Precis (Summary) Writing – 17

Precis (Summary) Writing – 17

Creative Writing – 64

They write-up has a total of 401 words. Write the summary of the same in not more than 140 words.

Passage sourced from Betrand Russel’s book ‘Values of Scepticism

I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it. I am also aware (what is more serious) that it would tend to diminish the incomes of clairvoyants, bookmakers, bishops, and others who live on the irrational hopes of those who have done nothing to deserve good fortune here or hereafter. In spite of these grave arguments, I maintain that a case can be made out of my paradox, and I shall try to set it forth.

First of all, I wish to guard myself against being thought to take up an extreme position. I am a British Whig, with a British love of compromise and moderation. A story is told of Pyrrho, the founder of Pyrrhonism (which was the old name for scepticism). He maintained that we never know enough to be sure that one course of action is wiser than another. In his youth, when he was taking his constitutional one afternoon, he saw his teacher in philosophy (from whom he had imbibed his principles) with his head stuck in a ditch, unable to get out. After contemplating him for some time, he walked on, maintaining that there was no sufficient ground for thinking he would do any good by pulling the man out. Others, less sceptical, effected a rescue, and blamed Pyrrho for his heartlessness. But his teacher, true to his principles, praised him for his consistency. Now I do not advocate such heroic scepticism as that. I am prepared to admit the ordinary beliefs of common sense, in practice if not in theory. I am prepared to admit any well-established result of science, not as certainly true, but as sufficiently probable to afford a basis for rational action. If it is announced that there is to be an eclipse of the moon on such-and-such a date, I think it worth while to look and see whether it is taking place. Pyrrho would have thought otherwise. On this ground, I feel justified in claiming that I advocate a middle position.


I hesitate to propose that we should treat all unfounded ideas incredulously. However, my proposition requiring sound proof for acceptance of an idea could militate against our political system and social life that appear faultless presently. Moreover, my proposal could jeopardize the livelihood of soothsayers and clairvoyants who make a living through selling golden dreams to people craving for wealth without efforts.

In order not to upset the applecart, I will adopt a moderate stand, quite different from the extreme scepticism advocated by Pyrrho. Pyrrho saw one of his students walking away deciding not to extricate him from the mud ditch. The student was applauded by Pyrrho later, because he followed his teachings sincerely. To avoid such ridiculous error of judgment, I will opt for a middle path, so as not to run afoul of the established socio-political order.  [139 words]

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