Wednesday, 23 November 2016

How to escape from Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell: Detailed summary and notes

         Bertrand Russell begins this essay by stating that human beings are  prone to formulate foolish opinions, at some point of their life, though not always. To substantiate this, he cites the example of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, who made a dogmatic pronouncement that women have fewer teeth than men.
Russell points out that Aristotle was indeed dogmatic in making this statement, for he could have atleast employed a simple device by asking Mrs Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted. This is the most perilous mistake ie. thinking that we know when in fact we dont, to which we are all prone. Russel says that one can escape from forming such foolish opinions, by simply following some rules.
                However many matters are hardly brought to the test of experience.  And it is indeed difficult too. The main reason is that like most of mankind we too are obsessed with passionate convictions on many such matters. This is how we become biased. But there are many ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias:
Observe yourself
   Look for signs like getting angry very easily whenever you are confronted with an opinion contrary to yours. If you have experienced the same, it implies that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason of thinking as you do and you are afraid of admitting the fact. If someone opines that two and two are five or Iceland is on equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction.

Dogmatism versus Empiricism

     According to Russell, the most grave controversies are those about matters that are dogmatic in nature ( matters to which there is no evidence). One classic example of the same is between arithmetic and theology. Persecution ( concept of sin and punishment on account of religious and political beliefs), is used in theology and not in arithmetic. The main reason is that , in arithmetic, there is knowledge. Knowledge is our familiarity with something or somebody and it is purely based on experience and therefore empirical in nature. But in theology, there is only opinion, which can easily turn to be dogmatic.
Tips for gettting rid of Dogmatism

        One can easily keep away from dogmatism by following some simple steps:
1)  Get out of your social circle. When you are confined within the walls of the social circles to which you belong, you are only familiar with the customs, traditions and beliefs of that particular circle. And there is a common human tendency to develop insular prejudice out of this. So inorder to get rid of this insular prejudice, it is always good to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own. Russell here cites his personal experience . When he was young he lived much outside his own country- France,  Germany, Italy and U S.
2) Not all can afford the expenditure of travel or it is not necessary that all have circumstances that favour travel. So there is another tip for those people who cannot travel. Seek out people whom you disagree. It is always a pleasant experience to carry on a healthy argument with people whom you disagree. This will help you to think from their perspective, thereby reducing the intensity of insular prejudice.
3) Reading newspapers that does not belong to your faction can also help a lot. As we all consider our own versions of truth to be authentic and foolproof, there is a tendency to despise others versions of truth.  Our version of truth and others version of truth may be a constructed reality which may be far away from the objective reality. So if the people and the newspaper seem mad and perverse, remind yourself that you seem so to them.
            Russell also calls our attention to the dark side of becoming aware of foriegn practices. He maintains that the same does not always have a beneficial effect. For example when the Manchus conquered china in the 17 th century, it was a custom of the Chinese women to maintain small feet and among the Manchus for men to wear pigtails. Instead of each dropping those foolish custom, each adopted the foolish custom of the other. This is one of the disadvantages of following foreign practices blindly.
4)  Another way to escape from foolish opinion is to imagine an argument with a hypothetical opponent. This has one and only one advantage as compared with the real conversation. This one advantage is that the method is not subject to the same limitations of time and space. Russel says that he had to change his mind quite often as a result of this kind of imaginary dialogues.

Self Esteem
        Russell asks us to be cautious about opinions that can flatter your self esteem. When your self esteem gets inflated, it can pave way for the development of certain superiority complexes. That is the reason why both men and women are firmly convinced of the superior excellence of their own sex. The question of nationalism is also based on the same principle. We are all persuaded to believe that our nation is superior to all others. We therefore adjust our standard of values so as to make out that the merits possessed by our nations are the really outstanding ones while its demerits are comparatively trivial. It is more difficult to deal with the self esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some non-human mind. The only way to solve this general human conceit is to remind ourselves about the episodic human life in a small planet and that for ought we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jelly fish

FearBertrand Russell begins this essay by stating that human beings are  prone to formulate foolish opinions, at some point of their life, though not always. To substantiate this, he cites the example of Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, who made a dogmatic pronouncement that women have fewer teeth than men. Russell points out that Aristotle was indeed dogmatic in making this statement, for he could have atleast employed a simple device by asking Mrs Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted. This is the most perilous mistake ie. thinking that we know when in fact we dont, to which we are all prone. Russel says that one can escape from forming such foolish opinions, by simply following some rules.

                However many matters are hardly brought to the test of experience.  And it is indeed difficult too. The main reason is that like most of mankind we too are obsessed with passionate convictions on many such matters. This is how we become biased. But there are many ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias:

Observe yourself

   Look for signs like getting angry very easily whenever you are confronted with an opinion contrary to yours. If you have experienced the same, it implies that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason of thinking as you do and you are afraid of admitting the fact. If someone opines that two and two are five or Iceland is on equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. 

Dogmatism versus Empiricism

     According to Russell, the most grave controversies are those about matters that are dogmatic in nature ( matters to which there is no evidence). One classic example of the same is between arithmetic and theology. Persecution ( concept of sin and punishment on account of religious and political beliefs), is used in theology and not in arithmetic. The main reason is that , in arithmetic, there is knowledge. Knowledge is our familiarity with something or somebody and it is purely based on experience and therefore empirical in nature. But in theology, there is only opinion, which can easily turn to be dogmatic.

Tips for gettting rid of Dogmatism

  One can easily keep away from dogmatism by following some simple steps:
1)  Get out of your social circle. When you are confined within the walls of the social circles to which you belong, you are only familiar with the customs, traditions and beliefs of that particular circle. And there is a common human tendency to develop insular prejudice out of this. So inorder to get rid of this insular prejudice, it is always good to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own. Russell here cites his personal experience . When he was young he lived much outside his own country- France,  Germany, Italy and U S.

2) Not all can afford the expenditure of travel or it is not necessary that all have circumstances that favour travel. So there is another tip for those people who cannot travel. Seek out people whom you disagree. It is always a pleasant experience to carry on a healthy argument with people whom you disagree. This will help you to think from their perspective, thereby reducing the intensity of insular prejudice. 

3) Reading newspapers that does not belong to your faction can also help a lot. As we all consider our own versions of truth to be authentic and foolproof, there is a tendency to despise others versions of truth.  Our version of truth and others version of truth may be a constructed reality which may be far away from the objective reality. So if the people and the newspaper seem mad and perverse, remind yourself that you seem so to them.

            Russell also calls our attention to the dark side of becoming aware of foriegn practices. He maintains that the same does not always have a beneficial effect. For example when the Manchus conquered china in the 17 th century, it was a custom of the Chinese women to maintain small feet and among the Manchus for men to wear pigtails. Instead of each dropping those foolish custom, each adopted the foolish custom of the other. This is one of the disadvantages of following foreign practices blindly.

4)  Another way to escape from foolish opinion is to imagine an argument with a hypothetical opponent. This has one and only one advantage as compared with the real conversation. This one advantage is that the method is not subject to the same limitations of time and space. Russel says that he had to change his mind quite often as a result of this kind of imaginary dialogues.

Self Esteem

        Russell asks us to be cautious about opinions that can flatter your self esteem. When your self esteem gets inflated, it can pave way for the development of certain superiority complexes. That is the reason why both men and women are firmly convinced of the superior excellence of their own sex. The question of nationalism is also based on the same principle. We are all persuaded to believe that our nation is superior to all others. We therefore adjust our standard of values so as to make out that the merits possessed by our nations are the really outstanding ones while its demerits are comparatively trivial. It is more difficult to deal with the self esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some non-human mind. The only way to solve this general human conceit is to remind ourselves about the episodic human life in a small planet and that for ought we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jelly fish

Fear
  Besides self esteem, there are other passions which are common source of error. The most important is fear. It can sometimes operate directly by inventing rumours, imagining objects of terror like ghosts. It is out fear we create the concepts like heaven and hell. There are different types of fear like the fear of death, fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of the herd. Russell says that we need to overpower this fear  by admitting these fears to yourself and thereby guarding yourself against the myth making faculty of human mind, if you want to think about matters of greater significance. Just as fear is one of the main source of superstition, it is one of the sources of cruelty too. So conquering fear is the beginning of wisdom.
        There are two ways of avoiding fear: 1) by persuading ourselves that we are immune from disaster
2) by practicing sheer courage
The first one has always been more popular , for it was easy when compared with the latter. Primitive magic, sorcery,  injuring enemies and protecting oneself by talismans and spells, etc are clear testimonials of the former one.
       .

      Finally Russell concludes with the statement of Plato in his Republic , that cheerful views of the next world should be enforced by the State only because it would make the soldiers more willing to die in the battles. He at the same time, hates the concept of Hades, for it presents life after death as gloomy and unhappy.

                               
                 ------------------------
SHARE THIS

No comments:

Post a Comment