How about a bit of murder?

This is one of my occasional Who Said This? quizzes.

I have been merely oppressed by the weariness and tedium and vanity of things lately: nothing stirs me, nothing seems worth doing or worth having done: the only thing that I strongly feel worth while would be to murder as many people as possible so as to diminish the amount of consciousness in the world. These times have to be lived through: there is nothing to be done with them.

So who said it? No Googling, because that would be immoral, especially if you’re a moral error theorist.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Bertrand Russell?

    It’s well written. I know that you read Russell. I know that Russell had periods of depression. It seems not to be translated, but to have been written in English. He talks about consciousness. He allows himself to be
    “wicked” in a way that, say, Mill never would.

  2. De Quincey

  3. de Sade

  4. Sounds like something Russell might have said.

  5. Steve Merrick

    Oscar Wilde is the only name that springs to my mind, although I’m fairly sure it’s wrong. 😥

  6. Thanks guys.

    I will reveal the answer later on today!

  7. Answer:

    Yes, it was Bertrand Russell. In a letter to Gilbert Murray, March 21, 1903.

    Congrats to Amos and Julian!

  8. Jim P Houston


    In case you’re interested in the context, here’s an excerpt from the next letter in Russell’s autobiography – to Lucy Martin Donnelly on May the 23rd …

    Dear Lucy … You will wonder at my writing to you: the fact is, I finished today my magnum opus on the principles of Mathematics, on which I have been engaged since 1897. This has left me with leisure and liberty to remember that there are human beings in the world, which I have been strenuously striving to forget. I wonder whether you realise the degree of self-sacrifice (and too often sacrifice of others), of sheer effort of will, of stern austerity in repressing even what is intrinsically best, that goes into writing a book of any magnitude. Year after year, I found mistakes in what I had done, and had to re-write the whole from beginning to end: for In a logical system, one mistake will usually vitiate everything. The hardest part I left to the end: last summer I undertook it gaily, hoping to finish soon, when suddenly I came upon a greater difficulty than any I had known of before. So difficult it was, that to think of it at all required an all but superhuman effort. And long ago I got sick to nausea of the whole subject, so that I longed to think of anything else under the sun: and sheer fatigue has become almost incapacitating. But now at last all is finished, and as you may imagine.] feel a new man: for I had given up hope of ever coming to an end of the labour. Abstract work, if one wishes to do it well, must be allowed to destroy one’s humanity: one raises a monument which Is at the same time a tomb, in which, voluntarily, one slowly inters oneself. But the thankless muse will not share her favours — she is a jealous mistress. — Do not believe, if you wish to write, that the current doctrine of experience has any truth; there is a thousand nines more experience in pain than in pleasure. Artists must have strong passions, but they deceive themselves in fancying It good to indulge their desires. The whole doctrine, too, that writing comes from technique, is quite mistaken: writing Is the outlet to feelings which are all but overmastering, and are yet mastered. Two things are to be cultivated: loftiness of feeling, and control of feeling and everything else by the will. Neither of these are understood in America as in the old countries; indeed, loftiness of feeling seems to depend essentially upon a brooding consciousness of the past and its terrible power, a deep sense of the difference between the great eternal facts and the transient dross of merely personal feeling. If you tell these things to your fine-writing class, they will know less than If you hold your tongue.

    Give my love to Helen. My advice to anyone who wishes to write is to know all the very best literature by heart, and ignore the rest as completely as possible.

    Yours ever,

    Bertrand Russell

  9. Jim P Houston

    Ah, I hadn’t picked up that this letter was from 1902 – the year previous year to his letter to Gilbert. Still…

  10. Hello Jim,

    Thank you for the quotes from Russell. I hope that you are well.

    What strikes me, first of all, is how carefully and well Russell writes. I receive emails daily whose writers do not even bother to activate the spell-checker, yet Russell has the intellectual discipline to make each letter a small masterpiece.

    Second, Russell’s observation that abstract work destroys one’s humanity, while not literally true, is worth considering.

    We all know that as he grew older, Russell did less formal philosophy and dedicated more energy to political activism and to writing books for the general public with a philosophical slant.

    There is a tendency to contrast Russell with Wittgenstein, who, according to this point of view, did not “sell out” unlike Russell.

    A cynic might note that with Wittgenstein’s bank account there is no pressure to sell out.

    A cynic might also try a genealogy of the tendency to trash Russell, which, as far as I recall, begins with Paul Johnson’s ultra-reactionary book Intellectuals, a book which give the rightwing Thatcher-Reagan zeitgeist of the 80’s quickly became Gospel.

    However, isn’t it more probable that in writing for a mass audience Russell, besides trying to earn a normal middle-class income, attempted to recuperate his humanity, as he saw it?

    His books such as “”Why I Am Not a Christian” and
    “History of Western Philosophy” have aided generations of young and not so young people, including myself, to find their route in life.

    His books on sexual ethics pioneer a freer sexuality, which now almost everyone, besides the U.S. religious right and Muslim fundamentalists, takes for granted.

    Russell’s opposition to the war in Viet Nam, given the imperialist and ecocidal character of the U.S. aggression, seems ever more prescient.

    I thank Russell for selling out.

  11. Doris Wrench Eisler

    Haven’t the faintest but it must have been someone in the 19th century or earlier seeing as murdering as many people as possible has been the order of the day for governments, especially Western, in centuries 20 and 21.
    Actually, not too clever either, as consciousness is what we lack. The author was confusing thinking in circles or in a box with consciousness.

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