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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bertrand Rus­sell & Oth­er Big Thinkers in BBC Lec­ture Series (Free)

Down­load Free Cours­es from Famous Philoso­phers: From Bertrand Rus­sell to Michel Fou­cault

Bertrand Russell’s Improb­a­ble Appear­ance in a Bol­ly­wood Film (1967)

Lis­ten to ‘Why I Am Not a Chris­t­ian,’ Bertrand Russell’s Pow­er­ful Cri­tique of Reli­gion (1927)

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Comments (4)
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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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