What follows is written by the philosopher Bertrand Russell:

Those who realize the harm that can be done to others by any use of force against them, and the worthlessness of the goods that can be acquired by force, will be very full of respect for the liberty of others; they will not try to bind them or fetter them; they will be slow to judge and swift to sympathize; they will treat every human being with a kind of tenderness, because the principle of good in him is at once fragile and infinitely precious.

I'm not sure if I know the exact meaning of "the principle of good" here. Also I would like to know what the role of "of" is in this phrase. (In other words, I'd like to know what the meaning of 'principle' and 'good' are in this context, and what role 'of' is playing here.)

  • You should add why you think dictionary definitions won't answer your question. It seems pretty literal to me. Replacing good with goodness or being good might help though.
    – user3169
    Sep 22, 2017 at 22:51
  • @user3169, Maybe it seems obvious to you because you are a native English speaker! According to dictionaries, 'principle' have some different meanings. For example, principle can mean a fundamental truth or proposition, like the "principle of relativity" in physics. But the phrase "the principle of good" is somewhat strange to me
    – user60033
    Sep 22, 2017 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


This is from Bertrand Russell's essay titled "Political Ideals."

In the essay he says this:

But although we cannot set up in any detail an ideal of character which is to be universally applicable—although we cannot say, for instance, that all men ought to be industrious, or self-sacrificing, or fond of music—there are some broad principles which can be used to guide our estimates as to what is possible or desirable.

In the essay he assigns titles to three of those principles: Good, Toleration, and Non-Interference. They are principles that, according to him, people can have that cause them to act in specific ways.

If I have the principle of good in me, says Russell, then I will always act in good ways - especially by not using force against other people. If I have the principle of toleration, then according to Russell, I'll be able to overlook the differences from myself that I see in other people - especially religious differences.

  • Thanks. Maybe you've read this book. Russell has been a great teacher to me. But my question here concerns the usage of English language, and not the ethical ideas expressed in the text. :)
    – user60033
    Sep 22, 2017 at 22:37
  • In other words, I'd like to know what the meaning of 'principle' is in this context, what role 'of' is playing here.
    – user60033
    Sep 22, 2017 at 22:44

Here, "principle" almost certainly signifies the sense of an ethical mentality. Compare to the sense in "an unprincipled person" (= a person without a moral compass).

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