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10 commandments for teachers everyone with a brain

Sep 27, 2011 By Abraham

Bertrand Russell’s “Liberal Decalogue”

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, endeavour 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 that 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.

(via MetaFilter)


  1. Brad Williams says:

    I feel that I cannot be certain of his first commandment.

    The reason I am uneasy with it is because I feel nearly certain that everyone will think I am lame for pointing this out.

    1. Nemitta Nitely says:

      I don’t think you’re lame. You have a valid point, if we follow his first “commandment” one thinks wait is he certain of the following things he is saying? Though I believe what he is trying to say here is always leave the option open that you could be wrong. Never become blinded, just incase new evidence presents itself.

  2. Paul Huxley says:

    My review:

    2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 are all good.

    1 – leads to conviction-less people. Some people could do with fewer convictions but not everyone.

    4 – true, but there’s wisdom in not arguing everything out all the time before making a decision. Particularly when married.

    5 – should be ‘limit your respect…’

    10 – fine, but Bertrand Russell’s opinion of what makes someone a fool is probably wrong. Someone I know once had tea with him – allegedly, Bertrand didn’t know how to make a cup of tea.

    1. Johan S says:

      1 – may lead to “conviction less” people .. but maybe it’s better to be conviction less than having wrong convictions.

      Being unsure of something doesn’t mean you won’t act when a situation calls for it. Let me give you an example, if you were 95% sure there was someone in a burning house .. wouldn’t you run in there to check? A person of conviction may believe the fire department will be there on time.

      You don’t have to be 100% sure of things to be a contributing member of society.

      1. Tink says:

        I don’t think not being 100% certain is a bad thing. I deal with science, and I believe in it passionately. Yet, I know with almost certainty that a lot of the stuff I was taught, and a lot of the stuff we were reasonably certain of, may eventually be replaced with new evidence that is perhaps closer to the truth. Scientifically and medically speaking, you can never be 100% certain.

        This doesn’t mean not working at all on provisional beliefs, but that we mustn’t be afraid to recognise when new evidence comes to light, even if it might shake our opinions. So many people are stuck in particular beliefs that they insist they are ‘certain’ on, and despite all evidence refuse to move with the time or re-examine what it is they actually stand for – that can be a bad thing.

        I trust that my convictions are strong enough to withstand some uncertainty. And that if something new comes up, I will adapt to that change too. This rule just stands to remind us that we may not have examined all the options, so should never be too eager to throw ourselves entirely into something without considering how much we actually know.

      1. Rock says:

        That’s not quite true. He took quite a bit of time wrestling with the matter as you can see in his writings. Who knows, if he had seen today’s evidence for the existence of God, he may have abandoned atheism. I remember being quite shocked when Anthony Flew made the leap to the theist camp.

        1. Luis says:

          I got a similar feeling from his writings. However, he wasn’t atheist but agnostic, as far as I can remember. He mainly believed that God’s existence was a matter of faith and not of scientific experimentation.

  3. d says:

    I really like #4, so true. Embarrassed but I don’t think I get number 6. How will they suppress me?
    These would be really hard to live by.

    1. Tink says:

      I think he means that they will start to define you. By trying to smother discussion you merely drive it underground, turn it into a rebellion, and become yourself defined as someone who refuses to listen to others, and tries to control thought. You will never have the experience of logically arguing your case against their opinions, of thinking through which of you may actually be more correct, and of testing your own convictions to see if they are sound. You will have suppressed your own capacity for growth and change by smothering any opposing forces whom you might learn from.

  4. Hugh Mann says:

    five more from his lost apocryphal manuscript:
    11. Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true.
    12. Never Eat at a place called ‘Mom’s’.
    13. Never play poker with a man named ‘Slim’.
    14. Never buy a used pickup from the pool guy.
    15. No matter how much the wife insists on buying white counter-tops for the kitchen, it is a terrible idea and don’t give in to her.
    16. (and I can’t stress this one enough…) Never, ever get laid where you get paid. (also known as the Clinton/Sandusky maxim)

  5. I see you says:

    Is it not the case that Bertrand Russel was somewhat of a pompous, mummy of a person? It’s great that he was able to reason strongly, but why take much mere advice from someone if they didn’t like actual people?

    1. Panda says:

      I got the impression he had quite a sense of humour. Maybe he had confidence in himself, but he was open to being convinced that he was wrong, so I’m not sure that I would call him pompous really.

  6. Sain Sucha says:

    Somethong to ponder upon seriously, but take them more like recommendations than commandments.
    Rusell, himself, recommends not believing anything unconditionally.

  7. sarah says:

    Nice to see intelligent discord! I am very good at #1 and I have to say it makes for a complicated life…oh to see things as black and white. But I guess that puts me in violation of number 10.

  8. veronica bellotti says:

    I saw a very old interview with him on BBC4.He was really interesting to listen to and very wise and made it simple.

  9. Vincent says:

    Russell was asked at the age of seventy seven why he hadn’t written his autobiography to which he replied “well I don’t know that my life is quite finished yet, who knows what could happen? I may end up becoming the President of Mexico and people would think it strange that I neglected to mention it.”

    and when asked if he would ever die for his beliefs said ‘Of course not, I might be completely wrong’

    1. felixr says:

      It doesn’t, you bloody fool. The rest rather follows out of it. But idiots will never understand it, and this is why the majority is so damn stupid. The stupidity lies in the simplicity of its worldview, which makes it incapable of seeing any of the complexities of the rest to begin with. Or whatever, have a cookie for your “smartness” (and we’re back to zero and a bunch of smart-asses)…

  10. Nasser Khan says:

    I philosophically disagree with Russell’s 1st commandment
    “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything”

    The commandment is more of a paradox than the commandment. The commandment cannot be followed either by obeying or disobeying it. I say this because it suggests that we must doubt everything. But if we doubt everything then we must doubt the commandment itself and that leads us to a paradox. For example, if we do not doubt the commandment we then will be obeying the commandment but at the same time disobeying its order and that is, “do not feel absolutely certain of anything”. On the other hand, if we doubt the commandment then we will be obeying its order but at the same time disobeying the commandment by doubting it. In other words, by obeying we will be disobeying it and by disobeying we will be obeying it.
    In conclusion one could clearly conclude that Russell’s 1st commandment is not a commandment after all. As a matter of fact, it is a paradox because Russell is ordering us to doubt his very order. Copyright 2013 Nasser Khan

  11. Neo says:

    He should also have one about being loyal to your wife, but guess philandering wasn’t that big of a deal for ol’ BR

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