|Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born in Ravenscroft, in Wales, on 18 May 1872.
He was one of the most influential mathematicians, philosophers and logicians of the 20th century, as well as an important liberal politician, political activist and disseminator of Philosophy.
Millions of people respected Russell as a kind of prophet for rational life and creativity. His voice always possessed a moral authority. He was an influential critic of nuclear weapons and the war in Vietnam.
In 1950, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in acknowledgement of his diverse and significant writings, in which he fought for humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.
Life and Work
Russell read Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He commenced his studies in 1890. He became a Fellow of Trinity College in 1908. Being a pacifist, he refused to enlist during World War I and was therefore dismissed from Trinity College and imprisoned for six months. During that time, he wrote Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. In 1927, he founded the experimental Beacon Hill School.
In the spring of 1939, Russell he relocated to the USA to teach at the University of California, in Santa Barbara. He was appointed professor at City College in New York. As a result of public controversy his appointment was annulled by a court ruling. His secular opinions – like the ones aired in his book Marriage and Morals, Why I am not a Christian and the essay What I Believe – made him "morally unfit" to teach at the college. He returned to Britain in 1944 and rejoined the faculty at Trinity College.
In 1962, at the age of 90, he mediated the Cuban missile crisis. Together with Albert Einstein, he established the Pugwash movement to fight against the propagation of nuclear weapons.
Bertrand Russell wrote his autobiography in three volumes at the end of the 60s. In it, the philosopher proposed a liberal "code of conduct”, based on ten commandments, in the style of the Christian Decalogue. "Not to replace the old one", said Russell, "but to supplement it". The “Ten Commandments” are:
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 is from your family, endeavour to overcome it with 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 if the 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 is happiness.
Russell died of influenza in 1970, in Wales. His ashes were scattered over the Welsh mountains.
English translation by Alison Barbara Burrows