Thursday, February 10, 2011

Russell on Free Thought

Russell: The expression 'free thought' is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. 'Free thought' means thinking freely — as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being. The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyrant of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker.

Are these the two things we need to be free of intellectually? Are there other things that we should think about being free from in order to be rational? Intellectual peer pressure, maybe?

18 comments:

unkleE said...

Unexamined or unknowingly false assumptions?

Walter said...

Freethinkers should be free from the shackles of dogma, whether that dogma comes from religious or secular institutions. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if you tip over a few sacred cows in the process.

Al Moritz said...

The irony is that 'freethinkers', if they are naturalists, cannot truly consider themselves freethinkers.

Under naturalism every thought, just like everything else, is physically determined (under naturalism, quantum indeterminism at the local level is no way out; if it came into play, it would only produce randomness in thoughts). Under these conditions, the naturalist is at the mercy of the choices of the circuits in his/her brain in considering the evidence -- he/she has no freedom in that. Free-thinking becomes a brutal illusion and self-deception.

See also:

http://home.earthlink.net/~almoritz/naturalism_is_true.htm

Anonymous said...

>Freethinkers should be free from the shackles of dogma, whether that dogma comes from religious or secular institutions.

Ok, then on that basis I reject the dogma written above this sentence.

Walter said...

Ok, then on that basis I reject the dogma written above this sentence.

You're free to do so.

Rob R said...

Seems to me that many so called free thinkers are passionate about their tradition of free thought.

Bob Prokop said...

I consider myself to be a Freethinker... and that process of free thinking has led me to conclude that the historical narrative of Christianity, as recorded in the Gospels, is the Truth. I hope that other Freethinkers don't deny that such an outcome is possible.

Al Moritz said...

Bob:

I consider myself to be a Freethinker... and that process of free thinking has led me to conclude that the historical narrative of Christianity, as recorded in the Gospels, is the Truth. I hope that other Freethinkers don't deny that such an outcome is possible.

Yes, I am a Freethinker too with the same outcome. However, I believe, just like you do, that we have genuinely free will, which makes us true freethinkers (in contrast, see above).

Tim said...

I'm trying to imagine Bertrand Russell as someone free from the tyranny of his passions. Somehow, it isn't working.

Walter said...

I'm trying to imagine Bertrand Russell as someone free from the tyranny of his passions. Somehow, it isn't working.

Is anyone totally free from their passions?

@Bob

If I am not mistaken, the term 'freethinker' was originally used to denote enlighten era liberal Christians and Deists who dared to question the established orthodox views of their time. Naturalists just co-opted the label later on.

Bob Prokop said...

Walter,

Yeah, words change their meanings over time. Apparently in Elizabethan times, "atheist" was used to refer to someone who denied the validity of the sacraments, and had nothing to do with theism as such.

Tim said...

Walter,

Some are less enslaved than others.

Mike Darus said...

True freedom should include the option of embracing dogma and tradition.

Walter said...

True freedom should include the option of embracing dogma and tradition.

I would agree with that on principle.

I think one should be free to say "what if." What if the Muslim or the Jew is right, and not me. What if the atheist is right, and not me. What if the orthodox Christian is right, and not me. If you cannot even conceive that another person with a different view might be right, then I am not sure that your thinking is free.

I know this kind of thinking will not sit well with certain types of theists, but that is my definition of a freethinker.

Anonymous said...

Walter:
I know this kind of thinking will not sit well with certain types of theists, but that is my definition of a freethinker.

Anon: What types of theists will this not sit well with? Is there some theology I don't know about that says we can't say "what if..?"?

Tim said...

Is there some theology I don't know about that says we can't say "what if..?"?

If there is, Paul certainly didn't have any truck with it. See 1 Corinthians 15.

Walter said...


Anon: What types of theists will this not sit well with? Is there some theology I don't know about that says we can't say "what if..?"?


Ever met a Christian Presuppositionalist? They maintain that only their worldview is viable. In fact, they claim the impossibility of any worldview other than their own. Those type of believers consider it sinful to conceive that any other worldview might be correct; it's all about keeping every thought "captive" to Christ.

Anonymous said...

Walter - I don't see too many presuppers these days making explicitly presuppositional arguments on blogs or boards, but regardless, the whole point of the transcendental reasoning employed by these guys seems to be that *if* we don't presuppose the truth of Christianity, then all knowledge and reason fails and it is the end of the world. Seems like they indeed consider the possibility that their worldview is false, they just strongly reject it, based on the implications.