Marriage and Morals

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First edition (publ. Allen & Unwin)

Marriage and Morals is a 1929 book by the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell that questions the Victorian notions of morality regarding sex and marriage.

Russell argued that the laws and ideas about sex of his time were a potpourri from various sources, which were no longer valid with the advent of contraception, as the sexual acts are now separated from the conception. He argues that family is most important for the welfare of children, and as such, a man and a woman should be considered bound only after her first pregnancy.[1]

Cultural response[edit]

Marriage and Morals prompted vigorous protests and denunciations against Russell during his visit to the United States shortly after the book's publication.[2] A decade later, the book cost him his professorial appointment at the City College of New York due to a court judgment that his opinions made him “morally unfit” to teach. A public outcry, initiated by the mother of a student who was ineligible for his course in mathematical logic, preceded the ruling. John Dewey and several other intellectuals protested his treatment at the time.[3] Albert Einstein’s often-quoted aphorism that “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds ... ” originated in his open letter in support of Russell, during this time.[4]

Nobel Prize[edit]

According to Russell, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for Marriage and Morals.[5]

When I was called to Stockholm, at the end of 1950, to receive the Nobel Prize -- somewhat to my surprise, for literature, for my book Marriage and Morals -- I was apprehensive, since I remembered that, exactly 300 years earlier, Descartes had been called to Scandinavia by Queen Christina in the winter time and had died of the cold.

The Nobel Foundation, on the other hand, wrote that the prize recognized "his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought"; not any particular work.


  1. ^ "Sex Seer", in Time, November 4, 1929
  2. ^ Haeberle, Erwin J. (1983). "Pioneers of Sex Education". The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  3. ^ Leberstein, Stephen (November–December 2001). "Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell". Academe. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  4. ^ Einstein quotations and sources. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  5. ^ Russell, Bertrand. Autobiography. p. 521. Retrieved 4 June 2013. 

External links[edit]