The celebrated British mathematician, logician, and political activist Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) is one of the most widely read philosophers of the 20th century.
As a lifelong patron of lost causes, Russell published an essay titled “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism” in the 16-December-1951 issue of The New York Times. In this essay, he supported liberalism—the political philosophy founded on the importance of human individuality and equality, and a restraint of the stern grip of law and authority.
A tireless champion of morality and reason that he was, Russell wrote in this essay,
“the essence of the liberal outlook is a belief that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments. … The opposite view, which is maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known, and that to question it is necessarily subversive.”
Bertrand Russell’s Decalogue of Critical Thinking
Beyond political philosophy and classical liberalism, this essay is famous for Russell’s vision for honest thought and discourse. Here is that thought-provoking list in full form—worth reading and practicing.
Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.