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Portal Site for Russellian in Japan


Bertrand Russell's Best; Silhouettes in Satire,
selected and introduced by Robert E. Egner.
(London; Allen & Unwin, 1958. 113 p. 20 cm.)


An essay introducing the section 'Ethics'

The kind of ethic that Lord Russell proposes is one devoid of fear, superstition, and organized madness, where emotions are strong - but not destructive - and where men love each other as vehemently as they now desire the misery of their enemies. Though it would seem that sane men everywhere would agree with this proposal as a basis for ethics, mankind as a whole has not been influenced to any appreciable degree towards a realization of these objectives.
As the selections in this chapter will reveal, Lord Russell shaves the dogma from a number of superstitious beliefs and each, in turn, is left naked with nowhere to hide. Consider, for example, the question of voluntary euthanasia. Are civilized men really expected to believe that 'A wise, omnipotent and beneficent Being finds so much pleasure in watching the slow agonies of an innocent person that He will be angry with those who shorten the ordeal?' It is this sort of sardonic criticism of traditional beliefs that gives these selections that unmistakable Russell touch. Clarity, wit and fluency of expression have made his writings a joy to the layman.
In ethics, as elsewhere, Lord Russell has been accused of being unduly 'rational.' At any rate, it has been said by a number of his critics that his ethic is based upon reason alone. This opinion is wholly false. Reason has nothing to do with the selection of noble or heinous ends. It is only a regulator, and as such, reason is merely the selection of the appropriate means to an objective you wish to attain. The ends of any ethic cannot be proved by reason; all we can say is that we desire certain ends and not others. You may wish to promote the general happiness of mankind while your neighbour may wish to retain this only for his friends and keep his enemies in perpetual slavery. In neither case are we logically compelled to agree.
The kind of world Lord Russell would wish to see is one devoid of harmful myths, and where men are dedicated to the tasks of acquiring knowledge and skill not to kill each other, but to increase happiness. Such a world would include helpful emotions - sympathy, love, and genuine kindliness - and sufficient harmless outlets for individual initiative in both work and play.