On Truth: Bertrand Russell's Ninth Commandment

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:25am
On Truth: Bertrand Russell's Ninth Commandment

The ninth of the great British philosopher's list of rules for living and learning. This time, on being truthful.

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Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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Easter eggs are dyed after Bulgarian Orthodox bishops and nuns attend the Holy and Great Thursday service in the the Lozen monastery at St Spaso, near the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The Holy Thursday is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the last supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles.

Credit: Boryana Katsarova License: AFP/Getty Images.

(9) Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.


~Bertrand Russell, from his "Ten Commandments" of the liberal outlook as it appears in his 1951 New York Times op-ed, "The Best Answer to Fanaticism—Liberalism."

See Russell's Eighth Commandment.

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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3Reflections

Thanks for these. They satisfy in their banality. A wonderful example of man uselessly trying to gain control of and make sense of life. Wonderful examples that love trumps all man's desires for control.

Congrats on the well deserved Webby's - the next one is long overdue. Nice touch reprinting my compatriot's commandments. Good old Berty just doesn't have a shelf life - timeless -the nature of truth I suppose.

Ironically, were Bertrand Russell alive today he wouldn't be invited on your show. Just like his intellectual heirs the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett appear to have been kept and continue to be kept at arms length and under strict quarantine at On Being.

Perhaps taking Berty's commandments to heart as outlined below might shame you into having one of these brilliant public intellectuals on. In particular Sam Harris who will have a new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, coming out this fall. In it Harris will argue "that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives as Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history and that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow." He will explore the scientific underpinnings of spirituality and delve into the mechanism of meditation.

Back to Berty:

1: "Do not feel absolutely certain of anything." In this case certain that keeping these chaps out of your programme is somehow necessary and beneficial to your listeners.

2: "Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light." The views espoused by these authors are gaining ground the world over.

3: "Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed." Messrs Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett are promoters of deep and independent thought and challenge the status quo.

4: "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." By resorting to authority to prevent these author's voices from being heard thereby avoiding argument is unreal and illusory.

5: "Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found." These authors derive their authority from sound reasoning and evidence and make no claims to authority other than that sound reasoning and evidence confers.

6: "Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you." Refusing to interview these authors is using arbitrary power to suppress opinions.

7: "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric." The opinions expressed by these authors were once rewarded by burning at the stake and in certain parts of the world still today with beheading. Do you wish to be part of that tradition?

8: "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". These authors will deliver the intelligent dissent and attendant pleasure rarely heard on this programme.

9: "Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it." Preventing the appearance of these authors on the show is an unscrupulous attempt to conceal the possible truths they may reveal.

10. "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."
Berty here refers to people who plug their fingers in their ears and shout lalalalalalala.

Here's an idea: Trent, why not guest host THAT show- imagine how cool that would be!

Cheers,
Nige

Thanks for this juxtaposition of Bertrand Russell and the photo of the Orthodox monk.
It has been a long time since I looked at this site.
This is a nice reminder and encapsulation of the post-modernist banality of "On Being".
These juxtapositions are parasitic of the achievements of any actual culture, in this case Orthodox Christian, by appropriating the emotional frisson of the lived meanings and values conveyed in the photo and bestowing that experience on the most rudimentary and bland statements of Bertrand Russell.

It is particularly and bitterly funny that this distorting juxtaposition is in the context of being "scrupulously truthful".

When did this show go so far off the rails?

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