The Good Life

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“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” – Bertrand Russell

I’ve known of Russell’s work for a few years, now, and though he is indisputably sesquipedalian in his approach, as is to be expected of a proper philosopher and intellectual, he no doubt had a profound effect on 20th century Western society. Famed as a mathematician in his early days, Russell quickly became far more influential through his essays, books and short stories, as he explored and examined traditional mores in politics, education, the roles of men & women, psychology and religion. If you’ve not heard of Bertrand Russell specifically, you may have heard of “Russell’s Teapot” in theological discussion; Bertrand’s THAT Russell.

Bertrand Russell produced a tremendous amount of literature in his latter days, much of it immensely quotable. But the above quote was the only one he highlighted in the printed works I’ve digested to date, and for good reason. Although I only stumbled across this particular wording this last week, it nonetheless struck a powerful chord as confirmation, as it concerns my own life choices. However difficult these choices might have been, and however the consequences of those choices might eventually settle, I know full well that I have been inspired and guided by the right sources.

Whole works defining “love” exists in literature, and as Russell expanded on The Good Life in his short book “What I Believe” (1925), he took care to explain what he meant by it. Ever the logician, Russell described “love” as an emotion which moves between two poles, ranging from “pure delight in contemplation” to “pure benevolence”. The former concerns itself with aesthetics and utility, and can be equally applied to people and inanimate objects, while the latter is best described as the desire and act of helping other people to make their own lives better. Love is at its best when its two poles are conjoined in harmony; benevolence and contemplation are not at all mutually exclusive.

“Knowledge” is defined here by scientific knowledge, that which can be measured, and which can be used to predict future results. The scientific method has proven itself time and again as the best method ever devised to understand ourselves and the universe we live in; scientific knowledge gleaned throughout human history continues to influence our daily lives whether we admit to it or not,  irrespective of religious belief.

Practise and experimentation are necessary for the good life, and one must adapt and learn from all these experiences, if one is to claim life in full. Learn what does work for you and what does not work for you, then try to find a way to attain that pinnacle where you maximize the one, and minimize the other. That is the good life. Love and knowledge, each ever expanding.

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