One of my favorite blogs is the eclectic site, Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova. Maria has a post here on the British Philosopher Bertrand Russell. I first came across Russell as a first year undergraduate where his History of Western Philosophy was essential reading. Later, I started reading Introduction to Mathematical Philosphy, still one of the clearest expositions of the roots of mathematics ever written. Maria reminds us that Russell was also a proponent of English liberalism, a philosophy that he summed up in ten principles to guide us all as educators. It first appeared in the December 16, 1951, issue of The New York Times Magazine, at the end of the article “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism.”
"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 worth while to proceed 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 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 it is happiness."
Liberalism, as understood by Russell, is a long way from its current use in the modern American political discourse. As educators, have we lost sight of Russell's guiding principles?