Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell - 1872-1970AD

"A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live."

Bertrand Russell, like Socrates two millennia before him, believed that you must always question your beliefs or else you will adhere to prejudices without ever subjecting them to critical examination. He also believed that people who are unhappy can achieve happiness by the application of common sense and well-directed effort.

If Russell is to be believed, happiness is important to the achievement of a good society in which to live, as he sees happiness as a pre-requisite to people behaving well.

"The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy - I mean that if you are happy you will be good."1

Bertrand Russell's life was colorful, varied and also marked by controversy. He is best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy, but he was also as a logician, essayist and social critic. He was vehemently anti-war and anti-nuclear and engaged in protests over many years; and he was fired from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York.

During his very long life, Russell made considerable contributions, to logic and philosophy, and to a broad range of subjects including education, history, political theory and religious studies. In addition, many of his writings on a variety of topics in both the sciences and the humanities have influenced numerous readers over the years.

Nobel Prize for Literature

Russell's A History of Western Philosophy was written during the Second World War and published in 1945. It is probably his best known book. It covers philosophy from the pre-Socratic period to the early 20th century. The book is recognised as a masterpiece and contributed to him winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Like other philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard and Mill he appeared to recognise that ethical behaviour was a precursor to happiness, although he didn't always display this belief in his personal life; he was married four times and is reported to have had affairs with a number of women. In The Problems of Philosophy, one of his early and most popular books written in 1912, he stated, "It would seem… that there are some self-evident ethical principles, such as 'we ought to pursue what is good'". Perhaps the following quotation from The Conquest of Happiness helps to explain his thinking and his behaviour, "Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness."

Russell recognized the value of philosophy in enriching the mind, pointing out that practical men don't understand its value. He stated in The Problems of Philosophy, "The 'practical' man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind."

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Bertrand Russell