Bryan Caplan  

A Quote that Should Have Been in My Book

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Niclas Berggren of Sweden's Ratio Institute emailed me a quote that would have been fantastic for my book:

When there are rational grounds for an opinion, people are content to set them forth and wait for them to operate. In such cases, people do not hold their opinions with passion; they hold them calmly, and set forth their reasons quietly. The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.

--Bertrand Russell, On the Value of Scepticism

Too bad it's too late to include it...


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Lancelot Finn writes:

Not sure I agree with this. If you were a round-earther living in a society of flat-earthers, you'd probably get so exasperated that you'd eventually start sounding quite "passionate" about your round-earth views.

liberty writes:

Yeah, I agree with the first commenter. I, for one, am very passionate about the free market not because there is little evidence to support it but (in part) because I am making up for all the years that I was socialist and am passionate about how wrong I was and how wrong so many still are.

Its true that many are passionate in order to make up for lack of facts, but there are other reasons to be passionate.

Mcwop writes:

Funny, I came across this one yesterday:

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. -Mark Twain
Mr. Econotarian writes:

I have to agree - I am passionate about the free market because so many people have anti-free-market beliefs, believing that being anti-market helps people and that they are doing good, while it actually kills people!

Kurt writes:

I think it is a quote that sounds good initially but on reflection begins to sour. When I think about what I am most passionate, it is those things that I have spent the most time in thought and study. I actually think the quote has it turned around. I am also mindful of the saw that Mr. Russell was trying to grind here.

I cannot count the number of times I've had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: "I happen to believe that the war in Iraq is justifiable."

Some Moron: "You only believe that because you used to be in the military, and everyone who's been in the military supports every war we've ever had. This is because soldiers fight wars, and wars justify killing, and the soldiers justify killing so they don't end up going insane. This means your belief is insane, which makes it a delusion, and you should probably see a psychiatrist."

Me: "Look, DUMBASS, your logic is fundamentally flawed. You have managed to combine the undistributed middle, the illicit minor, and equivocation with an amazing hybrid of ad hominem argument, a straw man, and a non sequitur. While I am truly impressed with your ability to create one of the most retarded arguments I have ever seen, you're still a complete $%#@!ing idiot."

Under the distinction you draw, my passion makes me wrong. From my perspective, my opposition's argument was so shockingly stupid, it needed to be exterminated immediately before it got to the children.

Richard Pointer writes:

The first comments modeling should be as follows.

Passion for an idea is directly related to the environmental hostility to that idea. If it has a rational basis that direct relationship should be weaker because of the idea's eventual logical irrefutability.

Therefore, the above quote from Bertrand Russel stands. If you have the facts on your side you should not waste your time with passionate appeals because you are signalling that you don't have the facts.

Bruce Cleaver writes:

"When facts are few, speculation follows individual psychology".

I think that was Carl Jung, with a very succinct summation.

Kent G. Budge writes:

Kind of echoing everyone else, but:

I agree that views on religion and politics are held passionately. But I missed the part where other kinds of views are not held passionately. What planet was Russell thinking of?

Kurt writes:

If I am not passionate about something, I don't waste my time on it.

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