Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the
longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of
mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither over
a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would
often have sacrificed all the rest of my life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought
it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering
consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable
lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in
mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have
imagined. This is what I sought, and though it may seem too good for human life,
this is what—at last—I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the
hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to
apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A
little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens.
But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my
heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a
hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain
make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I
cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if
the chance were offered to me.
By Bertrand Russell