Write a complete summary of Bertrand Russell's essay "Ideas That Have Helped Mankind."

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Bertrand Russell's essay "Ideas That Have Helped Mankind" appears in his collection of essays named Unpopular Essays. This essay opens with six questions Russell poses. These six questions are the ones which Russell believes are essential to defining what would be helpful for mankind. Here are the questions Russell poses.

Are mankind helped when they become more numerous? Or when they become less like animals? Or when they become happier? Or when they learn to enjoy a greater diversity of experiences? Or when they come to know more? Or when they become more friendly to one another?

After the posing of questions, Russell goes onto address each one by one. He finds that mankind is helped when it becomes more numerous and less like animals. As for happiness, Russell does not believe that any progress has been made regarding the happiness of mankind. Russell goes on to state that a greater diversity of experiences has only made mankind more bored. As for intelligence, Russell simply believes that mankind's intelligence only "distinguishes us from the brutes." Lastly, Russell does not believe that kindness has anything to do with progressing mankind, at least not at this point in history.

As for the remainder of the essay, Russell beings by stating that the initial steps taken "before the dawn of history." These were the steps which allowed all others to follow. As for the initialĀ  important ideas which have helped mankind, Russell provides a simple list.

"I will treat first those that have to do with knowledge and technique."

-Language

-Fire

-Domestication of Animals

-Agriculture

-Writing

Historically, Russell believes that mathematics, astronomy, and the understanding of natural law were of the utmost importance. He goes onto state the names of great thinkers which helped mankind progress: Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, and Darwin.

"This brings me to the second kind of idea that has helped or may in time help mankind; I mean moral as opposed to technical ideas."

In this section, Russell discusses the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Russell comes to the conclusion that the most important ideas which will help mankind in regard to their morality must be accomplished through being loyal, equal, and fraternal. It is only through these three things that is necessary to save mankind from disaster. Once these three things are accomplished, mankind will lead itself into an era of "happiness and wellbeing." Russell closes his essay by stating that we are in the most crucial moment ever. Essentially, he states that it is up to mankind to change what is going on, now or never.

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