On Teacher’s Advice


“When you meet with opposition, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.”

– Bertrand Russell

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3 thoughts on “On Teacher’s Advice

  1. That’s a interesting quote because I’m quite divided about it. Yes and no. Bertrand uses the word “argument” to suggest “reason.” Reason with people, they’ll see the validity of your position and agree with you. Sometimes, but not often. People have a way of being unreasonable and illogical, even in the presence of evidence and reason.

    Also, it’s a very arrogant stand that Bertrand takes. He presumes that one is in possession of the truth, that when meeting opposition, you can simply express the validity of your arguments and all others will recognize your superior wisdom.

    I prefer another idea entirely. Learn from those in opposition to you. What you perceive in others as wrongness, may indeed be something unresolved in yourself.

  2. Yes, people have a way of being unreasonable, and that is why one should endeavour – i.e. attempt to do something difficult – to overcome that by argument as opposed to authority, e.g. by simply saying “because I am your superior and I said so”. The fact that people can be unreasonable does not negate Russell’s statement; it is a key element to its interpretation. This preference of argument over authority also does not imply that there is one presumed truth – real or imagined – being accepted as such by the opposing party. This is where the word endeavour comes in again – an attempt is made to persuade the opposing party by using arguments instead of exercising authority which, according to Russell, possesses no sense of truth whatsoever.

  3. Actually, even endeavoring to make an argument implies a type of authority. One must take moral authority before even endeavoring to make an argument with someone else. It is Bertrand’s failure to acknowledge the power issues involved that makes me distrust his words. Often those who claim to be opposed to authoritarianism, are the worst authoritarians themselves. When people are adverse to holding what they perceive as power, a negative in their eyes, your compliance becomes even more critical, by any means necessary.

    “Authority” gets a bum rap. Rather than perceiving it as taking responsibility, as leadership, people tend to view it negatively, as in dictatorial behavior. Often they do this because they are projecting their own issues onto the word. That is the impression that I always get when reading Russell.

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