Russell's teapot

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Bertrand Russell in 1907

When considering unfalsifiable claims, Bertrand Russell used an analogy of a celestial teapot. If a teapot was drifting in space between the Earth and Mars (making it practically unobservable), he claimed it would be unreasonable to expect belief of the teapot based on their inability to disprove the teapots existence. He compared the belief in God to the belief in a celestial teapot; in both cases it is not the responsibility of disbelievers to disprove its existence.

"Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time. [1]"

Restatements

"[Y]ou could claim that anything's real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody's proved it doesn't exist!"

— Hermione Granger, in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[2][3]

See also

References

  1. Russell, Bertrand. Is There a God? [1952]. The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 11: Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68. Routledge. pp. 547–548.
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Google Books
  3. J.K. Rowling quotations at goodreads.com
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