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Encyclopedia > What I Believe

"What I Believe" is the title of two essays by Bertrand Russell (1925) and E.M. Forster (1938) espousing secular humanism. Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, advocate for social reform, and pacifist. ... Edward Morgan Forster (January 1, 1879 - June 7, 1970) was an English novelist. ... Secular humanism is a humanist philosophy that upholds reason, ethics, and justice, and specifically rejects the supernatural and the spiritual as warrants of moral reflection and decision-making. ...

Several other authors have also written works with the same title, alluding to either or both of these essays.


Forster's essay

E.M. Forster says that he does not believe in creeds; but there are so many around that one has to formulate a creed of one’s own in self-defence. Three values are important to Forster: tolerance, good temper and sympathy.

Personal relationships and the state

Foster argues that one should invest in personal relationships: “one must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life”. In order to do so, one must be reliable in one’s relationships. Reliability, in turn, is impossible without natural warmth. Foster contrasts personal relationships with causes, which he hates. In an often quoted sentence he argues: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”. He goes on to explain:

Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome. DANTE is also a digital audio network. ... Brutus is a Roman cognomen used by several politicians of the Junii family, especially in the Roman Republic. ... Cassius may refer to: Cassius, http://www. ... For other uses, see Julius Caesar (disambiguation). ...


Forster cautiously welcomes democracy for two reasons:

  • It places importance on the individual (at least more than authoritarian regimes).
  • It allows criticism.

Thus, he calls for "two cheers for democracy" (also the title of the book which contains his essay) but argues that three are not necessary.

Forster goes on to argue that, although the state ultimately rests on force, the intervals between the use of force are what makes life worth living. Some people may call the absence of force decadence; Forster prefers to call it civilization. For other uses, see State (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Force (disambiguation). ... See also Decadent movement Decadence refers to a personal trait and, much more commonly, to a state of society. ... Central New York City. ...

Great men, Forster’s aristocracy and public life

The author also criticises hero-worship and profoundly distrusts so-called “great men”. Heroes are necessary to run an authoritarian regime in order to make it seem less dull “much as plums have to be put into a bad pudding to make it palatable”. As a contrast Forster believes in an “aristocracy”, not based on rank or influence but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. For Forster it is a tragedy that no way has been found to transmit private decencies into public life: This article applies to political ideologies. ... Politics is the process by which groups make decisions. ...

The more highly public life is organized the lower does its morality sink; the nations of today behave to each other worse than they ever did in the past, they cheat, rob, bully and bluff, make war without notice, and kill as many women and children as possible; whereas primitive tribes were at all events restrained by taboos. It is a humiliating outlook - though the greater the darkness, the brighter shine the little lights, reassuring one another, signalling: "Well, at all events, I 'm still here. I don’t like it very much, but how are you?


Forster concludes by stating that these “are the reflections of an individualist and a liberal" who has "found liberalism crumbling beneath him", taking comfort from the fact that people are born separately and die separately. Therefore, no dictator will be able to eradicate individualism. For judgements of value about collectivism and individualism, see individualism and collectivism. ... Look up liberal on Wiktionary, the free dictionary Liberal may refer to: Politics: Liberalism American liberalism, a political trend in the USA Political progressivism, a political ideology that is for change, often associated with liberal movements Liberty, the condition of being free from control or restrictions Liberal Party, members of...

Russell's essay

His essay may be summed in his quote: "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge".

He does not claim this is a logically necessary belief, but instead he wishes to convince the most people to believe in it by providing examples and its consequences.

Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ...

See also

This I Believe was a five-minute CBS radio network program hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow from 1951 to 1955. ...


  • Forster's "What I Believe" is published in: Forster, E.M., Two Cheers for Democracy, ISBN 0-15-692025-5.
  • Russell's "What I Believe" is published as ISBN 0-415-32509-9.

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