Quote of the Day – Passion and Rational Conviction

Dave Jilk, or as I like to call him, Professor Jilk, since he’s a professor in my “life university,” always provokes. I like emailing him tough issues and asking him to simply react, which he does, and it stimulates additional thinking.

He just sent me this very interesting quote by Bertrand Russell:

“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.”

As Dave paraphrases in the comment to my post on certainty, “He actually says that the amount of passion involved in a belief is a MEASURE of the lack of rational basis for the belief.”

7 comments on “Quote of the Day – Passion and Rational Conviction
  • I agree with Bertrand. Someone whose opinion is based on reason won’t hold it as strongly because they never know when something could come along and change it.

  • Great quote. But it seems to me that in many situations, especially those political in nature, that the inverse can hold true. That is, the more you feel rationality is on your side, the more ferverent you become in your preaching of the “truth.” I’ve heard the term “rationality trap” used to describe this phenomenon in political circles. This may be from Thomas Franks, who talks about liberal activists becoming increasingly passionate (and, eventually, frustrated) in arguing their point of view because they are so convinced that rationality is on their side, that they believe if they could just explain themselves clearly, then their opponents would have no choice but to join their side. In other words, doesn’t strong argumentative ammunition inspire a strong rhetorical attack?

    Of course, there’s a difference between actual rationality and preceived rationality, but an interesting angle none-the-less?

  • In reality, Betrand’s comment is prescriptive, not descriptive. It flows from the Bloomsbury Group’s faith that, upon sufficient reflection, nothing can be known confidently (except that beauty and friendship are truly good).

    In my experience, people often become more fervent the stronger the rational basis for their point of view.

    History bears witness to that phenomenon. Neither Ghandi nor Martin Luther King Jr. nor William Wilberforce were content to calmly set forth their views and permit them to operate. Passionate activism is not always opposed to Reason.

  • Just so everyone is aware, this quote was to elaborate Ben’s post on certainty, not to reflect my position on the matter. I think Russell’s quote is very useful in this age of incessant and professionalized hype, but it is simplistic. For those who are interested, it is from his “Sceptical Essays.”

  • eh, I only agree with this when you are first setting forth an argument. I know that when I first say something that I know is right, I generally say it very calmly. But as opposition to that very well-thought out and correct idea increases, you can tend to become more heated. I would generally say that someone who starts out as heated before he even gets any opposition is probably just relying on emotion.

  • While it’s entirely debatable, I would rather appreciate “passion is the measure of holder’s lack of conviction” purely as a Russel perspective.

    I haven’t read “Sceptical Essays” tipped by Dave yet, but feel compelled to comment.

    It’s not always right to conclude that “Passion” symbolises dearth of rationality. I think for everything anyone does, there’s a reason. Whether (s)he will explain it or not – is entirely discretionary.

    Who is to be the judge of what’s rational and what’s not – is it the doer or the onlooker…?

    (S)he may as well have a reason, but may have chosen not to publicize it since (s)he didn’t want to get into futile debates on its outcome which normally is the next stage. These debates often have a demoralising effect on the doer and is best avoided if you are in a creative mood.

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