­did inter­view. Rus­sell rem­i­nisced about his ear­ly attrac­tion to math­e­mat­ics. “I got the sort of sat­is­fac­tion that Pla­to says you can get out of math­e­mat­ics,” he said. “It was an eter­nal world. It was a time­less world. It was a world where there was a pos­si­bil­i­ty of a cer­tain kind of per­fec­tion.”

Rus­sell, of course, dis­tin­guished him­self in that rar­i­fied world as one of the founders of ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy and a co-author of Prin­cip­ia Math­e­mat­i­ca, a land­mark work that sought to derive all of math­e­mat­ics from a set of log­i­cal axioms. Although the Prin­cip­ia fell short of its goal, it made an enor­mous mark on the course of 20th cen­tu­ry thought. When World War I came along, though, Rus­sell felt it was time to come down from the ivory tow­er of abstract think­ing. “This world is too bad,” Rus­sell told Free­man. “We must notice it.”

The half-hour con­ver­sa­tion, shown above in its entire­ty, is of a qual­i­ty rarely seen on tele­vi­sion today. The inter­view­er Free­man was at that time a for­mer Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and a future Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed States. Rus­sell talks with him about his child­hood, his views on reli­gion, his polit­i­cal and social activism, even his amus­ing con­vic­tion that smok­ing extend­ed his life. But per­haps the most famous moment comes at the end, when Free­man asks the old philoso­pher what mes­sage he would offer to peo­ple liv­ing a thou­sand years hence. In answer­ing the ques­tion, Rus­sell bal­ances the two great spheres that occu­pied his life:

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bertrand Rus­sell on the Exis­tence of God and the After­life

Three Pas­sions of Bertrand Rus­sell (and a Col­lec­tion of Free Texts)

Face to Face with Carl Jung: ‘Man Can­not Stand a Mean­ing­less Life’

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Comments (3)
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  • Louise says:

    I’ve been com­plete­ly and absolute­ly inspired by his words… So much wis­dom in them. I’m so glad I watched this video. Thank you for shar­ing.

  • Alex Wakefield says:

    This has gone in my Face­book (Semi pri­vate) and it will be quot­ed in my book.

    My con­cern is we seem to have all the answers to today’s prob­lems. They were ade­quate­ly answered in the 1970s! But who in our soci­ety who has any agency to imple­ment solu­tions even reads the answers.

    Tech­nol­o­gy won’t save us.


  • Cyrus azizzadeh says:

    Last words of him are fan­tas­tic but unfor­tu­nate­ly I can’t under­stand all of his inter­view, because that’s in Eng­lish and I don’t under­stand much eng­lish, could you put up here all of half hour inter­view tran­script?
    Thank you in advance

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