The day the Prime Minister read our blog “On Foolish Opinions”

And we can prove it. Because his decision to put mathematics at the centre of British education[1] is not only sagacious and far sighted, but it flows directly from out little blog Avoiding Foolish Opinions (LSS 30 9 2020), in which we exalted the opinions of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Why?

Borrowing freely again from the superb FS website, let’s look at what Russell said

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

In mathematics there is only logic. You won’t solve a quadratic equation by screaming at it. Whether a function can be differentiated is not a matter of opinion. Data sets, such as those in meteorology or quantum mechanics may be uncertain. But the rules on interpreting them, such as confidence limits, are not.

In recent years, our country has suffered from passionate controversies, resulting in deeply suboptimal economic and social outcomes. Most of the damage was due not to the matters at dispute, but because the protagonists were unable to frame clear logic, or realise the differences between opinion and fact. The education system here is not only under-resourced and deeply riven by class advantage. It is also skewed toward humanities and rote learning. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that large numbers of people make bad choices.

The discussions around Mr Sunak’s policy will emphasise the practical reasons why it was chosen. But we see it as a first practical step towards clearer thinking. And until that is done then can be no benefits from Brexit. Or anything else.

Once again our gratitude to the authors of the FS website, who provide such an easy access to crucial aspects of Russell’s thought



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