Bertrand Russell’s Liberal Decalogue: Ten Commandments of Teaching

Bertrand Russell

British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic Bertrand Russell continues to be revered as one of the most influential intellectuals and philosophers of all time. Over a long career, Bertrand Russell, who was born an aristocrat, made considerable contributions, not just to logic and philosophy, but to a wide variety of subjects including teaching and learning, culture, history, political theory, and religious studies.

The third volume of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography contains an outstanding proposal called Liberal Decalogue on the responsibilities of a teacher in instruction. In the ten commandments that comprise the Liberal Decalogue, Bertrand Russell philosophizes about the very purpose of education, the significance of uncertainty and doubt in education, and the value of critical thinking. The Liberal Decalogue first appeared in the 16-Dec-1951 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

'The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1944-1969' by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 0671203584) 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:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  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.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  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.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  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.

Recommended reading: The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell.

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