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Free Thinker? – Bertrand Russell

The expression “Free Thought” is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy.  But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. “Free Thought” means thinking freely – as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being. 

The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the Free Thinker free from?  To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things; the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions.  No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man’s emancipation he deserves to be called a Free Thinker. 

A man is not to be denied this title because he happens, on some point, to agree with the theologians of his country.  An Arab who, starting from the first principles of human reason, is able to deduce that the Koran was not created, but existed eternally in heaven, may be counted as a Free Thinker, provided he is willing to listen to counter arguments and subject his ratiocination to critical scrutiny.

What makes a Free Thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them.  If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.’
– Bertrand Russell, “The Value of Free Thought”

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