Thursday, February 24, 2022

Bertrand Russell's political views

Bertrand Russell was a great XX-century intellectual, and he got the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature for his anti-Christian books, notably the 1929 book Marriage and Morals. He advocated eugenics and racial theories:
In extreme cases, there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another. North America, Australia, and New Zealand certainly contribute more to the civilization of the world than they would do if they were still peopled by aborigines.

It seems on the whole fair to regard Negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from the question of humanity) would be highly undesirable.

He would later retract this:
Russell would later write "I never held Negroes to be inherently inferior. The statement in Marriage and Morals refers to environment conditioning. I have had it withdrawn from subsequent editions because it is clearly ambiguous."
I am glad to see someone revise his opinion in the light of new evidence, but it is not clear how his opinions were based on evidence.

I just note now intellectual opinions have changed. His opinions about eugenics and racial superiority were considered progressive and respectable, from 1929 to 1950. Anyone saying such things today would be blackballed from all prizes.

Fred Hoyle was one of the great astrophysicists of the XX century, and would have gotten a Nobel Prize, but was blackballed for his eccentric views. So yes, prize committees will reject someone for views that are out of favor.

Russell was widely praised for being an advocate of Free Thought, but he also tells how he rejected Christianity and free will as a teenager. He also wrote an essay denying the law of causality.

For a great logical thinker, he sure held a lot of contradictory opinions.

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