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It goes against the grain for me to do what so often happens, to speak inhumanly about the great as if a few millennia were an immense distance. I prefer to speak humanly about it, as if it happened yesterday, and let only the greatness itself be the distance. ~ Søren Kierkegaard
If, while hurrying ostensibly to the temple of truth, we hand the reins over to our personal interests which look aside at very different guiding stars, for instance at the tastes and foibles of our contemporaries, at the established religion, but in particular at the hints and suggestions of those at the head of affairs, then how shall we ever reach the high, precipitous, bare rock whereon stands the temple of truth? ~ Schopenhauer
When I speak of the purpose of self-culture, I mean that it should be sincere. In other words, we must make self-culture really and truly our end, or choose it for its own sake, and not merely as a means or instrument of something else. And here I touch a common and very pernicious error. Not a few persons desire to improve themselves only to get property and to rise in the world; but such do not properly choose improvement, but something outward and foreign to themselves; and so low an impulse can produce only a stinted, partial, uncertain growth. A man, as I have said, is to cultivate himself because he is a man. He is to start with the conviction that there is something greater within him than in the whole material creation, than in all the worlds which press on the eye and ear; and that inward improvements have a worth and dignity in themselves quite distinct from the power they give over outward things. ~ William Ellery Channing
Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often perceive how near I had come to admitting into my mind the details of some trivial affair,—the news of the street; and I am astonished to observe how willing men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish,—to permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself,—an hypæthral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind’s chastity in this respect. Think of admitting the details of a single case of the criminal court into our thoughts, to stalk profanely through their very sanctum sanctorum for an hour, ay, for many hours! to make a very bar-room of the mind’s inmost apartment, as if for so long the dust of the street had occupied us,—the very street itself, with all its travel, its bustle, and filth, had passed through our thoughts’ shrine! Would it not be an intellectual and moral suicide? ~ Henry David Thoreau
The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed suddenly into magnificent sense. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I worship freedom; I abhor restraint, trouble, dependence. As long as the money in my purse lasts, it assures my independence; it relieves me of the trouble of finding expedients to replenish it, a necessity which has always inspired me with dread; but the fear of seeing it exhausted makes me hoard it carefully. The money which a man possesses is the instrument of freedom.; that which we eagerly pursue is the instrument of slavery. Therefore I hold fast to that which I have, and desire nothing. ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists then in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor to think well; this is the principle of morality. ~ Blaise Pascal

Peter Capofreddi is a student of religion. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.


A commonplace book[edit]

A commonplace book from the mid-17th century

Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: in the words of one advocate, maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

The philosopher John Locke first began maintaining a commonplace book in 1652, during his first year at Oxford. Over the next decade he developed and refined an elaborate system for indexing the book’s content. Locke thought his method important enough that he appended it to a printing of his canonical work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
from Steven Berlin Johnson, "The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book," Hearst New Media lecture, April 22, 2010

Wikiquote, as I see it, is a communal commonplace book that allows us to record all the interesting and inspirational passages we find in a lifetime of reading, to share them with our friends, and with like-minded men and women destined to become friends.

Theognis (6th century BC)[edit]

  • We struggle onward, ignorant and blind,
    For a result unknown and undesign’d;
    Avoiding seeming ills, misunderstood,
    Embracing evil as a seeming good.
    • Theognis, Elegies, 58, D. Wender, trans.
  • Ploutos, no wonder mortals worship you:
    You are so tolerant of their sins!
    • Theognis, Elegies, D. Wender, trans., 523

Confucius (551-479 BC)[edit]

To rank the effort above the prize may be called love.
  • A scholar who loves comfort is not worthy of the name.
  • The man of virtue makes the difficulty to be overcome his first business, and success only a subsequent consideration.
  • They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
  • Guide the people by law, subdue them by punishment; they may shun crime, but will be void of shame. Guide them by example, subdue them by courtesy; they will learn shame, and come to be good.
  • To rank the effort above the prize may be called love.

Sophocles (496-406 BC)[edit]

  • Whoever has a keen eye for profits is blind in relation to his craft.

Old Testament (c. 450BC-200BC)[edit]

  • Be ye holy as I am holy.
    • Leviticus 19:2
  • For behold short years pass away, and I am walking in a path by which I shall not return.
    • Job 16:23
  • Be not wise in thine own eyes.
    • Proverbs 3:7
  • Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
    • Proverbs 3:13-15
  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.
    • Proverbs 12:1
  • You who know nothing of how the soul marries the body, you therefore know nothing of God’s works.
    • Ecclesiastes 11:5
  • Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
    • Ecclesiastes 2:15

Xenophon (430-354 BC)[edit]

  • As athletes who gain an easy victory in the games are apt to neglect their training, so the honour in which he was held, the cheap triumph he won with the people, led him to neglect himself.

Plato (428-348 BC)[edit]

  • The greatest penalty of evildoing—namely, to grow into the likeness of bad men.
  • I set to do you—each one of you, individually and in private—what I hold to be the greatest possible service. I tried to persuade each one of you to concern himself less with what he has than with what he is, so as to render himself as excellent and rational as possible.
  • I would be better for me … that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself.
    • Plato, Socrates in Gorgias, 482c
  • Each of these private teachers who work for pay, whom the politicians call sophists and regard as their rivals, inculcates nothing else than these opinions of the multitude which they opine when they are assembled and calls this knowledge wisdom. It is as if a man were acquiring the knowledge of the humors and desires of a great strong beast which he had in his keeping, how it is to be approached and touched, and when and by what things it is made most savage or gentle, yes, and the several sounds it is wont to utter on the occasion of each, and again what sounds uttered by another make it tame or fierce, and after mastering this knowledge by living with the creature and by lapse of time should call it wisdom, and should construct thereof a system and art and turn to the teaching of it, knowing nothing in reality about which of these opinions and desires is honorable or base, good or evil, just or unjust, but should apply all these terms to the judgments of the great beast, calling the things that pleased it good, and the things that vexed it bad, having no other account to render of them, but should call what is necessary just and honorable, never having observed how great is the real difference between the necessary and the good, and being incapable of explaining it to another.
  • Anyone who holds a true opinion without understanding is like a blind man on the right road.

Aristotle (384-322 BC)[edit]

  • Practical life is not necessarily directed toward other people, as some think; and it is not the case that practical thoughts are only those which result from action for the sake of what ensues. On the contrary, much more practical are those mental activities and reflections which have their goal in themselves and take place for their own sake.
  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
  • Virtue is displayed … in performing noble acts rather than in avoiding base ones.

Epicurus (341-270 BC)[edit]

  • Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.
    • Epicurus, cited in A Little Book of Aphorisms (New York: 1947), p. 207
  • He who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and make the whole life complete and perfect. Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to be won save by labor and conflict.
    • Epicurus, “Principal Doctrines,” 21
  • If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not give him more money, but diminish his desire.
  • The man who follows nature and not vain opinions is independent in all things. For in reference to what is enough for nature every possession is riches, but in reference to unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is not riches but poverty.
  • I have never wished to please the crowd: for what I know, they do not approve; what they approve, I do not know.

Publius Syrus (1st century BC)[edit]

  • Tension weakens the bow; the want of it, the mind.

Virgil (70-19 BC)[edit]

  • Liberty, which, though late, yet cast an eye upon me in my inactive time of life, after my beard began to fall off with a greyish hue when I shaved: yet on me she cast her eye, and after a long period of slavery came at last.

Horace (65 BC - 8 BC)[edit]

  • Why do you hasten to remove things that hurt your eyes, but if any thing gnaws your mind, defer the time of curing it from year to year?
  • He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.

Seneca (54 BC-39 AD)[edit]

  • The shortest way to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.
    • Seneca, cited in Latin Quotations (New York: 2005), p. 14

Plutarch (46 AD–120 AD)[edit]

  • Why do we assert that virtue is unteachable, and thus make it non-existent?
    • Plutarch, “Can virtue be taught?” Moralia, W. Helmbold, trans. (1939), vol. 6, pp. 5-7

Epictetus (55-135 AD)[edit]

  • Unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill?

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)[edit]

  • It is not death that a man should fear, but never beginning to live.
  • How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.
  • Every man values himself more than all the rest of men, but he always values others’ opinions of himself more than his own.
  • Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

New Testament (c. 50-150 AD)[edit]

  • Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt. ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
    • Matthew 6:19-21
  • Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
    • Matthew 11:25
  • Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    • Paul's letter to the Romans 13:8
  • I died to the law so that I might live for God.
    • Paul's letter to the Galatians 2:19

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD)[edit]

Just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, now turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, ... so too man's mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.
  • We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. For just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, now turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, ... so too man's mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 9
  • It is no more possible to write in wax without first smoothing away the letters previously written thereon, than it is to supply the soul with divine teachings without first removing its preconceptions derived from habit.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 11
  • Solitude … calms our passions, and gives reason leisure to sever them completely from the soul. For just as animals are easily subdued by caresses; so desire, anger, fear and grief, the venomous evils which beset the soul, if they are lulled to sleep by solitude and are not exasperated by constant irritations, are more easily subdued by the influence of reason. Therefore let the place of retirement be such as ours, so separated from the intercourse of men that the continuity of our religious discipline may not be interrupted by any external distraction.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, pp. 12-13
  • The discipline of piety nourishes the soul with divine thoughts.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 13
  • The very beginning of the soul’s purgation is tranquility, in which the tongue is not given to discussing the affairs of men, nor the eyes to contemplating rosy cheeks or comely bodies, nor the ears to lowering the tone of the soul by listening to songs whose sole object is to amuse, or to words spoken by wits and buffoons—a practice which above all things tends to relax the tone of the soul.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 13
  • When the mind is not dissipated upon extraneous things, nor diffused over the world about us through the senses, it withdraws within itself, and of its own accord ascends to the contemplation of God.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 15
  • In general, just as painters in working from models constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is anxious to make himself perfect in all the kinds of virtue must gaze upon the lives of the saints as upon statues, so to speak, that move and act, and must make their excellence his own by imitation.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 17
  • Prayer is to be commended, for it engenders in the soul a distinct conception of God.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 17
  • We thus become temples of God whenever earthly cares cease to interrupt the continuity of our memory of Him.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 19
  • Let one hour, the same regularly each day, be set aside for food, so that out of the twenty-four hours of day and night, barely shall this one be expended on the body, the ascetic devoting the remainder to the activities of the mind.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 23
  • “The kingdom of of heaven is within you.” And concerning the inner man, it consists of nothing but contemplation. Therefore the kingdom of heaven must be contemplation.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter 8, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 89
  • I consider it absurd that we should permit our senses to sate themselves without hindrance with their own material food, but that we should exclude the mind alone from its own particular activity.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter 8, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 91

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)[edit]

  • Virtue’s true reward is happiness itself, for which the virtuous work, whereas if they worked for honor, it would no longer be virtue, but ambition.

Petrarch (1304-1374)[edit]

  • We look about us for what is to be found only within.
  • A meaningless master’s degree has kept many from becoming true masters. Believing others rather than themselves, and believing to be what they were cried up to be but really were not, they never became what they could have become.
    • Petrarch, “On the Master’s Degree,” De remediis utriusque fortune, C. Rawski, trans. (1967), p. 59
  • Philosophy offers not wisdom but the love of wisdom.
    • Petrarch, “On the Various Academic Titles,” De remediis utriusque fortune, C. Rawski, trans. (1967), p. 65

Étienne de La Boétie (1530-1563)[edit]

  • Men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)[edit]

  • There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.
  • “Knowing” no more consists in what we once knew than in what we shall know in the future.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book I, ch. 25, “On Schoolmasters’ Learning,” p. 154
  • Whenever I ask a certain acquaintance of mine to tell me what he knows about anything, he wants to show me a book.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book I, ch. 25, “On Schoolmasters’ Learning,” p. 155
  • Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, M. Screech, trans. (1991), Book I, ch. 25, “On Schoolmasters’ Learning,” p. 155
  • We must not attach knowledge to the mind, we have to incorporate it there.
  • My trade and my art is living.
  • If I study, it is for no other science than that which treats of the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die well and how to live well.
  • [The teaching of the Pyrrhonists] is a pure, complete and very perfect postponement and suspension of judgment. They use their reason to inquire and debate, but not to conclude and choose.
    • Michel de Montaigne, Essays, F374, V505B, in Ian Maclean, “Montaigne and the truth of the schools,” The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, pp. 155-156
  • My behaviour is natural: I have not called in the help of any teaching to build it. But feeble as it is, when the desire to tell it seized me, and then, to make it appear in public a little more decently, I set myself to support it with reasons and examples, it was a marvel to myself to find it, simply by chance, in conformity with so many philosophical examples and reasons. What rule my life belonged to, I did not learn until after it was completed and spent. A new figure: an unpremeditated and accidental philosopher!

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)[edit]

  • Seek ye first the good things of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.
  • Riches are the baggage of virtue; they cannot be spared nor left behind, but they hinder the march.
  • While a man maketh his train longer, he maketh his wings shorter.
  • Time, like a river, bears down to us that which is light and inflated, and sinks that which is heavy and solid.
  • Whatever the mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is to be held in suspicion.
  • I cannot be called on to abide by the sentence of a tribunal which is itself on its trial.
  • The human understanding is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds.

Shakespeare (1564-1616)[edit]

  • He who has injured thee was either stronger or weaker than thee. If weaker, spare him; if stronger, spare thyself.
  • Be great in act, as you have been in thought.
  • And thus I clothe my naked villainy
    With old odd ends, stol’n forth of holy writ;
    And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
  • My library was dukedom large enough.
  • Our doubts are traitors,
    And make us lose the good we oft might win
    By fearing to attempt.
  • And since you know you cannot see yourself,
    so well as by reflection, I, your glass,
    will modestly discover to yourself,
    that of yourself which you yet know not of.
    • Shakespeare, Cassius in Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene i
  • ‘T is better to be lowly born,
    And range with humble livers in content,
    Than to be perked up in a glistering grief,
    And wear a golden sorrow.
  • To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.
  • I understand a fury in your words,
    But not the words.
  • Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.
  • Assume a virtue, if you have it not.

Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658)[edit]

  • It is worse to busy yourself with the trivial than to do nothing.
  • Don’t talk about yourself. You must either praise yourself, which is vanity, or criticize yourself, which is meekness.
  • Complaints … encourage those who hear our complaints to behave like those we complain about. Once divulged, the offenses done to us seem to make others pardonable. … It is better to praise the favors others have done for you, so as to win still more of them. When you tell how those absent have favored you, you are asking those present to do the same.
    • Baltasar Gracián, "Never complain," Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia, § 129 (C. Maurer trans.)
  • Truth is always late, last to arrive, limping along with time.
  • Lying is ordinary; let belief be extraordinary.
  • The example of people in high places is so persuasive that it makes people imitate even their ugliness.
  • Parcel out your life wisely, not confusedly in the rush of events, but with foresight and judgment.
  • Some people belong entirely to others … They have not a day, not an hour to call their own, so completely do they give themselves to others. This is true even in matters of understanding. Some people know everything for others and nothing for themselves.

John Milton (1608-1674)[edit]

  • The mind is its own place, and in itself
    Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.
  • Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)[edit]

  • Philosophers condemn wealth only because of the bad use it has been put to, and it is up to us to acquire and use it blamelessly, Then, instead of letting it feed and encourage crimes as wood keeps fire burning, we can dedicate it to all the virtues and thereby make them more beautiful and striking.

Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)[edit]

  • To virgin minds, which yet their native whiteness hold,
    Not yet discoloured with the love of gold
    (That jaundice of the soul,
    Which makes it look so gilded and so foul)

Molière (1622-1673)[edit]

  • To esteem everything is to esteem nothing.
    • Molière, Le Misanthrope, Act. 1 Sc. 1

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)[edit]

  • To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées, #4, W. F. Trotter, trans. (New York: 1958)
  • Spirit and sentiment are formed by conversation. Spirit and sentiment are ruined by conversation. … It is, then, all-important to know how to choose our society in order to form rather than ruin them; and one cannot make this choice unless one has already formed them and not ruined them. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.
  • It is a deplorable thing to see all men deliberating on means alone, and not on the end.
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées, #98, W. F. Trotter, trans. (New York: 1958)
  • Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
All our dignity consists then in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor to think well; this is the principle of morality.
  • Blaise Pascal, Pensées, #347, W. F. Trotter, trans. (New York: 1958)

Spinoza (1632-1677)[edit]

  • Men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.
    • Spinoza, Ethics, Part 3, Prop. 2, Note (Dover 1955 p. 134)

George Savile, Marquess of Halifax (1633-1695)[edit]

  • The condition of mankind is to be weary of what we do know, and afraid of what we do not.
  • Men make it such a point of honour to be fit for business that they forget to examine whether business is fit for a man.
  • It is not a reproach but a compliment to learning, to say, that great scholars are less fit for business; since the truth is, business is so much a lower thing than learning, that a man used to the last cannot easily bring his stomach down to the first.
  • When by habit a man cometh to have a bargaining soul, its wings are cut, so that it can never soar. It bindeth reason an apprentice to gain, and instead of a director, maketh it a drudge.

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696)[edit]

  • He who only writes to suit the taste of the age, considers himself more than his writings. We should always aim at perfection, and then posterity will do us that justice which sometimes our contemporaries refuse.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of Works of the Mind,” #67
  • A wise man is cured of ambition by ambition itself; his aim is so exalted that riches, office, fortune, and favor cannot satisfy him.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of Personal Merit,” #43
  • The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of Society and Conversation,” #16
  • Wise men sometimes avoid the world, that they may not be surfeited with it.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of Society and Conversation,” #83
  • Let us not envy a certain class of men for their enormous riches; they have paid such an equivalent for them that it would not suit us; they have given for them their peace of mind, their health, their honour, and their conscience; this is rather too dear, and there is nothing to be made out of such a bargain.
    • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of The Gifts of Fortune,” #13
  • We must laugh before we are happy, for fear we die before we laugh at all.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)[edit]

  • Whoever is a master of language, and hath a mind full of ideas, will be apt, in speaking, to hesitate upon the choice of both; whereas common speakers have only one set of ideas, and one set of words to clothe them in, and these are always ready at the mouth.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)[edit]

  • ‘Tis the first virtue, vices to abhor;
    And the first wisdom, to be fool no more.
  • Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our defence,
    And fills up all the mighty void of sense.
  • A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    There, shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.
  • True Wit is Nature to advantage dress’d;
    What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d;
    Something, whose truth convinc’d at sight we find,
    That gives us back the image of our mind.
  • Some foreign writers, some our own despise;
    The Ancients only, or the Moderns prize.
    Thus Wit, like Faith, by each man is apply’d
    To one small sect, and all are damn’d beside.
    Meanly they seek the blessing to confine,
    And force that sun but on a part to shine.
  • Men must be taught as if you taught them not
    And things unknown proposed as things forgot.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)[edit]

  • If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary be not idle.
  • A man should cultivate his mind so as to have that confidence and readiness without wine which wine gives.
  • A desire for knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all he has to get knowledge.
  • It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)[edit]

  • Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.
  • I worship freedom; I abhor restraint, trouble, dependence. As long as the money in my purse lasts, it assures my independence; it relieves me of the trouble of finding expedients to replenish it, a necessity which has always inspired me with dread; but the fear of seeing it exhausted makes me hoard it carefully. The money which a man possesses is the instrument of freedom.; that which we eagerly pursue is the instrument of slavery. Therefore I hold fast to that which I have, and desire nothing.

Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747)[edit]

  • Magnanimity owes no account to prudence of its motives.
  • The generality of men are so bound within the sphere of their circumstances that they have not even the courage to get out of them through their ideas, and if we see a few whom, in a way, speculation over great things makes incapable of mean ones, we find still more with whom the practice of small things takes away the feeling for great ones.
  • Men are not to be judged by what they do not know, but by what they know, and by the manner in which they know it.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)[edit]

It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.
  • It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.
  • [Jesus] claims that not the observance of outer civil or statutory churchly duties but the pure moral disposition of the heart alone can make man well-pleasing to God (Matthew V, 20-48); … that injury done one’s neighbor can be repaired only through satisfaction rendered to the neighbor himself, not through acts of divine worship (V, 24). Thus, he says, does he intend to do full justice to the Jewish law (V, 17); whence it is obvious that not scriptural scholarship but the pure religion of reason must be the law’s interpreter, for taken according to the letter, it allowed the very opposite of all this. Furthermore, he does not leave unnoticed, in his designations of the strait gate and the narrow way, the misconstruction of the law which men allow themselves in order to evade their true moral duty, holding themselves immune through having fulfilled their churchly duty (VII, 13). He further requires of these pure dispositions that they manifest themselves also in works (VII, 16) and, on the other hand, denies the insidious hope of those who imagine that, through invocation and praise of the Supreme Lawgiver in the person of His envoy, they will make up for their lack of good works and ingratiate themselves into favor (VII, 21). Regarding these works he declares that they ought to be performed publicly, as an example for imitation (V, 16), and in a cheerful mood, not as actions extorted from slaves (VI, 16); and that thus, from a small beginning in the sharing and spreading of such dispositions, religion, like a grain of seed in good soil, or a ferment of goodness, would gradually, through its inner power, grow into a kingdom of God (XIII, 31-33).
    • Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book IV, Part 1, Section 1, “The Christian religion as a natural religion,” as translated by Theodore M. Greene

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781)[edit]

  • For all but one in thousands the goal of their thinking is the point at which they have become tired of thinking.

Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788)[edit]

A thirsty ambition for truth and virtue, and a frenzy to conquer all lies and vices which are not recognized as such nor desire to be; herein consists the heroic spirit of the philosopher.
  • A thirsty ambition for truth and virtue, and a frenzy to conquer all lies and vices which are not recognized as such nor desire to be; herein consists the heroic spirit of the philosopher.

Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794)[edit]

  • To help a man suffering from dropsy, it’s far better to cure his thirst than to offer him a barrel of wine. Apply this principle to the wealthy.
  • Despising money is like toppling a king off his throne.
  • There are more fools than wise men, and even in a wise man there is more folly than wisdom.
    • Nicolas Chamfort, Maxims and Considerations, E. P. Mathers, trans. (1926), #149
  • L’intérêt d’argent est la grande épreuve des petits caractères, mais ce n’est encore que la plus petite pour les caractères distingués.
  • Both the court and the general public give a conventional value to men and things, and then are surprised to find themselves deceived by it. This is as if arithmeticians should give a variable an arbitrary value to the figures in a sum, and then, after restoring their true and regular value in the addition, be astonished at the incorrectness of their answer.
    • Nicolas Chamfort, Maxims and Considerations, E. P. Mathers, trans. (1926), #199
  • Anyone whose needs are small seems threatening to the rich, because he’s always ready to escape their control.
  • Unfortunately for mankind—and perhaps fortunately for tyrants—the poor and downtrodden lack the instinct or pride of the elephant, who refuses to breed in captivity.
    • Nicolas Chamfort, Reflections, D. Parmée, trans., modified (London: 2003) #266
  • There is a kind of harmful modesty which … sometimes affects men of superior character to their detriment by keeping them in a state of mediocrity. I am reminded of the remark that a certain gentleman of acknowledged eminence once made at luncheon to some persons of the Court, “How bitterly I regret the time I wasted merely to learn how superior I am to all of you!”

Georg Lichtenberg (1742-1799)[edit]

  • We often have need of a profound philosophy to restore to our feelings their original state of innocence, to find our way out of the rubble of things alien to us, to begin to feel for ourselves and to speak ourselves, and I might almost say to exist ourselves.
  • Do not commence your exercises in philosophy in those regions where an error can deliver you over to the executioner.
  • Just as a good writer does not depart from the common usage of words, so a good citizen must not straightaway depart from normal usage in the realm of actions, even though he may have much to object to.
  • Cultivate that kind of knowledge which enables us to discover for ourselves in case of need that which others have to read or be told of.
  • A on his lips, not-A in his heart.
  • It is certainly not a matter of indifference whether I learn something without effort or finally arrive at it myself through my system of thought. In the latter case everything has roots, in the former it is merely superficial.
  • You believe that I run after the strange because I do not know the beautiful; no, it is because you do not know the beautiful that I seek the strange.
  • We accumulate our opinions at an age when our understanding is at its weakest.
  • It is … strange … to say “The soul … is in the body,” … for we do not say “the roundness is in the sphere.”
  • It is a question of whether, when we break a murderer on the wheel, we do not fall into the error a child makes when he hits the chair he has bumped into.
  • To doubt things that are now believed without any further investigation whatever: that is everywhere the main thing.
  • Nothing is more inimical to the progress of science than the belief that we know what we do not yet know.
  • Even if my philosophy does not extend to discovering anything new, it does nevertheless possess the courage to regard as questionable what has long been thought true.
  • It is certainly better not to have studied a subject at all than to have studied it superficially. For when the unaided healthy common sense seeks to form an opinion of something it does not go so far wrong as semi-erudition does.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)[edit]

He who deems it important to keep aloof from the so-called rabble ... is as much to blame as a coward who hides himself from his enemy because he fears defeat.
One often says to oneself … that one ought to avoid having too many different businesses, to avoid becoming a jack-of-all-trades, and that the older one gets, the more one ought to avoid entering into new business. But … the very fact of growing older means taking up a new business; all our circumstances change, and we must either stop doing anything at all or else willing and consciously take on the new role we have to play on life’s stage.
  • Not to keep from error, is the duty of the educator of men, but to guide the erring one, even to let him swill his error out of full cups—that is the wisdom of teachers. Whoever merely tastes of his error, will keep house with it for a long time, … but whoever drains it completely will have to get to know it.
  • I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity.
  • Art is in itself noble; that is why the artist has no fear of what is common. This, indeed, is already ennobled when he takes it up.
  • The man of action is always unprincipled; none but the contemplative has a conscience.
  • One often says to oneself … that one ought to avoid having too many different businesses, to avoid becoming a jack-of-all-trades, and that the older one gets, the more one ought to avoid entering into new business. But … the very fact of growing older means taking up a new business; all our circumstances change, and we must either stop doing anything at all or else willing and consciously take on the new role we have to play on life’s stage.
  • Books, we find, are like new acquaintances. To begin with, we are highly delighted if we find an area of general agreement … It is only on closer acquaintance that differences begin to emerge, at which point the great thing is not immediately to recoil, as may happen at a more youthful age, but to cling very firmly to the areas of agreement and fully clarify our differences
  • Scientific knowledge helps us mainly because it makes the wonder to which we are called by nature rather more intelligible.
  • A mathematician is only perfect insofar as he is a perfect man, sensitive to the beauty of truth.
  • He who deems it important to keep aloof from the so-called rabble ... is as much to blame as a coward who hides himself from his enemy because he fears defeat.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824)[edit]

  • There is in the soul a taste for the good, just as there is in the body a taste for enjoyment.
    • Joseph Joubert, cited in A Little Book of Aphorisms (New York: 1947), p. 141

William Blake (1757-1827)[edit]

  • I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s.
  • He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy.
  • When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do.
  • The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
  • If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.
    • William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell,” The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, line 18

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)[edit]

  • Wouldst thou other men know, look thou within thine own heart.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Tabulae Votivae (Votive Tablets) (1796), "The Key"; tr. Edgar Alfred Bowring, The Poems of Schiller, Complete (1851)
  • Rarely do we arrive at the summit of truth without running into extremes; we have frequently to exhaust the part of error, and even of folly, before we work our way up to the noble goal of tranquil wisdom.
  • The greater part of humanity is too much harassed and fatigued by the struggle with want, to rally itself for a new and sterner struggle with error. Satisfied if they themselves can escape from the hard labour of thought, they willingly abandon to others the guardianship of their thoughts.

Jean Paul (1763-1825)[edit]

  • Never write on a subject without first having read yourself full on it; and never read on a subject till you have thought yourself hungry on it.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)[edit]

  • Pitiful, to be sure, is what the pragmatic philosophy of the French and English is. ... They are considered to be so well versed in the knowledge of what man is, despite their failure to speculate on what he should be.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)[edit]

  • Just as the works of Apelles and Sophocles, if Raphael and Shakespeare had known them, should not have appeared to them as mere preliminary exercises for their own work, but rather as a kindred force of the spirit, so, too reason cannot find in its own earlier forms mere useful preliminary exercises for itself.

Novalis (1772-1801)[edit]

  • Every stage of education begins with childhood. That is why the most educated person on earth so much resembles a child.
    • Novalis, “Miscellaneous Observations,” Philosophical Writings, M. Stolijar, trans. (Albany: 1997) #48

Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829)[edit]

  • In the same way as philosophy loses sight of its true object and appropriate matter, when either it passes into and merges in theology, or meddles with external politics, so also does it mar its proper form when it attempts to mimic the rigorous method of mathematics.
  • Novels are the Socratic dialogs of our time. This free form has become the refuge of common sense in its flight from pedantry.
    • Friedrich Schlegel, Lucinde and the Fragments, P. Firchow, trans. (1991), “Critical Fragments,” § 26
  • One can only become a philosopher, but not be one. As one believes he is a philosopher, he stops being one.
    • Friedrich Schlegel, “Selected Aphorisms from the Athenaeum (1798)”, Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, E. Behler and R. Struc, trans. (Pennsylvania University Press:1968) #54
  • Philosophy always begins in the middle, like an epic poem.
    • Friedrich Schlegel, “Selected Aphorisms from the Athenaeum (1798)”, Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, E. Behler and R. Struc, trans. (Pennsylvania University Press:1968) #84
  • People who are eccentric enough to be quite seriously virtuous understand each other everywhere, discover each other easily, and form a silent opposition to the ruling immorality that happens to pass for morality.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834)[edit]

  • I have indeed lived nominally fifty years, but deduct out of them the hours which I have lived to other people, and not to myself, and you will find me still a young fellow. For that is the only true time, which a man can properly call his own, that which he has all to himself; the rest, though in some sense he may be said to live it, is other people’s time, not his. The remnant of my poor days, long or short, is at least multiplied for me three-fold. My ten next years, if I stretch so far, will be as long as any preceding thirty.
    • Charles Lamb, “The superannuated man,” Last Essays of Elia

Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832)[edit]

  • We are more apt to catch the vices of others rather than their virtues, as disease is far more contagious than health.

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842)[edit]

  • Undoubtedly some men are more gifted than others, and are marked out for more studious lives. But the work of such men is not to do others’ thinking for them, but to help them to think more vigorously and effectually. Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves.
  • I call that mind free, which masters the senses, which protects itself against animal appetites, which contemns pleasure and pain in comparison to its own energy, which penetrates beneath the body and recognises its own reality and greatness, which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.
    I call that mind free, which escapes the bondage of matter, which, instead of stopping at the material universe and making it a prison wall, passes beyond it to its Author, and finds in the radiant signatures which everywhere bears of the Infinite Spirit, helps to its own spiritual enlightenment.
    I call that mind free, which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven.
    I call that mind free, which sets no bounds to its love, which is not imprisoned in itself or in a sect, which recognises in all human beings the image of God and the rights of his children, which delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering wherever they are seen, which conquers pride, anger, and sloth, and offers itself up a willing victim to the cause of mankind.
  • A clear thought, a pure affection, a resolute act of a virtuous will, have a dignity of quite another kind, and far higher than accumulations of brick and granite and plaster and stucco, however cunningly put together.
  • A man has within him capacities of growth which deserve and will reward intense, unrelaxing toil. I do not look on a human being as a machine, made to be kept in action by a foreign force, to accomplish an unvarying succession of motions, to do a fixed amount of work, and then to fall to pieces at death, but as a being of free spiritual powers; and I place little value on any culture but that which aims to bring out these, and to give them perpetual impulse and expansion. I am aware that this view is far from being universal. The common notion has been, that the mass of the people need no other culture than is necessary to fit them for their various trades; and, though this error is passing away, it is far from being exploded. But the ground of a man’s culture lies in his nature, not in his calling. His powers are to be unfolded on account of their inherent dignity, not their outward direction. He is to be educated, because he is a man, not because he is to make shoes, nails, or pins. A trade is plainly not the great end of his being, for his mind cannot be shut up in it; his force of thought cannot be exhausted on it. He has faculties to which it gives no action, and deep wants it cannot answer. Poems, and systems of theology and philosophy, which have made some noise in the world, have been wrought at the work-bench and amidst the toils of the field. How often, when the arms are mechanically plying a trade, does the mind, lost in reverie or day-dreams, escape to the ends of the earth! How often does the pious heart of woman mingle the greatest of all thoughts, that of God, with household drudgery! Undoubtedly a man is to perfect himself in his trade, for by it he is to earn his bread and to serve the community. But bread or subsistence is not his highest good; for, if it were, his lot would be harder than that of the inferior animals, for whom nature spreads a table and weaves a wardrobe, without a care of their own. Nor was he made chiefly to minister to the wants of the community. A rational, moral being cannot, without infinite wrong, be converted into a mere instrument of others’ gratification. He is necessarily an end, not a means. A mind, in which are sown the seeds of wisdom, disinterestedness, firmness of purpose, and piety, is worth more than all the outward material interests of a world. It exists for itself, for its own perfection, and must not be enslaved to its own or others’ animal wants.
  • When I speak of the purpose of self-culture, I mean that it should be sincere. In other words, we must make self-culture really and truly our end, or choose it for its own sake, and not merely as a means or instrument of something else. And here I touch a common and very pernicious error. Not a few persons desire to improve themselves only to get property and to rise in the world; but such do not properly choose improvement, but something outward and foreign to themselves; and so low an impulse can produce only a stinted, partial, uncertain growth. A man, as I have said, is to cultivate himself because he is a man. He is to start with the conviction that there is something greater within him than in the whole material creation, than in all the worlds which press on the eye and ear; and that inward improvements have a worth and dignity in themselves quite distinct from the power they give over outward things. Undoubtedly a man is to labor to better his condition, but first to better himself. If he knows no higher use of his mind than to invent and drudge for his body, his case is desperate as far as culture is concerned.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)[edit]

  • It is the courage to make a clean breast of it in the face of every question that makes the philosopher. He must be like Sophocles’ Oedipus, who, seeking enlightenment concerning his terrible fate, pursues his indefatigable inquiry even though he divines that appalling horror awaits him in the answer. But most of us carry with us the Jocasta in our hearts, who begs Oedipus, for God’s sake, not to inquire further.
  • If, while hurrying ostensibly to the temple of truth, we hand the reins over to our personal interests which look aside at very different guiding stars, for instance at the tastes and foibles of our contemporaries, at the established religion, but in particular at the hints and suggestions of those at the head of affairs, then how shall we ever reach the high, precipitous, bare rock whereon stands the temple of truth?
    • Schopenhauer, “Sketch for a history of the doctrine of the ideal and the real,” Parerga and Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 22-23
  • What a man is by himself, what accompanies him into solitude, and what no one can give to him or take from him is obviously more essential to him than everything he possesses, or even what he may be in the eyes of others. A man of intellect, when entirely alone, has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, whereas the continuous diversity of parties, plays, excursions, and amusements cannot ward off from the dullard the tortures of boredom.
    • Schopenhauer, "Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life," Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 318-319
  • The result of this mental dullness is that inner vacuity and emptiness that is stamped on innumerable faces and also betrays itself in a constant and lively attention to all events in the external world, even the most trivial. This vacuity is the real source of boredom and always craves for external excitement in order to set the mind and spirits in motion trough something. Therefore in the choice thereof it is not fastidious, as is testified by the miserable and wretched pastimes to which people have recourse. ... The principal result of this inner vacuity is the craze for society, diversion, amusement, and luxury of every kind which lead many to extravagance and so to misery. Nothing protects us so surely from this wrong turning as inner wealth, the wealth of the mind, for the more eminent it becomes, the less room does it leave for boredom. The inexhaustible activity of ideas, their constantly renewed play with the manifold phenomena of the inner and outer worlds, the power and urge always to make different combinations of them, all these put the eminent mind, apart from moments of relaxation, quite beyond the reach of boredom.
    • Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 329-330
  • It is natural for great minds—the true teachers of humanity—to care little about the constant company of others; just as little as the schoolmaster cares for joining in the gambols of the noisy crowd of boys which surround him. The mission of these great minds is to guide mankind over the sea of error to the haven of truth—to draw it forth from the dark abysses of a barbarous vulgarity up into the light of culture and refinement.
    • Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims, T. Saunders, trans., § 9
  • A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free. Constraint is always present in society, like a companion of whom there is no riddance; and in proportion to the greatness of a man’s individuality, it will be hard for him to bear the sacrifices which all intercourse with others demands.
    • Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims, T. B. Saunders, trans., § 9
  • Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning.
    • Schopenhauer, “On Thinking for Oneself,” Parerga und Paralipomena, Vol. 2, § 260
  • The characteristic sign of a mind of the highest standard is the directness of its judgment. Everything it utters is the result of thinking for itself; this is shown everywhere in the way it gives expression to its thoughts. Therefore it is, like a prince, an imperial director in the realm of intellect. All other minds are mere delegates, as may be seen by their style, which has no stamp of its own. Hence every true thinker for himself is so far like a monarch; he is absolute, and recognises nobody above him. His judgments, like the decrees of a monarch, spring from his own sovereign power and proceed directly from himself. He takes as little notice of authority as a monarch does of a command; nothing is valid unless he has himself authorised it. On the other hand, those of vulgar minds, who are swayed by all kinds of current opinions, authorities, and prejudices, are like the people which in silence obey the law and commands.
    • Schopenhauer, “Thinking for Oneself,” H. Dirks, trans.
  • In a field of ripening corn I came to a place which had been trampled down by some ruthless foot; and as I glanced amongst the countless stalks, every one of them alike, standing there so erect and bearing the full weight of the ear, I saw a multitude of different flowers, red and blue and violet. How pretty they looked as they grew there so naturally with their little foliage! But, thought I, they are quite useless; they bear no fruit; they are mere weeds, suffered to remain only because there is no getting rid of them. And yet, but for these flowers, there would be nothing to charm the eye in that wilderness of stalks. They are emblematic of poetry and art, which, in civic life—so severe, but still useful and not without its fruit—play the same part as flowers in the corn.
    • Schopenhauer, “Similes, Parables and Fables,” Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. 2, § 380A

Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)[edit]

  • Genius resembles a bell; in order to ring it must be suspended into pure air, and when a foreign body touches it, its joyful tone is silenced.
  • Why do I love the ancients so much? Aside from everything else, when I read them, the entire past between them and me unfolds at the same time.
  • I am considered a misanthropist now and then, because I do not socialize with many people. But it’s only my mind that avoids you, my heart is still with you, and seeks the distance so that it can keep on loving you.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)[edit]

  • Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
  • From the fitness of the Universe to its end you infer the necessity of an intelligent Creator. But if the fitness of the Universe, to produce certain effects, be thus conspicuous and evident, how much more exquisite fitness to his end must exist in the Author of this Universe? If we find great difficulty from its admirable arrangement in conceiving that the Universe has existed from all eternity, and to resolve this difficulty suppose a Creator, how much more clearly must we perceive the necessity of this very Creator’s creation whose perfections comprehend an arrangement far more accurate and just. The belief of an infinity of creative and created Gods, each more eminently requiring an intelligent author of his being than the foregoing, is a direct consequence of the premises which you have stated. The assumption that the Universe is a design, leads to a conclusion that there are [an] infinity of creative and created Gods, which is absurd.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)[edit]

  • The Philosopher of this age is not a Socrates, a Plato, a Hooker, or Taylor, who inculcates on men the necessity and infinite worth of moral goodness, the great truth that our happiness depends on the mind which is within us, and not on the circumstances which are without us; but a Smith, a w:De Lolme|De Lolme]], a Bentham, who chiefly inculcates the reverse of this,—that our happiness depends entirely on external circumstances.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)[edit]

  • Mark this well, you proud men of action: You are nothing but the unwitting agents of the men of thought who often, in quiet self-effacement, mark out most exactly all your doings in advance.
    • Heinrich Heine, History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany, Vol. III (1834)

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)[edit]

  • Thought is a key to all treasures; the miser’s gains are ours without his cares. Thus I have soared above this world, where my enjoyments have been intellectual joys.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)[edit]

  • Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.
  • Yield not one inch to all the forces which conspire to make you an echo. That is the sin of dogmatism and creeds. Avoid them; they build a fence about the intellect .
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson in conversation, as reported by Charles J. Woodbury, Talks with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1890), p. 30
  • He needs no library, for he has not done thinking; no church, for he is himself a prophet; no statute book, for he hath the Lawgiver; no money, for he is value itself; no road, for he is at home where he is.
  • If I made laws for Shakers or a school, I should gazette every Saturday all the words they were wont to use in reporting religious experience, as “spiritual life,” “God,” “soul,” “cross,” etc., and if they could not find new ones next week, they might remain silent.
  • Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.
  • It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion. It is easy in solitude to live after our own. But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
  • Most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us and we know not where to begin to set them right.
  • The lesson of life is ... to believe what the years and the centuries say against the hours; to resist the usurpation of particulars.
  • How can he [today’s writer] be honored, when he does not honor himself; when he loses himself in the crowd; when he is no longer the lawgiver, but the sycophant, ducking to the giddy opinion of a reckless public.
  • The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat,
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat;
    'T is the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave, and corn to grind;
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.
  • A mind does not receive truth as a chest receives jewels that are put into it, but as the stomach takes up food into the system. It is no longer food, but flesh, and is assimilated. The appetite and the power of digestion measure our right to knowledge. He has it who can use it. As soon as our accumulation overruns our invention or power to use, the evils of intellectual gluttony begin,— congestion of the brain, apoplexy and strangulation.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)[edit]

  • Every presentation of philosophy, whether oral or written, is to be taken and can only be taken in the sense of a means. Every system is only an expression or image of reason, and hence only an object of reason, an object which reason—a living power that procreates itself in new thinking beings—distinguishes from itself and posits as an object of criticism. Every system that is not recognized and appropriated as just a means, limits and warps the mind for it sets up the indirect and formal thought in the place of the direct, original and material thought.
    • Ludwig Feuerbach, “Towards a critique of Hegel’s philosophy” (1839), Z. Hanfi, trans., in The Fiery Brook (1972), p. 67
  • The first philosophers were astronomers. The heavens remind man ... that he is destined not merely to act, but also to contemplate.
    • Ludwig Feuerbach, Introduction to The Essence of Christianity (1843), Z. Hanfi, trans., in The Fiery Brook (1972), pp. 101-102
  • To be sure, the human individual can, even must, feel and know himself to be limited—and this is what distinguishes him from the animal—but he can become conscious of his limits, his finite-ness, only because he can make the perfection and infinity of his species the object either of his feeling, conscience, or thought. But if his limitations appear to him as emanating from the species, this can only be due to his delusion that he is identical with the species, a delusion intimately linked with the individual’s love of ease, lethargy, vanity, and selfishness; for a limit which I know to be mine alone, humiliates, shames, and disquiets me. Hence, in order to free myself of this feeling of shame, this uneasiness, I make the limits of my individuality the limits of man’s being itself. What is incomprehensible to me is incomprehensible to others; why should this worry me at all? It is not due to any fault of mine or of my understanding: the cause lies in the understanding of the species itself. But it is a folly, a ludicrous and frivolous folly to designate that which constitutes the nature of man and the absolute nature of the individual, the essence of the species, as finite and limited.
    • Ludwig Feuerbach, Introduction to The Essence of Christianity (1843), Z. Hanfi, trans., in The Fiery Brook (1972), pp. 103-104

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)[edit]

The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence. In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.
  • In democratic societies, the sensuality of the public has taken a certain moderate and tranquil style, to which all souls are held to conform. It is as difficult to escape the common rule by one’s vices as by one’s virtues.
  • One must distinguish well arbitrariness from tyranny. Tyranny can be exercised by means of law itself, and then is not arbitrariness; arbitrariness can be exercised in the interest of the governed, and then it is not tyrannical.
  • In America the majority draws a formidable circle around thought. Inside those limits, the writer is free; but unhappiness awaits him if he dares to leave them.
  • What chiefly diverts the men of democracies from lofty ambition is not the scantiness of their fortunes, but the vehemence of the exertions they daily make to improve them.
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book 2, Chapter 19, “Why so many ambitions men and so little lofty ambition are to be found in the United States”
  • The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but it imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence. In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.
  • The fact that the political laws of the Americans are such that the majority rules the community with sovereign sway materially increases the power which that majority naturally exercises over the mind. For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor. This political omnipotence of the majority in the United States doubtless augments the influence that public opinion would obtain without it over the minds of each member of the community; but the foundations of that influence do not rest upon it. They must be sought for in the principle of equality itself.

Max Stirner (1806-1856)[edit]

  • Revolution is aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and set no glittering hopes on “institutions.”
    • Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, S. Byington, trans. (1913), p. 421

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)[edit]

  • How can great minds be produced in a country where the test of a great mind is agreeing in the opinions of small minds?
    • John Stuart Mill, in James Huneker, Egoists: A Book of Supermen (New York: 1909), p. 367

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)[edit]

  • It goes against the grain for me to do what so often happens, to speak inhumanly about the great as if a few millennia were an immense distance. I prefer to speak humanly about it, as if it happened yesterday, and let only the greatness itself be the distance.
  • None has more contempt for what it is to be a man than they who make it their profession to lead the crowd.
  • It will be easy for us once we receive the ball of yarn from Ariadne (love) and then go through all the mazes of the labyrinth (life) and kill the monster. But how many are there who plunge into life (the labyrinth) without taking that precaution?
  • To work for a living certainly cannot be the meaning of life, since it is indeed a contradiction that the continual production of the conditions is supposed to be the answer to the question of the meaning of that which is conditional upon their production.

Arthur Helps (1813-1875)[edit]

  • The unfortunate Ladurlad did not desire the sleep that for ever fled his weary eyelids with more earnestness than most people seek the deep slumber of a decided opinion.
    • Arthur Helps, Thoughts in the Cloister and the Crowd (1835)

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)[edit]

  • Where is this division of labor to end? And what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.
  • Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much for that.
  • There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men.
  • Men have become the tools of their tools.
  • A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
  • The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them. They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically. Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to.
  • The life that I aspire to live
    No man proposeth me—
    No trade upon the street
    Wears its emblazonry.
  • I hearing get, who had but ears,
    And sight, who had but eyes before,
    I moments live, who lived but years,
    And truth discern, who knew but learning’s lore.
  • I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me.
  • Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with respect to my freedom. I feel that my connection with and obligation to society are still very slight and transient. Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful. But I foresee that if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.
  • If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.
  • A man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.
  • There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.
  • It is remarkable that there is little or nothing to be remembered written on the subject of getting a living; how to make getting a living not merely honest and honorable, but altogether inviting and glorious; for if getting a living is not so, then living is not.
  • Cold and hunger seem more friendly to my nature than those methods which men have adopted and advise to ward them off.
  • I hardly know an intellectual man, even, who is so broad and truly liberal that you can think aloud in his society. Most with whom you endeavor to talk soon come to a stand against some institution in which they appear to hold stock,—that is, some particular, not universal, way of viewing things. They will continually thrust their own low roof, with its narrow skylight, between you and the sky, when it is the unobstructed heavens you would view.
  • I did not know why my news should be so trivial,—considering what one’s dreams and expectations are, why the developments should be so paltry. The news we hear, for the most part, is not news to our genius. It is the stalest repetition.
  • If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events that make the news transpire,—thinner than the paper on which it is printed,—then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.
  • Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often perceive how near I had come to admitting into my mind the details of some trivial affair,—the news of the street; and I am astonished to observe how willing men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish,—to permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself,—an hypæthral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind’s chastity in this respect. Think of admitting the details of a single case of the criminal court into our thoughts, to stalk profanely through their very sanctum sanctorum for an hour, ay, for many hours! to make a very bar-room of the mind’s inmost apartment, as if for so long the dust of the street had occupied us,—the very street itself, with all its travel, its bustle, and filth, had passed through our thoughts’ shrine! Would it not be an intellectual and moral suicide?
  • I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.
  • We are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade and commerce and manufactures and agriculture and the like, which are but means, and not the end.
  • What is called politics is something so superficial and inhuman that, practically, I have never fairly recognized that it concerns me at all.
  • Those things which now most engage the attention of men, as politics and the daily routine, are, it is true, vital functions of human society, but should be unconsciously performed, like the corresponding functions of the physical body. They are infra-human, a kind of vegetation. I sometimes awake to a half-consciousness of them going on about me, as a man may become conscious of some of the processes of digestion in a morbid state, and so have the dyspepsia, as it is called.
  • The rich man... is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)[edit]

  • When we have weighed everything, and when our relations in life permit us to choose any given position, we may take that one which guarantees us the greatest dignity, which is based on ideas of whose truth we are completely convinced, which offers the largest field to work for mankind and approach the universal goal for which every position is only a means: perfection.
    • Karl Marx, “Reflections of a Youth on Choosing an Occupation” (1835), Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, L. Easton, trans. (1967), p. 38
  • It is commonly held that the historical school is a reaction against the frivolous spirit of the eighteenth century. The currency of this view is in inverse ratio to its truth. In fact, the eighteenth century had only one product, the essential character of which is frivolity, and this sole frivolous product is the historical school.
    • Karl Marx, “The philosophical manifesto of the historical school of law” (1842), Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works (1975), vol. 16, p. 203
  • Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital … Thus all the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by … the sense of having.
    • Karl Marx, Early Writings, (trans. T. B. Bottomore), London: Watts, p. 159
  • The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it.
  • The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

George Eliot (1819-1880)[edit]

  • Hardly anything could have happened to me which I could regard as a greater blessing than this growth of my spiritual existence when my bodily existence is decaying.
  • The only failure a man ought to fear is failure of cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best.
  • Examining the world in order to find consolation is very much like looking carefully over the pages of a great book in order to find our own name. ... Whether we find what we want or not, our preoccupation has hindered us from a true knowledge of the contents.
  • Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)[edit]

  • I receive many letters from parents respecting the education of their children. In the mass of these letters I am always struck by the precedence which the idea of a “position in life” takes above all other thoughts in the parents’—more especially in the mothers’—minds. “The education befitting such and such a station in life”—this is the phrase, this the object, always. They never seek, as far as I can make out, an education good in itself, … but, an education … “which shall lead to advancement in life;—this we pray for on bent knees—and this is all we pray for.” It never seems to occur to the parents that there may be an education which, in itself, is advancement in life.
  • I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusion of the science [of economics] if its terms are accepted. I am simply uninterested in them, as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons.
  • Labour without joy is base.
  • A well-educated gentleman may not know many languages,—may not be able to speak any but his own,—may have read very few books. But whatever language he knows, he knows precisely; whatever word he pronounces, he pronounces rightly; above all, he is learned in the peerage of words; knows the words of true descent and ancient blood, at a glance, from words of modern canaille; remembers all their ancestry, their intermarriages, distant relationships, and the extent to which they were admitted, and offices they held, among the national noblesse of words at any time, and in any country.
  • You will not be able, I tell you again, for many and many a day, to come at the real purposes and teaching of these great men; but a very little honest study of them will enable you to perceive that what you took for your own “judgment” was mere chance prejudice, and drifted, helpless, entangled weed of castaway thought; nay, you will see that most men’s minds are indeed little better than rough heath wilderness, neglected and stubborn, partly barren, partly overgrown with pestilent brakes, and venomous, wind-sown herbage of evil surmise; that the first thing you have to do for them, and yourself, is eagerly and scornfully to set fire to this; burn all the jungle into wholesome ash-heaps, and then plough and sow.
  • When men are rightly occupied, their amusement grows out of their work, as the colour-petals out of a fruitful flower;—when they are faithfully helpful and compassionate, all their emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. But now, having no true business, we pour our whole masculine energy into the false business of money-making; and having no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for us to play with, not innocently, as children with dolls, but guiltily and darkly.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)[edit]

  • Genius is youth recaptured.
    • Charles Baudelaire, Le peintre de la vie moderne (1863), III: “L’artiste, homme du monde, homme des foules et enfant”

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)[edit]

  • The use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standard of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery, and not only to say as a matter of words that we regard wealth as but machinery, but really to perceive and feel that it is so. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines. The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the very people whom we call the Philistines. Culture says: “Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?”
    • Matthew Arnold, “Sweetness and Light,” Culture and Anarchy (1869), p. 16
  • If one were searching for the best means to efface and kill in a whole nation the discipline of self-respect, the feeling for what is elevated, he could do no better than take the American newspapers.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)[edit]

  • Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know. Among the most necessary knowledge is the knowledge of how to live well. ... At present, people study useless sciences, but forget to study this, the most important knowledge.
    • Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, P. Sekirin, trans. (1997), March 16
  • Wise consumption is much more complicated than wise production.
    • Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, P. Sekirin, trans. (1997), July 13
  • The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius—man in the abstract—was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others.
  • It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending.
  • He lay on his back and began to pass his life in review in quite a new way. In the morning when he saw first his footman, then his wife, then his daughter, and then the doctor, their every word and movement confirmed to him the awful truth that had been revealed to him during the night. In them he saw himself—all that for which he had lived—and saw clearly that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916)[edit]

  • Virtue is also an art, and its adherents can also be divided into the practicing artists and the mere fans.
  • Whoever prefers the material comforts of life over intellectual wealth is like the owner of a palace who moves into the servants’ quarters and leaves the sumptuous rooms empty.

Walter Pater (1839-1894)[edit]

  • Art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

John Lancaster Spalding (1840-1916)[edit]

A taste for the best books, as a taste for whatever is best, is acquired; and it can be acquired only by long study and practice. It is a result of free and disinterested self-activity, of efforts to attain what rarely brings other reward than the consciousness of having loved and striven for the best.
  • We have lost the old love of work, of work which kept itself company, which was fair weather and music in the heart, which found its reward in the doing, craving neither the flattery of vulgar eyes nor the gold of vulgar men.
  • No sooner does a divine gift reveal itself in youth or maid than its market value becomes the decisive consideration, and the poor young creatures are offered for sale, as we might sell angels who had strayed among us.
  • If a state should pass laws forbidding its citizens to become wise and holy, it would be made a byword for all time. But this, in effect, is what our commercial, social, and political systems do. They compel the sacrifice of mental and moral power to money and dissipation.
  • Liberty is more precious than money or office; and we should be vigilant lest we purchase wealth or place at the price of inner freedom.
  • A liberal education is that which aims to develop faculty without ulterior views of profession or other means of gaining a livelihood. It considers man an end in himself and not an instrument whereby something is to be wrought. Its ideal is human perfection.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)[edit]

  • O proud philanthropist, your hope is vain To get by giving what you lost by gain.
    • Ambrose Bierce, Epigrams, The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Volume 8, p. 349
  • Mammon, n.: The god of the world's leading religion.

Georg Brandes (1842-1927)[edit]

  • The historian is looked upon as objective when he measures the past by the popular opinions of his own time, as subjective when he does not take these opinions for models. That man is thought best fitted to depict a period of the past, who is not in the least affected by that period.
  • Why you exist, says Nietzsche with Søren Kierkegaard, nobody in the world can tell you in advance; but since you do exist, try to give your existence a meaning by setting up for yourself as lofty and noble a goal as you can.
  • The noblest and highest does not affect the masses at all, either at the moment or later. Therefore the historical success of a religion, its toughness and persistence, witness against its founder’s greatness rather than for it.
  • Instead of trying to educate the human race, they should imitate the pedagogues of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who concentrated their efforts on the education of a single person.
  • He who feels that in his inmost being he cannot be compared with others, will be his own lawgiver. For one thing is needful: to give style to one’s character. This art is practised by him who, with an eye for the strong and weak sides of his nature, removes from it one quality and another, and then by daily practice and acquired habit replaces them by others which become second nature to him; in other words, he puts himself under restraint in order by degrees to bend his nature entirely to his own law.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)[edit]

There exists no more repulsive and desolate creature in the world than the man who has evaded his genius and who now looks furtively to left and right, behind him and all about him. ... He is wholly exterior, without kernel, a tattered, painted bag of clothes.
In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. ... Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.
  • By resolutely overthrowing, as soon as possible, the entire past of the world, we should at once join the ranks of independent gods. … World history would then be nothing for us but a dreamlike trance; the curtain falls, and man once more finds himself, … like a child waking up in the glow of the morning and laughingly wiping the frightful dream from his forehead.
  • The modern scientific counterpart to belief in God is the belief in the universe as an organism: this disgusts me. This is to make what is quite rare and extremely derivative, the organic, which we perceive only on the surface of the earth, into something essential, universal, and eternal! This is still an anthropomorphizing of nature!
  • A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather, it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions!!!
  • I now myself live, in every detail, striving for wisdom, while I formerly merely worshipped and idolized the wise.
  • In order to be able thus to misjudge, and thus to grant left-handed veneration to our classics, people must have ceased to know them. This, generally speaking, is precisely what has happened. For, otherwise, one ought to know that there is only one way of honoring them, and that is to continue seeking with the same spirit and with the same courage, and not to weary of the search.
  • [Philistines] only devised the notion of an epigone-age in order to secure peace for themselves, and to be able to reject all the efforts of disturbing innovators summarily as the work of epigones. With the view of ensuring their own tranquility, these smug ones even appropriated history, and sought to transform all sciences that threatened to disturb their wretched ease into branches of history. ... No, in their desire to acquire an historical grasp of everything, stultification became the sole aim of these philosophical admirers of “nil admirari.” While professing to hate every form of fanaticism and intolerance, what they really hated, at bottom, was the dominating genius and the tyranny of the real claims of culture.
  • In this way, a philosophy which veiled the Philistine confessions of its founder beneath neat twists and flourishes of language proceeded further to discover a formula for the canonization of the commonplace. It expatiated upon the rationalism of all reality, and thus ingratiated itself with the Culture-Philistine, who also loves neat twists and flourishes, and who, above all, considers himself real, and regards his reality as the standard of reason for the world. From this time forward he began to allow every one, and even himself, to reflect, to investigate, to aestheticise, and, more particularly, to make poetry, music, and even pictures—not to mention systems of philosophy; provided, of course, that ... no assault were made upon the “reasonable” and the “real”—that is to say, upon the Philistine.
  • I do not know what meaning classical studies could have for our time if they were not untimely—that is to say, acting counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come.
  • Perhaps no philosopher is more correct than the cynic. The happiness of the animal, that thorough cynic, is the living proof of cynicism.
  • In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. ... Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.
  • The man who does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: “Be your self! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.”
  • There exists no more repulsive and desolate creature in the world than the man who has evaded his genius and who now looks furtively to left and right, behind him and all about him. ... He is wholly exterior, without kernel, a tattered, painted bag of clothes.
  • If it is true to say of the lazy that they kill time, then it is greatly to be feared that an era which sees its salvation in public opinion, this is to say private laziness, is a time that really will be killed: I mean that it will be struck out of the history of the true liberation of life. How reluctant later generations will be to have anything to do with the relics of an era ruled, not by living men, but by pseudo-men dominated by public opinion.
  • We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence; consequently we want to be the true helmsman of this existence and refuse to allow our existence to resemble a mindless act of chance.
  • I will make an attempt to attain freedom, the youthful soul says to itself; and is it to be hindered in this by the fact that two nations happen to hate and fight one another, or that two continents are separated by an ocean, or that all around it a religion is taught with did not yet exist a couple of thousand years ago. All that is not you, it says to itself. No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.
  • How can a man know himself? He is a thing dark and veiled; and if the hare has seven skins, man can slough off seventy times seven and still not be able to say: “this is really you, this is no longer outer shell.”
  • That is the secret of all culture: it does not provide artificial limbs, wax noses or spectacles—that which can provide these things is, rather, only sham education. Culture is liberation, the removal of all the weeds, rubble and vermin that want to attack the tender buds of the plant.
  • I always believed that at some time fate would take from me the terrible effort and duty of educating myself. I believed that, when the time came, I would discover a philosopher to educate me, a true philosopher whom one could follow without any misgiving because one would have more faith in him than one had in oneself. Then I asked myself: what would be the principles by which he would educate you?—and I reflected on what he might say about the two educational maxims which are being hatched in our time. One of them demands that the educator should quickly recognize the real strength of his pupil and then direct all his efforts and energy and heat at them so as to help that one virtue to attain true maturity and fruitfulness. The other maxim, on the contrary, requires that the educator should draw forth and nourish all the forces which exist in his pupil and bring them to a harmonious relationship with one another. ... But where do we discover a harmonious whole at all, a simultaneous sounding of many voice in one nature, if not in such men as Cellini, men in whom everything, knowledge, desire, love, hate, strives towards a central point, a root force, and where a harmonious system is constructed through the compelling domination of this living centre? And so perhaps these two maxims are not opposites at all? Perhaps the one simply says that man should have a center and the other than he should also have a periphery? That educating philosopher of whom I dreamed would, I came to think, not only discover the central force, he would also know how to prevent its acting destructively on the other forces: his educational task would, it seemed to me, be to mould the whole man into a living solar and planetary system and to understand its higher laws of motion.
  • When virtue has slept, she will get up more refreshed.
  • The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.
  • The misfortune suffered by clear-minded and easily understood writers is that they are taken for shallow and thus little effort is expended on reading them: and the good fortune that attends the obscure is that the reader toils at them and ascribes to them the pleasure he has in fact gained from his own zeal.
  • In the mountains of truth you will never climb in vain. Either you will get up higher today, or you will exercise your strength so as to be able to get up higher tomorrow.
  • Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.
  • The free human being is immoral because in all things he is determined to depend upon himself and not upon a tradition.
  • If an action is performed not because tradition commands it but for other motives ... even indeed for precisely the motives which once founded the tradition, it is called immoral.
  • Who is the most moral man? First, he who obeys the law most frequently, who ... is continually inventive in creating opportunities for obeying the law. Then, he who obeys it even in the most difficult cases. The most moral man is he who sacrifices the most to custom.... Self-overcoming is demanded, not on account of any useful consequences it may have for the individual, but so that hegemony of custom and tradition shall be made evident.
  • Every individual action, every individual mode of thought arouses dread; it is impossible to compute what precisely the rarer, choicer, more original spirits in the whole course of history have had to suffer through being felt as evil and dangerous, indeed through feeling themselves to be so. Under the dominion of the morality of custom, originality of every kind has acquired a bad conscience.
  • ‘Trust your feelings!’—But feelings are nothing final or original; behind the feelings there stand judgments and evaluations... The inspiration born of feeling is the grandchild of a judgment—and often a false judgment! And in any event not a child of your own! To trust one’s feelings means to give more obedience to one’s grandfather and grandmother and their grandparents than to the gods which are in us: our reason and our experience.
  • Must everything that one has to combat, that one has to keep within bounds or on occasion banish totally from one’s mind, always have to be called evil! Is it not the way of common souls always to think an enemy must be evil!
  • Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him.
  • The popular medical formulation of morality that goes back to Ariston of Chios, "virtue is the health of the soul," would have to be changed to become useful, at least to read: "your virtue is the health of your soul." For there is no health as such, and all attempts to define a thing that way have been wretched failures. Even the determination of what is healthy for your body depends on your goal, your horizon, your energies, your impulses, your errors, and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul. Thus there are innumerable healths of the body; and the more we allow the unique and incomparable to raise its head again, and the more we abjure the dogma of the "equality of men," the more must the concept of a normal health, along with a normal diet and the normal course of an illness, be abandoned by medical men. Only then would the time have come to reflect on the health and illness of the soul, and to find the peculiar virtue of each man in the health of his soul.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), “Health of the Soul,” W. Kauffman, trans. (1974), § 120
  • Finally, the great question would still remain whether we can really dispense with illness—even for the sake of our virtue—and whether our thirst for knowledge and self-knowledge in particular does not require the sick soul as much as the healthy, and whether, in brief, the will to health alone, is not a prejudice, cowardice, and perhaps a bit of very subtle barbarism and backwardness.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), “Health of the Soul,” W. Kauffman, trans. (1974), § 120
  • If sociability and the arts still offer any delight, it is the kind of delight that slaves, weary of their work, devise for themselves. How frugal our educated—and uneducated—people have become regarding ‘joy’! How they are becoming increasingly suspicious of all joy! More and more, work enlists all good conscience on its side; the desire for joy already calls itself a ‘need to recuperate’ and is beginning to be ashamed of itself.
  • Looking for work in order to be paid: in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work. They are choosy, hard to satisfy, and do not care for ample rewards, if the work itself is not to be the reward of rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare breed, but so do even those men of leisure who spend their lives hunting, traveling, or in love affairs and adventures. All of these desire work and misery only if it is associated with pleasure, and the hardest, most difficult work if necessary. Otherwise their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure.
  • How can we make things beautiful, attractive and desirable for us when they are not? And I rather think that in themselves they never are. Here we could learn something … from artists who are really continually trying to bring off such inventions and feats. Moving away from things until there is a good deal that one no longer sees and there is much that our eye has to add if we are still to see them at all; or seeing things around a corner and as cut out and framed; or to place them so that they partially conceal each other and grant us only glimpses and architectural perspectives; or looking at them through tinted glass or in the light of the sunset; or giving them a surface and skin that is not fully transparent—all this we should learn from artists while being wiser than they are in other matters. For with them this subtle power usually comes to an end where art ends and life begins; but we want to be poets of our life—first of all in the smallest, most everyday matters.
  • [Many historians of morality,] Mostly Englishmen, … affirm some consensus of the nations, at least of the tame nations, concerning certain principles of morals, and then they infer from this that these principles must be unconditionally binding also for you and me; or, conversely, they see the truth that among different nations moral valuations are necessarily different and then infer from this that no morality is at all binding. Both procedures are equally childish.
  • How easily these men of knowledge are satisfied! … When they find something in things…quite familiar to us, such as … our willing and desiring—how happy they are right away! For “what is familiar is known”: on this they are agreed. Even the most cautious among them suppose that what is familiar is at least more easily knowable than what is strange, and that, for example, sound method demands that we start from the “inner world,” from the “facts of consciousness”: because this world is more familiar to us. Error of errors! What is familiar is what we are used to, and what we are used to is most difficult to “know”—that is, to see as a problem.
  • You see what it was that really triumphed over the Christian God: Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness that was understood more rigorously, the father confessor’s refinement of the Christian conscience, translated and sublimated into a scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price.
  • what we call consciousness constitutes only one state of our spiritual and psychic world (perhaps a pathological state) and not by any means the whole of it.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), § 357, describing “Leibniz’s incomparable insight”
  • You have served the people and the superstition of the people, all you famous wise men—and not the truth. And that is precisely why you were accorded respect.
  • You tell me, my friends, that there is no disputing of taste? But all of life is a dispute over taste. Taste is at the same time weight and scales and weigher. Woe unto a life that would live without disputes over weight and scales and weighers!
  • You could ring in your wisdom with bells: the shopkeepers in the marketplace would outjingle it with pennies.
  • Jesus said to his Jews: “The law was for slaves—love god as I love him, as his son! What do we sons of God have to do with morality!”’
  • A reader nowadays hardly reads the individual words (let alone the syllables) on a page—he’s much more likely to take about five words out of twenty at random and “guess” on the basis of these five words the presumed sense they contain.
  • The ideal man of learning in whom the scientific instinct blossoms forth fully after a thousand complete and partial failures, is assuredly one of the most costly instruments that exist, but his place is in the hand of one who is more powerful. He is only an instrument.
  • Faced with a world of “modern ideas” which would like to banish everyone into a corner and a “specialty,” a philosopher, if there could be a philosopher these days, would be compelled to establish the greatness of mankind, the idea of “greatness,” on the basis of his own particular extensive range and multiplicity, his own totality in the midst of diversity.
  • This is age of the masses, who prostrate themselves before everything built on a massive scale.
  • From time immemorial, in all social strata in any way dependent, the ordinary man was only that which he passed for:—not being at all accustomed to fix values, he did not assign even to himself any other value than that which his master assigned to him (it is the peculiar right of masters to create values). It may be looked upon as the result of an extraordinary atavism, that the ordinary man, even at present, is still always waiting for an opinion about himself, and then instinctively submitting himself to it; yet by no means only to a “good” opinion, but also to a bad and unjust one
  • These English psychologists—what do they really want? We find them, willingly or unwillingly, always at the same work, that is, hauling the partie honteuse [shameful part] of our inner world into the foreground, in order to look right there for the truly effective and operative factor which has determined our development, the very place where man’s intellectual pride least wishes to find it …—what is it that really drives these psychologists always in this particular direction? Is it a secret, malicious, common instinct, perhaps one which cannot be acknowledged even to itself, for belittling humanity?
  • Ascetic ideals reveal so many bridges to independence that a philosopher is bound to rejoice and clap his hands when he hears the story of all those resolute men who one day said No to all servitude.
  • That which Heraclitus avoided, however, is still the same at that which we shun today: the noise and democratic chatter of the Ephesians, their politics, their latest news of the “Empire,” … their market business of “today”—for we philosophers need to be spared one thing above all: everything to do with “today.” We reverence what is still, cold, noble, distant, past, and in general everything in the face of which the soul does not have to defend itself and wrap itself up.
  • A spirit that is sure of itself speaks softly.
  • The will to a system is a lack of integrity.
  • When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.
  • What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think, and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of “duty”?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)[edit]

  • To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.
  • There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. ... They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill.
  • There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)[edit]

  • Some kill their love when they are young,
    And some when they are old;
    Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
    Some with the hands of Gold.
  • Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
  • He to whom the present is the only thing that is present, knows nothing of the age in which he lives.
  • A community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime.
  • We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.
    • Oscar Wilde, Gilbert, in The Critic as Artist, pt. 2, Intentions (1891)
  • The thoroughly well-informed man—that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-à-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.
    • Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 1, Complete Works (New York: 1989), p. 25
  • The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self. Of course, they are charitable. They feed the hungry and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked.
    • Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry to Dorian, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 2, pp. 28-29
  • Thin-lipped wisdom spoke at her from the worn chair, hinted at prudence, quoted from that book of cowardice whose author apes the name of common sense.
    • Oscar Wilde, Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 5, p. 57
  • He never fell into the error of arresting his intellectual development by any formal acceptance of creed or system, or of mistaking, for a house in which to live, an inn that is but suitable for the sojourn of a night,
    • Oscar Wilde, Dorian’s musings, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 11, p. 106

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)[edit]

  • The fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to.
  • No sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of superstition than Paul boldly set it on its legs again in the name of Jesus.
  • Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.
  • If the lesser mind could measure the greater as a foot-rule can measure a pyramid, there would be finality in universal suffrage. As it is, the political problem remains unsolved.

George Santayana (1862-1952)[edit]

  • Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.
  • Culture is on the horns of this dilemma: if profound and noble, it must remain rare, if common, it must become mean.
  • As virtue is a wider thing than morality, because it includes natural gifts and genial sympathies, or even heroic sacrifices, so wisdom is a wider thing than logic.
  • Nature ... is what is acting in us, as the sea is what rises in every little wave; but it passes through us, and cry out as we may, it will move on. Our privilege is to have perceived it as it moves. Our dignity is not in what we do, but in what we understand.
  • To deny consciousness ... is a relief to an overtaxed and self-impeded generation; it seems a blessed simplification. It gets rid of the undemocratic notion that by being very reflective, circumspect and subtle you might discover something that most people do not see.
    • George Santayana, “Philosophical opinion in America,” The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy (1967), p. 108

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)[edit]

  • I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal,—that is they have ceased to be self-centered, have given up their individuality.
  • Now all the truth is out,
    Be secret and take defeat
    From any brazen throat,
    For how can you compete,
    Being honor bred, with one
    Who, were it proved he lies,
    Were neither shamed in his own
    Nor in his neighbors’ eyes?
    Bred to a harder thing
    Than Triumph, turn away
    And like a laughing string
    Whereon mad fingers play
    Amid a place of stone,
    Be secret and exult,
    Because of all things known
    That is most difficult.
    • W. B. Yeats, “To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing”

Julien Benda (1867-1956)[edit]

  • Since the Greeks the predominant attitude of thinkers towards intellectual activity was to glorify it insofar as (like aesthetic activity) it finds its satisfaction in itself, apart from any attention to the advantages it may procure. Most thinkers would have agreed with … Renan’s verdict that the man who loves science for its fruits commits the worst of blasphemies against that divinity. … The modern clercs have violently torn up this charter. They proclaim the intellectual functions are only respectable to the extent that they are bound up with the pursuit of concrete advantage.
    • Julien Benda, Treason of the Intellectuals (1927), pp. 151-152

André Gide (1869-1951)[edit]

  • One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
  • I have my own virtue, which I am constantly cultivating and refining by teaching myself not to tolerate in me or my surroundings anything but the exquisite.
    • André Gide, Maurice in “Characters,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) p. 298
  • It seems to me that had I not known Dostoevsky or Nietzsche or Freud or X or Z, I should have thought just as I did, and that I found in them rather an authorization than an awakening. Above all, they taught me to cease doubting myself, to cease fearing my thoughts, and to let those thoughts lead me to those lands that were not uninhabitable because, after all, I found them already there.
    • André Gide, “Characters,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) p. 306, translation modified
  • The artist who is after success lets himself be influenced by the public. Generally such an artist contributes nothing new, for the public acclaims only what it already knows, what it recognizes.
    • André Gide, “Characters,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) p. 306
  • O my dearest and most lovable thought, why should I try further to legitimize your birth?
    • André Gide, “Characters,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) p. 310
  • Most often people seek in life occasions for persisting in their opinions rather than for educating themselves.
    • André Gide, “An Unprejudiced Mind,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) p. 311
  • True intelligence very readily conceives of an intelligence superior to its own; and this is why truly intelligent men are modest.
    • André Gide, “An Unprejudiced Mind,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) pp. 311-312
  • At times it seems to me that I am living my life backwards, and that at the approach of old age my real youth will begin. My soul was born covered with wrinkles—wrinkles my ancestors and parents most assiduously put there and that I had the greatest trouble removing.
    • André Gide, “An Unprejudiced Mind,” Pretexts, J. O’Brien, ed. (1964) pp. 319-320
  • Each joy is like manna in the desert, which spoils from one day to the next.
    • André Gide, Ménalque in The Immoralist, R. Howard trans., p. 112
  • The great artists are the ones who dare to entitle to beauty things so natural that when they’re seen afterward, people say: Why did I never realize before that this too was beautiful?
    • André Gide, Michael in The Immoralist, R. Howard trans., p. 159

Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914)[edit]

  • None of you knows what creativity means. To paint a picture, to write a poem? No! To recast one’s whole age, to impose upon it the stamp of one’s will, to fill it with beauty, to overwhelm it, to overpower it with one’s spirit.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945)[edit]

  • Nothing is rarer than giving no importance to things that have none.
  • Our civilization is taking on, or tending to take on, the structure and properties of a machine. . . . This machine will not tolerate less than world-wide rule; it will not allow a single human being to survive outside its control, uninvolved in its functioning. … It cannot put up with ill-defined lives within its sphere of operation. Its precision, which is its essence, cannot endure vagueness or social caprice; irregular situations are incompatible with good running order. It cannot put up with anyone whose duties and circumstances are not precisely specified.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)[edit]

  • The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.
  • The people attracted to philosophy have been mostly those who loved the big generalizations, which were all wrong, so that few people with exact minds have taken up the subject.
    • Bertrand Russell, Letter to Ottoline Morrell, December 1912, in R. Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Penguin, 1991, p. 75
  • The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.
  • The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
  • Without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
  • The ‘practical’ man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind.
    • Bertrand Russell, Problems of Philosophy, Chapter XV “The Value of Philosophy”
  • Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.
  • The love of system, of interconnection, which is perhaps the inmost essence of the intellectual impulse, can find free play in mathematics as nowhere else. The learner who feels this impulse must not be repelled by an array of meaningless examples or distracted by amusing oddities, but must be encouraged to dwell upon central principles, to become familiar with the structure of the various subjects which are put before him, to travel easily over the steps of the more important deductions. In this way a good tone of mind is cultivated, and selective attention is taught to dwell by preference upon what is weighty and essential.
  • The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts.
  • One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)[edit]

  • The truth comes as conqueror only because we have lost the art of receiving it as guest.

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)[edit]

  • Culture is the tacit agreement to let the means of subsistence disappear behind the purpose of existence.
    • Karl Kraus, “In these great times,” Harry Zohn, trans., In These Great Times (Montreal: 1976), pp. 73-74
  • The aesthete stands in the same relation to beauty as the pornographer stands to love.
    • Karl Kraus, Die Fackel #406, October 5, 1915, p. 138
  • One day humanity will have sacrificed itself to the great factories it built for its own relief.
    • Karl Kraus, Dicta and Contradicta, J. McVity, trans. (2001), #374
  • He who dispenses with the praise of the masses will not deny himself the opportunity to be his own admirer.
    • Karl Kraus, Sprüche und Widersprüche, my translation
  • Only a language that has cancer is prone to neologisms.
    • Karl Kraus, Sprüche und Widersprüche, my translation
  • Liberalism serves dishwater as an elixir vitae.
    • Karl Kraus, Dicta and Contradicta, J. McVity, trans. (2001), #808
  • An aphorism never coincides with the truth: it is either a half-truth or one-and-a-half truths.
    • Karl Kraus, Dicta and Contradicta, J. McVity, trans. (2001), #810
  • Today’s literature is prescriptions written by patients.
    • Karl Kraus, No Compromise (New York: 1977), p. 229
  • Progress celebrates Pyrrhic victories over nature.
    • Karl Kraus, Half Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths, p. 122

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)[edit]

  • The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.
  • We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.
  • Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
  • A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art. ... The first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely disappear. There will be no art that might not just as well be advertisement.
  • Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy tales. And so it is with the modern tyrant, the great employer. The sight of a millionaire is seldom, in the ordinary sense, an enchanting sight: nevertheless, he is in his way an enchanter. As they say in the gushing articles about him in the magazines, he is a fascinating personality. So is a snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits; and so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted sort of people that ladies and gentlemen have allowed themselves to become.
  • The new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself.
  • Wait and see whether the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement of the huge virtues that defy it.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)[edit]

The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed suddenly into magnificent sense.
  • The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed suddenly into magnificent sense.
  • Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
  • What is necessary, after all, is only ... to be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing. When you realize that their activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own world, from the vastness of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why should you want to give up a child’s wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn, since not understanding is, after all, a way of being alone, whereas defensiveness and scorn are a participation in precisely what, by these means, you want to separate yourself from.
  • Perhaps all professions ... are filled with hostility toward the individual, saturated with hatred by those who find themselves mute and sullen in an insipid duty.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955)[edit]

  • He surrendered utterly to the power that to him seemed the highest on earth, to whose service he felt called, which promised him elevation and honours: the power of the intellect, the power of the word, that lords with a smile over the unconscious and inarticulate. To this power he surrendered with all the passion of youth, and it rewarded him with all it had to give, taking from him inexorably, in return, all that it is wont to take.

    It sharpened his eyes and made him see through the large words which puff out the bosoms of mankind; it opened for him men’s souls and his own, made him clairvoyant, showed him the innermost part of the world and the ultimate behind men’s words and deeds.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962)[edit]

  • The Steppenwolf ... was secretly and persistently attracted to the little bourgeois world, to those quiet and respectable homes with tidy gardens, irreproachable stair-cases and their whole modest air of order and comfort. It pleased him to set himself outside it, with his little vices and extravagances, as a queer fellow or a genius, but he never had his domicile in those provinces of life where the bourgeoisie had ceased to exist. He was not at ease with violent and exceptional persons or with criminals and outlaws, and he took up his abode always among the middle classes, with whose habits and standards and atmosphere he stood in a constant relation, even though it might be one of contrast and revolt.
    • Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, B. Creighton, trans., (New York: 1990), pp. 50-51
  • A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self (rudimentary as his may be). And so at the cost of intensity he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule.
    • Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, B. Creighton, trans., (New York: 1990), pp. 51-52

John Erskine (1879-1951)[edit]

  • We really seek intelligence not for the answers it may suggest to the problems of life, but because we believe it is life,—not for aid in making the will of God prevail, but because we believe it is the will of God. We love it, as we love virtue, for its own sake, and we believe it is only virtue’s other and more precise name.
    • John Erskine, The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent (1915), pp. 26-27

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)[edit]

  • Men always need some idiotic fiction in the name of which they can hate one another. Once it was religion. Now it is the State.

Otto Weininger (1880-1903)[edit]

  • Most of the time man does not do what he wills, but what he has willed. Through his decisions, he always gives himself only a certain direction, in which he then moves until the next moment of reflection. We do not will continuously, we only will intermittently, piece by piece. We thus save ourselves from willing: principle of the economy of the will. But the higher man always experiences this as thoroughly immoral.
  • If man were not free, then he could not conceive of causality at all, and could not form any concept of it. Insight into lawfulness is already freedom from it.
  • There are men who are willing to marry a woman they do not care about merely because she is admired by other men. Such a relation exists between many men and their thoughts.
  • A man is first reverent about himself, and self-respect is the first stage in reverence for all things.
  • A man is himself important precisely in proportion that all things seem important to him.
  • The great genius does not let his work be determined by the concrete finite conditions that surround him, whilst it is from these that the work of the statesman takes its direction and its termination. ... It is the genius in reality and not the other who is the creator of history, for it is only the genius who is outside and unconditioned by history.
  • Memory, then, is a necessary part of the logical faculty. ... The proposition A = A must have a psychological relation to time, otherwise it would be At1 = At2.
  • A creature that cannot grasp the mutual exclusiveness of A and not-A has no difficulty in lying; more than that, such a creature has not even any consciousness of lying, being without a standard of truth.
  • The deepest, the intelligible, part of the nature of man is that part which does not take refuge in causality, but which chooses in freedom the good or the bad.
  • Logic and ethics are fundamentally the same, they are no more than duty to oneself. They celebrate their union by the highest service of truth.
  • Not only virtue, but also insight, not only sanctity but also wisdom, are the duties and tasks of mankind.

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)[edit]

The will to power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object's sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.
  • It would be easier to break up a theme of Beethoven with dissecting knife or acid than to break up the soul by methods of abstract thought. Nature-knowledge and man-knowledge have neither ways nor aims in common.
    • Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, Volume 1, C. Atkinson, trans., p. 300
  • Everything that our present-day psychologist has to tell us—and here we refer not only to the systematic science but also in the wider sense to the physiognomic knowledge of men—relates to the present condition of the Western soul, and not, as hitherto gratuitously assumed, to “the human soul” at large.
    • Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, C. Atkinson, trans., Volume 1, p. 303
  • The will to power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object's sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed.

Robert Musil (1880-1942)[edit]

  • The truth lies not in the middle, but rather all around, like a sack, which, with each new opinion one stuffs into it, changes its form, and becomes more and more firm.
  • We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little intellect in matters of the soul.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)[edit]

  • All the branches of Christianity suffer by the fact that they seem to be unable to take in the greatest contribution of the modern world to ethical theory, to wit, the concept of a moral obligation to be intelligent.
    • H. L. Mencken, in A Little Book of Aphorisms (New York: 1947), p. 180
  • Men in the mass never brook the destructive discussion of their fundamental beliefs, and that impatience is naturally most evident in those societies in which men in the mass are most influential. Democracy and free speech are not facets of one gem; democracy and free speech are eternal enemies.
  • This combat between proletariat and plutocracy is, after all, itself a civil war. Two inferiorities struggle for the privilege of polluting the world.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962)[edit]

  • Part of the goods which are annually produced, and which are called wealth, is, strictly speaking, waste, because it consists of articles which... either should not have been produced until other articles had already been produced in sufficient abundance, or should not have been produced at all. And some part of the population is employed in making goods which no man can make with happiness, or indeed without loss of self-respect, because he knows that they had much better not be made; and that his life is wasted in making them.
  • To those who clamor, as many now do, "Produce! Produce!" one simple question may be addressed:—"Produce what?" ...What can be more childish than to urge the necessity that productive power should be increased, if part of the productive power which exists already is misapplied? Is not less production of futilities as important as, indeed a condition of, more production of things of moment?... Yet this result of inequality ... cannot be prevented, or checked, or even recognized by a society which excludes the idea of purpose from its social arrangements and industrial activity.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)[edit]

  • Work as joy, inaccessible to the psychologists.

José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)[edit]

  • The present-day writer, when he takes his pen in hand to treat a subject which he has studied deeply, has to bear in mind that the average reader, who has never concerned himself with this subject, if he reads does so with the view, not of learning something from the writer, but rather, of pronouncing judgment on him when he is not in agreement with the commonplaces that the said reader carries in his head. If the individuals who make up the mass believed themselves specially qualified, it would be a case merely of personal error, not a sociological subversion. The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will.
  • There are few men who doubt that motorcars will in five years’ time be more comfortable and cheaper than today. They believe in this as they believe the sun will rise in the morning. The metaphor is an exact one. For, in fact, the common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice.
  • That man is intellectually of the mass who, in the face of any problem, is satisfied with thinking the first thing he finds in his head. On the contrary, the excellent man is he who condemns what he finds in his mind without previous effort, and only accepts as worthy of him what is still far above him and what requires a further effort in order to be reached.

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)[edit]

  • The Greek word for philosopher (philosophos) connotes a distinction from sophos. It signifies the lover of wisdom (knowledge) as distinguished from him who considers himself wise in the possession of knowledge. This meaning of the word still endures: the essence of philosophy is not the possession of the truth but the search for truth. … Philosophy means to be on the way. Its questions are more essential than its answers, and every answer becomes a new question.
    • Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom, R. Mannheim, trans. (New Haven: 1951), p. 12

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976)[edit]

  • We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.
    • Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 4
  • Contemporary Christian proclamation is faced with the question whether, when it demands faith from men and women, it expects them to acknowledge this mythical world picture from the past. If this is impossible, it has to face the question whether the New Testament proclamation has a truth that is independent of the mythical world picture, in which case it would be the task of theology to demythologize the Christian proclamation.

    Can the Christian proclamation today expect men and women to acknowledge the mythical world picture as true? To do so would be both pointless and impossible. It would be pointless because there is nothing specifically Christian about the mythical world picture, which is simply the world picture of a time now past which was not yet formed by scientific thinking. It would be impossible because no one can appropriate a world picture by sheer resolve, since it is already given with one’s historical situation.
    • Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 3
  • The mythology of the New Testament, also, is not to be questioned with respect to the content of its objectifying representations but with respect to the understanding of existence that expresses itself in them. What is at issue is the truth of this understanding, and the faith that affirms its truth is not bound to the New Testament’s world of representations.
    • Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 10
  • Can there be a demythologizing interpretation that discloses the truth of the kerygma as kerygma for those who do not think mythologically?
    • Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 14

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)[edit]

  • And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
    The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
    And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
    Then how should I begin
    To spit our the butt-ends of my days and ways?
    And how should I presume?
    • T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917)
  • Some once said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.
    • T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent (1919)
  • I say to you: Make perfect your will.
    I say: Take no thought of the harvest,
    But only of proper sowing.
  • They constantly try to escape
    From the darkness outside and within
    By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
  • I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me —
    Because, if there isn’t then there’s something wrong,
    Or at least, very different from what it seemed to be,
    With the world itself—and that’s much more frightening!
    That would be terrible.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)[edit]

  • Philosophy is not a body of doctrine, but an activity.
  • What makes a subject difficult to understand—if it is significant, important—is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will.
  • I believe it might interest a philosopher, one who can think himself, to read my notes. For even if I have hit the mark only rarely, he would recognize what targets I had been ceaselessly aiming at.
  • In philosophy the race is to the one who can run slowest—the one who crosses the finish line last.
  • The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, and does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.
  • You can’t be reluctant to give up your lie and still tell the truth.
  • The philosopher is someone who has to cure many diseases of the understanding in himself, before he can arrive at the notions of common sense.
  • You could attach prices to ideas. Some cost a lot some little. ... And how do you pay for ideas? I believe: with courage.
  • If life becomes hard to bear we think of improvements. But the most important and effective improvement, in our own attitude, hardly occurs to us, and we can decide on this only with the utmost difficulty.
  • The lesson in a poem is overstated if the intellectual points are nakedly exposed, not clothed by the heart.
  • One keeps forgetting to go down to the foundations. One doesn’t put the question marks deep down enough.
  • It seems to me that a religious belief is only (something like) passionately deciding upon a coordinate system.
  • Schiller writes in a letter [to Goethe, 17 December 1795] of a ‘poetic mood’. I think I know what he means, I think I am familiar with it myself. It is the mood of receptivity to nature and one in which one’s thoughts seem as vivid as nature itself.
  • Nothing is more important than the formation of fictional concepts, which teach us at last to understand our own.
  • Human beings have a physical need to tell themselves when at work: “Let’s have done with it now,” and it’s having constantly to go on thinking in the face of this need when philosophizing that makes this work so strenuous.
  • Philosophy hasn’t made any progress?—If someone scratches where it itches, do we have to see progress? Is it not genuine scratching otherwise, or genuine itching?

John Middleton Murry (1889-1957)[edit]

  • For a good man to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a strait and narrow path compared to which his previous rectitude was flowery license.

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)[edit]

  • This characteristic of Dasein’s being—this “that it is”—is veiled in its “whence” and “whither.”
  • In many places, above all in the Anglo-Saxon countries, logistics is today considered the only possible form of strict philosophy, because its result and procedures yield an assured profit for the construction of the technological universe. In America and elsewhere, logistics as the only proper philosophy of the future is thus beginning today to seize power over the intellectual world.
    • Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking, J. Glenn Gray, trans. (New York: Harper, 1968), p. 21
  • By way of history, a man will never find out what history is; no more than a mathematician can show by way of mathematics—by means of his science, that is, and ultimately by mathematical formulae—what mathematics is. The essence of their spheres—history, art, poetry, language, nature, man, God—remains inaccessible to these disciplines.
  • Language still denies us its essence: that it is the house of the truth of being. Instead, language surrenders itself to our mere willing and trafficking as an instrument of domination over beings.
  • Before he speaks man must first let himself be claimed again by being, taking the risk that under this claim he will seldom have much to say.
  • We are too late for the gods
    and too early for being
    being’s poem, just begun, is man.
  • The average, vague understanding of being can be permeated by traditional theories and opinions about being in such a way that these theories, as the sources of the prevailing understanding, remain hidden.
  • Dasein is a being that does not simply occur among other beings. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that in its being this being is concerned about its very being. Thus it is constitutive of the being of Dasein to have, in its very being, a relation of being to this being.
  • The question of being is nothing else than the radicalization of an essential tendency of being
  • The tradition … makes what it “transmits” so little accessible that at first and for the most part it covers it over instead. What has been handed down it hands over to obviousness; it bars access to those original “wellsprings” out of which the traditional categories and concepts were in part genuinely drawn. The tradition even makes us forget such a provenance altogether. Indeed it makes us wholly incapable of even understanding that such a return is necessary.
  • Eternity, not as a static “now,” nor as a sequence of “nows” rolling off into the infinite, but as the “now” that bends back into itself. … Thinking the most difficult thought of philosophy means thinking being as time.
  • The small are always dependent on the great; they are “small” precisely because they think they are independent. The great thinker is one who can hear what is greatest in the work of other “greats” and who can transform it in an original manner.
  • We think of beauty as being most worthy of reverence. But what is most worthy of reverence lights up only where the magnificent strength to revere is alive. To revere is not a thing for the petty and lowly, the incapacitated and underdeveloped. It is a matter of tremendous passion; only what flows from such passion is in the grand style.
  • Who is to determine what the perfect is? It could only be those who are themselves perfect and who therefore know what it means. Here yawns the abyss of that circularity in which the whole of human Dasein moves. What health is, only the healthy can say. Yet healthfulness is measured according to the essential starting point of health. What truth is, only one who is truthful can discern; but the one who is truthful is determined according to the essential starting point of truth.

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962)[edit]

  • It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.

Herbert Read (1893-1968)[edit]

  • I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future.
  • Sentir mon Cœur is a privilege only granted to the exceptional man—the one who has the ability to find words that exactly (or, to himself, convincingly) express his feelings. … The value of words help to define the feeling itself. … The common failure is to allow habitual words and phrases, flowing spontaneously from the memory, to determine and deform the feelings.
  • Why do we forget our childhood? With rare exceptions we have no memory of our first four, five, or six years, and yet we have only to watch the development of our own children during this period to realize that these are precisely the most exciting, the most formative years of life. Schachtel’s theory is that our infantile experiences, so free, so uninhibited, are suppressed because they are incompatible with the conventions of an adult society which we call ‘civilized’. The infant is a savage and must be tamed, domesticated. The process is so gradual and so universal that only exceptionally will an individual child escape it, to become perhaps a genius, perhaps the selfish individual we call a criminal. The significance of this theory for the problem of sincerity in art (and in life) is that occasionally the veil of forgetfulness that hides our infant years is lifted and then we recover all the force and vitality that distinguished our first experiences—the ‘celestial joys’ of which Traherne speaks, when the eyes feast for the first time and insatiably on the beauties of God’s creation.
  • The work of art … is an instrument for tilling the human psyche, that it may continue to yield a harvest of vital beauty.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)[edit]

  • The two essential and important things, the indispensible things, are, first of all, intelligence, in the widest possible sense of that word, and goodwill, or in the old fashioned words, charity, love. These two things have to go hand in hand. Intelligence and knowledge without goodwill and charity are inhuman. Goodwill and charity undirected by intelligence are apt to be either impotent or misguided. The two have to go together.
    • Aldous Huxley, asked “What is basic and substantial in a man’s life?”
  • And it seems to me perfectly in the cards that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing … a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.
  • Maintaining, in this matter, the attitude of a strict operationalist, the Buddha would speak only of the spiritual experience, not of the metaphysical entity presumed by the theologians of other religions, as also of later Buddhism, to be the object ... of that experience.
  • The course of every intellectual, if he pursues his journey long and unflinchingly enough, ends in the obvious, from which the non-intellectuals have never stirred.
  • That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.
    • Aldous Huxley, “A Case of Voluntary Ignorance,” Collected Essays (1959)
  • Who lives longer? the man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes 'till 95? One passes his 24 months in eternity. All the years of the beefeater are lived only in time.
  • It is because we are predominantly purposeful beings that we are perpetually correcting our immediate sensations. But men are free not to be utilitarianly purposeful. They can sometimes be artists, for example. In which case they may like to accept the immediate sensation uncorrected, because it happens to be beautiful.
    • Aldous Huxley, “One and Many,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 11
  • Why did it occur to anyone to believe in only one God? And conversely why did it ever occur to anyone to believe in many gods? To both these questions we must return the same answer: Because that is how the human mind happens to work. For the human mind is both diverse and simple, simultaneously many and one. We have an immediate perception of our own diversity and of that of the outside world. And at the same time we have immediate perceptions of our own oneness.
    • Aldous Huxley, “One and Many,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 12
  • There has been a general trend in recent times toward a Unitarian mythology and the worship of one God. This is the tendency which it is customary to regard as spiritual progress. On what grounds? Chiefly, so far as one can see, because we in the Twentieth Century West are officially the worshippers of a single divinity. A movement whose consummation is us must be progressive. Quod erat demonstrandum.
    • Aldous Huxley, “One and Many,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 16
  • There was a time when I should have felt terribly ashamed of not being up-to-date. I lived in a chronic apprehension lest I might, so to speak, miss the last bus, and so find myself stranded and benighted, in a desert of demodedness, while others, more nimble than myself, had already climbed on board, taken their tickets and set out toward those bright but, alas, ever receding goals of Modernity and Sophistication. Now, however, I have grown shameless, I have lost my fears. I can watch unmoved the departure of the last social-cultural bus—the innumerable last buses, which are starting at every instant in all the world’s capitals. I make no effort to board them, and when the noise of each departure has died down, “Thank goodness!” is what I say to myself in the solitude. I find nowadays that I simply don’t want to be up-to-date. I have lost all desire to see and do the things, the seeing and doing of which entitle a man to regard himself as superiorly knowing, sophisticated, unprovincial; I have lost all desire to frequent the places and people that a man simply must frequent, if he is not to be regarded as a poor creature hopelessly out of the swim. “Be up-to-date!” is the categorical imperative of those who scramble for the last bus. But it is an imperative whose cogency I refuse to admit. When it is a question of doing something which I regard as a duty I am as ready as anyone else to put up with discomfort. But being up-to-date and in the swim has ceased, so far as I am concerned, to be a duty. Why should I have my feelings outraged, why should I submit to being bored and disgusted for the sake of somebody else’s categorical imperative? Why? There is no reason. So I simply avoid most of the manifestations of that so-called “life” which my contemporaries seem to be so unaccountably anxious to “see”; I keep out of range of the “art” they think is so vitally necessary to “keep up with”; I flee from those “good times” in the “having” of which they are prepared to spend so lavishly of their energy and cash.
    • Aldous Huxley, “Silence is Golden,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 55
  • To aspire to be superhuman is a most discreditable admission that you lack the guts, the wit, the moderating judgment to be successfully and consummately human.
    • Aldous Huxley, “Spinoza’s Worm,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 75
  • I'm interested in truth, I like science. But truth's a menace, science is a public danger. As dangerous as it's been beneficent. ... It's curious ... to read what people in the time of Our Ford used to write about scientific progress. The seemed to imagine that it could go on indefinitely, regardless of everything else. Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can't. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. Still, in spite of everything, unrestricted scientific research was still permitted. People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years' War. That made them change their tune all right. What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled—after the Nine Years' War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since. It hasn't been very good for truth, of course. But it's been very good for happiness. One can't have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.
  • “My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that's what soma is.”
  • “Isn't there something in living dangerously?”
    “There's a great deal in it,” the Controller replied. “Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.”
    “What?” questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.
    “It's one of the conditions of perfect health. That's why we've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.”
    “Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenalin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”
    “But I like the inconveniences.”
    “We don't,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
    “But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
    “In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you're claiming the right to be unhappy.”
    “All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.”
    • Aldous Huxley, the Savage and Controller Mustapha Mond in Brave New World (1932), ch. 17
  • Both of us victims of the same twentieth-century plague. Not the Black Death this time; the Grey Life.
  • I have a theory that, whenever little boys and girls are systematically flagellated, the victims grow up to think of God as 'Wholly Other'—isn't that the fashionable argot in your part of the world? Wherever, on the contrary, children are brought up without being subjected to physical violence, God is immanent. A people's theology reflects the state of its children's bottoms.
  • We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.

    Most island universes are sufficiently like one another to permit of inferential understanding or even of mutual empathy or “feeling into.” Thus, remembering our own bereavements and humiliations, we can condole with others in analogous circumstances, can put ourselves (always, of course, in a slightly Pickwickian sense) in their places. But in certain cases communication between universes is incomplete or even nonexistent. The mind is its own place, and the places inhabited by the insane and the exceptionally gifted are so different from the places where ordinary men and women live, that there is little or no common ground of memory to serve as a basis for understanding or fellow feeling. Words are uttered, but fail to enlighten. The things and events to which the symbols refer belong to mutually exclusive realms of experience.

    To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves. But what if these others belong to a different species and inhabit a radically alien universe? For example, how can the sane get to know what it actually feels like to be mad? Or, short of being born again as a visionary, a medium, or a musical genius, how can we ever visit the worlds which, to Blake, to Swedenborg, to Johann Sebastian Bach, were home? And how can a man at the extreme limits of ectomorphy and cerebrotonia ever put himself in the place of one at the limits of endomorphy and viscerotonia, or, except within certain circumscribed areas, share the feelings of one who stands at the limits of mesomorphy and somatotonia? To the unmitigated behaviorist such questions, I suppose, are meaningless. But for those who theoretically believe what in practice they know to be true—namely, that there is an inside to experience as well as an outside—the problems posed are real problems, all the more grave for being, some completely insoluble, some soluble only in exceptional circumstances and by methods not available to everyone. Thus, it seems virtually certain that I shall never know what it feels like to be Sir John Falstaff or Joe Louis. On the other hand, it had always seemed to me possible that, through hypnosis, for example, or autohypnosis, by means of systematic meditation, or else by taking the appropriate drug, I might so change my ordinary mode of consciousness as to be able to know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about.
  • I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation—the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.
    • Aldous Huxley, describing his experiment with mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), p. 17
  • Istigkeit—wasn't that the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? “Is-ness.” The Being of Platonic philosophy—except that Plato seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were—a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence.
    • Aldous Huxley, describing his experiment with mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), pp. 17-18
  • Reflecting on my experience, I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad, “that we should do well to consider much more seriously than we have hitherto been inclined to do the type of theory which Bergson put forward in connection with memory and sense perception. The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.” According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born—the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called “this world” is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various “other worlds,” with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate “spiritual exercises,” or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. Through these permanent or temporary by-passes there flows, not indeed the perception “of everything that is happening everywhere in the universe” (for the by-pass does not abolish the reducing valve, which still excludes the total content of Mind at Large), but something more than, and above all something different from, the carefully selected utilitarian material which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.
    • Aldous Huxley, describing his experiment with mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), p. 22-24
  • These effects of mescalin are the sort of effects you could expect to follow the administration of a drug having the power to impair the efficiency of the cerebral reducing valve. When the brain runs out of sugar, the undernourished ego grows weak, can't be bothered to undertake the necessary chores, and loses all interest in those spatial and temporal relationships which mean so much to an organism bent on getting on in the world. As Mind at Large seeps past the no longer watertight valve, all kinds of biologically useless things start to happen. ... Other persons discover a world of visionary beauty. To others again is revealed the glory, the infinite value and meaningfulness of naked existence, of the given, unconceptualized event.
    • Aldous Huxley, describing his experiment with mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), p. 26
  • How significant is the enormous heightening, under mescalin, of the perception of color! ... Man's highly developed color sense is a biological luxury—inestimably precious to him as an intellectual and spiritual being, but unnecessary to his survival as an animal. ... Mescalin raises all colors to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind. It would seem that, for Mind at Large, the so-called secondary characters of things are primary.
    • Aldous Huxley, describing his experiment with mescaline, The Doors of Perception (1954), pp. 26-27
  • In the course of evolution nature has gone to endless trouble to see that every individual is unlike every other individual. ... Physically and mentally, each one of us is unique. Any culture which, in the interests of efficiency or in the name of some political or religious dogma, seeks to standardize the human individual, commits an outrage against man’s biological nature.
    • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 3, p. 21

Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)[edit]

  • When the dictators of today appeal to reason, they mean that they possess the most tanks. They were rational enough to build them; others should be rational enough to yield to them.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 28
  • Whoever desires to live among men has to obey their laws—this is what the secular morality of Western civilization comes down to. ... Rationality in the form of such obedience swallows up everything, even the freedom to think.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 29
  • The distrust which peasants and children display for eloquent persons has always preserved the notion of that injustice which made language the servant of gain.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), pp. 38-39, translation modified
  • With the abolition of otium and of the ego no aloof thinking is left. ... Without otium philosophical thought is impossible, cannot be conceived or understood.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 39
  • The new order contradicts reason so fundamentally that reason does not dare to doubt it. Even the consciousness of oppression fades. The more incommensurate become the concentration of power and the helplessness of the individual, the more difficult for him to penetrate the human origin of his misery.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 44
  • Men have been released from [concentration] camps who have taken over the jargon of their jailers and with cold reason and mad consent (the price, as it were, of their survival) tell their story as if it could not have been otherwise than it was, contending that they have not been treated so badly after all.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 45
  • If this truth has once and for all been discarded and men have decided for integral adjustment, if reason has been purged of all morality regardless of cost, and has triumphed over all else, no one may remain outside and look on. The existence of one solitary “unreasonable” man elucidates the shame of the entire nation. His existence testifies to the relativity of the system of radical self-preservation that has been posited as absolute.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 45
  • If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate—in short, emancipation of fear—then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service reason can render.
  • The complexity of the connection between the world of perception and the world of physics does not preclude that such a connection can be shown to exist at any time.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 133
  • At present, when the prevailing forms of society have become hindrances to the free expression of human powers, it is precisely the abstract branches of science, mathematics and theoretical physics, which ... offer a less distorted form of knowledge than other branches of science which are interwoven with the pattern of daily life, and the practicality of which seemingly testifies to their realistic character.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 133
  • A man discovers what he is actually worth in this world when he faces society as a man, without money, name, or powerful connections, stripped of all but his native potentialities. He soon finds that nothing has less weight than his human qualities. They are prized so low that the market does not even list them. Strict science, which acknowledges man only as a biological concept, reflects man’s lot in the actual world; in himself, man is nothing more than a member of a species.

    In the eyes of the world, the quality of humanity confers no title to existence, nay, not even a right of sojourn. Such title must be certified by special social circumstances stipulated in documents to be presented on demand.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 137
  • The characteristic activity of science is not construction, but induction. The more often something has occurred in the past, the more certain that it will in all the future. Knowledge relates solely to what is and to its recurrence. New forms of being, especially those arising from the historical activity of man, lie beyond empiricist theory. Thoughts which are not simply carried over from the prevailing pattern of consciousness, but arise from the aims and resolves of the individual, in short, all historical tendencies that reach beyond what is present and recurrent, do not belong to the domain of science.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 144
  • The individual is divided into innumerable functions, the interconnection of which are unknown. In society a man is pater familias under one aspect, business man under another, thinker under a third; to be more precise, he is not a human being at all, but all these aspects and many more in an inevitable succession.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 155
  • When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory. The methods and categories as well as the transformation of the theory can be understood only in connection with his taking of sides. This, in turn, discloses both his sound common sense and the character of the world. Right thinking depends as much on right willing as right willing on right thinking.
    • Max Horkheimer, “The latest attack on metaphysics,” Critical Theory: Selected Essays (1982), p. 162

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990)[edit]

  • What plethora of material goods can possibly atone for a waking life so humanly belittling, if not degrading, as the push-button tasks left to human performers?
    • Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, volume 2, in The Pentagon of Power (1967), p. 352
  • If we are to express the love in our own hearts, we must also understand what love meant to Socrates and Saint Francis, to Dante and Shakespeare, to Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti, to the explorer Shackleton and to the intrepid physicians who deliberately exposed themselves to yellow fever. These historic manifestations of love are not recorded in the day's newspaper or the current radio program: they are hidden to people who possess only fashionable minds.
  • On one side is the gigantic printing press, a miracle of fine articulation, which turns out the tabloid newspaper: on the other side are the contents of the tabloid itself, symbolically recording the most crude and elementary states of emotion.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934), Chapter 6, § 9, p. 301
  • Mechanical instruments, potentially a vehicle of rational human purposes, are scarcely a blessing when they enable the gossip of the village idiot and the deeds of the thug to be broadcast to a million people each day.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934), Chapter 6, § 9, p. 301
  • Western society is relapsing at critical points into precivilized modes of thought, feeling, and action because it has acquiesced too easily in the dehumanization of society through capitalist exploitation.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934), Chapter 6, § 9, p. 302
  • Many psychologists have treated literature as a whole as a mere vehicle of withdrawal from the harsh realities of existence: forgetful of the fact that literature of the first order, so far from being a mere pleasure device, is a supreme attempt to face and encompass reality-an attempt beside which a busy working life involves a shrinkage and represents a partial retreat.
    • Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934), Chapter 6, § 9, p. 314-315

Ernst Jünger (1895-1998)[edit]

  • The anarch is to the anarchist, what the monarch is to the monarchist.

Georges Bataille (1897-1962)[edit]

  • We have in fact only two certainties in this world—that we are not everything and that we will die. To be conscious of not being everything, as one is of being mortal, is nothing. But if we are without a narcotic, an unbreathable void reveals itself. I wanted to be everything, so that falling into this void, I might summon my courage and say to myself: “I am ashamed of having wanted to be everything, for I see now that it was to sleep.” From that moment begins a singular experience. The mind moves in a strange world where anguish and ecstasy coexist.
  • By inner experience I understand that which one usually calls mystical experience: the states of ecstasy, of rapture, at least of meditated emotion. But I am thinking less of confessional experience, to which one has had to adhere up to now, that of an experience laid bare, free of ties, even of an origin, of any confession whatever. This is why I don’t like the word mystical.
  • Experience is, in fever and anguish, the putting into question (to the test) of that which a man knows of being. Should he in this fever have any apprehension whatsoever, he cannot say: “I have seen God, the absolute, or the depths of the universe”; he can only say “that which I have seen eludes understanding”—and God, the absolute, the depths of the universe are nothing if they are not categories of the understanding. If I said decisively, “I have seen God,” that which I see would change. Instead of the inconceivable unknown—wildly free before me, leaving me wild and free before it—there would be a dead object and the thing of the theologian, to which the unknown would be subjugated.
  • Inner experience ... is not easily accessible and, viewed from the outside by intelligence, it would even be necessary to see in it a sum of distinct operations, some intellectual, others aesthetic, yet others moral. ... It is only from within, lived to the point of terror, that it appears to unify that which discursive thought must separate.
  • We reach ecstasy by a contestation of knowledge. Were I to stop at ecstasy and grasp it, in the end I would define it.
  • An extreme, unconditional human yearning was expressed for the first time by Nietzsche independently of moral goals or of serving God. ... Ardor that doesn’t address a dramatically articulated moral obligation is a paradox. ... If we stop looking at states of ardor as simply preliminary to other and subsequent conditions grasped as beneficial, the state I propose seems a pure play of lightning, merely an empty consummation. Lacking any relation to material benefits such as power or the growth of the state (or of God or a Church or a party), this consuming can’t even be comprehended. ... I’ll have to face the same difficulties as Nietzsche—putting God and the good behind him, though all ablaze with the ardor possessed by those who lay down their lives for God or the good.
  • What causes [fragmentation] if not a need to act that specializes us and limits us to the horizon of a particular activity? Even if it turns out to be for the general interest (which generally isn’t true), the activity that subordinates each of our aspects to a specific result suppresses our being as an entirety. Whoever acts substitutes a particular end for what he or she is, as a total being.
  • I cannot exist entirely except when somehow I go beyond the stage of action. Otherwise I’m a soldier, a professional, a man of learning, not a “total human being.” The fragmentary state of humanity is basically the same as the choice of an object. When you limit your desires to possessing political power, for instance, you act and know what you have to do. … You insert your existence advantageously into time. Each of your moments becomes useful. With each moment, the possibility is given you to advance to some chosen goal, and your time becomes a march toward that goal—what’s normally called living. … Every action makes you a fragmentary existence. I hold on to my nature as an entirety only by refusing to act—or at least by denying the superiority of time, which is reserved for action.
  • Life is whole only when it isn’t subordinate to a specific object that exceeds it. In this way, the essence of entirety is freedom.
  • It is the positive practice of freedom, not the negative struggle against particular oppression, that has lifted me above a mutilated existence.
  • An intention that rejects what has no meaning in fact is a rejection of the entirety of being.
  • If I give up the viewpoint of action, my perfect nakedness is revealed to me.
  • The preceding criticism ... justifies the following definition of the entire human: human existence as the life of “unmotivated” celebration, celebration in all meaning of the word: laughter, dancing, orgy, the rejection of subordination, and sacrifice that scornfully puts aside any consideration of ends, property, and morality.
  • In previous conditions, extreme states came under the jurisdiction of the arts. ... People substituted writing (fiction) for what was once spiritual life, poetry (chaotic words) for actual ecstasies. Art constitutes a minor free zone outside action, paying for its freedom by giving up the real world. A heavy price!
  • [Zarathustra] never abandoned the watchword of not having any end, not serving a cause, because, as he knew, causes pluck off the wings we fly with.
  • [Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return] is what makes moments caught up in the immanence of return suddenly appear as ends. In every other system, don’t forget, these moments are viewed as means: Every moral system proclaims that “each moment of life ought to be motivated.” Return unmotivates the moment and frees life of ends.

Kenneth Burke (1897-1993)[edit]

  • We would not deny the mind; but merely remember that as the corrective of wrong thinking is right thinking, the corrective of all thinking is the body.
  • You moralistic dog—admitting a hierarchy in which you are subordinate, purely that you may have subordinates; licking the boots of a superior, that you may have yours in turn licked by an underling.

Bertolt Brecht (1989-1956)[edit]

  • Every day, I go to earn my bread
    In the exchange where lies are marketed,
    Hoping my own lies will attract a bid.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)[edit]

  • When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness.
    • C. S. Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952)
  • There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.
  • It is the stupidest children who are the most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are the most grown-up.
  • You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father—who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third—”Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
  • Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant—but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must first find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.
  • We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
  • It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.

Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)[edit]

  • Either one defines “personality” and “individuality” in terms of their possibilities within the established form of civilization, in which case their realization is for the vast majority tantamount to successful adjustment. Or one defines them in terms of their transcending content, including their socially denied potentialities beyond (and beneath) their actual existence; in this case, their realization would imply transgression, beyond the established form of civilization, to radically new modes of “personality” and “individuality” incompatible with the prevailing ones. Today, this would mean “curing” the patient to become a rebel or (which is saying the same thing) a martyr.
    • Herbert Marcuse, “Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism,” Eros and Civilization (1955)
  • Abstraction which refuses to accept the given universe of facts as the final context of validation, such “transcending” analysis of the facts in the light of their arrested and denied possibilities, pertains to the very structure of social theory.
  • If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization. The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world's imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own.
  • Economic freedom would mean freedom from the economy—from being controlled by economic forces and relationships.
  • All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude.
  • Ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.
  • The radical empiricist onslaught ... provides the methodological justification for the debunking of the mind by the intellectuals—a positivism which, in its denial of the transcending elements of Reason, forms the academic counterpart of the socially required behavior.
  • Art ... can speak its own language only as long as the images are alive which refuse and refute the established order.
  • Whether ritualized or not, art contains the rationality of negation. In its advanced positions, it is the Great Refusal—the protest against that which is.
  • In its relation to the reality of daily life, the high culture of the past was many things—opposition and adornment, outcry and resignation. But it was also the appearance of the realm of freedom: the refusal to behave.
  • The societal division of labor obtains the dignity of an ontological condition.

Leo Strauss (1899-1973)[edit]

  • Men must always have distinguished (e.g. in judicial matters) between hearsay and seeing with one’s own eyes and have preferred what one has seen to what he has merely heard from others. But the use of this distinction was originally limited to particular or subordinate matters. As regards the most weighty matters—the first things and the right way—the only source of knowledge was hearsay.
  • Our understanding of the thought of the past is liable to be the more adequate, the less the historian is convinced of the superiority of his own point of view, or the more he is prepared to admit the possibility that he may have to learn something, not merely about the thinkers of the past, but from them.
  • “Our ideas” are only partly our ideas. Most of our ideas are abbreviations or residues of the thought of other people, of our teachers (in the broadest sense of the term) and of our teachers’ teachers; they are abbreviations and residues of the thought of the past. These thoughts were once explicit and in the center of consideration and discussion. It may even be presumed that they were once perfectly lucid. By being transmitted to later generations they have possibly been transformed, and there is no certainty that the transformation was effected consciously and with full clarity. ... This means that the clarification of our political ideas insensibly changes into and becomes indistinguishable from the history of political ideas.
  • It was once said that democracy is the regime that stands or falls by virtue: a democracy is a regime in which all or most adults are men of virtue, and since virtue seems to require wisdom, a regime in which all or most adults are virtuous and wise, or the society in which all or most adults have developed their reason to a high degree, or the rational society. Democracy, in a word, is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy. …
    There exists a whole science—the science which I among thousands of others profess to teach, political science—which so to speak has no other theme than the contrast between the original conception of democracy, or what one may call the ideal of democracy, and democracy as it is. … Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), pp. 4-5
  • Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty. … It is at the same time a training in boldness. … It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or least popular opinions.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 8
  • Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for “vulgarity”; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 8
  • The emancipation of the scholars and scientists from philosophy is according to [Nietzsche] only a part of the democratic movement, i.e. of the emancipation of the low from subordination to the high. … The plebeian character of the contemporary scholar or scientist is due to the fact that he has no reverence for himself.
    • Leo Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, p. 186

Nyanaponika Thera (1901-1994)[edit]

  • The lives and writings of the mystics of all great religions bear witness to religious experiences of great intensity, in which considerable changes are effected in the quality of consciousness. Profound absorption in prayer or meditation can bring about a deepening and widening, a brightening and intensifying, of consciousness, accompanied by a transporting feeling of rapture and bliss. The contrast between these states and normal conscious awareness is so great that the mystic believes his experiences to be manifestations of the divine; and given the contrast, this assumption is quite understandable. Mystical experiences are also characterized by a marked reduction or temporary exclusion of the multiplicity of sense-perceptions and restless thoughts. This relative unification of mind is then interpreted as a union or communion with the One God. ...

    The psychological facts underlying those religious experiences are accepted by the Buddhist and are well-known to him; but he carefully distinguishes the experiences themselves from the theological interpretations imposed upon them. After rising from deep meditative absorption (jhana), the Buddhist meditator is advised to view the physical and mental factors constituting his experience in the light of the three characteristics of all conditioned existence: impermanence, liability to suffering, and absence of an abiding ego or eternal substance. This is done primarily in order to utilize the meditative purity and strength of consciousness for the highest purpose: liberating insight. But this procedure also has a very important side effect which concerns us here: the meditator will not be overwhelmed by any uncontrolled emotions and thoughts evoked by his singular experience, and will thus be able to avoid interpretations of that experience not warranted by the facts.

    Hence a Buddhist meditator, while benefiting from the refinement of consciousness he has achieved, will be able to see these meditative experiences for what they are; and he will further know that they are without any abiding substance that could be attributed to a deity manifesting itself to his mind. Therefore, the Buddhist’s conclusion must be that the highest mystical states do not provide evidence for the existence of a personal God or an impersonal godhead.
  • Some doubt may arise in the minds of Western men how they could be helped in their present problems by a doctrine of the far and foreign East. And others, even in the East. may ask how words spoken 2,500 years ago can have relevance to our ‘modern world’, except in a very general sense. ... Those who raise the objection of the distance in time, will certainly recall many golden words of long-dead sages and poets which strike such a deep and kindred chord in our own hearts that we very vividly feel a living and intimate contact with those great ones who have left this world long ago. Such experience contrasts with the ‘very much present’ silly chatter of society, newspapers or radio, which, when compared with those ancient voices of wisdom and beauty, will appear to emanate from the mental level of stone-age man tricked out in modern trappings. True wisdom is always young, and always near to the grasp of an open mind.
  • It is a significant fact and worth pondering upon that the Bible commences with the words: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth....”, while the Dhammapada ... opens with the words “Mind precedes things, dominates them, creates them.”
  • Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a “mystical” state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
  • Attention or mindfulness is kept to a bare registering of the facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc.), judgment or reflection. If during the time, short or long, given to the practice of Bare Attention, any such comments arise in one’s mind, they themselves are made objects of Bare Attention, and are neither repudiated nor pursued, but are dismissed, after a brief mental note has been made of them.
  • Bare Attention consists in a bare and exact registering of the object. This is not as easy a task as it may appear, since it is not what we normally do, except when engaged in disinterested investigation. Normally man is not concerned with a disinterested knowledge of “things as they truly are,” but with “handling” and judging them from the viewpoint of his self-interest, which may be wide or narrow, noble or low. He tacks labels to the things which form his physical and mental universe, and these labels mostly show clearly the impress of his self-interest and his limited vision. It is such an assemblage of labels in which he generally lives and which determines his actions and reactions.
  • Mind is the very element in and through which we live, yet it is what is most elusive and mysterious. Bare Attention, however, by first attending patiently to the basic facts of the mental processes, is capable of shedding light on mind’s mysterious darkness, and of obtaining a firm hold on its elusive flow.
  • When once clear awareness and comprehension have been firmly established in a limited but vital sector of the mind’s expanse, the light will gradually and naturally spread, and will reach even distant and obscure corners of the mind’s realm which hitherto had been inaccessible. This will mainly be due to the fact that the instrument of that search for knowledge will have undergone a radical change: the searching mind itself will have gained in lucidity and penetrative strength.
  • A specimen of research that is to be examined with the help of a microscope has first to be carefully prepared, cleaned, freed from extraneous matter, and firmly kept under the lens. In a similar way, the “bare object” to be examined by wisdom, is prepared by Bare Attention. It cleans the object of investigation from the impurities of prejudice and passion; it frees it from alien admixtures and from points of view not pertaining to it; it holds it firmly before the Eye of Wisdom, by slowing down the transition from the receptive to the active phase of the perceptual or cognitive process, thus giving a vastly improved chance for close and dispassionate investigation.
  • Bare Attention first allows things to speak for themselves, without interruption by final verdicts pronounced too hastily. Bare Attention gives them a chance to finish their speaking, and one will thus get to learn that, in fact, they have much to say about themselves, which formerly was mostly ignored by rashness or was drowned in the inner and outer noise in which ordinary man normally lives. Because Bare Attention sees things without the narrowing and leveling effect of habitual judgments, it sees them ever anew, as it for the first time; therefore it will happen with progressive frequency that things will have something new and worthwhile to reveal. Patient pausing in such an attitude of Bare Attention will open wide horizons to one’s understanding, denied to the strained efforts of an impatient intellect. Owing to a rash or habitual limiting, labeling, misjudging, and mishandling of things, important sources of knowledge often remain closed.
  • ... age-old philosophical attitudes which arise from false factual premises, with vast theoretical superstructures framed to fit those premises
  • It will become an immediate certainty to the meditator that mind is nothing beyond its cognizing function. Nowhere, behind or within the function, can any individual agent or abiding entity be detected. By way of one’s own direct experience, one will this have arrived at the great truth of No-soul or Impersonality (anatta; Sanskrit anatma), showing that all existence is void of an abiding personality (self, soul, over-self, etc.) or an abiding substance of any description.
  • This method of Bare Attention, so helpful to mind-knowledge and, through it, to world-knowledge, tallies with the procedure and attitude of the true scientist and scholar: clear definition of subject-matter and terms; unprejudiced receptivity for the instruction that comes out of the things themselves; exclusion, or at least reduction, of the subjective factor in judgment; deferring of judgment until a careful examination of facts has been made. This genuine spirit of the research worker, manifested in the attitude of Bare Attention, will always unite the Buddha-Dhamma with true science, though not necessarily with all the theories of the day. But the purpose of the Buddha-Dhamma is not the same as that of secular science which is limited to the discover and explanation of facts. The Buddha’s mind-doctrine, however, in not restricted to a theoretical knowledge of the mind, but it aims at the shaping of the mind, and, through it, of life. In that object, however, it meets with that branch of modern psychology which is devoted to the practical application of theoretical mind-knowledge.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)[edit]

  • The American polishes and refines his way of doing things—even the most commonplace—the way the French of the seventeenth century polished their maxims and aphorisms.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (New York: 1954), #171
  • The superficiality of the American is the result of his hustling. It needs leisure to think things out; it needs leisure to mature. People in a hurry cannot think, cannot grow, nor can they decay. They are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (New York: 1954), #172
  • The nonconformist is a more stable type than the conforming individual. It is the average man of today who shows the most striking differences from people of other ages and civilizations. The rebel of today is twin brother of rebels in all ages and climes.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (New York: 1954), #175
  • To spell out the obvious is often to call it into question.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (New York: 1954), #220
  • We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind.
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (New York: 1954), #254
  • The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people. The truly human society is a learning society, where grandparents, parents, and children are students together.
    • Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (2006), #32

Mortimer Adler (1902-2001)[edit]

  • The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.

George Orwell (1902-1950)[edit]

  • Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.
  • A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
  • When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms
  • (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    (ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969)[edit]

  • If philosophy is still necessary, it is so only in the way it has been from time immemorial: as critique, as resistance to the expanding heteronomy, even if only as thought’s powerless attempt to remain its own master.
    • Theodor Adorno, "Why still philosophy?" Critical Models (1998), p. 10
  • The error in positivism is that it takes as its standard of truth the contingently given division of labor, that between the science and social praxis as well as that within science itself, and allows no theory that could reveal the division of labor to be itself derivative and mediated and thus strip it of its false authority.
    • Theodor Adorno, “Why still philosophy?” Critical Models (1998), p. 10
  • A world that has been thoroughly permeated by the structures of the social order, a world that so overpowers every individual that scarcely any option remains but to accept it on its own terms ... reproduces itself incessantly and disastrously. What people have forced upon them by a boundless apparatus, which they themselves constitute and which they are locked into, virtually eliminates all natural elements and becomes “nature” to them.
    • Theodor Adorno, “Why still philosophy?” Critical Models (1998), p. 12
  • The phrase, the world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended. People are not only, as the saying goes, falling for the swindle, if it guarantees them even the most fleeting gratification; they desire a deception which is nonetheless transparent to them. They force their eyes shut and voice approval, in a kind of self-loathing, for what is meted out to them, knowing fully the purpose for which it is manufactured. Without admitting it they sense that their lives would be completely intolerable as soon as they no longer clung to satisfactions which are none at all.
  • Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract quantities. To the enlightenment, that which does not reduce to numbers, and ultimately to the one, becomes illusion.
  • Human beings purchase the increase in their power with estrangement from that over which it is exerted. Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things to the extent he can make them. Their “in-itself” becomes “for him.”
  • The principle of immanence, the explanation of every event as repetition, that the Enlightenment upholds against mythic imagination, is the principle of myth itself. That arid wisdom that holds there is nothing new under the sun … merely reproduces the fantastic wisdom that it supposedly rejects: … fate that … remakes what has already been.
  • The blessing that the market does not enquire after one’s birth is paid for by the barterer, in that he models the potentialities that are his by birth on the production of the commodities that can be bought in the market.
  • With the clean separation between science and poetry the division of labor which science had helped to establish was extended to language. For science the word is first of all a sign; it is then distributed among the various arts as sound, image, or word proper, but its unity can never be restored by the addition of these arts, by synaesthesia or total art. As sign, language must resign itself to calculation and, to know nature, must renounce the claim to resemble it. As image it must resign itself to being a likeness and, to be entirely nature, must renounce the claim to know it.
  • The prevailing antithesis between art and science ... rends the two apart as areas of culture in order to make them jointly manageable as areas of culture.
  • The metaphysical apologia at least betrayed the injustice of the established order through the incongruence of concept and reality. The impartiality of scientific language deprived what was powerless of the strength to make itself heard and merely provided the existing order with a neutral sign for itself. Such neutrality is more metaphysical than metaphysics.
  • The more heavily the process of self-preservation is based on the bourgeois division of labor, the more it enforces the self-alienation of individuals, who must mold themselves to the technical apparatus body and soul.
  • The technical process, to which the subject has been reified after the eradication of that process from consciousness, is as free from the ambiguous meanings of mythical thought as from meaning altogether, since reason itself has become merely an aid to the all-encompassing economic apparatus.
  • Reason serves as a universal tool for the fabrication of all other tools, rigidly purpose-directed and as calamitous as the precisely calculated operations of material production, the results of which for human beings escape all calculation. Reason’s old ambition to be purely an instrument of purposes has finally been fulfilled.
  • ... subordinating life in its entirety to the requirements of its preservation
  • Since, under the work-pressure of the millennium now ending, pleasure has learned to hate itself, in its totalitarian emancipation it remains mean and mutilated through self-contempt.
  • [Odysseus] knows only two possibilities of escape. One he prescribes to his comrades. He plugs their ears with wax and orders them to row with all their might. Anyone who wishes to survive must not listen to the temptation of the irrecoverable, and is unable to listen only if he is unable to hear. Society has always made sure that this was the case. Workers must look ahead with alert concentration and ignore anything which lies to one side. The urge toward distraction must be grimly sublimated in redoubled exertions. Thus the workers are made practical. The other possibility Odysseus chooses for himself, the landowner, who has others to work for him. He listens, but does so while bound helplessly to the mast. ... The bonds by which he has irrevocably fettered himself to praxis at the same time keep the Sirens at a distance from praxis: their lure is neutralized as a mere object of contemplation, as art.
  • On the way from mythology to logistics, thought has lost the element of reflection on itself.
  • In the world of exchange the one who gives more is in the wrong; but the one who loves is always the one who loves more.
  • As solid citizens, philosophers ally themselves in practice with the powers they condemn in theory.
  • To be free of the stab of conscience is as essential to formalistic reason as to be free of love or hate.
  • Animism spiritualized the object, whereas industrialism objectifies the spirits of men.
  • The melancholy science from which I make this offering to my friend relates to a region that from time immemorial was regarded as the true field of philosophy, but which, since the latter’s conversion into method, has lapsed into intellectual neglect, sententious whimsy and finally oblivion: the teaching of the good life. What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own.
    • Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, E. Jephcott, trans. (1974), Dedication
  • The son of well-to-do parents who ... engages in a so-called intellectual profession, as an artist or a scholar, will have a particularly difficult time with those bearing the distasteful title of colleagues. It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the established powers. ... The real resistance lies elsewhere. The occupation with things of the mind has by now itself become “practical,” a business with strict division of labor, departments and restricted entry. The man of independent means who chooses it out of repugnance for the ignominy of earning money will not be disposed to acknowledge the fact. For this he is punished. He ... is ranked in the competitive hierarchy as a dilettante no matter how well he knows his subject, and must, if he wants to make a career, show himself even more resolutely blinkered than the most inveterate specialist. The urge to suspend the division of labor which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence permits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract. It performs this task all the more reliably since anyone who repudiates this division of labor—if only by taking pleasure in his work—makes himself vulnerable by its standards, in ways inseparable from elements of his superiority. Thus is order ensured: some have to play the game because they cannot otherwise live, and those who could live otherwise are kept out because they do not want to play the game.
  • Tenderness between people is nothing other than awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose.
  • The jargon of authenticity ... is a trademark of societalized chosenness, ... sub-language as superior language.
    • Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1974), K. Tarnowski, trans. (1973), pp. 5-6
  • ... nominalistic theory of language, in which words are interchangeable counters, untouched by history.
    • Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1974), K. Tarnowski, trans. (1973), p. 8
  • What is or is not the jargon is determined by whether the word is written in an intonation which places it transcendently in opposition to its own meaning; by whether the individual words are loaded at the expense of the sentence, its propositional force, and the thought content. In that sense the character of the jargon would be quite formal: it sees to it that what it wants is on the whole felt and accepted through its mere delivery, without regard to the content of the words used.
    • Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1974), K. Tarnowski, trans. (1973), p. 8
  • The jargon makes it seem that ... the pure attention of the expression to the subject matter would be a fall into sin.
    • Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1974), K. Tarnowski, trans. (1973), p. 9
  • Whoever is versed in the jargon does not have to say what he thinks, does not even have to think it properly. The jargon takes over this task.
    • Theodor Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity (1974), K. Tarnowski, trans. (1973), p. 9

Ludwig Hohl (1904-1980)[edit]

  • Today’s laziness consists in lifeless motion.
  • Work is nothing but the translation of the mortal into that which endures.
  • Class consciousness—yes, the theory is all too true. But there is a third class, that of Socrates, that of the inexorable.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)[edit]

  • Already in the ninth century BC the Hindus realized that all the deities are projections of psychological powers, and they are within you, not outside.
  • Religion is poetry misunderstood.
  • Myths are public dreams. Dreams are private myths. By finding your own dream and following it through, it will lead you to the myth world in which you live.
  • Just as in dream, the subject and the object, although they seem to be separate, are really the same, so also you are your god.
  • The first effect is an astonishing sense of presence. Objects begin to shine, to be fascinating—things that you took for granted. There’s a story I know of four bridge players who were made to promise before they receive a shot that they would play a game of bridge after they received it. … The cards were dealt out, and when they opened the cards, they sat there fascinated. They didn’t play bridge. This is what’s known as “aesthetic arrest.” They were held. And what it represents is a new activation of consciousness. We live with things thinking only of their uses, even our friends.
    • Joseph Campbell, describing the effects of LSD, “Mythology and the Individual,” Lecture 5

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)[edit]

  • Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic.
    • Salvador Dalí, Dali by Dali (1970) , as quoted in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (2012), p. 737
  • There’s only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.
  • I, the obsessed rationalist, was the only one who knew what I wanted: I was not going to submit to irrationality for its own sake, to the narcissist and passive irrationality others practiced. I would do completely the opposite. I would fight for the “conquest of the irrational.” In the meantime my friends would let themselves be overwhelmed by the irrational, succumbing, like so many others, Nietzsche included, to that romantic weakness.
  • I think that the sweetest freedom for a man on earth consists in being able to live, if he likes, without having the need to work.

Josef Pieper (1904-1997)[edit]

  • In our bourgeois Western world total labor has vanquished leisure. Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture—and ourselves.

Lionel Trilling (1905-1975)[edit]

  • ... the chronic American belief that there exists an opposition between reality and mind, and that one must enlist oneself in the party of reality.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)[edit]

For a more detailed characterization of my ambivalent position on the merits of Ayn Rand's novels, see Some Thoughts on Ayn Rand, below.

  • I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey.
  • I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 26
  • ... a world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of his neighbor
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead (1943)
  • If I found a job, a project, an idea or a person I wanted, I’d have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We’re all so tied together. We’re all in a net, the net is waiting, and we’re pushed into it by one single desire.
    • Ayn Rand, Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 143
  • People want nothing but mirrors around them. To reflect them while they’re reflecting too. ... Reflections of reflections and echoes of echoes of echoes. No beginning and no end. No center and no purpose.
    • Ayn Rand, Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 426
  • I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict—and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unrevered or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard–one can imagine him existing forever.
    • Ayn Rand, Steven Mallory speaking to Dominique Francon about Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 452
  • The freedom from arbitrary rules, for which Cameron had fought, the freedom that imposed a great new responsibility on the creative builder, became mere elimination of all effort, even the effort of mastering historical styles. It became a rigid set of new rules—the discipline of conscious incompetence, creative poverty made in a system, mediocrity boastfully confessed.
    • Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1996), pp. 473-474
  • He had always wanted to write music, and he could give no other identity to the thing he sought. If you want to know what it is, he told himself, listen to the first phrases of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto—or the last movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second. Men have not found the words for it nor the deed nor the thought, but they have found the music. Let me see that in one single act of man on earth. Let me see it made real. Let me see the answer to the promise of that music. Not servants nor those served; not altars and immolations; but the final, the fulfilled, innocent of pain.
    • Ayn Rand, Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 504
  • Don’t work for my happiness, my brothers—show me yours—show me that it is possible—show me your achievement—and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.
    • Ayn Rand, Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 504
  • Your buildings have one sense above all—a sense of joy. Not a placid joy. A difficult, demanding kind of joy. The kind that makes one feel as it were an achievement to experience it. One look and thinks: I’m a better person if I can feel that.
    • Ayn Rand, Gail Wynand speaking about Howard Roark's buildings in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 518
  • He's paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other people’s eyes. Fame, admiration, envy—all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego that he’s betrayed and given up. But everybody calls him selfish.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark describing the second-hand man in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 605
  • They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: “Is this true?” They ask: “Is this what others think is true?” Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark describing second-hand men in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 606
  • You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark describing second-hand men in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 606
  • He can’t say about a single thing: this is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark describing second-hand men in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 607
  • One man who wished neither to serve nor to rule. And had thereby committed the only unforgivable crime.
    • Ayn Rand, describing Howard Roark, The Fountainhead (1996), p. 622
  • Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an ideal in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against himself. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one has ever reached it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue—and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. …. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey—because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean.
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey describing Method #1 for breaking a man’s soul in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 635
  • Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rare, the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept—and you stop the impetus to effort in men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. Laugh at Roark and hold Peter Keating as a great architect. You’ve destroyed architecture. Build up Lois Cook and you’ve destroyed literature. Hail Ike and you’ve destroyed the theatre. Glorify Lancelot Clokey and you’ve destroyed the press. Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed.
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey describing Method #2 for breaking a man’s soul in The Fountainhead (1996), pp. 635-636
  • Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It’s simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul—and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle. He’ll obey and he’ll set no limits to obedience—anything goes—nothing is too serious.
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey describing Method #3 for breaking a man’s soul in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 636
  • Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you. Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. Take away from them what they want. Make them think that the mere thought of a personal desire is evil. Bring them to a state where saying ‘I want’ is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission. Altruism is of great help in this. Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for support, for escape.
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey describing Method #4 for breaking a man’s soul in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 636
  • Remember the Roman Emperor who said he wished humanity had a single neck so he could cut it? People have laughed at him for centuries. But we’ll have the last laugh. We’ve accomplished what he couldn’t accomplish. We’ve taught men to unite. This makes one neck ready for one leash.
    • Ayn Rand, Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 639
  • The mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 679
  • No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 679
  • If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the concept of servility of the spirit?
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 680
  • Men have been taught that their first concern is to relieve the suffering of others. … To make that the highest test of virtue is to make suffering the most important part of life. Then man must wish to see others suffer—in order that he may be virtuous. Such is the nature of altruism.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 680
  • Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.
    • Ayn Rand, Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1996), p. 683
  • If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a “moral commandment” is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.
    • Ayn Rand, John Galt's radio address in Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • If devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking. ... The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.
  • While a creator does and must worship Man (which means his own highest potentiality; which is his natural self-reverence), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind (as a collective). These are two entirely different conceptions, with entirely—(immensely and diametrically opposed)—different consequences.
    • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 4
  • The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence.
    • Ayn Rand, Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 384
  • Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men’s vices or men’s stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment’s or a penny’s worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you’ll scream that money is evil.
    • Ayn Rand, Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 384
  • It’s the person who would sell his soul for a nickel who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money.
    • Ayn Rand, Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 384
  • There are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.
    • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 389
  • To hold an unchanging youth is to reach, at the end, the vision with which one started.
    • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 669
  • A lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked. …The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on.
    • Ayn Rand, Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 792
  • The vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say-so as truth.
    • Ayn Rand, John Galt in Atlas Shrugged (New York: 1992), p. 936
  • If a moral code prescribes irreconcilable contradictions—so that by choosing the good in one respect, a man becomes evil in another—it is the code that must be rejected.
    • Ayn Rand, “The Cult of Moral Grayness,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Elias Canetti (1905-1994)[edit]

  • Use only words which you have filled with new meaning.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 5
  • Ambition is the death of thought.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 41
  • You keep taking note of whatever confirms your ideas—better to write down what refutes and weakens them!
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 60
  • When I leaf through Fackel issues of my slave years, I am seized by horror. Anyone released from bondage must feel like this.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 64
  • “He is a lesser figure than X”—how it pleases an Englishman to say that! Never suspecting what basement that would put him in.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 74
  • One needs time to free oneself of wrong convictions. If it happens too suddenly, they go on festering.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 76
  • I noticed in the front row a small, very pale, almost white man, old, tremendously alert, old in the only way I love old age, namely more alive for all the years, more attentive, more unrelenting, expectant and ready, as though he still had to make up his mind about most things and must not disregard anything.
  • He sometimes tells himself that there is nothing more to be said, simply because he won’t get around to saying it.—How contemptible!
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 92
  • Everything you rejected and pushed aside—take it up again.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 106
  • His great holy books, which he does not know. They are so holy that he does not dare to open them.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 132
  • I repulse death with all my strength. If I accepted it, I would be a murderer.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 142
  • Relearn astonishment.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 146

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)[edit]

  • How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)[edit]

  • For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.
  • The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.
  • Such and similar questions were answered in the past by religion on one side and common sense on the other. The religious answer is: because you will go to hell and eternal damnation; the common sense answer is: because you don't want to be murdered yourself. Both answers don' t work any longer. ... The philosophic answer would be the answer of Socrates: Since I have got to live with myself, am in fact the only person from whom I never shall be able to part, whose company I shall have to bear forever, I don't want to become a murderer; I don't want to spend my life in the company of a murderer.
    • Hannah Arendt, Letter to Mary McCarthy, responding to the question “Why should I not kill my grandmother if I want to?” August 20, 1954, Between Friends, p. 22
  • Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.
  • Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.
  • It was mathematics, the non-empirical science par excellence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances.
  • Metaphysical fallacies contain the only clues we have to what thinking means to those who engage in it.
  • If...the ability to tell right from wrong should turn out to have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to “demand” its exercise from every sane person, no matter how erudite or ignorant, intelligent or stupid, he may happen to be. Kant—in this respect almost alone among the philosophers—was much bothered by the common opinion that philosophy is only for the few, precisely because of its moral implications.
  • ... the simple-minded positivism that believes it has found a firm ground of certainty if it only excludes all mental phenomena from consideration and holds fast to observable facts.
  • It is characteristic of the Oxford School of criticism to understand these [metaphysical] fallacies as logical non sequiturs—as though philosophers throughout the centuries had been, for reasons unknown, just a bit too stupid to discover the elementary flaws in their arguments. The truth of the matter is that elementary logical mistakes are quite rare in the history of philosophy; what appear to be errors in logic to minds disencumbered of questions that have been uncritically dismissed as “meaningless” are usually caused by semblances, unavoidable for beings whose whole existence is determined by appearance. Hence, In our context the only relevant question is whether the semblances are inauthentic or authentic ones, whether they are caused by dogmatic beliefs and arbitrary assumptions, mere mirages that disappear upon closer inspection, or whether they are inherent in the paradoxical condition of a living being that, though itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it.

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)[edit]

  • The danger is that we shall become a nation of pedants. I use the word literally and democratically to refer to the millions of people who are moved by a certain kind of passion in their pastimes as well as in their vocations. In both parts of their lives this passion comes out in shoptalk. I have in mind both the bird watchers and nature lovers: the young people who collect records and follow the lives of pop singers and movie stars; I mean the sort of knowledge possessed by “buffs” and “fans” of all species—the baseball addicts and opera goers, the devotees of railroad trains and the collectors of objects, from first editions to netsuke.

    They are pedants not just because they know and recite an enormous quantity of facts—if a school required them to learn as much they would scream against tyranny. It is not the extent of their information that appalls; it is the absence of any reflection upon it, any sense of relation between it and them and the world. Nothing is brought in from outside for contrast or comparison; no perspective is gained from the top of their monstrous factual pile; no generalities emerge to lighten the sameness of their endeavor.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961)[edit]

  • The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to a rigorous scrutiny, and arrive at a precise assessment of its meaning and scope, we must begin by reawakening the basic experience of the world, of which science is the second-order expression.
  • Even those who have desired to work out a completely positive philosophy have been philosophers only to the extent that, at the same time, they have refused the right to install themselves in absolute knowledge. They taught not this knowledge, but its becoming in us, not the absolute but, at most, our absolute relation to it, as Kierkegaard said. What makes a philosopher is the movement which leads back without ceasing from knowledge to ignorance, from ignorance to knowledge, and a kind of rest in this movement.
  • Thought without language, says Lavelle, would not be a purer thought; it would be no more than the intention to think. And his last book offers a theory of expressiveness which makes of expression not “a faithful image of an already realized interior being, but the very means by which it is realized.”
  • Theology recognizes the contingency of human existence only to derive it from a necessary being, that is, to remove it. Theology makes use of philosophical wonder only for the purpose of motivating an affirmation which ends it. Philosophy, on the other hand, arouses us to what is problematic in our own existence and in that of the world, to such a point that we shall never be cured of searching for a solution.
  • De Lubac discusses an atheism which means to suppress this searching, he says, “even including the problem as to what is responsible for the birth of God in human consciousness.”
  • Socrates reminds us that it is not the same thing, but almost the opposite, to understand religion and to accept it.
  • Thinking which displaces, or otherwise defines, the sacred has been called atheistic, and that philosophy which does not place it here or there, like a thing, but at the joining of things and words, will always be exposed to this reproach without ever being touched by it.
  • The philosopher will ask himself … if the criticism we are now suggesting is not the philosophy which presses to the limit that criticism of false gods which Christianity has introduced into our history.
  • Philosophy is in history, and is never independent of historical discourse. But for the tacit symbolism of life it substitutes, in principle, a conscious symbolism; for a latent meaning, one that is manifest. It is never content to accept its historical situation. It changes this situation by revealing it to itself.
  • Machiavelli is the complete contrary of a machiavellian, since he describes the tricks of power and “gives the whole show away.” The seducer and the politician, who live in the dialectic and have a feeling and instinct for it, try their best to keep it hidden.

Simone Weil (1909-1943)[edit]

  • Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought.
  • The number 2 thought of by one man cannot be added to the number 2 thought of by another man so us to make up the number 4.
  • Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong. ... With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right at all to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which St. John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of such a purification.
    • Simone Weil, “Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the Divine” in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by G. Panichas, pp. 417-418
  • There are two atheisms of which one is a purification of the notion of God.
    • Simone Weil, in The New Christianity (1967) edited by William Robert Miller
  • The sin of idolatry is always committed on behalf of something similar to the State.
  • The Romans really were an atheistic and idolatrous people; not idolatrous with regard to images made of stone or bronze, but idolatrous with regard to themselves. It is this idolatry of self which they have bequeathed to us in the form of patriotism.
  • If people were told: what makes carnal desire imperious in you is not its pure carnal element. It is the fact that you put into it the essential part of yourself—the need for Unity, the need for God—they wouldn’t believe it. To them it seems obvious that the quality of imperious need belongs to the carnal desire as such. In the same way it seems obvious to the miser that the quality of desirability belongs to gold as such, and not to its exchange value.
  • One of the most exquisite pleasures of human love—to serve the loved one without his knowing it—is only possible, as regards the love of God, through atheism.
  • No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol. Every atheist is an idolater—unless he is worshipping the true God in his impersonal aspect. The majority of the pious are idolaters.
  • The eulogies of my intelligence are positively intended to evade the question “Is what she says true?”
  • There is nothing that comes closer to true humility than the intelligence. It is impossible to feel pride in one’s intelligence at the moment when one really and truly exercises it.
  • A profession can confer on quite ordinary men in their exercise of it, virtues which, if they were extended to all circumstances of life, would make of them heroes or saints.
  • Only he who has measured the dominion of force, and knows how not to respect it, is capable of love and justice.
  • Meditation on the chance which led to the meeting of my mother and father is even more salutary than meditation on death.
    • Simone Weil, Chance (1947), p. 277, also in Gravity and Grace (1972), p. 97
  • The development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies.
  • School children and students who love God should never say: “For my part I like mathematics”; “I like French”; “I like Greek.” They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed toward God, is the very substance of prayer.
  • It is not in a person's nature to desire what he already has. Desire is a tendency, the start of a movement toward something, toward a point from which one is absent.
    • Simone Weil, “Prerequisite to Dignity of Labor,” Simone Weil: An Anthology (1986), p. 245
  • The effort of expression has a bearing not only on the form but on the thought and on the whole inner being. So long as bare simplicity of expression is not attained, the thought has not touched or even come near to true greatness. ... The real way of writing is to write as we translate. When we translate a text written in some foreign language, we do not seek to add anything to it; on the contrary, we are scrupulously careful not to add anything to it. That is how we have to try to translate a text which is not written down.
    • Simone Weil, letter to Gustave Thibon, in Gravity and Grace (1972), p. xi
  • I am not a person with whom it is advisable to link one’s fate. Human beings have always more or less sensed this; but, I do not know for what mysterious reason, ideas seem to have less discernment.
    • Simone Weil, letter to Gustave Thibon, in Gravity and Grace (1972), p. xii
  • If we know what direction the scales of society are tilted we must do what we can to add weight to the lighter side. ... We must be always ready to change sides like Justice—that fugitive from the camp of conquerors.

Human Personality (1943)[edit]

  • What man needs is silence and warmth; what he is given is an icy pandemonium.
  • Rights are always asserted in a tone of contention.
  • If you say to someone who has ears to hear: “What you are doing to me is not just,” you may touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love. But it is not the same with words like, “I have the right...” or “you have no right to...” They evoke a latent war and awaken the spirit of contention.
  • The full expression of personality depends upon its being inflated by social prestige; it is a social privilege.
  • Just as a vagrant accused of stealing a carrot from a field stands before a comfortably seated judge who keeps up an elegant flow of queries, comments and witticisms while the accused is unable to stammer a word, so truth stands before an intelligence which is concerned with the elegant manipulation of opinions.
  • Men of the most brilliant intelligence can be born, live and die in error and falsehood. In them, intelligence is neither a good, nor even an asset. The difference between more or less intelligent men is like the difference between criminals condemned to life imprisonment in smaller or larger cells. The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell.
  • To listen to someone is to put oneself in his place while he is speaking. To put oneself in the place of someone whose soul is corroded by affliction, or in near danger of it, is to annihilate oneself. It is more difficult than suicide would be for a happy child. Therefore the afflicted are not listened to. They are like someone whose tongue has been cut out and who occasionally forgets the fact. When they move their lips no ear perceives any sound. And they themselves soon sink into impotence in the use of language, because of the certainty of not being heard.

    That is why there is no hope for the vagrant as he stands before the magistrate. Even if, through his stammerings, he should utter a cry to pierce the soul, neither the magistrate nor the public will hear it. His cry is mute. And the afflicted are nearly always equally deaf to one another; and each of them, constrained by the general indifference, strives by means of self-delusion or forgetfulness to become deaf to his own self.

On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God (1968)[edit]

  • "Science affirms that ..." Science is voiceless; it is the scientists who talk.
    • Simone Weil, “Reflections on quantum theory,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 57
  • My purpose here is to denounce an idea which seems to be dangerous and false. ... Revolutionary trade unionists and orthodox communists are at one in considering everything that is purely theoretical as bourgeois. ... The culture of a socialist society would be a synthesis of theory and practice; but to synthesize is not the same as to confuse together; it is only contraries that can be synthesized. ... Marx’s principal glory is to have rescued the study of societies not only from Utopianism but also and at the same time from empiricism. ... Humanity cannot progress by importing into theoretical study the processes of blind routine and haphazard experiment by which production has so long been dominated. ... The true relation between theory and application only appears when theoretical research has been purged of all empiricism.
    • Simone Weil, “The teaching of mathematics,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 71-72
  • Respectable scientists like de Broglie himself accept wave mechanics because it confers coherence and unity upon the experimental findings of contemporary science, and in spite of the astonishing changes it implies in connection with ideas of causality, time, and space, but it is because of these changes that it wins favor with the public. The great popular success of Einstein was the same thing. The public drinks in and swallows eagerly everything that tends to dispossess the intelligence in favor of some technique; it can hardly wait to abdicate from intelligence and reason and from everything that makes man responsible for his destiny.
    • Simone Weil, “Wave Mechanics,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 75
  • Men ... ask nothing better, it would seem, than to leave their destiny, their life, and all their thoughts in the hands of a few men with a gift for the exclusive manipulation of this or that technique.
    • Simone Weil, “Wave Mechanics,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 75
  • There are necessities and impossibilities in reality which do not obtain in fiction, any more than the law of gravity to which we are subject controls what is represented in a picture. ... It is the same with pure good; for a necessity as strong as gravity condemns man to evil and forbids him any good, or only within the narrowest limits and laboriously obtained and soiled and adulterated with evil. ... The simplicity which makes the fictional good something insipid and unable to hold the attention becomes, in the real good, an unfathomable marvel.
    • Simone Weil, “Morality and literature,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), pp. 160-161
  • During the last quarter of a century all the authority associated with the function of spiritual guidance ... has seeped down into the lowest publications. ... Between a poem by Valéry and an advertisement for a beauty cream promising a rich marriage to anyone who used it there was at no point a breach of continuity. So as a result of literature’s spiritual usurpation a beauty cream advertisement possessed, in the eyes of little village girls, the authority that was formerly attached to the words of priests.
    • Simone Weil, “Morality and literature,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 164
  • When, as a result of what was called Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the priests had in fact almost entirely lost this function of guidance. Their place was taken by writers and scientists. In both cases it is equally absurd. Mathematics, physics, and biology are as remote from spiritual guidance as the art of arranging words. When that function is usurped by literature and science it proves there is no longer any spiritual life.
    • Simone Weil, “Morality and literature,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), pp. 164-165
  • It is not only in literature that fiction generates immorality. It does it also in life itself. For the substance of our life is almost exclusively composed of fiction. We fictionalize our future, and, unless we are heroically devoted to truth, we fictionalize our past, refashioning it to our taste. We do not study other people; we invent what they are thinking, saying, and doing. Reality provides us with some raw material, just as novelists often take a theme from a news item, but we envelop it in a fog in which, as in all fiction, values are reversed, so that evil is attractive and good is tedious.
    • Simone Weil, “Morality and literature,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), pp. 161-162
  • The essential characteristic of the first half of the twentieth century is the growing weakness, and almost the disappearance, of the idea of value.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 167
  • Dadaism and surrealism ... represented the intoxication of total license, the intoxication in which the mind wallows when it has made a clean sweep of value and surrendered to the immediate. The good is the pole towards which the human spirit is necessarily oriented, not only in action but in every effort, including the effort of pure intelligence. The surrealists have set up non-oriented thought as a model; they have chosen the total absence of value as their supreme value. Men have always been intoxicated by license, which is why, throughout history, towns have been sacked. But there has not always been a literary equivalent for the sacking of towns. Surrealism is such an equivalent.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 167
  • Such words as spontaneity, sincerity, gratuitousness, richness, enrichment—words which imply an almost total indifference to contrasts of value—have come more often from their [the surrealists’] pens than words which contain a reference to good and evil. Moreover, this latter class of words has become degraded, especially those which refer to the good, as Valéry remarked some years ago. Words like virtue, nobility, honor, honesty, generosity, have become almost impossible to use or else they have acquired bastard meanings; language is no longer equipped for legitimately praising a man’s character.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 168
  • In a general way, the literature of the twentieth century is essentially psychological; and psychology consists of describing states of the soul by displaying them all on the same plane, without any discrimination of value, as though good and evil were external to them, as though the effort toward the good could be absent at any moment from the thought of any man.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 168
  • There is a certain kind of morality which is even more alien to good and evil than amorality is.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 169

Gravity and Grace (1947)[edit]

  • All created things refuse to satisfy me as ends.
  • Every order which transcends another can only be introduced into it under the form of something infinitely small.
  • Supernatural love has no contact with force, moreover it does not protect the soul against the coldness of force, the coldness of steel. Only an earthly attachment, if it has in it enough energy, can afford protection against the coldness of steel. Armor is made of metal in the same way as the sword. If we want a love which will protect the soul from wounds we must love something other than God.
  • What evil violates is not goodness, for goodness is inviolate; only a degraded good can be violated.
  • Beings are not sacred enough to me. May I never sully anything, even though I be utterly transformed into mud. To sully nothing, even in thought. Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.
  • It is impossible to forgive whoever ... has lowered us. We have to think that he has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.
  • Headaches. At a certain moment, the pain is lessened by projecting it into the universe, but the universe is impaired; the pain is more intense when it comes home again, but something in me does not suffer and remains in contact with the universe which is not impaired. ... Treat all sufferings in this way. Prevent them from having access to things.
  • A situation which is too hard degrades us through the following process: as a general rule the energy supplied by the higher emotions is limited. If the situation requires us to go beyond this limit we have to fall back on lower feelings (fear, covetousness, desire to beat the record, love of outward honours) which are richer in energy. This limitation is the key to many a retrogression.
  • A beloved being who disappoints me. I have written to him. It is impossible that he should not reply by saying what I have said to myself in his name. Men owe us what we imagine they will give us. We must forgive them this debt. To accept the fact that they are other than the creatures of our imagination is to imitate the renunciation of God. I am also other than I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness.
    • Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (1972), p. 9 [The bracketed explanation is quoted from her Waiting on God, p. 97]
  • The good seems to us as a nothingness, since there is no thing that is good. But this nothingness is not unreal. Compared with it, everything in existence is unreal.
  • We must leave on one side the beliefs which fill up voids and sweeten what is bitter. The belief in immortality. The belief in the utility of sin: etiam peccata. The belief in the providential ordering of events—in short the “consolations” which are ordinarily sought in religion.
  • Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached.
  • Attachment is no more nor less than an insufficiency in our sense of reality. We are attached to the possession of a thing because we think that if we cease to possess it, it will cease to exist.
  • Human misery would be intolerable if it were not diluted in time. We have to prevent it from being diluted in order that it should be intolerable.
  • Purification is the separation of good from covetousness.
  • The presence of the dead person is imaginary, but his absence is very real: henceforward it is his way of appearing.
  • Though they [the afflicted] may have lost their ‘I’, it does not mean that they have no more egoism. Quite the reverse. ... The being is reduced to naked, vegetative egoism. An egoism without an ‘I’.
  • Action is the pointer which shows the balance. We must not touch the pointer but the weight.
  • We are drawn toward a thing because we believe it is good. We end by being chained to it because it has become necessary.
  • Things of the senses are real if considered as perceptible things, but unreal if considered as goods.
  • We accept the false values which appear to us, and when we think we are acting, we are in reality motionless, for we are still confined in the same system of values.
  • We must get rid of the illusion of possessing time. We must become incarnate. Man has to perform an act of incarnation, for he is disembodied by his imagination.
  • We believe we are rising because while keeping the same base inclinations (for instance: the desire to triumph over others) we have given them a noble object. We should, on the contrary, rise by attaching noble inclinations to lowly objects.
  • Fear of God in Saint John of the Cross. Is this not the fear of thinking about God when are unworthy; of sullying him by thinking about him wrongly? Through such fear the lower parts of our nature draw away from God.
  • The flesh is dangerous in so far as it refuses to love God, but also in so far as without fitting modesty it pushes itself forward to love him.
  • The determination to fight against a prejudice ... constitutes an utterly sterile effort to get rid of it. In such a case the light of attention is the only thing which is effective, and it is not compatible with polemical intention.
  • All the Freudian system is impregnated with the prejudice which it makes it its mission to fight—the prejudice that everything sexual is vile.
  • We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us—only we humiliate ourselves before false gods.
  • Belief in the existence of other human beings as such is love.
  • Everything which is vile or second-rate in us revolts against purity and needs, in order to save its own life, to soil this purity.
  • The beautiful is that which we cannot wish to change.
  • To assume power over is to soil. To possess is to soil.
  • To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to adore the distance between ourselves and that which we love.
  • The soul is the human being considered as having a value in itself.
  • It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.
  • To wish to escape from solitude is cowardice.
  • Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent. ... It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part. A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Célimène), etc.
  • A certain inferior kind of virtue is good’s degraded image, of which we have to repent, and of which it is more difficult to repent than evil—The Pharisee and the Publican.
  • That which is the direct opposite of an evil never belongs to the order of higher good. It is often scarcely any higher than evil! Examples: theft and the bourgeois respect for property, adultery and the ‘respectable woman,’ the savings bank and waste, lying and ‘sincerity.’
  • Good considered on the level of evil and measured against it as one opposite against another is good of the penal code order. Above there is a good which, in a sense, bears more resemblance to evil than to this low form of good.
  • When we are the victims of illusion we do not feel it to be an illusion but a reality. It is the same perhaps with evil. Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.
  • Most people have a sense of duty about doing certain things that are bad and others that are good. The same man feels it to be a duty to sell for the highest price he can and not to steal, etc. Good for such people is on the level of evil, it is a good without light.
  • The false God changes suffering into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.
  • The crime which is latent in us, we must inflict on ourselves.
  • The most criminal weakness is infinitely less dangerous than the very slightest treason, even thought this should be confined to a purely inward movement of thought lasting no more than an instant.
  • We believe that thought alone does not commit us in any way, but it alone commits us, and license of thought includes all license. Not to think about a thing—supreme faculty.
  • Two conceptions of hell: the ordinary one (suffering without consolation); mine (false beatitude, mistakenly thinking oneself to be in paradise).
  • The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.
  • Time leads us whither we do no wish to go.
  • To say that the world is not worth anything, that life is of no value, and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless what does evil take from us?
  • Leaves and fruit are a waste of energy if our only wish is to rise.
  • In order that we should realize the distance between ourselves and God it was necessary that God should be a crucified slave. For we do not realize distance except in the downward direction.
  • To be innocent is to bear the weight of the entire universe. It is to throw away the counterweight.
  • God gives himself to men either as powerful or as perfect—it is for them to choose.
  • We must be like the father in heaven who does not judge: by him beings judge themselves. We must let all beings come to us, and leave them to judge themselves. We must be a balance.
  • Bad union of opposites (bad because fallacious) is that which is achieved on the same plane as the opposites. Thus the granting of domination to the oppressed. In this way we do not get free from the oppression-domination cycle.
  • The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul—like pincers to catch hold of God.
  • Method of investigation: as soon as we have thought something, try to see in what way the contrary is true.
  • The sword affords deliverance (whether through its handle or its point) from the intolerable weight of our obligation.
  • The most commonplace truth when it floods the whole soul is like a revelation.
  • The wrong way of seeking. The attention fixed on a problem. Another phenomenon due to horror of the void. We do not want to have lost our labour. The heat of the chase. We must not want to find: as in the case of excessive devotion, we become dependent on the object of our efforts. We need an outward reward which chance sometimes provides and which we are ready to accept at the price of a deformation of truth..
  • It is only effort without desire (not attached to an object) which infallibly contains a reward.
  • Love is the teacher of gods and men, for no one learns without desiring to learn.
  • Truth is sought not because it is truth but because it is good.
  • As regards temptations, we must follow the example of the truly chaste woman who, when the seducer speaks to her, makes no answer and pretends not to hear him.
  • In solitude we are in the presence of mere matter (even the sky, the stars, the moon, trees in blossom), things of less value (perhaps) than a human spirit. Its value lies in the greater possibility of attention. If we could be attentive to the same degree in the presence of a human being, ...
  • Extreme purity can contemplate both the pure and the impure; impurity can do neither: the pure frightens it, the impure absorbs it.
  • We must not try to change within ourselves or to efface desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows. We must submit to them passively, just as we do the impressions we receive from colors, according them no greater credit to them than in the latter case. ... We must compel ourselves by violence to act as though we had not a certain desire or aversion, without trying to persuade our sensibility—compelling it to obey. This causes it to revolt and we have to endure this revolt passively, taste of it, savor it, accept it as something outside ourselves, as the pink color of the room with the red window. ... Each time we do violence to ourselves in this spirit we make an advance, slight or great but real, in the work of training the animal within us.
  • When a main trains a dog to perform tricks he does not beat it for the sake of beating it, but in order to train it, and with this in view he only hits it when it fails to carry out a trick. If he beats it without any method he ends by making it unfit for any training, and that is what the wrong sort of asceticism does.
  • The source of my difficulties lies in the fact that, through exhaustion and an absence of vital energy, I am below the level of normal activity. And if something takes me and raises me up I am lifted above it. When such moments come it would seem to me a calamity to waste them in ordinary activities. ... I could consent to the anomaly of behavior resulting from this; but I know, or I believe I know, that I should not do so. It involves crimes of omission towards others.
  • Whatever I may have to bear, when God sends me suffering, I am inescapably forced to suffer all that there is to suffer. Why, when it comes to duty, should I not in like manner do all that there is to be done?
  • The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation.
  • There is nothing nearer to true humility than the intelligence. It is impossible to be proud of our intelligence at the moment when we are really exercising it.
  • The Greeks believed that only truth was suitable for divine things—not error nor approximations. The divine character of anything made them more exacting with regard to accuracy. We do precisely the opposite.
  • The use of reason makes things transparent to the mind. We do not, however, see what is transparent. We see that which is opaque through the transparent—the opaque which was hidden when the transparent was not transparent. ... Reason should be employed only to bring us to the true mysteries, the true undemonstrables, which are reality. The uncomprehended hides the incomprehensible and should on this account be eliminated.
  • Justice. To be ready to admit that another person is something ... completely different from what we read in him.
  • We read, but also we are read by, others. Interferences in these readings. Forcing someone to read himself as we read him (slavery). Forcing others to read us as we read ourselves (conquest).
  • To love our neighbour as ourselves does not mean that we should love all people equally, for I do not have an equal love for all the modes of existence of myself. Nor does it mean that we should never make them suffer, for I do not refuse to make myself suffer.
  • We should have with each person the relationship of one conception of the universe to another conception of the universe, and not to a part of the universe.
  • It is better to say, ‘I am suffering’ than ‘this landscape is ugly’.
  • As collective thought cannot exist as thought, it passes into things (signs, machines ...). Hence the paradox: it is the thing which thinks and the man who is reduced to the state of a thing.
  • Our science is collective like our technics. ... We inherit not only results but methods which we do not understand.
  • How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action? To escape by return to a primitive state is a lazy solution. We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. But it is a task which is beyond our power on account of the shortness of life and the impossibility of collaboration and succession. That is no reason for not undertaking it. The situation of all of us is comparable to that of Socrates when he was awaiting death in his prison and began to learn to play the lyre. At any rate we shall have lived.
  • The spirit, overcome by the weight of quantity, has no longer any other criterion than efficiency.
  • Capitalism has brought about the emancipation of collective humanity with respect to nature. But this collective humanity has itself taken on with respect to the individual the oppressive function formerly exercised by nature.
  • Man is a slave in so far as between action and its effect, between effort and the finished work, there is the interference of alien wills. This is the case both with the slave and the master today. Never can man deal directly with the conditions of his own action. Society forms a screen between nature and man.
  • To be in direct contact with nature and not with men is the only discipline. To be dependent on an alien will is to be a slave. This, however, is the fate of all men. The slave is dependent on the master and the master on the slave. This is a situation which makes us either servile or tyrannical or both at once (omnia serviliter pro dominatione) . On the contrary, when we are face to face with inert nature our only resource is to think.
  • To have to deal directly with things frees the spirit. To have to deal directly with men debases us if we are dependent on them, whether this dependence be in the form of submission or command.
  • Revolt, if it does not immediately pass into definite and effective action, is always changed into its opposite through the feeling of utter impotence which results from it. In other words the chief support of the oppressor lies precisely in the unavailing revolt of the oppressed.
  • The only way to preserve our dignity when submission is forced upon us is to consider our chief as a thing.
  • The powerful, if they carry oppression beyond a certain point, necessarily end by making themselves adored by their slaves. For the thought of being under absolute compulsion, the plaything of another, is unendurable for a human being. Hence, if every way of escape from the constraint is taken from him, there is nothing left for him to do but to persuade himself that he does the things he is forced to do willingly, that is to say, to substitute devotion for obedience. ... It is by this twist that slavery debases the soul: this devotion is in fact based on a lie, since the reasons for it cannot bear investigation. ... Moreover, the master is deceived too by the fallacy of devotion.
  • The collective is the object of all idolatry.
  • That which we want is the absolute good. That which is within our reach is the good which is correlated to evil. We betake ourselves of it by mistake, like the prince who starts to make love to the maid instead of the mistress.
  • It is the social which throws the color of the absolute over the relative.
  • The power of the social element. Agreement between several men brings with it a feeling of reality. It brings with it also a sense of duty. Divergence, where this agreement is concerned, appears as a sin. Hence all returns to the fold are possible. The state of conformity is an imitation of grace.
  • Nothing seems evil to those who serve it except failure in its service.
  • ‘He to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.’ This concerns someone with whom social virtue occupies a very large place. Grace finds little room to spare in him. Obedience to the Great Beast which conforms to the good—that is social virtue. A Pharisee is someone who is virtuous out of obedience to the Great Beast.
  • It is impossible for an order which is higher and therefore infinitely above another to be represented in it except by something infinitely small. A grain of mustard seed, an instant mirroring eternity, etc.
  • A future which is completely impossible, like the ideal of the Spanish anarchists, degrades us far less and differs far less from the eternal than a possible future. It does not even degrade us at all, except through the illusion of its possibility. If it is conceived of as impossible, it transports us into the eternal.
  • We must wish either for that which actually exists or for that which cannot in any way exist—or, still better, for both. That which is and that which cannot be are both outside the realm of becoming.
  • The constant illusion of Revolution consists in believing that the victims of force, being innocent of the outrages that are committed, will use force justly if it is put into their hands.
  • We have to turn all our disgust into a disgust for ourselves.
  • To strive from necessity and not for some good—driven not drawn—in order to maintain our existence just as it is—that is always slavery.
  • Workers need poetry more than bread. They need that their life should be a poem.
  • May the eternal light give, not a reason for living and working, but a sense of completeness which makes the search for any such reason unnecessary. Failing that, the only incentives are fear and gain—fear, which implies the oppression of the people; gain, which implies the corruption of the people.

The Need for Roots (1949)[edit]

  • The popular school’s job is to give more dignity to work by infusing it with thought, and not to make of the working man a thing divided into compartments, which sometimes works and sometimes thinks. Naturally, a peasant who is sowing has to be careful to cast the seed properly, and not to be thinking about lessons learned at school. But the object which engages our attention doesn’t form the whole content of our thoughts. A happy young woman, expecting her first child, and busy sewing a layette, thinks about sewing it properly. But she never forgets for an instant the child she is carrying inside her. At precisely the same moment, somewhere in a prison workshop a female convict is also sewing, thinking, too, about sewing properly, for she is afraid of being punished. One might imagine both women doing the same work at the same time, and having their attention absorbed by the same technical difficulties. And yet a whole gulf of difference lies between one occupation and the other. The whole social problem consists in making the workers pass from one to the other of these two occupational extremes. What is required is that this world and the world beyond, in their double beauty, should be present and associated in the act of work, like the child to be born in the making of the layette. Such an association can be achieved by a mode of presenting thoughts which relates them directly to the movements and operations peculiar to each sort of work, by a process of assimilation sufficiently complete to enable them to penetrate into the very substance of the individual being, and by a habit impressed upon the mind and connecting these thoughts with the work movements.
  • From modern thought to ancient wisdom the path would be short and direct, if one cared to take it.

Rollo May (1909-1994)[edit]

  • You have spent your life making molehills out of mountains—that’s what you’re guilty of. When man was tragic, you made him trivial. When he was picaresque, you called him picayune. When he sufffered passively, you described him as simpering; and when he drummed up enough courage to act, you called it stimulus and response. Man had passion; and when you were pompous and lecturing to your class you called it ‘the satisfaction of basic needs,’ and when you were relaxed and looking at your secretary you called it ‘release of tension.’ You made man over into the image of your childhood erector set or Sunday School maxims—both equally horrendous. ... You didn’t even see the man you were studying! Don’t you think I know he’s a worm at times? But that worm also stands upright and lays stone on stone to make the Parthenon. And that man paused one night on the deser beside the Nile and gazed up at the stars and wondered. And when the stars were setting he went back to his case hut in the hillside and studied the ibis legs painted on hi spottery. And he seized a charred stick from his fire and drew a triangle on the wall, and he made mathematics. And so he taught himself to tell the orbits of the stars, and learned to plant his crops by the rising and falling of the Nile. A worm do that? All that you forgot, didn’t you? ... You thought everybody could be fooled. Everybody but you. You always assumed that you, the fooler, were never fooled! Not a very consistent theory, is it?

Richard Weaver (1910-1963)[edit]

  • The man of culture finds the whole past relevant; the bourgeois and the barbarian find relevant only what has some pressing connection with their appetite.
  • Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and -consuming animal.
  • In the popular arena, one can tell … that the average man … imagines that an industrious acquisition of particulars will render him a man of knowledge. With what pathetic trust does he recite his facts! He has been told that knowledge is power, and knowledge consists of a great many small things.
  • One of the strangest disparities of history lies between the sense of abundance felt by older and simpler societies and the sense of scarcity felt by the ostensibly richer societies of today. Charles Péguy has referred to modern man’s feeling of “slow economic strangulation,” his sense of never having enough to meet the requirement which his pattern of life imposes on him. Standards of consumption which he cannot meet, and which he does not need to meet, come virtually in the guise of duties.
  • The case of the Baconians is not won until it has been proved that the substitution of covetousness for wantlessness, or an ascending spiral of desires for a stable requirement of necessities, leads to a happier condition.
  • Man is constantly being assured that he has more power than ever before in history, but his daily experience is one of powerlessness. … If he is with a business organization, the odds are great that he has sacrificed every other kind of independence in return for that dubious one known as financial.
  • When we affirm that philosophy begins with wonder, we are affirming in effect that sentiment is prior to reason.
  • That it does not matter what a man believes is a statement heard on every side today. … What he believes tells him what the world is for. How can men who disagree about what the world is for agree about any of the minutiae of daily conduct? The statement really means that it does not matter what a man believes so long as he does not take his beliefs seriously.
  • It is characteristic of the barbarian … to insist upon seeing a thing “as it is.” The desire testifies that he has nothing in himself with which to spiritualize it; the relation is one of thing to thing without the intercession of the imagination. Impatient of the veiling with which the man of higher type gives the world imaginative meaning, the barbarian and the Philistine, who is the barbarian living amid culture, demands the access of immediacy. Where the former wishes representation, the latter insists upon starkness of materiality, suspecting rightly that forms will mean restraint.
  • The member of a culture … purposely avoids the relationship of intimacy; he wants the object somehow depicted and fictionalized. … He is embarrassed when this is taken out of its context of proper sentiments and presented bare, for he feels that this is a reintrusion of that world which his whole conscious effort has sought to banish. Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment.
  • Today we have media … which actually specialize in the kind of obscenity which the cultivated, not the prurient, find repugnant. … It is contended that such material is the raw stuff of life, and that it is the duty of the organs of public information to leave no one deceived about the nature of the world. The assertion that this is the real world begs the most important question of all. The raw stuff of life is precisely what the civilized man desires to have refined, or presented in a humane framework, for which sentiment alone can afford the support. … One of the great conspiracies against philosophy and civilization, a conspiracy immensely aided by technology, is just this substitution of sensation for reflection.
  • The disappearance of the heroic ideal is always accompanied by the growth of commercialism. There is a cause-and-effect relationship here, for the man of commerce is by the nature of things a relativist; his mind is constantly on the fluctuating values of the marketplace, and there is no surer way to fail than to dogmatize and moralize about things.
  • Those who based their lives on the unintelligence of sentimentality fight to save themselves with the unintelligence of brutality.
  • There is no difficulty in securing enough agreement for action on the point that education should serve the needs of the people. But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being … then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else. The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority.
  • The prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie. That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues. It neither encourages reflection nor inspires reverence for the good.
  • The average man of the present age … does not want to be a sentimentalist in his endeavors; he wants some measure for purposeful activity; he wants to feel that through the world some increasing purpose runs. … But since his metaphysic calls only for magnitude and number, since it is becoming without a goal, it is not a source of distinctions in value. It is a system of quantitative comparison. Its effect therefore has been to collapse the traditional hierarchy and to produce economic man, whose destiny is mere activity.
  • In proportion as man approaches the outer rim, he becomes lost in details, and the more he is preoccupied with details, the less he can understand them.
  • The most important thing about the gentleman was that he was an idealist. … He was bred up to a code of self-restraint which taught resistance to pragmatic temptation. He was definitely a man of sentiment, who refused to put matters on a basis of materialism and self-aggrandizement.
  • In the countries of Europe, one after another, the gentleman has been ousted by politicians and entrepreneurs, as materialism has given rewards to the sort of cunning incompatible with any kind of idealism.
  • It is an ancient belief, going back to classical antiquity, that specialization of any kind is illiberal in a freeman. A man willing to bury himself in the details of some small endeavor has been considered lost to these larger considerations which must occupy the mind of the ruler.
  • … contempt for the degradation of specialization and pedantry. Specialization develops only part of a man; a man partially developed is deformed.
  • The former distrust of specialization has been supplanted by its opposite, a distrust of generalization. Not only has man become a specialist in practice, he is being taught that special facts represent the highest form of knowledge.
  • Since liberalism has become a kind of official party line, we have been enjoined against saying things about races, religions or national groups, for after all, there is no categorical statement without its implication of value, and values begin divisions among men. We must not define, subsume, or judge; we must rather rest on the periphery and display “sensibility toward the cultural expressions of all lands and peoples.” This is a process of emasculation.
  • The theory of empiricism is plausible because it assumes that accuracy about small matters prepares the way for valid judgment about large ones. What happens, however, is that the judgments are never made. The pedantic empiricist, buried in his little province of phenomena, imagines that fidelity to it exempts him from concern with larger aspects of reality.
  • Fanaticism has been properly described as redoubling one’s effort after one’s aim has been forgotten, and this definition will serve as a good introduction to the fallacy of technology, which is the conclusion that because a thing can be done it must be done. The means absorb completely, and man becomes blind to the very concept of ends.
  • It has been remarked that when one passes among the patients of the psychiatric ward, he encounters among the several sufferers every aspect of normal personality in morbid exaggeration. … As one passes through the modern centers of enterprise and of higher learning, he is met with similar autonomies of development. … The scientist, the technician, the scholar, who have left the One for the Many are puffed up with vanity over their ability to describe precisely some minute portion of the world. Men so obsessed with fragments can no more be reasoned with than other psychotics.
  • The conclusion, so vexatious to democracy, that wisdom and not popularity qualifies for rule may be forced upon us by the peril in atomic energy.
  • The domination of becoming produces another sort of fragmentation, which may be called “presentism.” Allen Tate has made the point that many modern people to whom the word “provincial” is anathema are themselves provincials in the to an extreme degree. Indeed, modernism is in essence a provincialism, since it declines to look beyond the horizon of the moment, just as a countryman may view with suspicion whatever lies beyond his country.
  • The very possibility that there may exist timeless truths is a reproach to the life of laxness and indifference which modern egotism encourages. … Ideas which have their reference to the periphery or individuum, to the particular in space and time, are false and stand in the way of integration.
  • Under the world view possessed by medieval scholars, the path of learning was a path of self-deprecation. … An opposite conception comes in with Bacon’s “knowledge is power.” If the aim of knowledge is domination, it is hardly to be supposed that the possessors of knowledge will be indifferent to their importance. On the contrary, they begin to swell; the seek triumphs in the material world (knowledge being meanwhile necessarily degraded to skills) which inflate their egotism and self-consideration. Such is a brief history of how knowledge passes from a means of spiritual redemption to a basis for intellectual pride.
  • In Greek fable, as in Christian, it is asserted that there is a forbidden knowledge which brings nothing into world but woe. Our generation has had ample demonstration of what that knowledge is. It is knowledge of the useful rather than the true and the good, of techniques rather than of ends.
  • In the absence of truth there is no necessity, and this observation may serve as an index to the position of the modern egotist. Having become incapable of knowing, he becomes incapable of working, in the sense that all work is a bringing of the ideal from potentiality into actuality. … The modern worker does not, save in rare instances, respond to the ideal in the task.
  • Before the age of adulteration it was held that behind each work there stood some conception of its perfect execution. It was this that gave zest to labor and served to measure the degree of success. To the extent that the concept obtained, there was a teleology in work, since the laborer toiled not merely to win sustenance but to see this ideal embodied in his creation. Pride in craftsmanship is well explained by saying that to labor is to pray, for conscientious effort to realize an ideal is a kind of fidelity. The craftsman of old time did not hurry, because the perfect takes no account of time and shoddy work is a reproach to character. But character itself is an expression of self-control, which does not come of taking the easiest way. Where character forbids self-indulgence, transcendence still hovers around.

    When utilitarianism becomes enthroned and the worker is taught that work is use and not worship, interest in quality begins to decline. … There is a difference between expressing one’s self in form and producing quantity for a market with an eye to speculation. Péguy wished to know what had become of the honor of work. It has succumbed to the same forces as have all other expressions of honor.
  • The bourgeoisie first betrayed society through capitalism and finance, and now labor betrays it by embracing a scheme of things which sees profit only, not duty and honor, in work. This view will seem hopelessly unrealistic to those who do not admit that sentiment toward the whole is the only ultimate means of measuring value.
  • The leader may be chosen by the people, but he is guided by the right; and, in the same way, we may say that the worker may be employed by anyone, but that he is directed by the autonomous ideal in the task.
  • Much of the effort of modern politicians is devoted to convincing us that men serve best when they are serving one another. But the one consideration which would make this true is left out; service to others is the best service when the effort of all is subsumed under a transcendental conception. Material gratification does not provide this.
  • The idea that work is something apportioned out by men leaves people discontent with their portion and dubious about whether work is a good thing at all. … The ancient injunction to labor fades when we regard our work as cut out for us by men, who, by present dogma, are no better than ourselves. That curious modern hypostatization “service” is often called in to substitute for the now incomprehensible doctrine of vocation. It tries to secure subordination by hypothesizing something larger than the self, which turns out, however, to be only a multitude of selfish selves. The familiar change from quality to quantity may again be noted; one serves not the higher part of the self (this entails hierarchy) … but merely consumer demand. And who admires those at the top of a hierarchy of consumption? Man as a consuming animal is thus seen to be not enough.
  • When masses of men reach a point at which egotism reigns so blandly, can their political damnation be far off? They have rejected their only guaranty against external control, which is self-discipline, taught and practiced.
  • Modern man … when he looks at his daily newspaper … sees the events of the day refracted through a medium which colors them as effectively as the cosmology of the medieval scientist determined his view of the starry heavens. The newspaper is a man-made cosmos of the world of events around us at the time. For the average reader it is a construct with a set of significances which he no more thinks of examining than did his pious forbear of the thirteenth century—whom he pities for sitting in medieval darkness—think of questioning the cosmology. This modern man, too, lives under a dome, whose theoretical aspect has been made to harmonize with a materialistic conception of the world. And he employs its conjunctions and oppositions to explain the occurrences of his time with all the confidence of the now supplanted discipline of astrology.
  • Plato was disturbed by written discourse because … if an individual goes to it with a question in his mind, it “always gives one unvarying answer.”
  • There is much to indicate that modern publication wishes to minimize discussion. … For one thing, there is the technique of display, with its implied evaluations. This does more of the average man’s thinking for him than he suspects. For another, there is the stereotyping of whole phrases. These are carefully chosen not to stimulate reflection, but to evoke stock responses of approbation or disapprobation. Headlines and advertising teem with them, and we seem to approach a point at which failure to make the stock response is regarded as faintly treasonable. … Journalism becomes a monstrous discourse of Protagoras, which charms by hypnotizing and thwarts that participation without which one is not a thinking man.
  • Modern publication wishes to minimize discussion. … Phrases ... are carefully chosen not to stimulate reflection, but to evoke stock responses of approbation or disapprobation. Headlines and advertising teem with them, and we seem to approach a point at which failure to make the stock response is regarded as faintly treasonable.
  • Nothing is more certain than that whatever has to court public favor for its support will sooner or later be prostituted to utilitarian ends. The educational institutions of the United States afford a striking demonstration of this truth. Virtually without exception, liberal education, that is to say, education centered about ideas and ideals, has fared best in those institutions which draw their income from private sources. They have been able … to insist that education be not entirely a means for breadwinning. This means that they have been relatively free to promote pure knowledge and the training of the mind. … In state institutions, always at the mercy of elected bodies and of the public generally, and under obligation to show practical fruits for their expenditure of money, the movement toward specialism and vocationalism has been irresistible. They have never been able to say that they will do what they will with their own because their own is not private. It seems fair to say that the opposite of the private is the prostitute.
    • Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: 1948), pp. 136-137
  • In former times, when the honor of work had some hold upon us, it was the practice of a maker to give his name to the product … But, as finance capitalism grew and men and property separated, a significant change occurred in names: the new designations shed all connection with the individual and become “General,” “Standard,” “International,” “American.”
  • It is likely … that human society cannot exist without some source of sacredness. Those states which have sought openly to remove it have tended in the end to assume divinity themselves.
  • The word is a sort of deliverance from the shifting world of appearances. The central teaching of the New Testament is that those who accept the word acquire wisdom and at the same time some identification with the eternal.
  • One of the most important revelations about a period comes in its theory of language, for that informs us whether language is viewed as a bridge to the noumenal or as a body of fictions convenient for grappling with transitory phenomena.
  • In recognizing that words have power to define and to compel, the semanticists are actually testifying to the philosophic quality of language which is the source of their vexation. In an attempt to get rid of that quality, they are looking for some neutral means which will be a nonconductor of the current called “emotion” and its concomitant of evaluation.
  • The semanticists are exactly wrong in regarding language as an obstruction or series of pitfalls. Language, on the contrary, appears as a great storehouse of universal memory, or it may be said to serve as a net, not imprisoning us but supporting us and aiding us to get at a meaning beyond present meaning through the very fact that it embodies others’ experiences.
  • The whole tendency of empiricism and democracy in speech, dress and manners has been toward a plainness which is without symbolic significance. The power of symbolism is greatly feared by those who wish to expel from life all that is nonrational in the sense of being nonutilitarian
  • For modern man, … pride reveals itself in impatience, which is an unwillingness to bear the pain of discipline. … In effect his becomes a deification of his own will; man is not making himself like a god but is taking himself as he is and putting himself in the place of God.
  • Education is a process by which the individual is developed into something better than he would have been without it. … The very thought seems in a way the height of presumption. For one thing, it involves the premise that some human beings can be better than others.
    • Richard Weaver, “Education and the individual,” Life Without Prejudice (Chicago: 1965), p. 43
  • One of the first major steps in the direction of modern skepticism came through the victory of Occam over Aquinas in a controversy about language. The statement that modi essendi were replaced by modi significandi et intelligendi, or that ontological referents were abandoned in favor of pragmatic significations, describes broadly the change in philosophy which continues to our time. From Occam to Bacon, from Bacon to Hobbes, and from Hobbes to contemporary semanticists, the progression is clear: ideas become psychological figments, words become useful signs.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 36
  • To one completely committed to this realm of becoming, as are the empiricists, the claim to apprehend verities is a sign of psychopathology. Probably we have here but a highly sophisticated expression of the doctrine that ideals are hallucination and that the only normal, sane person is the healthy extrovert, making instant, instinctive adjustments to the stimuli of the material world.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 37
  • In recognizing that words have the power to define and to compel, the semanticists are actually testifying to the philosophic quality of language which is the source of their vexation. In an attempt to get rid of that quality, they are looking for some neutral means which will be a nonconductor of the current called “emotion” and its concomitant evaluation.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 37
  • The young come to us creatures of imagination and strong affection; they want to feel, but they don’t know how—that is to say, they do not know the right objects and the right measures. And it is entirely certain that if we leave them to the sort of education obtainable today from extra-scholastic sources, the great majority will be schooled in the two vices of sentimentality and brutality. Now great poetry, rightly interpreted, is the surest antidote to both of these. In contrast with journalists and others, the great poets relate the events of history to a pure or noble metaphysical dream, which our students will have all their lives as a protecting arch over their system of values.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 51
  • The discipline of poetry may be expected first to teach the evocative power of words, to introduce the student, if we may so put it, to the mighty power of symbolism, and then to show him that there are ways of feeling about things which are not provincial either in space or time.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), pp. 52-53
  • Poetry offers the fairest hope of restoring our lost unity of mind.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 53
  • Drill in exact translation is an excellent way of disposing the mind against that looseness and exaggeration with which the sensationalists have corrupted our world. If schools of journalism knew their business, they would graduate no one who could not render the Greek poets.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 53
  • Until the world perceives that “good” cannot be applied to a thing because it is our own, and “bad” because it is another’s, there is no prospect of realizing community.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 54
  • In dialectic the student ... will get training in thinking, whereas the best that he gets now is a vague admonition to think for himself.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Power of the Word,” Language is Sermonic (1970), p. 55

Paul Goodman (1911-1972)[edit]

  • Social scientists ... have begun to think that “social animal” means “harmoniously belonging.” They do not like to think that fighting and dissenting are proper social functions, nor that rebelling or initiating fundamental change is a social function. Rather, if something does not run smoothly, they say it has been improperly socialized; there has been a failure in communication. ... But perhaps there has not been a failure in communication. Perhaps the social message has been communicated clearly to the young men and is unacceptable. ... We must ask the question, “Is the harmonious organization to which the young are inadequately socialized perhaps against human nature, or not worthy of human nature, and therefore there is difficulty in growing up?”
  • It is desperately hard these days for an average child to grow up to be a man, for our present organized system does not want men. They are not safe.
  • It is hard to grow up in a society in which one’s important problems are treated as nonexistent. It is impossible to belong to it, it is hard to fight to change it.
  • The ideal of having a real job that you risk your soul in and make good or be damned, belongs to the heroic age of capitalist enterprise, imbued with self-righteous beliefs about hard work, thrift, and public morals. Such an ideal might still have been mentioned in public fifty years ago; in our era of risk-insured semimonopolies and advertised vices it would be met with a ghastly stillness.
  • To want a job that exercises a man’s capacities in an enterprise useful to society, is utopian anarcho-syndicalism; it is labor invading the domain of management. No labor leader has entertained such a thought in our generation. Management has the “sole prerogative” to determine the products.
  • Because of their historical theory of the “alienation of labor” (that the worker must become less and less in control of the work of his hands) the Marxist parties never fought for the man-worthy job itself.
  • Not to teach the whole curriculum is to give up on the whole man.
  • We certainly have at present the dismal situation that the most imaginative men are directed by a group, the top managers, who are among the least.
  • The irony is that in our decades, the combination of rationalism, asceticism, and individualism (the so-called Protestant Ethic) has produced precisely the system of boondoggling, luxury-consumption, and status.
  • The ancient dream of man to fly among the stars and go through the could and look down on the lands and seas has degenerated in its realization to the socialized and apathetic behavior of passengers who hardly look out the windows.
  • When the sciences are supreme, average people lose their feeling of causality.
  • A well-known magazine asks a man how they should refer to him, as Psychologist X, as Author X? He suggests man of letters, for that is what he is, in the eighteenth-century meaning. But they can’t buy that because the word doesn’t exist in Time-style; he cannot be that, and presumably the old function of letters cannot exist.
  • One striking characteristic of modern education is the unanimous disapproval of exploiting the powerful feeling of shame. ... Yet in ancient education, e.g. in the Socratic dialogs, this very arousal of shame is a chief device; the teacher greets the hot flush as a capital sign that the youth is educable, he has noble aims. Such a youth has dignity in his very shame.

    The difference seems to be that we cannot offer available opportunities for honor, we do not have them; and therefore we must protect what shreds of dignity the youth has. Since he has no future, if we make him ashamed of his past and present, he is reduced to nothing. In other ages, the community had plenty of chances of honor, and to belong to the community itself was an honor.
  • The way in which our society does do honor to its indubitably great men ... is a study in immunizing people against their virus. ... They are the menagerie of Very Important People who exist only for ceremonial occasions. ... This effectually prevents the two practical uses that we could make of them. We neither take seriously the simple, direct, fearless souls that they invariably are, whether humble or arrogant, to model ourselves after them because they make more sense as human beings; nor do we have recourse the them to help us when we have need of exceptional purity, magnanimity, profundity, or imagination.
  • Few great men could pass personnel.
  • We do not behave as if we believed that the affairs of our world were significant enough for the intervention of great men.
  • Let me formulate the artistic disposition as follows: it is reacting with one’s ideal to the flaw in oneself and in the world, and somehow making that reaction formation solid enough in the medium so that it indeed becomes an improved bit of real world for others.

E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977)[edit]

  • In 1930, [John Maynard Keynes] felt moved to speculate on the “economic possibilities for our grandchildren” and concluded that the day might not be all that far off when everybody would be rich. We shall then, he said, “once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.”

    “But beware!” he continued. “The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and far is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” ...

    The Keynesian message is clear enough: Beware! Ethical considerations are not merely irrelevant, they are an actual hindrance, “for foul is useful and fair is not.” The time for fairness is not yet. The road to heaven is paved with bad intentions. ...

    The question with which to start my investigation is obviously this: Is there enough to go round? Immediately we encounter a serious difficulty: What is ‘enough’? Who can tell us? Certainly not the economist who pursues “economic growth” as the highest of all values, and therefore has no concept of “enough.” There are poor societies which have too little; but where is the rich society that says: “Halt! We have enough”? There is none. ...

    Keynes, in the same essay from which I have quoted already, advised us that the time was not yet for a “return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue—that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable.” ...

    If Keynes says that “foul is useful and fair is not,” he propounds a statement of fact which may be true or false; or it may look true in the short run and turn out to be false in the longer run. Which is it?

    I should think that there is now enough evidence to demonstrate that the statement is false in a very direct, practical sense. If human vices such as greed and envy are systematically cultivated, the inevitable result is nothing less than a collapse of intelligence. A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things as they really are, of seeing things in their roundness and wholeness, and his very successes become failures. If whole societies become infected by these vices, they may indeed achieve astonishing things but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence. The Gross National Product may rise rapidly: as measured by statisticians but not as experienced by actual people, who find themselves oppressed by increasing frustration, alienation, insecurity, and so forth. After a while, even the Gross National Product refuses to rise any further, not because of scientific or technological failure, but because of a creeping paralysis of non-cooperation, as expressed in various types of escapism on the part, not only of the oppressed and exploited, but even of highly privileged groups. ...

    The foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man. ...

    Man is far too clever to be able to survive without wisdom. No one is really working for peace unless he is working primarily for the restoration of wisdom. The assertion that “foul is useful and fair is not” is the antithesis of wisdom. The hope that the pursuit of goodness and virtue can be postponed until we have attained universal prosperity and that by the single-minded pursuit of wealth, without bothering our heads about spiritual and moral questions, we could establish peace on earth, is an unrealistic, unscientific, and irrational hope.
  • The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of stride and war.

Max Frisch (1911-1991)[edit]

  • Technology [is] the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.
    • Max Frisch, Homo Faber, Michael Bullock, trans. (1959),

E. M. Cioran (1911-1995)[edit]

The poor, by thinking unceasingly of money, reach the point of losing the spiritual advantages of non-possession, thereby sinking as low as the rich.
  • Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.
  • The fear of being deceived is the vulgar version of the quest for truth.
  • The poor, by thinking unceasingly of money, reach the point of losing the spiritual advantages of non-possession, thereby sinking as low as the rich.
  • To go still further than Buddha, to raise oneself above Nirvana, to learn to do without it..., to be stopped by nothing, not even the notion of deliverance, regarding it as a mere way-station, an embarrassment, an eclipse.
  • True moral elegance consists in the art of disguising one's victories as defeats.

Weston La Barre (1911-1996)[edit]

  • We have too long supposed that the Unknown mysterium tremendum et fascinosum of religion was outside us, when in fact that Unknown, although ego-alien or unconscious, was all the while within us: the alleged “supernatural” is the human “subconscious.”
  • Like the paranoid schizophrenic, the vatic personality pretends to be talking about the grandiose outside cosmic world, but he is really talking grandiosely in symbolic ways only about his narcissistic self and his inner world. The mystic pretends to discard his sensory self in order to meld with the cosmic Self; but in discarding his senses he abjures his only connection with the cosmos and re-encounters only himself. The realities he expounds are inside him.

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)[edit]

  • In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. A simple example: a dam has been built somewhere, and it bursts. Who is responsible for that? Geologists worked out. They examined the terrain. Engineers drew up the construction plans. Workmen constructed it. And the politicians decided that the dam had to be in that spot. Who is responsible? No one. There is never anyone responsible. Anywhere. In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. But no one is free either. Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all he has to do.

    Just consider, for example, that atrocious excuse… It was one of the most horrible things I have ever heard. The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.
  • I know many people who like watching commercials because they're so funny. They provide relaxation and diversion. People come home after a day's work, from which they derive little satisfaction, and feel the need for diversion and amusement. The word diversion itself is already very significant. When Pascal uses the word diversion he means that people who follow the path of God deviate from the path which leads them to God as a result of diversion and amusement. Instead of thinking of God, they amuse themselves. So, instead of thinking about the problems which have been created by technology and our work we want to amuse ourselves.
  • Mankind in the technological world is prepared to give up his independence in exchange for all kinds of facilities and in exchange for consumer products and a certain security. In short, in exchange for a package of welfare provisions offered to him by society. As I was thinking about that I couldn't help recalling the story in the Bible about Esau and the lentil broth. Esau, who is hungry, is prepared to give up the blessings and promise of God in exchange for some lentil broth. In the same way, modern people are prepared to give up their independence in exchange for some technological lentils.
  • The question now is whether people are prepared or not to realize that they are dominated by technology. And to realize that technology oppresses them, forces them to undertake certain obligations and conditions them. Their freedom begins when they become conscious of these things. For when we become conscious of that which determines our life we attain the highest degree of freedom.
  • We must not think of the problem in terms of a choice between being determined and being free. We must look at it dialectically, and say that man is indeed determined, but that it is open to him to overcome necessity, and that this act is freedom. Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.
  • As long as technique was represented by exclusively by the machine, it was possible to speak of “man and machine.” The machine remained an external object, and man (though significantly influenced by it in his professional, private, and psychic life) remained none the less independent. He was in a position to assert himself apart from the machine; he was able to adopt a position with respect to it.

    But when technique enters into every area of life, including the human, it ceases to be external to man and becomes his very substance. It is no longer face to face but is integrated with him, and it progressively absorbs him. In this respect, technique is radically different from the machine. This transformation, so obvious in modern society, is the result of the fact that technique has become autonomous.
  • Our civilization is first and foremost a civilization of means; in the reality of modern life, the means, it would seem, are more important than the ends.
  • No technique is possible when men are free. When technique enters into the realm of social life, it collides ceaselessly with the human being to the degree that the combination of man and technique is unavoidable, and that technical action necessarily results in a determined result. Technique requires predictability and, no less, exactness of prediction. It is necessary, then, that technique prevail over the human being. For technique, this is a matter of life or death. Technique must reduce man to a technical animal, the king of the slaves of technique. Human caprice crumbles before this necessity; there can be no human autonomy in the face of technical autonomy. The individual must be fashioned by techniques, either negatively (by the techniques of understanding man) or positively (by the adaptation of man to the technical framework), in order to wipe out the blots his personal determination introduces into the perfect design of the organization.

John Passmore (1914-2004)[edit]

  • If “humility” means nothing more than the capacity to learn from criticism, then it has an undoubted value; but if “humility” means a willingness to submit to authority—to abandon or to modify what one is doing merely because it does not accord with the teachings of the Bible or the thoughts of Chairman Mao—then it is death to the spirit: the proper name for it, indeed, is “servility.”

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970)[edit]

  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in a mordant protest written soon after the [1952] election, found the intellectual “in a situation he has not known for a generation.” After twenty years of Democratic rule, during which the intellectual had been in the main understood and respected, business had come back into power, bringing with it “the vulgarization which has been the almost invariable consequence of business supremacy.”
  • Anti-intellectualism ... has been present in some form and degree in most societies; in one it takes the form of the administering of hemlock, in another of town-and-gown riots, in another of censorship and regimentation, in still another of Congressional investigations.
  • Anti-intellectualism ... first got its strong grip on our ways of thinking because it was fostered by an evangelical religion that also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality. It has become formidable in our education partly because our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must be excised from the benevolent impulses upon which it lives by constant and delicate acts of intellectual surgery which spare these impulses themselves.
  • The professional man lives off ideas, not for them. ... He has acquired a stock of mental skills that are for sale. The skills are highly developed, but we do not think of him as being an intellectual if certain qualities are missing from his work—disinterested intelligence, generalizing power, free speculation, fresh observation, creative novelty, radical criticism. At home he may happen to be an intellectual, but at his job he is a hired mental technician who uses his mind for the pursuit of externally determined ends. It is this element—the fact that ends are set from some interest or vantage point outside the intellectual process itself—which characterizes both the zealot, who lives obsessively for a single idea, and the mental technician, whose mind is used not for free speculation but for a salable end. The goal here is external and not self-determined, whereas the intellectual life has a certain spontaneous character and inner determination. It has also a peculiar poise of its own, which I believe is established by a balance between two basic qualities in the intellectual’s attitude toward ideas—qualities that may be designated as playfulness and piety.
  • An intellectual ... lives for ideas—which means that he has a sense of dedication to the life of the mind which is very much like a religious commitment. This is not surprising, for in a very important way the role of the intellectual is inherited from the office of the cleric: it implies a special sense of the ultimate value in existence of the act of comprehension. Socrates, when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, struck the essence of it. We can hear the voices of various intellectuals in history repeating their awareness of this feeling, in accents suitable to time, place and culture. “The proper function of the human race, taken in the aggregate,” wrote Dante in De Monarchia, “is to actualize continually the entire capacity possible to the intellect, primarily in speculation, then through its extension and for its sake, secondarily in action.” The noblest thing, and the closest possible to divinity, is thus the act of knowing.
  • Intellectualism, though by no means confined to doubters, is often the sole piety of the skeptic.
  • It is the historic glory of the intellectual class of the West in modern times that, of all the classes which could be called in any sense privileged, it has shown the largest and most consistent concern for the well-being of the classes which lie below it in the social scale.
  • The intellectual ... may live for ideas, as I have said, but something must prevent him from living for one idea, from becoming obsessive or grotesque. Although there have been zealots whom we may still regard as intellectuals, zealotry is a defect of the breed and not of the essence.
  • If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas, it is having an excess of commitment to some special and constricting idea. The effect is as observable in politics as in theology: the intellectual function can be overwhelmed by an excess of piety expended within too contracted a frame of reference.
  • Piety, then, needs a counterpoise, something to prevent it from being exercised in an excessively rigid way; and this it has, in most intellectual temperaments, in the quality I would call playfulness. We speak of the play of the mind; and certainly the intellectual relishes the play of the mind for its own sake, and finds in it one of the major values in life. What one thinks of here is the element of sheer delight in intellectual activity. Seen in this guise, intellect may be taken as the healthy animal spirits of the mind, which come into exercise when the surplus of mental energies is released from the tasks required for utility and mere survival. “Man is perfectly human,” said Schiller, “only when he plays.” And it is this awareness of an available surplus beyond the requirements of mere existence that his maxim conveys to us. Veblen spoke often of the intellectual faculty as “idle curiosity”—but this is a misnomer in so far as the curiosity of the playful mind is inordinately restless and active. This very restlessness and activity gives a distinctive cast to its view of truth and its discontent with dogmas.
  • As with the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of truth is itself gratifying whereas the consummation often turns out to be elusive.
  • Whatever the intellectual is too certain of, if he is healthily playful, he begins to find unsatisfactory. The meaning of his intellectual life lies not in the possession of truth but in the quest for new uncertainties.
  • In using the terms play and playfulness, I do not intend to suggest any lack of seriousness; quite the contrary. Anyone who has watched children, or adults, at play will recognize that there is no contradiction between play and seriousness, and that some forms of play induce a measure of grave concentration not so readily called forth by work.
  • Intellect is neither practical nor impractical; it is extra-practical.
  • To the zealot overcome by his piety and to the journeyman of ideas concerned only with his marketable mental skills, the beginning and end of ideas lies in their efficacy with respect to some goal external to intellectual processes.
  • Historically, it may be useful to fancy playfulness and piety as being the respective residues of the aristocratic and priestly backgrounds of the intellectual function. The element of play seems to be rooted in the ethos of the leisure class, which has always been central in the history of creative imagination and humanistic learning. The element of piety is reminiscent of the priestly inheritance of the intellectuals: the quest for and the possession of truth was a holy office. As their legatee, the modern intellectual inherits the vulnerability of the aristocrat to the animus of Puritanism and egalitarianism and the vulnerability of the priest to anticlericalism and popular assaults upon hierarchy. We need not be surprised, then, if the intellectual’s position has rarely been comfortable in a country which is, above all others, the home of the democrat and the antinomian.
  • The intellectual’s ... playfulness, in its various manifestations, is likely to seem to most men a perverse luxury; in the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence. His piety is likely to seem nettlesome, if not actually dangerous. And neither quality is considered to contribute very much to the practical business of life.
  • There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies.
  • Intellect needs to be understood not as some kind of claim against the other human excellences for which a fatally high price has to be paid, but rather as a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consummated.

Walter Kaufmann (1921-1980)[edit]

  • In the process of teaching and writing one must constantly consider the thoughts of men with different ideas. And prolonged and ever-new exposure to a wide variety of outlooks—together with the criticism many professors seek from both their students and their colleagues—is a more profound experience than most people realize. It is a long-drawn-out trial by fire, marked by frequent disillusionment, discoveries, and despair, and by a growing regard for honesty, which is surely one of the most difficult of all the virtues to attain. What one comes up with in the end owes quite as much to this continual encounter as it does to any other experience.
    • Walter Kaufmann, “The faith of a heretic,” Harper's Magazine, February 1959
  • We have no wish to indoctrinate; we want to teach our students to resist indoctrination and not accept as authoritative the beliefs of other men or even the ideas that come to us as in a flash of illumination. Even if one has experiences that some men would call mystical—and I have no doubt that I have had many—it is a matter of integrity to question such experiences and any thoughts that were associated with them as closely and as honestly as we should question the “revelations” of others. To be sure, it is easier to grant others their “revelations” as “true for them” while insisting on one's own as “true for oneself.” Such intellectual sluggishness parades as sophistication. But true tolerance does not consist in saying, “You may be right, but let us not make hard demands on ourselves: if you will put your critical intelligence to sleep, I'll put mine to bed, too.” True tolerance remains mindful of the humanity of those who make things easy for themselves and welcomes and even loves honest and thoughtful opposition above less thoughtful agreement.
    • Walter Kaufmann, “The faith of a heretic,” Harper's Magazine, February 1959
  • Popular Buddhism with its profuse idolatry, its relics, and its superstitions repels me, and I have reservations even about the teachings of the Buddha. I admire much of his profound analysis of man's condition: the world has no purpose; it is up to us to give our lives a purpose; and we cannot rely on any supernatural assistance. Life is full of suffering, suffering is rooted in desire and attachment, and much desire and attachment are rooted in ignorance. By knowledge, especially of the Buddha's teachings, it is possible to develop a pervasive detachment, not incompatible with a mild, comprehensive compassion—and to cease to suffer. But ... the price for the avoidance of all suffering is too high. Suffering and sacrifice can be experienced as worthwhile: one may find beauty in them and greatness through them.
    • Walter Kaufmann, “The faith of a heretic,” Harper's Magazine, February 1959
  • I do not read [the Old Testament] as mere literature; rather, I read Sophocles and Shakespeare with all my being, too.
    • Walter Kaufmann, “The faith of a heretic,” Harper's Magazine, February 1959
  • Nietzsche [in The Gay Science § 143] denounced monotheism for preaching the existence of one Normalgott as a single norm which suggests somehow that there is also a Normalmensch: a norm to which all men must conform and a bar to the development of individuality. It was the advantage of polytheism, Nietzsche contends, that it allowed for a “multiplicity of norms.” (Gay Science § 143)
  • Faith takes the place of action: instead of perfecting oneself, one has faith that Christ was perfect

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)[edit]

  • And once you have walked the length of your mind, what
    You command is clear as a lading-list.
    Anything else must not, for you, be thought
    To exist.
    And what’s the profit? Only that, in time,
    We half-identify the blind impress
    All our behavings bear, may trace it home.
    But to confess,
    On that green evening when our death begins,
    Just what it was, is hardly satisfying,
    Since it applied only to one man once,
    And that one dying.

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010)[edit]

  • To know oneself means, among other things, to know oneself qua non-sage: that is, not as a sophos, but as a philo-sophos, someone on the way toward wisdom.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 90
  • We may get some idea of the change in perspective that may occur in our reading and interpretation of the philosophical works of antiquity when we consider them from the point of view of the practice of spiritual exercises. Philosophy then appears in its original aspect: not as a theoretical construct, but as a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way. It is an attempt to transform mankind. Contemporary historians of philosophy are today scarcely inclined to pay attention to this aspect, although it is an essential one. The reason for this is that, in conformity with a tradition inherited from the Middle Ages … they consider philosophy to be purely abstract-theoretical activity.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 107
  • With the advent of medieval Scholasticism, … we find a clear distinction between theologia and philosophia. Theology became conscious of its autonomy qua supreme science, which philosophy was emptied of its spiritual exercises, which, from now on, were relegated to Christian mysticism and ethics. Reduced to the rank of a “handmaid of theology,” philosophy’s role was henceforth to furnish theology with conceptual—and hence purely theoretical—material. When, in the modern age, philosophy regained its autonomy, it still retained many features inherited from this medieval conception. In particular, it maintained its purely theoretical character, which even evolved in the direction of a more and more thorough systemization. Not until Nietzsche, Bergson, and existentialism does philosophy consciously return to being a concrete attitude, a way of life and of seeing the world.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 107
  • Socrates had no system to teach. Throughout, his philosophy was a spiritual exercise, an invitation to a new way of life, active reflection, and living consciousness.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase, p. 157
  • Every person—whether Greek or Barbarian—who is in training for wisdom, leading a blameless, irreproachable life, chooses neither to commit injustice nor return it unto others, but to avoid the company of busybodies, and hold in contempt the places where they spend their time—courts, councils, marketplaces, assemblies—in short, every kind of meeting or reunion of thoughtless people. ... People such as these, who find their joy in virtue, celebrate a festival their whole life long.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 264
  • There was a Socratic style of life (which the Cynics were to imitate), and the Socratic dialogue was an exercise which brought Socrates’ interlocutor to put himself in question, to take care of himself, and to make his soul as beautiful and wise as possible.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 269
  • One of the characteristics of the university is that it is made up of professors who train professors, or professionals training professionals. Education was this no longer directed toward people who were to be educated with a view to become fully developed human beings, but to specialists, in other that they might learn how to train other specialists. This is the danger of “Scholasticism,” that philosophical tendency which began to be sketched at the end of antiquity, developed in the Middle Ages, and whose presence is still recognizable in philosophy today.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 270
  • Philosophy—reduced, as we have seen, to philosophical discourse—develops from this point on in a different atmosphere and environment from that of ancient philosophy. In modern university philosophy, philosophy is obviously no longer a way of life, or a form of life—unless it be the form of life of a professor of philosophy.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 271
  • One could say that what differentiates ancient from modern philosophy is the fact that, in ancient philosophy, it was not only Chrysippus or Epicurus who, just because they had developed a philosophical discourse, were considered philosophers. Rather, every person who lived according to the precepts of Chrysippus or Epicurus was every bit as much a philosopher as they.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase, p. 272
  • Ancient philosophy proposed to mankind an art of living. By contrast, modern philosophy appears above all as the construction of a technical jargon reserved for specialists.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase, p. 272
  • Philosophy in antiquity was an exercise practiced at each instant. It invites us to concentrate on each instant of life, to become aware of the infinite value of the each present moment, once we have replaced it within the perspective of the cosmos. The exercise of wisdom entails a cosmic dimension. Whereas the average person has lost touch with the world, and does not see the world qua world, but rather treats the world as a means of satisfying his desires, the sage never ceases to have the whole constantly present to mind.
    • Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase, p. 273
  • Just as virtuous praxis consists in choosing no other goal than virtue and in wanting to be a good person without seeking any particular interest, so theoretical praxis consists in choosing no goal other than knowledge. It means wanting to know for its own sake, without pursuing any other particular, egoistic interest which would be alien to knowledge. This is an ethics of disinterestedness and objectivity.
    • Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy, Michael Chase trans., p. 81
  • Whereas Platonism and Aristotelianism were reserved for an elite which had the “leisure” to study, carry out research, and contemplate, Epicureanism and Stoicism were addressed to everyone: rich and poor, male and female, free citizens and slaves. Whoever adopted the Epicurean or Stoic way of life would be considered a philosopher, even if he or she did not develop a philosophical discourse
    • Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy, Michael Chase trans., p. 108
  • It is as though, by suppressing the state of dissatisfaction which had absorbed him is the search for a particular object, he [Epicurus] was finally free to become aware of something extraordinary, already present in him unconsciously: the pleasure of his own existence
    • Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy, Michael Chase trans., p. 116, describing the doctrines of Epicurus

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)[edit]

  • When the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife—or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984)[edit]

  • We must free ourselves from the sacralization of the social as the only reality and stop regarding as superfluous something so essential in human life and human relations as thought.
    • Michel Foucault, “Practicing criticism, or, is it really important to think?”, interview by Didier Eribon, May 30-31, 1981, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture, ed. L. Kriztman (1988), p. 155
  • Modern man no longer communicates with the madman ... There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence.
  • What is constitutive is the action that divides madness, and not the science elaborated once this division is made.
    • Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, R. Howard, trans. (1988), Preface

Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)[edit]

  • I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.
  • Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the consensus of elites, and it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds, thus helping to establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought while reinforcing the belief that freedom reigns.
  • Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.
  • The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
  • It is only in folk tales, children's stories, and the journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to destroy evil. The real world teaches very different lessons, and it takes willful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.
    • Noam Chomsky, “The World After September 11th”, AFSC Conference at Tufts University, Massachusetts, December 8, 2001

Milan Kundera (b. 1929)[edit]

  • The light that radiates from the great novels time can never dim, for human existence is perpetually being forgotten by man and thus the novelists' discoveries, however old they may be, will never cease to astonish.
  • Every novel says to the reader: ‘Things are not as simple as you think.’ That is the novel’s eternal truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers.
  • How sweet it would be to forget the monster that saps our brief lives as cement for its vain monuments.
    • Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere, cited in Testaments Betrayed (1995), p. 17
  • Suspending moral judgment is not the immorality of the novel; it is its morality. The morality that stands against the ineradicable human habit of judging instantly, ceaselessly, and everyone; of judging before, and in the absence of, understanding. From the view­point of the novel’s wisdom, that fervid readiness to judge is the most detestable stupidity, the most pernicious evil.
  • The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful.
    • Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, M. Heim, trans. (New York: 1984)

Allan Bloom (1930-1992)[edit]

  • Hobbes and Locke, and the American Founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, which lead to civil strife. … In order to make this arrangement work, there was a conscious, if covert, effort to weaken religious beliefs, partly by assigning—as a result of a great epistemological effort—religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge. But the right to freedom of religion belonged to the realm of knowledge. Such rights are not matters of opinion. No weakness of conviction was desired here. … It was possible to expand the space exempt from legitimate social and political regulation only by contracting the claims to moral and political knowledge. ... In the end it begins to appear that full freedom can be attained only when there is no such knowledge at all. ... The inflamed sensitivity induced by radicalized democratic theory finally experiences any limit as arbitrary and tyrannical. There are no absolutes; freedom is absolute. Of course the result is that, on the one hand, the argument justifying freedom disappears and, on the other, all beliefs begin to have the attenuated character that was initially supposed to be limited to religious belief.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 28
  • Only in the Western nations, i.e., those influenced by Greek philosophy, is there some willingness to doubt the identification of the good with one’s own way. One should conclude from the study of non-Western cultures that not only to prefer one’s own way but to believe it best, superior to all others, is primary and even natural—exactly the opposite of what is intended by requiring students to study these cultures. What we are really doing is applying a Western prejudice—which we covertly take to indicate the superiority of our culture—and deforming the evidence of those other cultures to attest to its validity. The scientific study of other cultures is almost exclusively a Western phenomenon, and in its origin was obviously connected with the search for new and better ways, or at least for validation of the hope that our own culture really is the better way, a validation for which there is no felt need in other cultures. … In attacking ethnocentrism, what they actually do is to assert unawares the superiority of their scientific understanding and the inferiority of the other cultures which do not recognize it at the same time that they reject all such claims to superiority.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 36
  • History and the study of cultures do not teach or prove that values or cultures are relative. All to the contrary, that is a philosophical premise that we now bring to our study of them. This premise is unproven and dogmatically asserted for what are largely political reasons. History and culture are interpreted in the light of it, and then are said to prove the premise. Yet the fact that there have been different opinions about good and bad in different times and places in no way proves that none is true or superior to others. To say that it does so prove is as absurd as to say that the diversity of points of view expressed in a college bull session proves there is no truth. On the face of it, the difference of opinion would seem to raise the question as to which is true or right rather than to banish it. The natural reaction is to try to resolve the difference, to examine the claims and reasons for each opinion.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 39
  • It was always known that there were many and conflicting opinions about the good, and nations embodying each of them. Herodotus was at least as aware as we are of the rich diversity of cultures. But he took that observation to be an invitation to investigate all of them to see what was good and bad about each and find out what he could learn about good and bad from them. Modern relativists take that same observation as proof that such investigation is impossible and that we must be respectful of them all. Thus students, and the rest of us, are deprived of the primary excitement derived from the discovery of diversity.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 40
  • Men are likely to bring what are only their prejudices to the judgment of alien peoples. Avoiding that is one of the main purposes of education. But trying to prevent it by removing the authority of men’s reason is to render ineffective the instrument that can correct their prejudices.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 40
  • Openness, as currently conceived, is a way of making surrender to whatever is most powerful, or worship of vulgar success, look principled. It is historicism’s ruse to remove all resistance to history, which in our day means public opinion, a day when public opinion already rules.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 41
  • Television enters not only the room, but also the tastes of old and young alike, appealing to the immediately pleasant and subverting whatever does not conform to it.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 59
  • Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 59
  • My grandparents found reasons for the existence of their family and the fulfillment of their duties in serious writings, and they interpreted their special sufferings with respect to a great and ennobling past. … There was a respect for real learning, because it had a felt connection with their lives. … I do not believe that my generation, my cousins who have been educated in the American way, all of whom are M.D.s or Ph.D.s, have any comparable learning. When they talk about heaven and earth, the relations between men and women, parents and children, the human condition, I hear nothing but clichés, superficialities, the material of satire.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 60
  • The Bible is not the only means to furnish a mind, but without a book of similar gravity, read with the gravity of the potential believer, it will remain unfurnished.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 60
  • Their souls are like mirrors, not of nature, but of what is around.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 61
  • The contempt for the heroic is only an extension of the perversion of the democratic principle that denies greatness and wants everyone to feel comfortable in his skin without having to suffer unpleasant comparisons. Students have not the slightest notion of what an achievement it is to free oneself from public guidance and find resources for guidance within oneself. … Liberation from the heroic only means that they have no resource whatsoever against conformity to the current “role models.” They are constantly thinking of themselves in terms of fixed standards that they did not make. Instead of being overwhelmed by Cyrus, Theseus, Moses or Romulus, they unconsciously act out the roles of the doctors, lawyers, businessmen or TV personalities around them. One can only pity young people without admirations they can respect or avow, who are artificially restrained from the enthusiasm for great virtue.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 66-67
  • Man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection. To attempt to suppress this most natural of all inclinations because of possible abuses is, almost literally, to throw out the baby with the bath. Utopianism is, as Plato taught us at the outset, the fire with which we must play because it is the only way we can find out what we are. We need to criticize false understandings of Utopia, but the easy way out provided by realism is deadly. As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 67
  • Civilization or, to say the same thing, education is the taming or domestication of the soul’s raw passions—not suppressing or excising them, which would deprive the soul of its energy—but forming and informing them as art.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 71
  • Students are not in a position to know the pleasures of reason; they can only see it as a disciplinary and repressive parent.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 72
  • Education is not sermonizing to children against their instincts and pleasures, but providing a natural continuity between what they feel and what they can and should be.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 80
  • A true political or social order requires the soul to be like a Gothic cathedral, with selfish stresses and strains helping to hold it up. Abstract moralism condemns certain keystones, removes them, and then blames both the nature of the stones and the structure when it collapses.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 129-130
  • [Freud’s psychology] turned out to be psychology without the psyche, i.e., without the soul. Freud just did not give a satisfying account of all the things we experience. Everything higher had to be a repression of something lower, and a symbol of something else rather than itself. … Aristotle said that man has two peaks, each accompanied by intense pleasure: sexual intercourse and thinking. … Freud saw only one focus in the soul, the same one as the brutes have, and had to explain all psychology’s higher phenomena by society’s repression or other such versions of the Indian rope trick.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 136-137
  • Freud’s “know thyself” led them to the couch, where they emptied their tank of the compressed fuel, which was intended to power them on their flight from opinion to knowledge.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 137
  • Nihilism in its most palpable sense means that the bourgeois has won, that the future, all foreseeable futures, belong to him, that all heights above him and all depths beneath him are illusory and that life is not worth living on these terms.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 157-158
  • Americans … do not naturally apply the term “bourgeois” to themselves, or to anyone else for that matter. They do like to call themselves middle class, but that does not carry with it any determinate spiritual content. … The term “middle class” does not have any of the many opposites that bourgeois has, such as aristocrat, saint, hero, or artist—all good.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 158
  • Locke had illegitimately selected those parts of man he needed for his social contract and suppressed all the rest, a theoretically unsatisfactory procedure and a practically costly one. The bourgeois is the measure of the price paid, he who most of all cannot afford to look to his real self, who denies the existence of the thinly boarded-over basement in him, who is most made over for the purposes of a society that does not even promise him perfection or salvation but merely buys him off.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 177
  • Honesty compels serious men, on examination of their consciences, to admit that the old faith is no longer compelling. It is the very peak of Christian virtue that demands the sacrifice of Christianity.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 195-196
  • It is Nietzsche’s merit that he was aware that to philosophize is radically problematic in the cultural, historicist dispensation. He recognized the terrible intellectual and moral risks involved. At the center of his every thought was the question “How is it possible to do what I am doing?” He tried to apply to his own thought the teachings of cultural relativism. This practically nobody else does. For example, Freud says that men are motivated by desire for sex and power, but be did not apply those motives to explain his own science or his own scientific activity. But if he can be a true scientist, i.e., motivated by love of the truth, so can other men, and his description of their motives is thus mortally flawed. Or if he is motivated by sex or power, he is not a scientist, and his science is only one means among many possible to attain those ends. This contradiction runs throughout the natural and social sciences. They give an account of things that cannot possibly explain the conduct of their practitioners. The highly ethical economist who speaks only about gain, the public-spirited political scientist who sees only group interest are symptomatic of the difficulty of providing a self-explanation for science and a ground for the theoretical life.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 203-204
  • When the liberal … teaching became dominant, as is the case with most victorious causes, good arguments became less necessary; and the original good arguments, which were difficult, were replaced by plausible simplifications—or by nothing. The history of liberal thought since Locke and Smith has been one of almost unbroken decline in philosophic substance.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 210
  • The man without ideology, the one possessing science, can look to the economic infrastructure and see that Plato’s political philosophy, which teaches that the wise should rule, is only a rationalization for the aristocrats’ position in a slave economy; or that Hobbes’s political philosophy, which teaches man’s freedom in the state of nature and the resulting war of all against all, is only the cover for the political arrangements suitable for the rising bourgeoisie. This point of view provides the foundation for intellectual history, which tells the story behind the story. Instead of looking at Plato and Hobbes for information about what courage is—a subject important to us—we should see how their definitions of courage suited those who controlled the means of production. But what applies to Plato and Hobbes cannot apply to Marx; otherwise the very assertion that these thinkers were economically determined would be itself a deception, simply the ideology for the new exploiters Marx happens to serve. The interpretation would self-destruct. He would not know what to look for in the thinkers who were inevitably and unconsciously in the grip of the historical process, for he would be in the same condition as they were.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 218
  • In the absence of anything else to which to turn, the common beliefs of most men are almost always what will determine judgment. This is just where tradition used to be most valuable. … Tradition does provide a counterpoise to and a repair from the merely current, and contains the petrified remains of old wisdom (along with much that is not wisdom). The active presence of a tradition in a man’s soul gives him a resource against the ephemeral, the kind of resource that only the wise can find simply within themselves. The paradoxical result of the liberation of reason is greater reliance on public opinion for guidance, a weakening of independence.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 246-247
  • Although every man in democracy thinks himself individually the equal of every other man, this makes it difficult to resist the collectivity of equal men. If all opinions are equal, then the majority of opinions, on the psychological analogy of politics, should hold sway.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 247
  • Unless there is some strong ground for opposition to majority opinion, it inevitably prevails. This is the really dangerous form of the tyranny of the majority, not the kind that actively persecutes minorities but the kind that breaks the inner will to resist because there is no qualified source of nonconforming principles and no sense of superior right. The majority is all there is. What the majority decides is the only tribunal.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 247

Harvey Mansfield (b. 1932)[edit]

  • Politics is about who deserves to be more important: which leader from which party with which ideas. Politics assumes that the contest for importance is important; in a grander sense it assumes that human beings are important. Political science today avoids this question. It is inspired by the famous title of a book by Harold D. Lasswell, published in 1935, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How? The focus is on the benefits you get—what, when, and how. It ought to be on the who—on who you think you are and why you are so important as to deserve what you get.
    • Harvey Mansfield, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science”
  • The ambition of political science, to be scientific in the manner of natural science, is the reason why it ignores the question of importance. Scientific truth is objective and is no respecter of persons; it regards the concern for importance as a source of bias, the enemy of truth. Individuals in science can claim prizes, nations can take pride in them, but this sort of recognition is outside science, which is in principle and fact a collective, anonymous enterprise.
    • Harvey Mansfield, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science”
  • The self is a simplification of the notion of soul, created to serve the purposes of the modern sciences of psychology and economics, both of which want you to be happy in a simple, straightforward way they can count.
    • Harvey Mansfield, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science”
  • If self-interest is obvious, it is not really your very own; it has been generalized, perhaps artificially.
    • Harvey Mansfield, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science”
  • The demand for more civility in politics today should be directed toward improving the quality of our insults, seeking civility in wit rather than blandness.
    • Harvey Mansfield, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science”

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)[edit]

  • One of my oldest crusades is against the distinction between thought and feeling... which is really the basis of all anti-intellectual views.
  • Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning.
  • The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one.
  • Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.
  • Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comfortable.
  • The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art—and, by analogy, our own experience—more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that is what it is, rather than to show what it means.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)[edit]

  • The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.

Sarah Kofman (1934-1994)[edit]

  • Dialectics and reflection play the same role for the philosopher as does verse for the poet.
    • Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche and Metaphor (1972), Duncan Large, trans. (Stanford: 1983), p. 13
  • Things are never beautiful by themselves but appear so to anyone who projects on to them his superabundance of life. But just as unconscious activity is unaware of itself as such, so man ‘forgets himself’ as the cause of these ‘beauties’ and imagines that the world itself is laden with them.
    • Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche and Metaphor (1972), Duncan Large, trans. (Stanford: 1983), p. 29

Albert Nolan (b. 1934)[edit]

  • The sinners would have included those who did not pay their tithes (one tenth of their income) to the priests, and those who were negligent about the sabbath rest and about ritual cleanliness. The laws and customs on these matters were so complicated that the uneducated were quite incapable of understanding what was expected of them. Education in those days [Biblical times] was a matter of knowing ... the law and all its ramifications. The illiterate and uneducated were inevitably lawless and immoral. The ‘am ha-arez, or uneducated peasants, ‘the rabble who know nothing of the law’ (John 7:49) were regarded by even the most enlightened Pharisees, like Hillel, as incapable of virtue and piety.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 23
  • The sinners ... did not even have the consolation of feeling they were in God’s good books. The educated people told them that they were displeasing to God and “they ought to know.”
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 24
  • The sinners ... had been taught to think of sin as the failure of observe laws of which they were usually quite ignorant. Sin was therefore not always a fully deliberate act.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 26
  • The remarkable thing about Jesus was that, although he came from the middle class and had no appreciable disadvantages himself, he mixed socially with the lowest of the low and identified himself with them. He became an outcast by choice.

    Why did Jesus do this? What would make a middle-class man talk to beggars and mix socially with the poor? What would make a prophet associate with the rabble who know nothing of the law? The answer comes across very clearly in the gospels: compassion.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 27
  • Miracles are very often thought of, both by those who believe in them and by those who do not, as events, or purported events, that contradict the laws of nature and that therefore cannot be explained by science or reason. But this is not at all what the Bible means by a miracle, as any Biblical scholar will tell you. “The laws of nature” is a modern scientific concept. The Bible knows nothing about nature, let alone the laws of nature.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 33
  • Rejoicing and celebrating with sinners was incomprehensibly scandalous (Luke 15:1). They [the Pharisees] could only assume that he [Jesus] had become a pleasure-seeker, “a drunkard and a glutton” (Luke 7:34).
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 42
  • There can be no doubt that Jesus was a remarkably cheerful person and that his joy, like his faith and hope, was infectious. This was in fact the most characteristic and most noticeable difference between Jesus and John [the Baptist]. As we shall see later, Jesus feasted while John fasted (Luke 7:31-34).
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 42
  • The Christian belief in heaven originated after the death of Jesus with the idea that he had been taken up into heaven or exalted to the right hand of God.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 46
  • Many Christians have been misled for centuries about the nature of God’s kingdom by the well-known mistranslation of Luke 17:21: “The kingdom of God is within you.” Today all serious scholars and translators would agree that the test should read: “The kingdom of God is among you or in your midst.” The Greek word entos can means “within” or “among.”
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 46
  • The kingdom of God, like any other kingdom, cannot be within a man; it is something within which a man can live.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 47
  • The much quoted text, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) does not mean that the kingdom is not, or will not be, in this world or on this earth. ... When Jesus and his disciples are said to be in the world but not of the world, the meaning is clear enough. Although they live in the world they are not worldly, they do not subscribe to the present values and standards of the world. ... The values of the kingdom [of God] are different from, and opposed to, the values of this world. There is no reason for thinking that it means the kingdom will float in the air somewhere above the earth or that it will be an abstract entity without any tangible social and political structure.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 48
  • “Those who humble themselves will be exalted” is not a promise of future prestige to those who have no prestige now or to those who have given up all reliance upon prestige. It is the promise that they will no longer be treated as inferior but will receive full recognition as human beings. Just as the poor are not promised wealth but the satisfaction of their needs—no one shall want; so the little ones are not promised status and prestige but the full recognition of their dignity as human beings.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 57
  • The leaders and scholars of Jesus’ time had first enslaved themselves to the law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of security. Man fears the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely upon the letter of the law. Some men want to be slaves.

    After enslaving themselves to the letter of the law, such men always go on to deny freedom to others. They will not rest until they have imposed the same oppressive burdens upon everyone (Matt 23:4,15).
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 71
  • Jesus wanted to liberate everyone from the law—from all laws. But this could not be achieved by abolishing or changing the law. He had to dethrone the law. He had to ensure that the law be man’s servant and not his master (Mark 2:27-28). Man must therefore take responsibility for his servant, the law, and use it to serve the needs of mankind.
    • Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity: The Gospel of Liberation (1976), p. 72

Edward Said (1935-2003)[edit]

  • For the intellectual class, expertise has usually been a service rendered, and sold, to the central authority of society. This is the trahison des clercs of which Julien Benda spoke in the 1920s. Expertise in foreign affairs, for example, has usually meant the legitimization of the conduct of foreign policy and, what is more to the point, a sustained investment in revalidating the role of experts in foreign affairs. The same sort of thing is true of literary critics and professional humanists, except that their expertise is based upon noninterference in what Vico grandly calls the world of nations but which prosaically might just as well be called “the world.” We tell our students and our general constituency that we defend the classics, the virtues of a liberal education, and the precious pleasures of literature even as we also show ourselves to be silent (perhaps incompetent) about the historical and social world in which all these things take place. ... Humanists and intellectuals accept the idea that ... cultural types are not supposed to interfere in matters for which the social system has not certified them.
    • Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983), pp. 2-3
  • The intellectual origins of literary theory in Europe were, I think it is accurate to say, insurrectionary. The traditional university, the hegemony of determinism and positivism, the reification of ideological bourgeois “humanism,” the rigid barriers between academic specialties: it was powerful responses to all these that linked together such influential progenitors of today’s literary theorist as Saussure, Lukács, Bataille, Lévi-Strauss, Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx. Theory proposed itself as a synthesis overriding the petty fiefdoms within the world of intellectual production, and it was manifestly to be hoped as a result that all the domains of human activity could be seen, and lived, as a unity. ... Literary theory, whether of the Left or the Right, has turned its back on these things. This can be considered, I think, the triumph of the ethic of professionalism. But it is no accident that the emergence of so narrowly defined a philosophy of pure textuality and critical noninterference has coincided with the ascendancy of Reaganism.
    • Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983), pp. 3-4

Donald Phillip Verene (b. 1937)[edit]

  • Contemporary philosophy illustrates Hegel’s dictum that philosophy is its own time apprehended in thought, for in our age philosophy yields to the objectifying technical impulse and loses its ancient task of pursuing the Socratic ideal of the wisdom of the examined life.

Anthony Giddens (b. 1938)[edit]

  • Political economy ... founds its theory of society upon the self-seeking of the isolated individual. Political economy, in this way, “incorporates private property into the very essence of man.”
    • Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971), p. 14 (Quote is from Marx, Early Writings (1964), p. 148)
  • The main form of crude communism is based upon emotional antipathy towards private property, and asserts that all men should be reduced to a similar level, so that everyone has an equal share of property. This is not genuine communism, Marx asserts, since it rests upon the same sort of distorted objectification of labor as is found in the theory of political economy. Crude communism of this sort becomes impelled towards a primitive asceticism, in which the community has become the capitalist instead of the individual. In crude communism, the rule of property is still dominant, but negatively: “Universal envy setting itself up as a power is only a camouflaged form of cupidity which re-establishes itself and satisfies itself in a different way.”
    • Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971), p. 16 (Quote is from Marx, 'Early Writings (1964), p. 154)
  • The main defect of idealism in philosophy and history is that it attempts to analyze the properties of societies by inference from the content of the dominant systems of ideas in those societies. But this neglects altogether the fact that there is not a unilateral relationship between values and power: the dominant class is able to disseminate ideas which are the legitimations of its position of dominance. Thus the ideas of freedom and equality which come to the fore in bourgeois society cannot be taken at their “face value,” as directly summing up social reality; on the contrary, the legal freedoms which exist in bourgeois society actually serve to legitimize the reality of contractual obligations in which propertyless wage-labor is heavily disadvantaged as compared to the owners of capital. ... While ideologies obviously show continuity over time, neither this continuity. nor any changes which occur, can be explained purely in terms of their internal content. Ideas do not evolve on their own account; they do so as elements of the consciousness of men living in society.
    • Anthony Giddens, describing Marx’s view, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971), pp. 41-42

Benjamin R. Barber (b. 1939)[edit]

  • Not only psychiatry itself but also the values reflected in its statistical definition of “normalcy” serve to condition men to habitual, unthinking, conformist behavior.
    • Benjamin R. Barber, “Forced to be Free: An Illiberal Defense of Liberty,” Superman and Common Men (New York: 1971), pp. 68-69

J. M. Coetzee (b. 1940)[edit]

  • Erasmus dramatizes a well-established political position: that of the fool who claims license to criticize all and sundry without reprisal, since his madness defines him as not fully a person and therefore not a political being with political desires and ambitions. The Praise of Folly, therefore sketches the possibility of a position for the critic of the scene of political rivalry, a position not simply impartial between the rivals but also, by self-definition, off the stage of rivalry altogether.
    • J. M. Coetzee, “Erasmus’s Praise of Folly: Rivalry and Madness,” Neophilologus 76 (1992), p. 1
  • It is not, then, in the content or substance of folly that its difference from truth lies, but in where it comes from. It comes not from ‘the wise man’s mouth’ but from the mouth of the subject assumed not to know and speak the truth.
    • J. M. Coetzee, “Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry,” Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (1996), p. 94
  • As during the time of kings it would have been naive to think that the king’s firstborn son would be the fittest to rule, so in our time it is naive to think that the democratically elected ruler will be the fittest. The rule of succession is not a formula for identifying the best ruler, it is a formula for conferring legitimacy on someone or other and thus forestalling civil conflict.
  • If you have reservations about the system and want to change it, the democratic argument goes, do so within the system: put yourself forward as a candidate for political office, subject yourself to the scrutiny and the vote of fellow citizens. Democracy does not allow for politics outside the democratic system. In this sense, democracy is totalitarian.
  • Machiavelli says that if as a ruler you accept that your every action must pass moral scrutiny, you will without fail be defeated by an opponent who submits to no such moral test. To hold on to power, you have not only to master the crafts of deception and treachery but to be prepared to use them where necessary.
  • The modern state appeals to morality, to religion, and to natural law as the ideological foundation of its existence. At the same time it is prepared to infringe any or all of these in the interest of self-preservation.
  • The typical reaction of liberal intellectuals is to seize on the contradiction here: How can something be both wrong and right, or at least both wrong and OK, at the same time? What liberal intellectuals fail to see is that this so-called contradiction expresses the quintessence of the Machiavellian and therefore the modern, a quintessence that has been thoroughly absorbed by the man in the street. The world is ruled by necessity, says the man in the street, not by some abstract moral code. We have to do what we have to do. If you wish to counter the man in the street, it cannot be by appeal to moral principles, much less by demanding that people should run their lives in such a way that there are no contradictions between what they say and what they do. Ordinary life is full of contradictions; ordinary people are used to accommodating them. Rather, you must attack the metaphysical, supra-empirical status of necessità and show that to be fraudulent.

Quentin Skinner (b. 1940)[edit]

  • The lack of freedom suffered by those who advise the powerful may of course be due to coercion or force. But the slavish behavior typical of such counselors may equally well be due to their basic condition of dependence and their understanding of what their clientage demands of them. As soon as they begin to ‘slide into a blind dependence upon one who has wealth and power’, they begin to desire ‘only to know his will’, and eventually ‘care not what injustice they do, if they may be rewarded’.
  • To Namier it had seemed obvious that political theories act as the merest ex post facto rationalisations of political behaviour. If we are looking for explanations of political action, he maintained, we must seek them at the level of ‘the underlying emotions, the music, to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of very inferior quality’. For critics of Namier such as Sir Herbert Butterfield, the only possible retort seemed to be to go back to a famous dictum of Lord Acton's to the effect that ideas are often the causes rather than the effects of public events. But this response duly incurred the scorn of Namier and his followers for the alleged naiveté of supposing that political actions are ever genuinely motivated by the principles used to rationalise them.
  • One of the present values of the past is as a repository of values we no longer endorse, of questions we no longer ask. One corresponding role for the intellectual historian is that of acting as a kind of archaeologist, bringing buried intellectual treasure back to the surface, dusting it down and enabling us to consider what we think of it.
  • It is remarkably difficult to avoid falling under the spell of our own intellectual heritage. As we analyse and reflect on our normative concepts, it is easy to become bewitched into believing that the ways of thinking about them bequeathed to us by the mainstream of our intellectual traditions must be the ways of thinking about them. … The history of philosophy, and perhaps especially of moral, social and political philosophy, is there to prevent us from becoming too readily bewitched. The intellectual historian can help us to appreciate how far the values embodied in our present way of life, and our present ways of thinking about those values, reflect a series of choices made at different times between different possible worlds. This awareness can help to liberate us from the grip of any one hegemonal account of those values and how they should be interpreted and understood. Equipped with a broader sense of possibility, we can stand back from the intellectual commitments we have inherited and ask ourselves in a new spirit of enquiry what we should think of them.

John Carroll (b. 1944)[edit]

  • Utilitarianism had found [in Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help] its portrait gallery of heroes, inscribed with a vigorous exhortation to all men to strive in their image; this philistine romanticism established the bourgeois hero-prototype—the penniless office-boy who works his way to economic fortune and this wins his way into the mercantile plutocracy.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 12
  • In so far as the intention of education is to train the child for a vocation it is a millstone around his neck.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 34
  • The attachment to a rationalistic, teleological notion of progress indicates the absence of true progress; he whose life does not unfold satisfyingly under its own momentum is driven to moralize it, to set up goals and rationalize their achievement as progress.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 34
  • Education is the strongest weapon available for restricting the questions people ask, controlling what they think, and ensuring that they get their thoughts ‘from above’.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 34
  • By punishing the criminal the moral man hopes to dissuade the evil imprisoned in his own breast from escaping. Fear of self is projected in hatred of the immoral other.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 35
  • Stirner and Nietzsche … reveal how prone morality is to being used as a means of rationalization, a cloak for concealing violent and brutish passions, and making their sadistic expression a virtue.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 38
  • Nietzsche himself was a great moralist; his writings abound with value judgments about individuals, character types, modes of thinking, and national traits. It is as if he develops immoralist psychology in order to tame his own nature, to keep his own greatest vice in check.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 38
  • The virtual suppression of ethical discussion after 1845 produces the semblance of purely descriptive analysis, dressed in the mantle of positivist objectivity, analysis which is, in fact, strung to a framework of crude, because unexplicated, moral assumptions.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 80
  • Stirner’s political praxis is quixotic. It accepts the established hierarchies of constraint as given. … Not liable to any radical change, they constitute part of the theatre housing the individual’s action. … The egoist uses the elements of the social structure as props in his self-expressive act.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 85
  • Nietzsche … explicates his preferred distinction between good and bad individuals as non-condemnatory of the latter. A ‘bad person’ is merely devoid of what Nietzsche personally considers to be noble or virtuous qualities; he is not morally evil. Nietzsche’s aim is … to defuse morality of reactive emotion. … It would be futile, tactless, and cruel, he suggests, to try to change a bad person, one with whom one does not empathize; his formula advises: ‘Where you cannot love, pass by’. No one should be blamed for what he is; there is no point in lamenting fate.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 91
  • The ugliness of the ideological lies in its legitimating the pursuit of the trivial.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 92
  • Copernicus and Darwin undermined man’s image of himself as the ‘measure of all things’. Newton provided him with a new hope … that of ‘man as the measurer of all things’.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 97
  • Ownership of thought depends on the thinker not subordinating himself to a ‘ruling thought’. This is particularly difficult, argues Stirner, … for language itself is a network of ‘fixed ideas’. Truths emerge only when language is reworked and possessed individually.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 107
  • Stirner … holds to a joy-principle rather than to a pleasure-principle.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 143
  • Modern anthropology … opposes the utilitarian assumption that the primitive chants as he sows seed because he believes that otherwise it will not grow, the assumption that his economic goal is primary, and his other activities are instrumental to it. The planting and the cultivating are no less important than the finished product. Life is not conceived as a linear progression directed to, and justified by, the achievement of a series of goals; it is a cycle in which ends cannot be isolated, one which cannot be dissected into a series of ends and means.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), pp. 150-151
  • The Inquisitor is the forgiving father, the scientific materialist, and the social engineer. He is the most compassionate, and honest, of politicians; he takes on great burdens of responsibility in order to protect his subjects from ethical doubt. But he also suppresses any attempt to expand their self-consciousness: he is the ‘great simplifier’, the shepherd to a flock of carefree children.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 153
  • Unlike Hegel’s progress model of history, which moves by stages, each containing its own logic of growth and decline, the economic model develops as the simple function of one money-variable over time, with a long-term trend which increases monotonically.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace(1974), p. 168

Russell Jacoby (b. 1945)[edit]

  • Today's banalities apparently gain in profundity if one states that the wisdom of the past, for all its virtues, belongs to the past. The arrogance of those who come later preens itself with the notion that the past is dead and gone. ... The modern mind can no longer think thought, only can locate it in time and space. The activity of thinking decays to the passivity of classifying.
  • The application of planned obsolescence to thought itself has the same merit as its application to consumer goods; the new is not only shoddier than the old, it fuels an obsolete social system that staves off its replacement by manufacturing the illusion that it is perpetually new.
  • Exactly because the past is forgotten, it rules unchallenged; to be transcended it must first be remembered.
  • The original Marxist notion of ideology was conveniently forgotten because it inconveniently did not exempt common sense and empiricism from the charge of ideology.
  • The sundering of a scientific from a poetic truth is the primal mark of the administrative mind.
  • In accepting the bourgeois form of reason as Reason itself, Roszak does his bit to perpetuate its reign.
  • Freud’s link to a Hegelian tradition—with which he otherwise shares little—is in the deliberate renunciation of common sense. “A person who professes to believe in commonsense psychology,” Freud is reported saying once, “and who thinks psychoanalysis is ‘far-fetched’ can certainly have no understanding of it, for it is common sense which produces all the ills we have to cure.”
  • The Adlerians, in the name of “individual psychology,” take the side of society against the individual.
  • Common sense, the half-truths of a deceitful society, is honored as the honest truths of a frank world.
  • [Freud's] concepts are radical in their pursuit of society where it allegedly does not exist: in the privacy of the individual. Freud undid the primal bourgeois distinction between private and public, the individual and society. ... Freud exposed the lie that subject was inviolate; he showed that at every point is was violated.
  • Freudian concepts exposed the fraud of the existence of the “individual.” To be absolutely clear here: the Freudian concepts expose the fraud, not so as to perpetuate it, but undo it. That is, unlike the mechanical behaviorists, the point was not to prove that the individual was an illusion; rather it was to show to what extent the individual did not yet exist.
  • Dialectical logic is loyal to the contradictions, not by the reasoning of “on the one hand and the other” but by tracing the contradictions to their fractured source.
  • The concept of “human existence” suggests an abstract human condition; “class existence” indicts bad conditions. The former suggests a nonexistent egalitarianism, as if master and slave, owner and worker, bomber and bombed all participate in the same universal abstraction. ... The human condition for the rich is the inhuman one for the impoverished.
  • Instead of ideologically synchronizing contradictions, or assigning them to separate halls of the academy, critical theory seeks to articulate them.
  • Those seeking to work out the relationship between Marxism and psychoanalysis have not been immune to the intellectual division of labor that severs the life nerve of dialectical thought.
  • What does cultural pluralism signify in the absence of economic pluralism? Perhaps the question seems meaningless. Yet the apparent lack of meaning signals the intellectual retreat. The economic structure of society—call it advanced industrial society or capitalism or the market economy—stands as the invariant; few can imagine a different economic project. The silent agreement says much about multiculturalism. No divergent political or economic vision animates cultural diversity. From the most militant Afrocentrism to the most ardent feminists, all quarters subscribe to very similar beliefs about work, equality and success. The secret of cultural diversity is its political and economic uniformity. The future looks like the present with more options. Multiculturalism spells the end of utopia.

Terence McKenna (1946-2000)[edit]

  • We're playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not.
  • Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego.

Raymond Geuss (b. 1947)[edit]

  • Nietzsche seems sometimes to replace the “transcendence” which stands at the center of traditional accounts—the existence of a transcendent God, or, failing that, a transcendental viewpoint—with that of a continually transcending activity. … There is no single, final perspective, but given any one perspective, we can always go beyond it.
  • The idea that all problems either have a solution or can be shown to be pseudo-problems is not one I share.
  • Asking what the question is, and why the question is asked, is always asking a pertinent question.
  • Neither the good nor the true is self-realizing, so it is not generally a sufficient explanation of why people believe that X that X is true, or of why people do Y that Y is good.

Camille Paglia (b. 1947)[edit]

  • Modern liberalism suffers unresolved contradictions. It exalts individualism and freedom and, on its radical wing, condemns social orders as oppressive. On the other hand, it expects government to provide materially for all, a feat manageable only by an expansion of its authority and a swollen bureaucracy. In other words, liberalism defines government as a tyrant father but demands it behave as nuturant mother.
  • Men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature. Sky-cult was the most sophisticated step in this process, for its switch of the creative locus from earth to sky is a shift from belly-magic to head-magic. And from this defensive head-magic has come the spectacular glory of male civilization, which has lifted woman with it. The very language and logic modern woman uses to assail patriarchal culture were the invention of men. Hence the sexes are caught in a comedy of historical indebtedness. Man, repelled by his debt to a physical mother, created an alternate reality, a heterocosm to give him the illusion of freedom. Woman, at first content to accept man’s protections but now inflamed with desire for her own illusory freedom, invades man’s systems and suppresses her indebtedness to him as she steals them. … She has inherited the anxiety of influence.
  • Most of western culture is a distortion of reality. But reality should be distorted; that is, imaginatively amended. The Buddhist acquiescence to nature is neither accurate about nature nor just to human potential.

Eckhart Tolle (b. 1948)[edit]

  • When you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in.
  • Create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation.
  • You can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself.
  • The ego ... reduces the present to a means to an end.
  • Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.
  • Cravings are the mind seeking salvation or fulfillment in external things and in the future as a substitute for the joy of Being.
  • Instead of quoting the Buddha, be the Buddha.
  • Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.
  • Even such a seemingly trivial and “normal” thing as the compulsive need to be right in an argument and make the other person wrong—defending the mental position with which you have identified—is due to the fear of death. If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die.
  • The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation. ... Both are illusions.
  • Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future whenever they are not needed. Step out of the time dimension as much as possible in everyday life.
  • Start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape from the Now. You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory.
  • Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.
  • Be present as the watcher of your mind.
  • If you then become excessively focused on the goal, ... the Now is no longer honored. It becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future, with no intrinsic value. Clock time then turns into psychological time. Your life’s journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive.
  • A state of consciousness totally free of all negativity ... is the liberated state to which all spiritual teachings point. It is the promise of salvation, not in an illusory future but right here and now.
  • Hope keeps you focused on the future, and this continued focus perpetuates your denial of the Now and therefore your unhappiness.
  • If there is no joy, ease, or lightness in what you are doing, it does not necessarily mean that you need to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how. “How” is always more important than “what.” See if you can give much more attention to the doing than to the result that you want to achieve through it.
  • Do not be concerned with the fruit of your action—just give attention to the action itself.
  • The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction—you don’t look to it for salvation.
  • To be free of time is to be free of the psychological need of past for your identity and future for your fulfillment.
  • Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside.
  • If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.
  • But if your destination, or the steps you are going to take in the future, take up so much of your attention that they become more important to you than the step you are taking now, then you completely miss the journey’s inner purpose, which has nothing to do with where you are going or what you are doing, but everything to do with how. It has nothing to do with future but everything to do with the quality of your consciousness at this moment.
  • Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole?
  • Movements developed within all major religions that represented not only a rediscovery, but in some cases an intensification of the light of the original teaching. This is how Gnosticism and mysticism came into existence in early and medieval Christianity, Sufism in the Islamic religion, Hasidism and Kabbala in Judaism, Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, Zen and Dzogchen in Buddhism. ... Unlike mainstream religion, their teachings emphasized realization and inner transformation.
  • “I am bored.” Who knows this?
    “I am angry, sad, afraid.” Who knows this?
    You are the knowing, not the condition that is known.
  • On the surface it seems that the present moment is only one of many, many moments. Each day of your life appears to consist of thousands of moments where different things happen. Yet if you look more deeply, is there not only one moment, ever? Is life ever not this moment? This one moment, now, is the only thing you can never escape from. The one constant factor in your life. No matter what happens. No matter how much your life changes. One thing is certain. Its always now. Since there is no escape from the now, why not welcome it, become friendly with it.

Alain Finkielkraut (b. 1949)[edit]

  • DeMaistre and Bonald … wanted to teach men submission, to give them the religion of established power, to substitute, in Bonald’s phrase, “the evidence of authority for the authority of evidence.”

James Richardson (b. 1950)[edit]

  • The cynic suffers the form of faith without love. Incredulity is his piety.
  • The viruses that co-opt the machinery of our cells; the stories we allow to enter and explain us.
  • If you do everything for one reason, then all you have done will become meaningless when the reason does.
  • Value yourself according to the burdens you carry, and you will find everything a burden.
  • On what is valuable thieves and the law agree.
  • Books serve us simply by opening a window on all we wanted to say and feel and think about. We may not even notice that they have not said it themselves till we go back to them years later and do not find what we loved in them. You cannot keep the view by taking the window with you.
  • A belief is a question we have put aside so we can get on with what we believe we have to do.
  • The first abuse of power is not realizing that you have it.
  • Greater than the temptations of beauty are those of method.
  • Only the dead have discovered what they cannot live without.
  • Often you only have to ask What would I do if I were not afraid?
  • Success is whatever humiliation everyone has agreed to compete for.
  • The god of many cannot remain the true god.
  • I’m surprised that multiple personalities are so much less common in reality than in fiction: what a little disorder it would take, a distraction, a sleep, for one of our minor characters to imagine he was the star, to speak out for everyone else. And that’s what it would be, a change of billing, not of authorship. For you do not write your play—you are just the character in it called The Playwright. The real writer, you never meet.
  • Seizing on a piece of business, I become tiny, eager, efficient: roiled water I cannot see into.
  • If I do not waste time, I am wasting my time.
  • What did you do today? Nothing say our little children, and so do I. What we most are is what we keep mistaking for nothing.
  • I don’t know what’s meant by Know thyself, which seems to ask a window to look at a window.
  • To practice Sincerity is to burden everyone else with believing you.
  • Let me have my dreams but not what I dream of.
  • Water deepens where it has to wait.
  • It’s amazing that I sit at my job all day and no one sees me clearly enough to say What is that boy doing behind a desk?
  • Impatience is not wanting to understand that you don’t understand.
  • He does not deserve your praise, but he deserves to be treated as if someday he might.
  • The best way to get people to do what you want is not to be too particular about what you want.
  • First he gathered what he needed. Then he needed to keep gathering what he used to need.
  • It is less important to escape pain than to avoid exceptionless rules.
  • The new gets old much faster than the old gets older.
  • The man who sticks to his plan will become what he used to want to be.
  • Envy is ashamed of itself. If it weren’t hanging back, it would go all the way to emulation and love.
  • Any virtue systematically applied becomes a vice. Morality is attention, not system.
  • I lied. And my embarrassment was so great that I changed everything else to make the lie true.
  • Say too soon what you think and you will say what everyone else thinks.
  • The mind is like a well-endowed museum, only a small fraction of its holdings on view at any one time.
  • I am not unambitious. I am just too ambitious for what you call ambitions.
  • Judging itself brings the pain of being judged. The wicked judge mistakes this for another crime of the accused and lengthens his sentence.
  • Patience is decisive indecision.
  • Happiness, like water, is always available, but so often it seems we’d prefer a different drink.
  • Birds of prey don’t sing.
  • How often feelings are circular. How embarrassing to be embarrassed. How annoying to be annoyed.
  • Happiness is the readiness to be happy.
  • There is no road to the land without roads.
  • That others know: science. That others choose: politics.
  • Solitude takes time. One becomes alone, like a towel drying.
  • I worked so hard to understand it that it must be true.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969)[edit]

  • Socrates compared living without thinking systematically to practicing an activity like pottery or shoemaking without following or even knowing of technical procedures. One would never imagine that a good pot or shoe would result from intuition alone; why then assume that the more complex task of directing one’s life could be undertaken without any sustained reflection on premises or goals? Perhaps because we don’t believe that directing our lives is in fact complicated. Certain difficult activities look very difficult from the outside, while other equally difficult activities look very easy. Arriving at sound views on how to live falls into the second category, making a pot or a shoe into the first.
  • Someone who has thought rationally and deeply about how the body works is likely to arrive at better ideas about how to be healthy than someone who has followed a hunch. Medicine presupposes a hierarchy between the confusion the layperson will be in about what is wrong with him, and the more accurate knowledge available to doctors reasoning logically. … At the heart of Epicureanism is the thought that we are as bad at answering the question “What will make me happy?” as “What will make me healthy?” … Our souls do not spell out their troubles.
    • Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy (New York: 2000), pp. 53-54

Merold Westphal[edit]

  • To assume that one’s existential task is completed when the individual is brought into right relation with society, that is, when the individual has been socialized, is to absolutize society and confuse society with God.

Mark Slouka[edit]

  • The alarm rings and we’re off, running so hard that by the time we stop we’re too tired to do much of anything except nod in front of the TV, which, like virtually all the other voices in our culture, endorses our exhaustion, fetishizes and romanticizes it and, by daily adding its little trowelful of lies and omissions, helps cement the conviction that not only is this how our three score and ten must be spent but that the transaction is both noble and necessary.
    • Mark Slouka, “Quitting the paint factory: On the virtues of idleness,” Harper’s, November 2004
  • Forget the visions of sanctioned leisure: the view from the deck in St. Moritz, the wafer-thin TV. Consider the price.
    • Mark Slouka, “Quitting the paint factory: On the virtues of idleness,” Harper’s, November 2004
  • Leisure is permissible, we understand, because it costs money; idleness is not, because it doesn’t. Leisure is focused; whatever thinking it requires is absorbed by a certain task: sinking that putt, making that cast, watching that flat-screen TV. Idleness is unconstrained, anarchic. Leisure—particularly if it involves some kind of high-priced technology—is as American as a Fourth of July barbecue. Idleness, on the other hand, has a bad attitude. It doesn’t shave; it’s not a member of the team; it doesn’t play well with others. It thinks too much, as my high school coach used to say. So it has to be ostracized.
    • Mark Slouka, “Quitting the paint factory: On the virtues of idleness,” Harper’s, November 2004

Brian Leiter[edit]

  • The Marxian theory of ideology predicts that the ruling ideas in any well functioning society will be ideas that promote the interests of the ruling class in that society, i.e., the class that is economically dominant. By the “ruling ideas” we should understand Marx to mean the central moral, political and economic ideas that dominate discussion in the mass media and in the corridors of power in that society. The theory is not peculiar to Marx, since the “classical realists” of antiquity like the Sophists and Thucydides advanced essentially the same theory: the powerful clothe their pursuit of self-interest in the garb of morality and justice. When Marx says that, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” (The German Ideology) and that, “Law, morality, religion are to [the proletariat] so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests” (The Communist Manifesto), he is simply translating in to Marxian terms the Sophistic view “that the more powerful will always take advantage of the weaker, and will give the name of law and justice to whatever they lay down in their own interests.” (W.K.C. Guthrie, The Sophists (1971), p. 60)
    • Brian Leiter, “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud,”
  • A justified true belief isn’t “knowledge” when the justification for the true belief isn’t the cause of why the agent holds the belief.
    • Brian Leiter, “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud”
  • On Marx’s view an individual is flourishing when ... he labors freely, meaning that work is an end-in-itself, and not merely a means to “earn a living.”
    • Brian Leiter, “Morality Critics,” The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy' (2007)
  • Ideologies involve a mistake about their origin: agents think that the ideology arose because of its responsiveness to epistemically relevant considerations (e.g., evidence, reasons, etc.), when, in fact, it arose only because it was responsive to the interests of the dominant economic class in the existing economic system.
    • Brian Leiter, “Morality Critics,” The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy (2007)
  • Science may be in the interest of the ruling class, after all, but it is still responsive to epistemic norms, and so anyone with epistemic interests has reason to accept science. Ideologies, by contrast, have their genesis explained solely by their capacity to further the interests of the ruling class.
    • Brian Leiter, “Morality Critics,” The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy (2007)
  • Nietzsche's paradigmatic worry seems to be the following: that a nascent creative genius will come to take the norms of MPS [morality in the pejorative sense] so seriously that he will fail to realize his genius. Rather than tolerate (even welcome) suffering, he will seek relief from hardship and devote himself to the pursuit of pleasure; rather than practice what Nietzsche calls “severe self-love”, and attend to himself in the ways requisite for productive creative work, he will embrace the ideology of altruism, and reject “self-love” as improper; rather than learn how to look down on himself, to desire to overcome his present self and become something better, he will embrace the prevailing rhetoric of equality—captured nicely in the pop-psychology slogan “I'm O.K., you're O.K.”—and thus never learn to feel the contempt for self that might lead one to strive for something more.
    • Brian Leiter, “Morality Critics,” The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy (2007)

Leon R. Kass[edit]

  • Not being held to the usual dues expected of a licensed humanist—professing specialized knowledge or publishing learned papers—I have been able to wander freely and most profitably in all the humanistic fields. I have come to believe that looking honestly for the human being, following the path wherever it leads, may itself be an integral part of finding it. A real question, graced by a long life to pursue it among the great books, has been an unadulterated blessing.
  • In contrast to 50 years ago, few licensed humanists today embrace any view of the humanities that could in fact justify making them the centerpiece of a college curriculum.
  • To seek an honest man is, at once, to seek a human being worthy of the name, an honest-to-goodness exemplar of the idea of humanity, a truthful and truth-speaking embodiment of the animal having the power of articulate speech.
  • I turned to [Aristotle's] De Anima (On Soul), expecting to get help with understanding the difference between a living human being and its corpse, relevant for the difficult task of determining whether some persons on a respirator are alive or dead. I discovered to my amazement that Aristotle has almost no interest in the difference between the living and the dead. Instead, one learns most about life and soul not, as we moderns might suspect, from the boundary conditions when an organism comes into being or passes away, but rather when the organism is at its peak, its capacious body actively at work in energetic relation to—that is, in “souling”—the world: in the activities of sensing, imagining, desiring, moving, and thinking.
  • Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Aristotle's teaching concerns the goals of ethical conduct. Unlike the moralists, Aristotle does not say that morality is a thing of absolute worth or that the virtuous person acts in order to adhere to a moral rule or universalizable maxim. And unlike the utilitarians, he does not say morality is good because it contributes to civic peace or to private gain and reputation. Instead, Aristotle says over and over again that the ethically excellent human being acts for the sake of the noble, for the sake of the beautiful.

    The human being of fine character seeks to display his own fineness in word and in deed, to show the harmony of his soul in action and the rightness of his choice in the doing of graceful and gracious deeds. The beauty of his action has less to do with the cause that his action will serve or the additional benefits that will accrue to himself or another—though there usually will be such benefits. It has, rather, everything to do with showing forth in action the beautiful soul at work, exactly as a fine dancer dances for the sake of dancing finely. As the ballerina both exploits and resists the downward pull of gravity to rise freely and gracefully above it, so the person of ethical virtue exploits and elevates the necessities of our embodied existence to act freely and gracefully above them. Fine conduct is the beautiful and intrinsically fulfilling being-at-work of the harmonious or excellent soul.

Jacques Berlinerblau[edit]

  • Today's secularists too often have very little accurate knowledge about religion, and even less desire to learn. This is problematic insofar as their sense of self is constructed in opposition to religion. Above all, the secularist is not a Jew, is not a Christian, not a Muslim, and so on. But is it intellectually responsible to define one's identity against something that one does not understand?
    • Jacques Berlinerblau, The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (2005), p. 1
  • Secularism, at its absolute best, comprises an unrelenting commitment to judicious and self-correcting critique. ... Secularism’s “job” consists of criticizing all collective representations. Its analytical energies should be inflicted on any type of mass belief or empowered orthodoxy, whether it is religious, political, scientific, aesthetic, and so on. ... Secularism, as we envision it, is elitist and heretical by nature. When it aspires to become a popular movement, an orthodoxy, or the predicate of a nation-state, it betrays itself.

Andrew Abbott[edit]

  • Education doesn’t have aims. It is the aim of other things.
    • Andrew Abbott, “Welcome to the University of Chicago,” Aims of Education Address, September 26, 2002

David Detmer[edit]

  • Surely at least some of our logical principles … are far more evident and obvious to us than are any of the empirical generalizations we find in psychology, or in any other of the empirical sciences. Thus, to attempt to explain logic in terms of psychology is to explain the more certain by the less certain. It is, in short, to commit the fallacy of obscurum per obscurius.
    • David Detmer, Challenging Postmodernism (New York: 2003), p. 24
  • There is an obscurum per obscurius problem as well. In order to know whether or not giraffes are taller than ants we must first know (a) whether or not there is a consensus that giraffes are taller than ants, and (b) if there is, whether or not the communication that produces that consensus was free, open, and undistorted. But isn’t it obvious that it is easier to determine whether or not giraffes are taller than ants than it is to determine either (a) or (b)? Or, to put it another way, wouldn’t any skeptical doubts about our ability to determine even something so obvious as that giraffes are taller than ants also be more than sufficient to wipe out any hope of being able to know about the outcome, and degree of openness, of any process of public communication?
    • David Detmer, criticizing Richard Rorty’s pragmatism in Challenging Postmodernism (New York: 2003), pp. 128-129
  • Is it easier to know what our culture’s epistemic norms are in terms of which it is to be determined whether or not giraffes are taller than ants than it is to know that giraffes are taller than ants? Is our knowledge concerning the identity of those norms to be construed on a realist model, or must we rather consult our culture’s epistemic norms in order to use them to figure out the identity of those norms? If the former, why is it that we can have objective knowledge concerning the identity of our culture’s epistemic norms when we can’t have it with regard to the relative height of giraffes and ants? And if the latter, how is an infinite regress to be avoided?
    • David Detmer, criticizing Richard Rorty’s pragmatism in Challenging Postmodernism (New York: 2003), p. 130
  • If our aim is the objective truth, we can have a motivation and a reason for revising our epistemic norms whenever we have reason to think they aren’t helping us optimally to reach that goal, and we can have a sounds basis for criticizing others’ claims that we should adhere to the norms. But how can we have any of these things if the truth just is whatever follows from our epistemic norms?
    • David Detmer, criticizing Richard Rorty’s pragmatism in Challenging Postmodernism (New York: 2003), p. 131
  • In order to judge that something is not working, wouldn’t we have to know what it’s effects really are? … And surely some of our social practices cannot be judged to be “working” except by invoking the goal of objective truth. For example, to know whether or not the criminal justice system is working well, wouldn’t we have to know something about the accuracy of its results?
    • David Detmer, criticizing Richard Rorty’s pragmatism in Challenging Postmodernism (New York: 2003), p. 132

Sam Keen[edit]

  • It has been fashionable in the twentieth century not only to debunk myth, … but to pretend that that reasonable and educated people could avoid the embarrassment of religion and the risk of metaphysics by sticking close to demonstrable facts and testable hypotheses. However, in the course of reducing our beliefs and hopes to certainties and proofs, we impoverished and deluded ourselves. The modern anti-myth reduced human life to a story without a point, a tale told by an idiot, a process without a purpose, a journey without a goal, an affair without a climax (Godot never comes), an accidental collision of mindless atoms. … We have hardly noticed that economics, technology and politics have become the new myth and metaphysic. We haven’t avoided myth and metaphysics, only created demeaning ones.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 22
  • [Some of the] rules and articles of faith [of the western myth]:
    Questions that cannot be answered should not be asked.
    Knowledge and power are the twin pillars of human identity.
    Knowledge consists of organized facts.
    Sensation, intuition, and feeling are primitive, immature forms of thought.
    Wealth is created by fabricating natural, raw materials into finished products; the production of goods is the basis of value.
    Economics has replaced religion as the ultimate concern.
    The chief motivation (eros) of human beings is to accumulate and consume.
    Advertising and propaganda are the chief erotic sciences of the modern age.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), pp. 23-24
  • Pleasers ... make up what Earl Shorris has called “the oppressed middle,” the middle-managers who enjoy “the comforts of fearful people” and pay by submitting to their superiors’ definitions of happiness and success.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 82
  • Beneath the smiling mask, we can see the injury that results from a deficiency of rebellion. The nice ones are never quite real. They lack self-definition, self-confidence, because they have never created boundaries and limits for themselves by making decisions. Having never dared to break the taboos they suffer from shame. Their sins are ones of omission rather than commission. They “have left undone those things they ought to have done,” most especially deciding for themselves what is good and evil.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), pp. 82-83
  • Living mythical-political systems are invisible to those who live within them. The problem of myth and consciousness is reflected in the old saying: We don’t know who discovered water, but it certainly wasn’t a fish. Myth is the sea of commonly accepted assumptions that are not questioned by the majority of those living within a system. To the average, normal member of society, the myth is what is natural and obvious.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 99
  • It is only from the perspective of the outlaw ... that we are able to see that mythically informed normality is a form of mass hypnosis.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 99
  • A society that trains us to specialize in making, doing, performing, and producing neglects to educate us in wonder and appreciation.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 102
  • The gentlest and most insidious way we are dominated by the body politic is by the official versions of the good life that are implicit in advertising and propaganda. Happiness is a new car, a color TV—fill in the gap with your own “freely chosen” artificially stimulated desire.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 102
  • What we should desire creeps silently inside us and replaces what we really desire. ... We take jobs, make compromises, and settle down for the long wait, for the arrival of the future that will bring the reward of happiness we so justly deserve for our sacrifice of the pleasures of the moment. The process is so slow we scarcely notice the substitution of plastic for flesh. We forget how the body sang when it ran free; how it rejoiced in stretching, rolling, skipping, dancing, walking, eating, loving, bounding, leaping, resting. Gradually the body begins to change to protect itself against the intrusion of joy or sorrow. It armors itself against the threat of playfulness and spontaneity. ... The working body is complete when it is thus armed against those emotions that would threaten the primacy of the work ethic and the pattern of delayed gratification upon which it rests.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), pp. 102-103
  • The decision to become an individual, to allow oneself to be moved by the deepest impulses of the self rather than the social consensus, can only be made with fear and trembling.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 129
  • The outlaw will often wonder whether asserting the right to know, to taste, to experience, to judge is not an act of arrogance. ... To become an outlaw, I must decide that my personal experience rather than the mores of the tribe is the authority upon which I will base my judgments. In a bold act of self-love and self-trust, the outlaw proclaims that individual to be higher than the universal.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 130
  • There is a crucial difference between the criminal and the outlaw. The criminal is a perverse rebel who acts out against the law. ... The outlaw is a supranormal individual who cares about others too much to accept the limitations on eros that are imposed by normal life. Thus the outlaw question moves outside end beyond, not against the law. While the rebel is an antinomian, merely rejecting the established, the outlaw is motivated by a quest for autonomy.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 130-131
  • The outlaw uses the knife to separate the persona from the self. The outlaw uses the warrior’s sword to cut through his own character armor to destroy the defense mechanisms that have kept him imprisoned within the citadel of personality and role.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 132
  • Hero tales suggest the price of courage is beyond the ordinary budget
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 134
  • It is the vocation of each person to become unique.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 134
  • For the adult, all the world is a stage and the personality is the mask one wears to play the assigned role. The outlaw quietly takes a seat in the back row of the theater of the mind and watches.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), pp. 135-136
  • A prime time to catch yourself putting on your personality is in the moments between sleeping and waking.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 136
  • The path that leads from the persona to the self, from the adult to the outlaw, consists of learning to distinguish between false desire and true desire, or superficial desire and profound desire, or obsessive desire and free passion, ... or illusory needs and real needs.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 138
  • In the presence of our addictions, we are not free to ask what we really desire. Eros is silent. The addiction floods us with the noise of its demands, the plans for its satisfaction. There is no interval for deliberation.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 139
  • Kierkegaard said that the only way we can be released from the enchantment, the siren song of the myths, is to play the music through backwards. To break the spell of the ego I must recover my personal and political history, I must demythologize the private, family, and public myths that have informed me.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 140
  • The standard Christian conscience does not permit the believer to look upon the self and find beauty, goodness, natural kindness, strength. Self-knowledge is tainted with self-hatred. The rules of the game of the Christian conscience are such that, when I look within, I must take the blame for all evil, all hardness of the heart that I find, but give God all the credit for any evidence of love. ... It is not surprising that the practice of meditation ... has remained under a cloud in the West, and that we have, consequently, created a culture of extroverts.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 162
  • Secular culture, with the aid of psychoanalysis, has continued the old Christian habit of observing the self only to criticize it.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 162
  • Meditation, like masturbation, has until recently been considered a form of self-abuse.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 162
  • The difference between narcissism and self-love is a matter of depth. Narcissus falls in love not with the self, but with an image or reflection of the self—with the persona, the mask. The narcissist sees himself through the eyes of another, changes his lifestyle to conform with what is admired by others, tailors his behavior and expression of feelings to what will please others. Narcissism is ... voluntary blindness, an agreement ... not to look beneath the surface.
    • Sam Keen, The Passionate Life (1992), p. 163
  • One of the commonest perversions of love is to limit it to the private sphere.

David Norton[edit]

  • We are apprehensive that an ear turned to our inwardness will detect at most only meaningless murmurings, that a resort to the inner self will be a dizzying tumble into a bottomless pit. Fearing this, we anchor ourselves upon external things, we cast our lot with the fortunes of objects and events that appear to be untainted by the disease of selfhood.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 4
  • There are most certainly two distinguishable kinds of truths, “truths of reason” (that two plus two equals four) and “truths of fact” (that the sky appears blue). By his resort to his daimon Socrates added the class of “truths of self,” personal truths.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 7
  • Concerning the truth at hand he [Socrates] was saying, yes, surely, it is a truth a reason or a truth of fact, but before I offer it I must discover whether it is a personal truth and a part of myself, for otherwise I must leave its enunciation to others.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), pp. 7-8
  • To speak a truth that belongs to another is untruth, for speaking belongs to living, hence to speak another’s truth is to live a life that is not one’s own.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 8
  • The great enemy of integrity is not falsehood as such but … the attractiveness of foreign truths, truths that belong to others.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 9
  • What is commonly called liberality is the condition of being open, available to all truths. But this is precisely eclecticism, confusion, the absence of integrity.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 9
  • Because truths of different kinds exhibit the characteristics of incommensurability (their difference is such that they cannot be measured by a single standard or reduced to members of one series) and incompossibility (their difference is such that they cannot co-exist within the same system), such openness introduces both multiplicity and contradiction, and the creature in question stands “divided against himself.”
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), pp. 9-10
  • Imitation is replication of particulars, emulation is adoption of an exemplified universal or principle.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 12
  • According to self-actualization ethics, it is every person’s primary responsibility first to discover the daimon within him and thereafter to live in accordance with it.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 16
  • For eudaimonism, an ethics of prohibition is a contradiction in terms.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 30
  • An undifferentiated absolute is normatively impotent because it can offer no principle for the apportionment of responsibility.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 66
  • Loyalty to life, according to Nietzsche, begins in the resolve to seek life’s principle with itself and not in something outside it—not, for example, in a God or supernature that, by being conceived as all that life is not—infinite, eternal, changeless, perfect goodness, perfect plenitude—stands as antithetical to life.
    • David Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), p. 80

Arthur Melzer[edit]

  • If the end of education is to foster the love of truth, this love cannot be presupposed in the means. The means must rather be based on a resourceful pedagogical rhetoric that, knowing how initially resistant or impervious we all are to philosophic truth, necessarily makes use of motives other than love of truth and of techniques other than “saying exactly what you mean.” That is why, for example, the earlier, classical tradition of rationalism recognized the inescapable need to speak in philosophical poems and dialogues as well as treatises.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 1018
  • The first danger of reading books is that it allows you skip too many stages, shortcutting the proper intellectual development. Especially harmful is that it prevents the humble confrontation with your own ignorance. Reading makes you prematurely wise. Before you have had a chance to face the questions and live with them a while, you have seen the answers. Books give a false sense of knowledge and sophistication based on borrowed wisdom, on the belief that you know what you have only read. Thus, they rob you of the proper state of mind for true education.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 12
  • Intellectual humility and the keen sense of our ignorance are the necessary starting points for genuine philosophical development; therefore, books—even as they transmit brilliant philosophical insights—undercut philosophy at its root.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 13
  • The philosophical writer stands in danger of harming his readers in the very act of trying to help them, by fostering an unhealthy presumption, passivity, and dependence.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 18
  • Philosophical education requires not merely that one avoid discouraging the reader ... from employing his own mind, but that one positively motivate him to think and, above all, to think authentically and for himself. One must somehow induce in him a new level of awakeness, inner-directedness, and self-ownership. ... The central paradox of philosophical education, whether in writing or in person, is this: how can one transmit to others something that can never genuinely be given from without, but only generated from within? For that is of the essence of philosophy: it can never be done for you. It is our “ownmost” activity: you must do it all for yourself or you haven’t done it at all.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 18
  • By the time a student is old enough to be thinking about philosophical questions, he is already fully immersed in a world of beliefs and answers. He is trapped in a cave of illusions. Thus, his education must begin by lighting up and then questioning the things that he already believes, the foundations of the life that he is already living. He cannot jump out of his skin and make a new beginning: he must start from the inside and slowly, painstakingly work his way out.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 20
  • The internal or dialectical critique of received opinion does not take place in a single stroke, but in a series of successive approximations to the truth, each of which will seem in its time to be the final one. The student must not be encouraged to race through these stages to the end, but on the contrary to settle down and live with each for a while, so that he has the time to truly take it in and absorb it—and to allow it to transform him. Our lives do not change as quickly as our thoughts. If the student tries to move too fast, he leaves his life behind, and his thinking becomes purely intellectual. He ceases to believe what he thinks and think what he believes. Tempo is everything. Prematurity—showing the student more than he is ready to understand or digest at the moment—is the great wrecker of educations. As Rousseau remarks in Emile, “never show the child anything he cannot see.” Again: the child “must remain in absolute ignorance of ideas ... which are not within his reach.”
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 22
  • Only a person fully in touch with the irrational temptations buried within him has a chance of becoming genuinely rational.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 33
  • One cannot philosophize in public any more than one can make love there.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 35
  • The idea of progress … is that human knowledge tends continually to advance because each generation can build on the achievements of the preceding one. Yet, there is an unstated presupposition here regarding the matter of transmission. Faith in progress is based on the (very un-Socratic) assumption that wisdom or knowledge can not only be taught but can be “published” in the modern sense: written down in books in such a way as to be easily and genuinely appropriated, so that the next generation, after a brief period of learning, can begin where the previous one left off.

    A second, related assumption of modern progress-philosophy is that intellectual production functions in essentially the same way as economic production: the progress of both results from “teamwork,” from the practice of the division of labor or specialization within a group. And just as the essential precondition of the economic division of labor is exchange, so the precondition of intellectual specialization is the efficient exchange of knowledge—through publication.

    In the modern period, the whole enterprise of philosophy and science has been organized around this idea of progress. The pursuit of knowledge has become uniquely “socialized,” become a team effort, a collective undertaking, both across generations and across individuals within a single generation. This has affected our whole experience of the intellectual life. The modern scholar or scientist ultimately does not—and cannot—live to think for himself in the quiet of his study. He lives to “make a contribution” to an ongoing, public enterprise, to what “we know.” And at the core of this effort at collective knowing is the modern institution of publication.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007
  • The philosophic life—the radically personal effort to see life whole—can never be genuinely pursued as a collective enterprise of specialists.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 42
  • In every age people are strongly tempted to rely upon the thinking and findings of others. And this can often seem like a useful shortcut. But if philosophy is to remain authentic and not degenerate into a “tradition,” then above all it must resist this dangerous temptation—the very temptation upon which modern progress-philosophy seeks to build.
    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007, p. 42

Eliseo Vivas[edit]

  • As philosophy becomes academic and tends to repudiate its responsibility to the culture in which it flourishes, the layman in need of wisdom and vision turns to evangelic practicalists, who confirm him in his myopic prejudice that the exclusive end of moral philosophy is actually to direct social activity toward the concrete and immediate improvement of social conditions. But, since there is no way of knowing except by arduous philosophical criticism whether the ends to which a reformer would lead us represent genuine improvement, the practicalist’s impatience with theory is at best hasty.
    • Eliseo Vivas, The Moral Life and the Ethical Life (Chicago: 1950), pp. 3-4
  • With the hidden hatred of sustained intellectual effort, [the evangelist of practicalism] encourages whose who happen to listen to him in the name of reasonableness to dispense with reason.
    • Eliseo Vivas, The Moral Life and the Ethical Life (Chicago: 1950), p. 4

Werner Dannhauser[edit]

  • Since Nietzsche frequently intends to shock his readers, they may be in a position to learn from him—providing they admit that what is shocking may also be true, and that one has not refuted a thinker by recognizing the shocking consequences of his thought.
    • Werner Dannhauser, Nietzsche’s View of Socrates (Ithaca: 1974), p. 21
  • Socrates was the plebeian dissector of an aristocratic society; Nietzsche is the aristocratic dissector of a plebian society.
    • Werner Dannhauser, Nietzsche’s View of Socrates (Ithaca: 1974), p. 37

Sarah Bakewell[edit]

  • Knowing that the life that remained to him could not be of great length, [Montaigne] said, “I try to increase it in weight, I try to arrest the speed of its flight by the speed with which I grasp it. ... The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it.”

Chris Hedges[edit]

  • To be judged by the state as an innocent, is to be guilty. It is to sanction, through passivity and obedience, the array of crimes carried out by the state.
    • Chris Hedges, “Happy as a Hangman,”, December 6, 2010
  • The United States ... celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.
    • Chris Hedges, “Why The United States Is Destroying Education,” April 10, 2011
  • Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason.

Curtis White[edit]

  • Justice, under capitalism, works not from a notion of obedience to moral law, or to conscience, or to compassion, but from the assumption of a duty to preserve a social order and the legal “rights” that constitute that order, especially the right to property. ... It comes to this: that decision will seem most just which preserves the system of justice even if the system is itself routinely unjust.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 32
  • Do Christian Republicans not understand the fundamental ways in which an unfettered corporate capitalism betrays Christ’s ethical vision and their own economic well-being?
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 33
  • Evangelical Christianity conspires with technical and economic rationalism. In the end, they both require a commitment to “duty” that masks unspeakable violence and injustice.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 33
  • Thoreau's disobedience is disobedience as refusal. I won't live in your world. I will live as if your world has ended, as indeed it deserves to end. I will live as if my gesture of refusing your world has destroyed it.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 36
  • What Marx and Thoreau shared with Christ was a sense that “the letter killeth.” What killed was not the letter as Mosaic Law but as secular “legality.” Legality had so saturated the human world that it stood before it as a kind of second nature.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, pp. 36-37
  • Time, for Homo economicus, is not “the stream I go a-fishing in.” It is a medium of exchange. We trade our time for money.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 37
  • The true cost of a thing, Thoreau shrewdly observes, condensing hundreds of pages of Marxist analysis to an epigram, is “the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.”
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, p. 36
  • Similar though Marx and Thoreau may be in their accounts of the consequences of living in a society defined by money, their suggestions for how to respond to it are poles apart. Forget the Party. Forget the revolution. Forget the general strike. Forget the proletariat as an abstract class of human interest. Thoreau's revolution begins not with discovering comrades to be yoked together in solidarity but with the embrace of solitude. For Thoreau, Marx's first and fatal error was the creation of the aggregate identity of the proletariat. Error was substituted for error. The anonymity and futility of the worker were replaced by the anonymity and futility of the revolutionary. A revolution conducted by people who have only a group identity can only replace one monolith of power with another, one misery with another, perpetuating the cycle of domination and oppression. In solitude, the individual becomes most human, which is to say most spiritual.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s, April 2006, pp. 37-38

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Original work[edit]


  • The news is like an astronomy teacher who reports the daily motion of the planets instead of teaching us Newton's laws.
  • Those who believe there are no answers can rest assured that they have found all the answers.
  • Some books inspire us to think. Others inform us that someone else is thinking, and that we, therefore, need not.
  • The works of a great woman are not a call to adulate her. They are not a call to emulate her. They are a call to be as great as she.
  • A taste for wine destines one to become a sot; a taste for epiphany, a sage.
  • Wisdom and virtue will not allow themselves to be accumulated as the miser accumulates his treasure. As soon as we begin to regard them as a treasure stored up within us, rather than as something we must conquer anew in each moment, we cease to possess them.
  • Those who can most appreciate fine possessions can also most appreciate the leisure they must sacrifice to obtain them.
  • Those fond of incoherent abstractions quickly become impatient with abstract discussions.
  • The regime that seeks to compel justice makes every just act into a cowardly one.
  • The more I persevere in tasks which bore me, the more boring I become.
  • To say "I am not a saint" is a confession of moral laxity. To say “I am not a genius” is a confession of intellectual laxity. In both cases I adopt the guise of modesty to conceal my indolence.
  • The argumentum ad laborum: “I have invested years of my life in learning this doctrine. Therefore, it must be true.”
  • While we previously imagined the intellect was something supernatural, we now know it resides in the material world. More often than not, we find it in the servants’ quarters.
  • An unwelcome passion, like an unwelcome guest, should be ejected as politely as possible.
  • All the sciences have their origin in love of truth, just as all human beings have their origin in sexual love.
  • Forming one’s character without reflection will produce results similar to grooming oneself without a mirror.
  • Everyone is the child of his age. The question is, how much is he willing to misbehave?

Diabolical definitions[edit]

antidepressant (n): a remedy for corporate drapetomania.

antipsychotic (n): humane hemlock for those still mad enough to philosophize.

aphorism (n): a post-it note on the bedpost in the amnesiac ward of wisdom.

consensus (n): a suicide pact for seekers of truth.

Essays of general interest[edit]

The mind that seeks to perfect itself[edit]

A programmer with no clue how a microprocessor works can still write good code. And a saint or sage with no clue how the brain works might still have exquisite advice for care and maintenance of the mind.

One day I’ll throw my computer on the scrap heap. But first I’ll transfer the software to a new machine. My brain will soon be rotting in the ground. But my words come alive each time you read them.

Of course there can’t be words without human bodies to speak them. Hardware requires proper maintenance and care. But the purpose of my life is to perfect my mind—and, someday, to convey its perfected contents to other minds. It remains mysterious to me why so many devote so much attention to pampering and grooming their mortal hardware, and so little to perfecting their immortal software.

The mind that seeks to perfect itself is in one sense humble. It’s aware how far it still has to go. But in another sense the mind that seeks to perfect itself is exalted. No matter how many setbacks it encounters, it never gives up its aspiration to perfection.

As a scientist, I can account for observed facts in nature with rigorous and plausible theories. I can understand how and why the marvels of engineering and medicine work. But in other respects my worldview seems unpalatable. I live in a meaningless mechanical universe. I’m just a biological machine. My mind’s aspiration to perfect itself seems like a pointless idiosyncratic form of arrogance, or simple foolishness.

The religious worldview also has advantages. My aspiration to be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect is glorified. I have an image of a loving community where all seek to help one another flourish and grow nearer to God. But this worldview also has its problems. My aspiration to be perfect can’t include an aspiration to understand the facts of nature. Technical marvels shouldn’t work at all in my worldview, and yet I continue to rely on them every day.

I hope to persuade you there might be a third choice, a form of intellectual life that preserves the virtues of the scientific worldview, and also has some of the virtues of the religious worldview. I make no claims of anything supernatural. My only claim is that the life of the mind, whether you choose to call it intellectual life or spiritual life, is worthy of the attention and reverence the world’s religions have accorded to it.

Siddhartha didn’t know a thing about receptor sites, ion channels, axons, dendrites, neurotransmitters and membrane potentials. And yet he provides an exquisite way of taming the vast profusion of rogue processes that perpetually plague my mind.

A programmer with no clue how a microprocessor works can still write good code. And a saint or sage with no clue how the brain works might still have exquisite advice for care and maintenance of the mind.

Rescuing religion from the death of the creator-God[edit]

“Hold your highest hopes holy,” says Nietzsche in one breath, and “God is dead” in another. For Nietzsche the creator God is forever gone. But the God that represents man’s highest hopes and aspirations remains very much alive.

What Nietzsche’s Zarathustra fears most is that creator-man will die along with his creator-God, leaving nothing but “the last man” who has transformed himself into a mere component of an orderly industrial machine. The last man “makes all things small,” including himself. He no longer aspires to create something great, but only to play his tiny part in the machine. The last man enjoys his entertainment, but he wants to make sure it too remains small and superficial. “He's careful that his entertainment never takes hold of him.”

When duty makes man small, as it does in an industrial society that asks him to become a gear in a vast machine, man must cast a “holy no” in the face of duty. Creating freedom is the first step of all creativity. In the past man put “thou shalt” in his holiest place. “Now he must find frenzy and willfulness in his holiest place.” Creativity demands saying no to the duty that makes man small, and then “a new beginning, a first movement, a holy yes-saying.”

“If you can’t be the holy men of insight, at least be its warriors, the vehicles and harbingers of its holiness.” Nietzsche envisions a new religion where all the piety and reverence we had once directed to the unknown God is directed to a God of insight. He wants us to retain all the evangelical fervor we have lavished on the gospel, but now directed towards a new gospel of creative searching.

What is most praiseworthy is what is most difficult. The next step on the path to greatness is the one that leads uphill. You will invariably seem eccentric. No one will understand your path except the friend willing to walk beside you.

“To value is to create.” The last man no longer creates. So he can no longer value. What his neighbor seems to value, the last man avidly adopts as his own value. But his neighbor doesn’t create either. The carcasses of dead values circulate in place of living ones. And the stench is overwhelming.

“You must want to burn up in your own flame. How will you become new if you haven't first turned to ashes?” Nietzsche, like Jesus, wants his disciples to die to the world and be born again. Baptism of fire prepares us for a new life of courageous creativity.


A body is healthy when its glucose levels are normal. By extending this principle to mental health, we conclude that a mind is healthy when its proclivity to seek pleasure is normal. In today’s world, a mind with a drive to perfect itself three standard deviations above the mean and a drive for pleasure three standard deviations below the mean is far more likely to be diagnosed as pathological than revered as saintly.

Healing the divided mind[edit]

In our age we witness the near universal acceptance of the principle that a mind must adopt two distinct roles: a “professional” role devoted to disciplined intellectual work, and a “personal” role devoted to pleasure. The mind is divided into a producing part and consuming part. We strive to perfect each part in isolation, becoming ever more efficient in making money in the first part, and ever more efficient in producing pleasure in the second. Such a divided mind, far from eliminating pleasure from its intellectual ecology, has made pleasure its defining principle.

The marketplace offers us tasks that seem serious and dignified, until we consider more carefully what their purpose is. Often these tasks demand intellectual rigor, and in this respect they might be helpful to a mind that seeks to perfect itself. But eventually we are bound to ask, if the desired end result is determined by whim rather than intellectual rigor, what’s the point of exerting intellectual rigor in fulfilling it?

Indulging my body’s desire for pleasure is sinful not only because it distracts me from the task of perfecting my mind, but also because it condemns those who produce the tools of pleasure to tasks that don’t help them perfect their minds. Ten dollars I spend on pleasure, if they were instead used to fund a scholarship, would allow a Third World student to spend one day less in the factory and one day more in the library.

"Be natural"[edit]

Certain fashionable minds argue I must follow the agenda of my DNA as a matter of duty. Perhaps this is an improvement over religions that claim I must follow the agenda of my Creator in Heaven as a matter of duty. But both fail to answer the question—why? What, other than the fact that they created me, is so special about the 100 megabits of information in the nuclei of my cells?

The bits passed from generation to generation include not only nucleic acids but also culture. This culture includes treatises specifically intended to help us flourish intellectually. Why do we obey DNA, with its blind urge to reproduce itself, rather than obeying instructions specifically crafted to allow the mind to flourish?

From a falsehood anything follows[edit]

The mathematician G. H. Hardy once casually remarked over dinner that a falsehood implies anything. Another guest asked him if he could prove that 2 + 2 = 5 implies that he is the Pope. Hardy replied, "We also know that 2 + 2 = 4, so that 5 = 4. Subtracting 3 we get 2 = 1. The Pope and I are two, hence the Pope and I are one."

When an architect makes decisions based on spreadsheets in which a dollar offered by a billionaire building yet another million dollar mansion is equal to a dollar offered by a homeless man, this false equation leads to ethical conclusions no less absurd than the factual conclusion Hardy infers from his false equation.

The tendency of capital to beget capital means unremedied past injustices never disappear. When someone offers me a dollar for my services, do I ask if the claim this particular dollar makes on me is justified? Even if I wanted to ask, how could I? The precise equality of one dollar with every other dollar conceals the vastly disparate history of each.

A mathematician who begins by grouping unlike things together and then making elaborate calculations based on the aggregate, no matter how competent her mathematical reasoning, is not a competent mathematician. This is the position of bankers who make sums of just and unjust wealth. This is the position of producers who tabulate consumer demand for food, shelter and education alongside consumer demand for mansions and caviar. This is the position of economists who include both production of penicillin and production of psychologically manipulative advertising for children in their gross national products.

We call money a “medium of exchange.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a “medium of persuasion.” The mind that seeks to perfect itself demands rigorous arguments, not only about facts, but also about who is genuinely in need of help—and who is behaving like a spoiled child.

The best thing about the free market[edit]

The skeptic is intent on renouncing any means of persuasion that relies on tradition or social convention rather than science and logic. I’m very sympathetic to his cause. But when he wants coffee in the morning, how does he persuade the clerk at Starbucks to help him? For all his talk of scientific objectivity, he shows by his acts he’s perfectly fine with a means of persuasion that people believe only because other people believe, as long as it’s the one in his wallet.

To what projects shall I devote myself? Whom shall I help? The most fundamental moral questions in life are decided by slips of paper and plastic. Everyone around me is persuaded by the medium of exchange. So I allow myself to be persuaded by it too. I believe X should rule my behavior because others believe. These believe because yet others believe.

When I ask someone for help, do I try to persuade him I’m a kind man who would help others in similar circumstances? No. I get out my wallet. Do I try to appeal to his reason or his virtues? No. I offer a reward.

And when another man asks for my help, do I want to hear who he is or who he intends to be? Do I want to know his past actions or his present principles? Hardly. I want to see his wallet.

Now, if you suspect his wallet might be a reasonable proxy for the virtue of his actions or his principles, consider that Madison Avenue offers lush rewards to psychology PhDs for their services in manipulating the fragile and vulnerable minds of children. If wealth is distributed, not according to virtue, but according to chance and whim, how can I in good conscience allow it to determine whom I will help and whom I will ignore?

Suppose an island community uses copper as a medium of exchange. They work hard. They trade value for value. It’s a panacea right out of an economics textbook. But then something goes wrong. Copper is a rare commodity on their little island. But on the mainland it’s in plentiful supply. One day these two communities start trading. Before the islanders realize what’s happening, they have all become paupers and servants.

In essence, this is what happens in our world every day. The poor trade honestly with one another. But the hereditary owners of capital, like the mainlanders in our example, come along with abundant supplies of the same medium of exchange and snatch up whatever they want without having to work a day.

The injustice is terrible, and seems so easy to put to an end. The islanders just have to realize what’s going on, stop using the old currency, and switch to another. But there’s one problem. The new currency may undergo the same sort of debasement. In the end, the only way to guard against debasement of currency is to see who has it and decide if they deserve to have it.

But if I must assess whether a man is worthy of what he possesses, and decide whether to help him based on that, then I might ask, what’s the point of considering what he possesses at all? Why not just consider whether he’s worthy, and leave it at that? Then I will help those who persuade me by showing me the virtue of their actions and intentions. What they have in their pockets won’t concern me at all.

There will in essence be two entirely separate economies in the same territory. Exchanging one currency for the other will be impossible. The enlightened islanders know the copper (mammon) is debased. They’re unwilling to exchange it for their own currency (virtue). And the unenlightened islanders, who still believe the copper is more valuable than it really is, would never offer a reasonable exchange rate.

If I must choose, I will choose to help friends whose projects are most worthy of support, not ones with copper in their pockets. The cynics will say I have let myself be shortchanged. But the joke is on them. As they slave away on pointless projects, building bigger and bigger mansions for the mainlanders, I will be part of a new community working on worthy projects based on mutual support and love.

Luke reports that when Jesus sent his twelve disciples out into the world to preach, he explicitly admonished them to bring no money. The only currency they carried with them was the virtue of their intentions. And they had this in such abundance, the locals were often willing to house and feed them. If I devote myself to helping others, asking nothing in return, many will recognize my good intentions and help me.

The best thing about the free market isn’t its ability to equalize supply and demand, or any of the other virtues recounted in economics textbooks. The best thing about the free market is the freedom to ignore the market, and devote myself to the most worthy projects, helping others the best way I know how.

The invisible hand and the helping hand[edit]

The proud landlord, says Adam Smith, gives no thought to the needs of his brethren, and would keep all his income for himself if he could. But in order to keep in working order all the “baubles and trinkets” he uses to impress himself and his guests, he must pay a portion of his income to workers. The workers thus get from his capricious desire for luxury what they never would have gotten from his meager kindness and charity. This arrangement, says Smith, ends up producing a distribution of the necessaries of life that differs little from what we might have found “had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants.”

The problem with this arrangement is that those who are employed in providing the landlord’s baubles and trinkets might have other talents. They might be painting canvases and writing poetry if they weren’t obliged to clean mansions and cook meals. Of course some people have to do gruntwork some of the time. But the vanity of the owners of capital makes this far more than necessary. A truly great aristocrat would allow his subjects to pursue intellectual pursuits of their own choosing. He would encourage and assist those pursuits as far as his resources permitted. By insisting that his subjects produce the baubles and trinkets he desires, rather than trying to discover where their true talents lie, he leaves these talents idle and undeveloped.

The idea that each of us can pursue our own capricious desire for luxury, and, as if guided by an invisible hand, inevitably advance the interest of society, is perhaps the most fundamental axiom of today’s economy. It is also transparently false. For every dollar I spend entertaining and pampering myself, I have one less dollar to spend educating and improving myself. For every dollar I spend trying to impress others, I have one less dollar to help others.

Les bêtes noires de laissez-faire[edit]

As the ideology of laissez-faire capitalism becomes ever more influential in our society, it becomes important to investigate the intellectual coherence of the theory that underlies it. In the capitalist utopia, the most abhorrent institution is the table of fixed prices. Prices must be set by free actions of individuals, not legislated by the force of a central authority. But when a crime is committed, how is the punishment determined? By a table of fixed prices for deviance legislated by the central authority—precisely the sort of table libertarians most abhor. The statute of limitations is another example of a fixed table set by the central authority. The tendency of capital to beget capital means the effects of arbitrary decisions are amplified with every passing year. Although libertarians are wary of central authority, they concede that a central authority must exist to keep track of who owns what. When dissenters question the decisions of the central authority, libertarian theory never has had an intellectually coherent way of dealing with them. The examples by which the beneficence of free trade are demonstrated always assume we are unanimous in regard to who owns what to begin with. In reality there is no such unanimity. Our prices may one day be free from arbitrary authority, but what good is that if the distribution of property is rife with arbitrary authority to begin with?

When I assume without question that I should buy the biggest house I can afford, take the most lavish vacations I can afford, I show a deference to the central authority it does not deserve. The central authority doesn’t know if I really deserve these privileges. And I don’t know if I really deserve them. Because of my skepticism, the idea of pampering myself while other human beings suffer is abhorrent to me.

Why Johnny can’t meditate[edit]

I close my eyes. I concentrate on my breath. I berate myself for embarrassing moments in the past. I worry about things that aren’t under my control. The silly thoughts circling around my mind, once I become aware of them, scurry timidly back into their hiding places, ashamed of themselves. Finally my mind falls silent. I’m aware of nothing but my breath and the chirping of the birds.

No, wait. There's one other thing. It’s an intense feeling not quite like any I’ve felt before. What is it?

If this state of self-awareness I’m cultivating right now is the summum bonum, as some Buddhists seem to think, then all the time and effort I have spent in the past—my careful planning to provide a life of material comfort to myself and my loved ones—the intellectual achievements I made in order to support that quest for comfort—all this has been merely wasted time and effort. In fact, it’s quite possible, after all my hard work, my generation may end up leaving the planet uninhabitable.

If, on the other hand, a frenetic pace of nonstop intellectual achievement is the sole source of meaning in life, then the skill I’m learning now could be a really bad influence. What if I enjoy this state of meditative calm? Could it sap my will for all productive activity and send me into a downward spiral of unemployment and indolence? The first chapter of the meditation book told me about the benefits of homelessness. By experimenting with meditation, am I exposing myself to a perverse influence that will lead me to become homeless?

My entire life is defined with reference to my work. Recreation is intended to re-create my will to work. Rest is intended to give me energy for work. This exercise in meditation, which I expected to be just another interesting form of entertainment, seems to call the fundamental principle of my life into question. Buddha persuaded many of his contemporaries to leave their homes, quit their jobs and live the homeless monastic life. Now I see why.

The consequence of this intense feeling, whatever its source, is that I can’t meditate for more than a few minutes at a time. The idea of confronting the meaninglessness of my life, if it really is meaningless, is too daunting. The risk of disturbing my life is too daunting. Meditation feels like a subversive activity, an act of rebellion against the system of regulated work and regulated pleasure that keeps our whole economic apparatus in motion. Aside from a few years of teenage angst, I have never felt like a subversive force or wanted to be one. So how can I meditate?

Down home meditation[edit]

The cross-legged posture. The yellow robes. The Pali and Sanskrit texts. These foreign trappings make meditation seem like something strange and exotic. But is it really? The man clad in overalls in his rocking chair on the porch may very well be meditating better than the urbanite decked in robes sitting cross legged in the Zen Center. He doesn’t call his form of rocking contemplation meditation. The peace he finds he doesn’t call nirvana. But does the lack of foreign names for his calm contemplation make it any less sublime?

As far back as I can remember I have spent entire days, even weeks, lying in bed doing nothing. No television. No music. Just lying silently thinking. Perhaps if I had put on a yellow robe and sat cross-legged on the floor with a statue of Buddha at my feet, my mother would have been impressed by my exotic piety rather than appalled by my indolence. But would my thoughts have been any different?

Buddhist teacher Nyanaponika Thera reminds his Western readers that the mindfulness achieved in meditation is not by any means a “mystical” sate. It is not at all foreign to the experience of the average person. “It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.”

The urbanite jets around the globe seeking entertainment. She spends vast sums of money to stimulate her senses. To her the uncouth country man in his rocking chair is an object of ridicule and derision. But listen to the urbanite’s conversation for a few minutes, and you will see what all the cosmopolitanism and refinement she’s so proud of really amount to. She talks about the Louvre and the Uffizi, not to recount what they have taught her, but to brag where she has been. Proudly recounting the great paintings she has seen, she shows only that they failed to teach her what they might have taught—how to see the beauty in ordinary people and ordinary things. And what does our jetsetter do the moment she gets home? She turns on the television. Her mind never stops looking outward to others for entertainment. Not for a single moment does she achieve the calm, self-reliant reflectiveness of the rocking chair.

The man in the rocking chair may not have exotic names for his wisdom. The examples he uses to illustrate it may be drawn from his village rather than the world. But talk to him for an hour, and you may find that he has discovered, all on his own, important things calm thought can teach, and a perpetual stream of entertainment never will.

What can I do to avoid independent thought?[edit]

One of the great things about a mind that allows itself to be ruled by the majority is that its thoughts arise organically, in concert with the whole. Ideas that would have been deemed contradictory according to outdated rules of logic are now harmonious, since they flow from the harmonious whole. The will of the majority is all the evidence we need. The power of the majority is all the argument we need. The more thoroughly and completely our thoughts derive from a desire to conform to the majority, without perverse extraneous influences like evidence and logic, the more they show a pure-hearted will to serve the majority, and the more commendable they are.

Why is the opinion of the majority sacred? Because the majority believes it is sacred. Are you worried this is a circular argument? Don’t worry. Such an objection relies on outdated standards of logic the majority no longer approves of, and which are therefore no longer in force.

In the past there was a superstitious belief that an individual mind was capable of assessing whether a thought was logical or illogical, whether evidence was compelling or insufficient, whether an action was humane or inhumane. Fortunately, our society is now almost entirely rid of this antisocial intellectual behavior. A mind that dares to question the majority can only disrupt the smooth functioning of democracy with its foolish and futile attempt to think independently.

Before we forget, we must mention an important exception. Although independent thought is, strictly speaking, futile, it is nonetheless permitted in one particular case: the stage hands that work lighting and cameras, helping to fulfill the sacred function of transmitting images of adored celebrities, are permitted, while concerned with petty technical problems of their trade, to think independently. This exception has been specially carved out because boring, insignificant problems about electrical circuits are beneath the dignity of the majority.

In superstitious ages, when we still believed in the possibility of independent thought, some men and women captured their antisocial philosophies in writing. Unfortunately, some of these barbaric documents have survived more or less intact through the ages. These relics of the past threaten to mislead impressionable young minds in the present, and have always posed a grave problem for smoothly functioning democracies. Some rulers have tried burning the antisocial books. But this turned out to be counterproductive; it just made people more curious about their contents. Now we have much better solutions. We provide such a dazzling array of nonstop entertainment, young minds no longer have time to learn how to read. We make sure language changes so quickly that the English in which the antisocial books were written begins to seem like a foreign language. Furthermore, some of the improvements we make to language we make in the name of justice. A masculine pronoun used to represent a person of indeterminate gender wasn’t just an arbitrary grammatical convention. It was an abomination. It’s immoral to read the old books, not just because of the antisocial philosophy they contain, but because of the abominably unjust language in which they are written.

Now that your desire to be a good democratic citizen has been awakened, you might be asking yourself, “What can I do to avoid independent thought?” This is indeed a challenge. But we have done many things to make it easier for you. When you wake up in the morning, you'll find we've arranged to have a newspaper delivered to your door. Any tendency you might have had during the night to think independently can be quickly remedied by immersion in the day to day concerns of the majority. Then, of course, you must earn slips of paper that certify the majority deems you worthy of being housed and fed. So you’ll have to spend your day in a factory where the foreman ensures you work on projects the majority approves of.

The evenings, however, have always been the greatest challenge. It wasn’t until electrical engineers devised a way to beam images of celebrities adored by the majority into your home that we had a really efficient and foolproof way of preventing independent thought in the evenings. But now, the problem is solved. You can settle into your comfortable armchair, and have the thoughts of the majority pumped into your mind until it’s thoroughly exhausted and ready for sleep. The progress has been so tremendous, it’s truly exhilarating!

When you encounter a poor soul who has not yet seen the light, who deliberately deprives himself of the warm, cozy joy of service to the majority, what, you may ask, can you do to help him? Fear not. There are many things you can do. If he is poor, perhaps the most effective strategy is to point out all the advantages he could have by conforming his tastes and opinions to those of the majority. Show him how slips of paper that represent the approval of the majority can be used to persuade others to do things for him. Show him how he can obtain more of these slips by choosing his projects based on the whims of the majority rather than his own misguided attempts to be rational.

If the errant soul is rich, the problem becomes somewhat more difficult. He accidentally got the slips of paper intended to vouch for approval of the majority, while in fact he continues to defy the majority. No wonder he’s confused! In this case the most effective strategy will be to implant doubts that undermine his misplaced confidence in his ability to reason independently. How does he know he isn’t crazy? Isn’t the fact that he disagrees with the majority, in itself, sufficient to show that he must be crazy?

You might think debate would be a good way to help an errant soul return to reason. But this approach can easily backfire. In the past, men with eccentric ideas debated with others in order to put their ideas to the test. When no one found an adequate way to refute the eccentric ideas, as in the case of Socrates, the debate only encouraged errant minds to continue their antisocial lines of thought. If you appeal to reason, you concede that a mind capable of disobeying the majority is capable of reason. But this is precisely where the errant mind has gone astray. Don't appeal to the errant mind’s independent reason. Undermine the mistaken idea that an individual mind is capable of reason. Reasoning is what majorities do. Individual minds can only assent to rationality as determined by the majority, or insist on irrationally defying the will of the majority. By trying to reason with an errant mind, you only encourage it in its mistaken belief that there might be other options.

What's your sign?[edit]

Scientific opinion and popular opinion differ so widely and so often that it sometimes seems not only that they come from different worlds, but that the world they're describing must be an altogether different one. One of the most common examples of such disagreement is the case of astrology.

Within the confines of today’s scientific understanding of the universe, there is no mechanism that could plausibly explain how the position of the stars and planets at the time of a person’s birth could influence his behavior or his fate. The advocates of astrology apparently do not intend to call this scientific understanding of the universe into question. Their intention seems rather to be to assert that science is only one among many ways of thinking, all of which should have an equal right to exist.

The right to exist of differing ways of thinking is of course indisputable. Everyone should be able to have his own opinion on any subject. An equal right to existence is not the same as an equal right to attention, however; nor does it imply an equal right to praise. Those who care about justice, for example, will find unjust opinions, such as racism, entirely repulsive. Although one can recognize that such opinions have a right to exist and be expressed, one can nonetheless despise them.

If someone felt uncomfortable with an opinion because of a concern for justice, no one would find him unreasonable. The question I would like to ask is this: If there were someone who felt uncomfortable with an opinion, not because of concern for justice, but because of concern for truth, would it be fair to call him unreasonable?

The serious, passionate scientist does not consider his way of thinking as merely “one among many” equally valid ways of looking at the physical world. For him, science is the one way of thinking which attends most carefully to truth. The fundamental principle of science is that every truth claim must be justified, either by experiment or by deduction from previously established results. The truth must always be handled with the utmost caution, never merely carelessly fabricated. In real life it is not always handled this way, but this is the ideal.

In everyday conversation, however, things are of course not so serious. There the aim is not a conscientious search for truth, but only a carefree search for entertainment. A topic of conversation is raised, not to instruct and enlighten, but to entertain and amuse. Everyday conversation consists predominantly of jokes and small-talk.

When those participating in the conversation have differing opinions, however, the possibility arises that someone will chose a topic for his jokes and small-talk which for him is cheerful and amusing, but for someone else is a very serious and sensitive topic. This latter person might be someone who cares about justice, when the conversation relates to justice, or someone who cares about truth, when the conversation relates to truth.

When someone is faced with this situation, there are three alternatives. First, he can join in the conversation with his own jokes and small-talk, and thereby abandon or betray the seriousness of his ideals. Second, he can attempt to transform the casual conversation into a serious discussion about justice or truth, and thereby spoil the fun of everyone else. Third, he can maintain an embarrassing silence.

This is the situation in which the admirer of science, the lover of truth, finds himself when someone—merely with the intention of being friendly—asks him, “What’s your sign?”

Bind thy heart to the love of truth[edit]

Much as I value sound logic in its proper place, I’m sure it is not the sole instrument needed to combat falsehood. Logic may detect error, but it cannot give so much as a glimpse of the glory of truth. It may refute fallacies, but it cannot bind the heart to the love of truth.

American philosophy departments don’t seek to impart or cultivate a passion for truth. In fact, the rare student who has this passion will find it frustrated at every step. A passion for truth does not respect artificial boundaries the academy erects between disciplines. It sees them only as obstacles in its way.

The philo sophos, the genuine lover of truth, finds poetry that expresses the passion to learn and bear witness to the truth at least as relevant as the rules of logic. Yet poetry is about as welcome in America’s philosophy departments as in its engineering departments. The faculty who teach in our philosophy departments are hardly less philistine than engineers.

Two sorts of students are often confused but are really quite opposite. The first has such a profound store of intellectual integrity that she must see for herself the arguments and evidence to support every claim. For her, books are guides to help her teach herself. She does not learn from books. She learns with the help of books. The second has such a paltry store of intellectual integrity that she wants to hold on to beliefs that are comforting and convenient to her. She is not prepared to call them into doubt. She mistrusts books not because she fears they may contain what is false, but because she fears they may frustrate her attempt to conceal her lack of intellectual integrity from herself.

George Ripley, a contemporary of Emerson and Thoreau, declares his opposition to book learning in an 1839 letter. He writes in reply to a correspondent’s claim that “extensive learning is usually requisite for those who would influence their fellow man on religious subjects”:

Jesus certainly did not take this into consideration in the selection of the twelve from the mass of the disciples; he committed the promulgation of his religion to 'unlearned and ignorant' men; the sublimest truths were entrusted to the most common minds. ... Christ saw that the parade of wisdom, which books impart, was nothing before 'the light that enlighteneth every human mind.'

This passage is typical in that it never seeks to resolve the ambiguity in question. What books impart is nothing compared to the light that enlightens every human mind. I agree. But why shouldn’t this light shine on books as well as other things? In other words, even if we accept that the individual human mind is always to be the arbiter of truth, does it follow that the individual mind may never examine the works of other human minds? If we accept that the individual mind must examine the works of nature or God directly, does it follow that it may never allow other minds to point it toward what they have seen?

Schopenhauer, a German contemporary of Ripley, expresses the objection to pedantry eloquently:

Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning.

Just as in Schopenhauer and Ripley’s time, today’s academics are very often pedants. They do not try to kindle the light of understanding within the soul. They merely attach the waxen nose to each student and send her on her way.

What we need is neither more nor less book learning. We need a better kind of book learning. We need to use books to inspire our own thinking, not to replace it.

First paragraph is based loosely on Ripley's Letters on the Latest form of Infidelity (1839)

Some thoughts on Ayn Rand[edit]

The individualist has always had an ambivalent relationship with the market. On the one hand, the market is an inevitable consequence of the individual right to own and trade property. On the other hand, the market is the embodiment of the opinions of other persons about how artifacts and activities are to be valued, and the individualist insists on deciding these values for himself.

Ayn Rand's education in Soviet Russia made her intimately familiar with Marx's theory of alienation. Her response to this theory is represented by the character Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, who insists on maintaining a non-alienated relationship to his work as an architect. Roark is unwilling to compromise his artistic integrity and independence, even when his tenacity leads to dire hardship.

The joy of owning material things is small in comparison to the joy of genuinely self-directed creative work, of forming and developing one's own vision and bringing it to realization. To sacrifice the joy of self-directed work for the joy of ownership is a very imprudent--and yet also very common--decision. This sort of imprudence is represented in The Fountainhead by Peter Keating. Keating recognizes the market as the highest arbiter of value. He does whatever it takes to bring in client revenue. The consequence is that he becomes extravagantly wealthy--and miserably unhappy.

In a world populated only by Peter Keatings, free market capitalism might still be the most just way to organize society, but it would be an aesthetically repulsive and psychologically disastrous way to organize society. It is the possibility of an uncompromisingly self-directed man like Howard Roark that vindicates capitalism in the aesthetic and psychological realm as well as in the realm of justice.

Ayn Rand is able to make an unequivocal recommendation for a universal free market because she believes she has solved the problem of alienation. It would seem, however, that although her recommendations for government policies of laissez-faire capitalism have had a not entirely insignificant political influence, the ethic of non-alienated work on which these recommendations are predicated has had comparatively little influence. The leaders of contemporary commercial enterprises are unabashed in their insistence on recognizing the market as the ultimate arbiter and director of all their decisions and activities. What should be recognized as a vice--spineless submission to public opinion as embodied in the marketplace--comes to be thought of as a virtue. To call an enterprise "market driven" is universally recognized as unequivocal praise.

The principle which Howard Roark puts into practice is summarized in his maxim, "I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build." In other words, Roark's practice is not "market-driven." It is driven by his own need to realize his artistic vision.

Is it possible for an individual employee in a contemporary commercial enterprise to adopt a self-realization-centered approach to his work, when the primary goal of his employer is to fulfill market needs which will certainly not always coincide with the employee's needs for self-realization? The inevitable conflicts might in the end make the employee who insists on self-realization unemployable, consigning him to work in the rock quarry. But a tenacious perseverance and insistence on doing work in a fulfilling way might eventually pay off--as it does for Roark in The Fountainhead.

Just as democracy must be limited, because the majority does not always understand or respect the rights of men, so the man engaged in commerce must carefully limit the influence he allows potential trading partners, because the majority of these potential partners will not understand or respect the integrity of his work. If he fails to maintain such a limit, his integrity will inevitably suffer.

To put it another way, the individual who breaks free from the collective power of the state only to then submit to the collective power of “the market” is hardly worthy of being called an individual. The truly independent individual always steadfastly adheres to the course demanded by his own genius, irrespective of whether the state approves of it, whether the community approves of it, whether the market approves of it.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's reflective attitude toward capitalism seems to have largely disappeared. Her characterization of capitalism has for the most part degenerated into simple-minded panegyric, blissfully if not willfully disregarding the influence of secondhand men in the market. Perhaps Ayn Rand's readers did not care so much for the vision of the uncompromising man faithful only to his own genius. But they were very fond of the vision of the commercial man faithful only to his own material interests. This was a much less demanding vision, much more comfortable. This was the vision she chose to develop in her later work.

Among the most effective literary techniques The Fountainhead uses to criticize the philosophy of secondhand men are the speeches of the secondhand men themselves (Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey). By making the assumptions behind the secondhand man’s philosophy explicit, these speeches show just how corrupt and inhuman such a philosophy really is.

A human mind, if it is to lead anything other than a stunted and crippled existence, must learn to express itself[edit]

In school I devoted myself to math and physics and avoided history and English as much as I could. What no one told me then—and I didn’t discover until much later in life—is that the vocabulary we learn in math and science, while well suited to describing the physical world, is entirely incapable of introspection. The mind needs routine maintenance to ward off triviality and error. And there is no way to perform that maintenance without tools. What are the tools we need? Words. In particular, words that describe mental existence.

Once upon a time our universities offered an aristocratic form of education, in which the mind of a young student was seen not merely as a means, but as a significant and important end in itself. Occasionally a lucky student still receives a liberal education as an undergraduate, but in graduate school that’s all over. Graduate school doesn’t see the mind as an end in itself, only as a useful organ to be sacrificed for the greater good. In master’s programs, the aim is to train the mind to make a contribution to commerce; in doctoral programs, a contribution to knowledge. Ample time was allotted in my graduate program to give my mind the vocabulary it needed to precisely describe and control the trajectory of electrons. No time was allotted to give my mind the vocabulary it needed to describe and control its own trajectory.

Some philosophies attribute to the mind a desire to understand and express itself, not for any external purpose, but for its own sake. In these philosophies, the human mind is not an instrument. It is as an end in itself. Aside from a few shining exceptions like Emerson and Thoreau, these philosophies have never been particularly influential in America. Unfortunately for the world, the Pax Americana is driving them into oblivion everywhere.

Humanists are fond of lamenting the anti-intellectual tendency in American life. This, in my opinion, is not a sufficiently precise description of the problem. The master isn't anti-slave. He's all in favor of slaves, so long as they never imagine they are free. It's not that Americans are opposed to mind. We just want to make sure it doesn’t put on airs and imagine it’s an end in itself. It must know its proper place.

A rich vocabulary is the soil in which the mind grows. To exile a mind into an arid specialized vocabulary incapable of self-reflection is cruel. Philosophy, psychology and poetry are the nutrients a mind needs to flourish. To withhold nourishment from a mind capable of assimilating it is cruel.

Just as cattle are herded heedlessly to their deaths so we can have our beef, young minds are herded into graduate schools where they suffer a slow, painful intellectual disfigurement so we can have magnetic resonance imaging machines and cellular phones. And just as the gleaming metal corral leads the cattle happily along to death, scholarships and stock options led me happily along to my intellectual disfigurement.

Occasionally one of the cows figures out where the corral leads. But, lacking the vocabulary to describe the slaughterhouse, she can’t incite a riot. When our leaders have their way, when technical education entirely supplants the humanities, humans will lose the vocabulary we need to tell one another about the intellectual slaughterhouse we’re all being led to. Or, even if the humanities aren't completely eliminated, they may end up being lobotomized with their own technical vocabulary, so they too lose the capacity for intellectual self-examination and self-expression.

If democratic sentiment inspires us to give every human mind an aristocratic education that treats it as an end in itself, it is admirable. If democratic sentiment inspires us to abandon aristocratic education because it is “impractical” to give to everyone, and therefore must be given to no one, it is contemptible. Can we treat every human mind as an end in itself rather than a sacrificial cow to be disfigured for the greater good? I don’t know. But I know I will not sacrifice myself. I know I will not lead anyone else to sacrifice. What is practical depends, after all, on what one wants to practice.

On the "is/ought distinction"[edit]

The norm of scientific objectivity demands that I judge the truth or falsehood of a claim without considering my personal interests. If I apply the same norm to my actions, it follows that I must judge the rightness or wrongness of my actions without considering my personal interests.

As Hume says, we can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.” But I only know what “is” because I am objective. And the norm of objectivity is by no means silent about what I “ought” to do. The so-called “fact/value distinction” or “is/ought problem” arises only when we forget that facts are not independent entities, but can only be discovered by an objective observer.

A physician will reach the same diagnosis when confronted with a wound in another person’s arm and a wound in her own. The mind that seeks to perfect itself will take the same action when it observes another human being’s hunger and when it observes its own. The norm of objective observation dictates that in the observed universe the observer is just another element, and must be treated, epistemically and morally, like any other.

The mistake of engineers[edit]

When a patient demands medicine, the physician doesn't immediately assume the demand must be fulfilled. She first decides if the medicine will be beneficial. A medical science that took as its premise that patients know what is healthy and unhealthy would reach incorrect conclusions. It wouldn’t really be a science at all.

If a man asks me to go a mile with him, I go two miles with him. But if he's going toward self-destruction, I don’t remain silent on the way. I try to persuade him to alter his course. Commercial enterprises, on the other hand, hasten him on the path to self-destruction and collect profits on the way.

When a spoiled boy demands more and more toys, we ignore his incessant demands and teach him the virtues of self-denial and self-restraint. But when a billionaire demands a three hundred million dollar mansion, the architect is all too eager to comply.

With exception of a few noble professions such as medicine, commercial enterprises are ruled by a morality deliberately stripped of all difficult demands and reduced, in effect, to amorality. Commercial enterprises never take an oath to do no harm. Those who work for them are complicit in the harm they do.

Many of the demands of consumers are the demands of undisciplined minds driven by ignoble passions. The premise of commercial enterprises is that all consumer demand constitutes an opportunity for profit and none should be passed up. The inevitable consequence is that when we allow ourselves to be ruled by commercial enterprises we allow ourselves to be ruled by the ignoble passions of undisciplined minds. Under such conditions it is impossible to maintain intellectual discipline. Under such conditions it is impossible to remain noble.

The mistake of engineers is that we place the intellect in service to the body, the pure forms of mathematics in service to the impure forms of the marketplace, the higher in service to the lower. The barbaric idea that the development of the intellect must invariably lead to a means of temporal livelihood leads us to think that we must either become professional mathematicians or else find some other professional use for our mathematical talents. But mathematics, like philosophy, is on a higher plane than bodily needs which give rise to the existence of professions. In the same way that the sublimity and beauty of love is corrupted when it is offered for sale, the sublimity and beauty of mathematical talent is corrupted by debasing it into just another ware in the marketplace.

We teach virtue by leading virtuous lives, setting an example of humility for others to follow. If our leaders refuse to learn the lessons of virtue we teach, we must certainly not serve them and thereby make ourselves accessories to their vices.

You're too smart to be an engineer[edit]

Intellectuals in the Middle Ages distinguished between liberal arts, pursued by free men out of sincere intellectual interest, and servile arts, pursued by slaves in service to their masters. Engineering is deceptive. It lures you in with interesting mathematical problems, making you think it’s a liberal art. But in fact engineering is a servile art. Every activity must ultimately justify itself by showing it’s useful to the marketplace or the majority.

Mathematics and other liberal arts are ruled by an intellectual aristocracy. You need only submit to those you recognize as intellectual superiors. Servile arts are ruled by majorities and markets. You must submit to the brute force of votes and dollars, even when those who wield them are your intellectual inferiors. Even if you're fortunate enough to work for a manager who is your intellectual superior, he is still ultimately accountable to the market. If you have your own business, you must hold yourself accountable to the market directly.

The practitioner of a liberal art is free. He may choose a master when he needs a master to help him advance intellectually. He may be independent when independence suits him. The practitioner of a servile art doesn't get to choose his master, and is certainly never independent.

Liberal arts are open to two sorts of people: those who are already wealthy, and those who despise wealth and live simply and rudely. If you’re determined to earn a living from work, this determination imposes a constraint. If you imagine the constraint is temporary, think again. Thoreau aptly ridicules the foolishness of spending the best part of life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part. He cites the case of an Englishman who went to India to make his fortune so he could return to England and live as a poet. Why didn’t he just move into a garret and begin writing?

It’s impossible to serve a master without being influenced by him. As soon as you consent to be ruled by markets and majorities, the excellences that once placed you above them will begin to fade. What’s worse, you will begin to question whether they were ever really excellences at all.

The Gospel of Consumption[edit]

We laugh at the idea of salvation. But in practice we order our lives and our rituals precisely as if we believed in salvation by comfort and convenience. We don’t like to talk about our theology—no more than lay Christians like to talk about the Trinity. We leave this up to our religious experts, in Hollywood. The large flat panel screen before which we worship six hours each day shows us brilliantly crafted sermons to consumption. Our saints of consumption, role models for all our daily activities, consume resources and make high quality video recordings of the process.

Alternatives to the gospel of consumption have, in the course of time, been forgotten. The ideal of Socrates was to dedicate each day to thinking and questioning, sharing dialectical conversation with our fellow men. The ideal of Jesus was to dedicate each day to loving and sharing joy with our fellow men. Of course Hollywood pays homage to these forgotten ideals too. But it always treats them as musty relics from another era, to be included as supplements to the serious business of consumption, not, as they were originally intended, as alternatives.

Luxury and leisure[edit]

I have often observed the contempt the American middle class shows for all forms of culture that demand discipline and leisure: ancient languages, literature, philosophy, and essentially every other intellectual pursuit that doesn't open immediate prospects of wealth. The grimaces that contort the faces of acquaintances when I so much as mention the existence of poetry have always astounded me, and at the same time mystified me. Only now is the source of aversion becoming clear. Although we love to brag about our exotic vacations, we know perfectly well that the leisure required to actually understand the cultures we occasionally visit is far, far beyond our means. Our dedication to middle class luxuries deprives us of the leisure we need to improve our minds. After all, we couldn’t possibly afford leisure and nice furniture too.

Emerson describes one of his motives for keeping a journal as a profound need to rewrite the encyclopedia of human knowledge in the way most intelligible to him, “each mind requiring to write the whole of literature and science for itself.” Does each mind really have such a need? If so, the middle class have been brutalizing ourselves, are still brutalizing ourselves, and intend to continue brutalizing ourselves, by depriving ourselves of its fulfillment. All so we can have nice furniture!

Even to raise the possibility in middle class society that there might be a need for intellectual development sends everyone present into squirms of discomfort. It’s almost as if we had mentioned religion—the other subject that claims we need it, and whose claims we’re determined to ignore. What, after all, if the claims turn our to be right? They might deprive us of the comfortable couches on which our pampered asses are squirming.

Even though we haven’t understood it, we know beforehand that all this “culture” stuff must be pomp and pretense. Because if it weren’t, we would be forced to admit to ourselves that even in our forties and fifties, we’re still procrastinating remedying the deficiencies in our education.

The rhetoric of those who tell us we must learn the arguments for both sides of an issue before we make up our minds is no more than an advertising tactic for those peddling their alleged ability to show us both sides of the issues. The image of the "cultured man" they try to implant in our minds is no different from the image of the happy husband in the driver’s seat of his Cadillac. This is just culture’s way of peddling its wares. The humanities is one gig among others. The elusive thing they call "intellectual flourishing" is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

This is what I tell myself, as I sit on my comfortable couch and continue to procrastinate.

Essays of academic interest[edit]

Has there been a Copernican Revolution in philosophy?[edit]

When Faust’s foolish assistant remarks how amusing it is to read the classics and see how far we’ve come, Faust replies with biting sarcasm, “Oh yeah, to the stars!” Present-day philosophers must treat past philosophers as we wish future philosophers to treat us. But we don’t. We come to the great thinkers of the past knowing in advance that the latest is the best, that they are relevant only as our predecessors, not as serious contenders in the quest for truth. “A person’s right to complain,” John Rawls tells us, “is limited to violations of principles he acknowledges himself.” When future philosophers ignore us because we have ignored the authorities of the past, we will have no cause to complain.

Arthur Danto explains the intent of his book on Nietzsche as follows: “Because we know a good deal more philosophy today, I believe it is exceedingly useful to see Nietzsche’s analyses in terms of logical features which he was unable to make explicit, but toward which he was unmistakably groping.” The statement is symptomatic of a widespread conviction. We are better than past philosophers. This conviction is particularly out of place in a book on Nietzsche, who vehemently criticized the “culture-philistines” of his own day for the arrogant presumption that they had surpassed the classics, when, in fact, they had failed to live up to what the classics demanded of them. Nietzsche berates the „Wirklichkeits-Philosophen” of his generation for their “disbelief in the master-task and supremacy of philosophy.” For Nietzsche, as for the classics, philosophy isn’t merely a hair-splitting endeavor to analyze how words are in fact used. It is the supreme legislator of how words should be used.

David Hume petulantly demands that any book containing no “reasoning concerning quantity or number” and no “experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact” should be summarily committed to the flames. But with this demand he commits his own exhortations to intellectual conscience, which after all contain none of the reasoning he describes, to the flames.

The classic texts of philosophy offer not merely knowledge, but also prescriptions and exhortations. Their arguments are very often aesthetic rather than empirical in character. The Stoics present a way of life, for example, in the hope it will appear beautiful or noble. Socrates is reputed to have viewed with indifference the attempts of his contemporaries to accumulate facts. What he professed was not a cold-hearted diligence in discovering facts, but a reverent, devoted pursuit of virtue and wisdom. A philo sophos, in the etymological sense of the word, is not a functionary in the global enterprise of accumulating facts. He is a lover of wisdom.

The present generation of philosophers often seems to view the introduction of analytic philosophy as a philosophical analog of the Copernican Revolution. In the wake of this revolution, earlier philosophical texts, like earlier cosmological texts, are no longer considered serious contenders in the quest for truth. But does a text that offers aesthetic arguments about the best way to live ever really become obsolete in the way a text that makes only cosmological truth claims can?

Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise reinterprets Biblical events in symbolic rather than cosmological terms. Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone reinterprets the New Testament as a call to transform statutory religion into a religion of pure reason. Rudolf Bultmann’s New Testament and Mythology seeks to disentangle the New Testament proclamation from the “mythical world picture” in which it is embedded. These texts show a way for us to retain, and even augment, the exhortatory elements that make a text worthy of its authoritative status, while at the same time refuting its false cosmological claims.

Before its Copernican Revolution, philosophy was considered one of the humanities, and was governed by the norms of taste that governed the humanities. As philosophy has torn itself free of its roots, it has also torn itself free of these norms. A lover of truth would find poetry that expresses the passion to learn and bear witness to the truth at least as relevant as the rules of logic. Yet poetry is about as welcome in our philosophy departments as in our engineering departments.

Living is an art, and, like all arts, demands taste as well as technique. If the central question of philosophy, “How shall I live?” has ceased to be one of the “generally recognized problems” of philosophy, and become instead a “pseudo-question,” perhaps this is because philosophy has severed its ties with the humanities, and can no longer intelligently discuss matters of taste. If we were to train architects only in structural mechanics, and dispense with all training in aesthetics, what would happen to architecture?

When we write philosophy today, we proceed as if our sole aim were to convey information as efficiently and succinctly as possible. When we read philosophy, we proceed as if our sole aim were to extract information as quickly as possible. Seldom do we give our attention to the artful contrivances great thinkers have used to inspire in their readers the noble passion for truth and wisdom that allowed them to become great thinkers in the first place. Even more seldom do we attempt to produce any new such contrivances. In fact, the insipid academic writing style of our age often seems as if it were deliberately contrived to extinguish passion, or repel those who have it. We cultivate precision, but not passion, forgetting that both are requirements for a genuine philosopher.

"But Never a Man": Humanism and the Division of Labor[edit]

The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

The sardonically skeptical sentiments of Molière and Voltaire, which demand that we not take the fictions of religion and philosophy too seriously, have escalated over time into a universal and highly exaggerated sort of anti-intellectual sentiment, which demands that we not take anything other than production and commerce too seriously. All of man's psychological needs other than the need for material comfort—all virtues other than prudence—all literature other than journalism and technics—all these, in our new philosophical outlook, are banished—banished to the same place of contemptuous indifference to which we have banished religion.

Not only can the new anti-intellectualism not tolerate the fictions of religion; it can’t tolerate any fictions, even those which embody and demonstrate psychological truths about man. We’re squeamish about all aspects of human life that don’t fit neatly into the dichotomy we have set up for ourselves, a dichotomy which separates work—that which is serious and deals only in facts—from entertainment—that which is lighthearted and deals only in fictions. The serious work of fiction, which is not mere entertainment, which teaches us something important and serious about ourselves, is a threat to this dichotomy, and therefore scrupulously ignored.

Among the most urgent normative questions facing the intellectual leader in the present age is the question of how she should relate herself to the division of labor economy. Should she participate? If such participation is inevitable, is there some way she can participate without making herself into a merely partial human being? Because of the way today’s university is organized, the answer to such questions is already conceded before the study of normative questions has even begun. Philosophical inquiry itself is assumed to amenable to division of labor. Division of labor becomes part of the cognitive apparatus—an inescapable a priori judgment whose reality can no more be doubted than the reality of space and time. Or, as Marcuse puts it, “The societal division of labor obtains the dignity of an ontological condition.”

Dualism, whether that of Platonism or Christianity, is a dialectical step that might potentially allow us to escape from the perverse monism of today, in which the universal essence of all things is not water, air, or fire, but rather money. Dualism at least opens the possibility that something other than commerce might be a serious human activity. Of course it also closes the possibility that serious human activities other than commerce might be somehow embodied in reality. It thereby relegates all activities other than commerce to the imagination, assuring the uncontested dominance of commerce in the material world.

Historically, the most conspicuous form of opposition to the division of labor is the so-called “humanist tradition.” Central to this tradition is the “canon of classics,” which provide various conceptions of what it might mean to be a complete human being. The humanist tradition applies the term of opprobrium “philistine” to those who are ignorant of the canon of classics, who express themselves clumsily and inelegantly, and who in general fail to recognize and appreciate the achievements of humanist culture. In contemporary Anglo-American philosophy, the values of this humanist tradition have been inverted. Philosophy, the former leader of the humanist tradition, now declares itself to be resolutely opposed to humanism—to be proudly and deliberately philistine. Our new philosophers take as their role model, not the eloquent writing style of the classics, but the unselfconscious, clumsy, prosaic style of scientific literature. Their point of departure is not a canon, but a “body of literature.”

The canon of the humanist tradition was a means of producing individual insight and depth of understanding. The “body of literature” is a reservoir of collective knowledge which can be dipped into at will. But in the case of ethical inquiry, this “at will“ is precisely what is problematic. To only dip into our database of ethical results “at will” means to be virtuous only when the mood strikes us. Virtue requires that the will itself be conditioned and modified by ethical inquiry, not accepted as an unalterable primary.

The conception of intellectual life most influential in the present age might be called “accrual of collective knowledge.” The purpose of intellectual activity conceived in this way is to contribute to mankind’s project of accumulating a greater and greater quantity of facts, stored in books, journals and computer databases. Understanding of subject matter is considered useful for such an activity, but primarily as an instrument—the ultimate goal is not understanding but the accumulation of facts.

Such an approach is undeniably fruitful in some areas. In medicine it’s certainly useful to have databases of diseases and genes that can be consulted at will. But what are we to make of attempts to answer the fundamental ethical question “How should one live?” by accrual of collective knowledge? Even supposing that the correct answer to the question is achieved, if the answer remains distributed in books, journals and computer databases, how does that help us to actually live rightly? Surely, at least in this one case, what is required is not a collective understanding held by a community of scholars, but an individual understanding held by each and every person who intends to be virtuous.

The division of labor, while sometimes prudent in other sciences, is simply not plausible in the study of virtue. Person A will study justice and be just. Person B will study charity and be charitable. Person C will study prudence and be prudent. Person D will study courage and be courageous. And, together, A, B, C and D will be collectively virtuous. Surely we must find such an approach ridiculous. Yet this is just the approach to virtue that is pursued by most of the so-called philosophers in the contemporary English-speaking world.

The enthusiastic participant in today’s division of labor economy intends from the outset that his specialized knowledge will be relevant only in his “professional” life. The sole benefit it is intended to confer upon his “personal” life is the income he obtains by placing it at the service of his employers. The philosophers of the past who lived austere and ascetic lives didn’t consider this an incidental fact about their “personal” lives. It was a definitively important part of their philosophical method. Their austerity arose from a frank acknowledgement of the fact (a fact most of us would very much like to ignore) that everyone must make the difficult but unavoidable choice between two paths: the pleasant, agreeable path to wealth and honors, and the austere, difficult path to truth and wisdom.

When the principle of division of labor asserts itself in the humanities, and imposes this separation of personal and professional life in the realm of philosophy, a grave and momentous change occurs in what it means to be a philosopher. Those who claim to be lovers of wisdom, but in reality intend philosophy to be merely a “profession” in which they can achieve wealth and honors, have often—and justly—been ridiculed by genuine lovers of wisdom, as, for example, Plato does to the Sophists, Schopenhauer to “university philosophy,” and Nietzsche to “culture-philistines.”

Certain lines of thought in sociology and political science that are influential, and perhaps dominant, make the division of labor an essential part of their methodology. Durkheim, for example, deliberately excludes psychology and philosophy from his subject matter. In his insistence upon treating moral facts as irreducible phenomena, he resembles an anatomist who would like to understand the anatomy of a specimen, but is too timid to take the scalpel to its flesh and insists on observing only from the outside. Durkheim assures us that “moral facts are phenomena like others.” But if this is the case, shouldn’t the scientist ask what lies behind these phenomena? Conspicuously missing from the now hermetically isolated discipline of sociology is any awareness of the possibility that behind society’s moral evaluations might lie unconscious philosophical or psychological influences—the interests of dominant social classes, for example.

In its hermetic isolation, the new positivist sociology has forgotten the skill of dialectical and psychological dissection of moral sentiments that can be found in the likes of Socrates, La Rochefoucauld, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Endemic to Durkheim is a certain déformation professionnelle that insists on making the individual the smallest unit of consideration, of treating him as a unified consciousness. He ignores the plethora of arguments, from Plato to Nietzsche, to the effect that consciousness must be conceived as a multiplicity rather than a unity. Durkheim himself is an intellectual casualty of that very same division of labor he finds so inevitable in society.

In some of his later statements about methodology, John Rawls proposes that we conceive of political philosophy as a process of collecting and categorizing the “settled convictions” of our society, and that we derive our conception of justice to accord with these convictions. Political philosophy, then, is conceived as essentially an ancillary addendum to the sort of political science which collects and analyzes survey data. First the surveying will tell us what the settled convictions are. Then the political philosophers will dutifully do their part and formulate a nice coherent philosophical system whose conclusions conveniently accord with the survey data. The scope of political philosophy is thus narrowed from a quest for truth and wisdom about political regimes to a quest to reach predetermined conclusions that nicely accord with the settled convictions of the present regime—from philosophy to dogmatics. The political scientist, like any competent professional, must now respect the division of labor. He must do only his assigned part. He must not overstep the bounds of his profession. “Personal” passions, such as those that might inspire him to seek truth and wisdom, must be vigilantly suppressed.

Epistemic reservations about psychopharmacology[edit]

The positivist paradigm, which demands experiments conducted on many subjects to obtain statistically significant results, has arguably been very successful in many branches of medicine. The plausibility of this paradigm in specifically studying the mind is problematic, however. The following are some of the foremost reasons for skepticism.

(1) When a statistical regularity observed in a population is applied to an individual, no inference can be drawn unless we hypothesize that the individual is, in the relevant sense, part of the population. For example, a study of the statistical distribution of the weight of apples offers no relevant information about the weight of an orange. In the case of somatic medicine, studies on a subset of the human population are arguably very relevant in predicting the outcome of experiments on other human subjects, given that more than 99% of the coding portions of the genome is identical in all individuals. In the case of psychology, however, we must contend not only with genetic variation, but also with variations in education and culture. When a psychopharmaceutical has been studied on a population of secular minds, for example, it becomes implausible to suppose that statistical inferences will have any relevance to a religious mind. When the population comprises credulous minds, it becomes implausible to suppose the conclusions will apply to skeptical minds. When the population comprises non-philosophical minds, it becomes implausible to suppose the conclusions will apply to a philosophical mind. And so forth. In particular, in Western societies, where states have adopted “multicultural” policies permitting a number of arguably very diverse, perhaps even incommensurable forms of mental existence to coexist, it becomes implausible to suppose that conclusions drawn predominantly from the wider culture will apply to individuals in minority cultures with widely disparate values.

(2) In order to distinguish the effects of a psychopharmaceutical from the effects of the environment in which it is administered, it is necessary to administer an inert placebo, such as glucose, in the same environment in which the drug is administered. Furthermore, it is necessary that the experimental subject remain unaware of whether she received drug or placebo. This is referred to as “blinding.” In psychopharmacology it becomes unclear whether blinding is possible or even logically conceivable. The following two cases must somehow be distinguished: (a) the drug produces the observed effect; and (b) the patient notices the mind-altering effect of the drug, which reveals that she has received the drug rather than the placebo, and this awareness produces the observed effect. The statistical incidence of observed effects may differ between the control group and the study group, in other words, either on account of efficacy of the drug, or merely because the study group knows it has been medicated and the control group knows it has not.

(3) Statistics on the effect of psychoactive drugs in curing or ameliorating symptoms of a psychiatric ailment can be assessed only by making a diagnosis of the presence or absence of symptoms. In the nineteenth century, diagnoses were available for slaves who refused to work (dysaesthesia aethiopica) or tried to flee (drapetomania). Until 1974 homosexuality was considered a manifestation of psychological derangement. The nearly universal reinterpretation of these diagnoses as ailments of society rather than ailments of the patient might lead us to consider possible reinterpretations of present-day diagnoses. When a patient finds herself unable to work, for example, we might ask: is this a manifestation of a disorder of the patient (depression), or is it a manifestation of a disorder of a society (failure to provide meaningful work, commodification of the intellect, etc.)?

Quotations with commentary[edit]

Untimely medications[edit]

The popular medical formulation of morality that goes back to Ariston of Chios, "virtue is the health of the soul," would have to be changed to become useful, at least to read: "your virtue is the health of your soul." For there is no health as such, and all attempts to define a thing that way have been wretched failures. Even the determination of what is healthy for your body depends on your goal, your horizon, your energies, your impulses, your errors, and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul. Thus there are innumerable healths of the body; and the more we allow the unique and incomparable to raise its head again, and the more we abjure the dogma of the "equality of men," the more must the concept of a normal health, along with a normal diet and the normal course of an illness, be abandoned by medical men. Only then would the time have come to reflect on the health and illness of the soul, and to find the peculiar virtue of each man in the health of his soul.

Today’s psychiatrists do not study religion, philosophy or literature. They are therefore unfamiliar with the formidable variety of forms of health of the soul. Nonetheless they are responsible for making our souls healthy. Today’s psychopharmacology strives to make us all into conscientious workers. Why? Because psychiatrists are conscientious workers. This is the only from of mental health they know. Should a saint, philosopher or artist decide that her form of life requires a different psychopharmaceutical regimen, she will quickly discover her rulers do not tolerate this particular form of dissent.

An orgy of self-sacrificing[edit]

“The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing,” says Ayn Rand, who imagines capitalism is the cure. In fact, capitalism, at least as presently practiced, is the most vile orgy of self-sacrificing the world has ever known—all the more vile since it is done in the name of a misguided egoism that imagines material things and material things alone are what the self needs to flourish. The investment banker works twelve hours a day at a job he despises so he can spend his evenings in a fine restaurant where the waiter works twelve hours at a job he despises. We nail ourselves to the cross of commerce and use its rewards to erect monuments to our martyrdom.

At work we strive to fulfill what we imagine are the needs of others, which, we imagine, are expressed in the marketplace. In our leisure hours we strive to fulfill what we imagine are our own needs, which, we imagine, can be fulfilled by things offered in the marketplace. Needs that are simple to discover and require elaborate means to satisfy can be very efficiently met by the marketplace. But needs that are difficult to discover and require simple means to satisfy cannot. When I reflect sincerely, I find that the second sort of needs far outnumber the first.

So long as I rely on the marketplace to satisfy my needs, and to guide me in helping others satisfy theirs, I will omit from consideration every need that cannot be adequately expressed by the marketplace. Very often the best service we can render to our fellow human beings is to advise them to change course. Offering them the means to continue on their present course, the one thing the market can do exquisitely, often doesn’t help them at all.

If I try offering love, I might find, at least occasionally, I get love in return. But this market is very inefficient. I will often be swindled, and have no means to restore justice.

When all the fox’s wiles fail to fetch the grapes, he insists they must be sour. A critic of commerce who doesn’t have more than his share of booty always leaves himself open to the accusation that he is merely airing sour grapes. But most of us have been able to sample a few grapes now and then, even if we haven’t fetched the entire vine. I find the grapes are indeed sweet, in moderation, but in excess they only produce indigestion. The fox’s self-deception, I would say, isn’t so unwise. If the grapes prove too difficult to fetch, why shouldn’t he put them out of his mind and happily go on his way looking for other fruit? The illusion foisted upon us by commerce, that its fruits are the only ones worth striving for, this, more than anything, we must fortify ourselves against.

The religion of bourgeois prudence[edit]

"The first step to moral perfection is your liberation from the religion in which you were raised. Not a single person has come to perfection except by following this way."—Thoreau

The religion in which I was raised was the religion of bourgeois prudence—the rituals of orderly production and consumption, the reverence for capital. This is the prevailing religion, the state sanctioned religion. Only by overcoming it can I free my mind, and perceive without religious illusions.

The German word "geistig"[edit]

“Dancing, business, theatre, cards, dares, horses, women, drink, travel, all these are powerless in the face of the boredom that arises when a lack of intellectual needs makes intellectual pleasures impossible.”—Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer's intellectual needs, geistige Bedürfnisse, could also be translated as “spiritual needs.” To our ears, this would give the passage an entirely different meaning. “Intellectual” and “spiritual” might be considered synonymous, both referring to the mind. But unfortunately the word “spiritual” has been usurped by those for whom care of the intellect is a lazy and undisciplined affair. It is as if the word “athletic” had been usurped by those who watch football on television. We may consider ourselves fortunate that, at least for now, the word “intellectual” retains an association with discipline.

Theory and practice[edit]

"Practical life is not necessarily directed toward other people, as some think; and it is not the case that practical thoughts are only those which result from action for the sake of what ensues. On the contrary, much more practical are those mental activities and reflections which have their goal in themselves and take place for their own sake."—Aristotle

When mathematicians, physicists and philosophers say, “Practice is for lesser minds. I concern myself only with theory,” their statement is more than merely arrogance. It represents a conscious decision about priorities. It represents a choice to place intellectual life on a higher plane than material life. It is, in essence, the same decision made by Christians who renounce the kingdom of means for the Kingdom of God, by Buddhists who renounce the world of action for the world of contemplation. The forms the mathematician or physicist plays with are different from those the mystic plays with. But the belief in the superiority of intellectual life is the same.

Love and desire[edit]

“If people were told: what makes carnal desire imperious in you is not its pure carnal element. It is the fact that you put into it the essential part of yourself—the need for Unity, the need for God—they wouldn’t believe it. To them it seems obvious that the quality of imperious need belongs to the carnal desire as such. In the same way it seems obvious to the miser that the quality of desirability belongs to gold as such, and not to its exchange value.”—Simone Weil

A desire comes from nature, and to obey it is to obey nature, to acquiesce in the role of created being. But the neighbor’s desire is as much a part of nature as my own. To satisfy my own while leaving his unsatisfied ceases to be an act of reverence to nature. It becomes instead an act of rebellion against it. Unlike the ascetic’s rebellion, however, it is hard to imagine this being a rebellion on behalf of something higher. Desire can retain its innocence only so long as it is no more imperious than love.

Intellectual conscience[edit]

"I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I don’t want to believe it although it is palpable: most people lack an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: most people don’t consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this 'great majority.' But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.—Nietzsche

Many religious men and women regard religion as an "intellect-free" zone where intellectual conscience does not apply, where we are free to believe whatever is most comforting and convenient. But if religion represents what is highest in man, isn’t intellectual conscience more important here than anywhere else?

The holy division of labor[edit]

“The error in positivism,” says Adorno, “is that it takes as its standard of truth the contingently given division of labor, and allows no theory that could reveal the division of labor to be itself derivative.” Once philosophy has been demoted to one specialty among others, it is no more able to call in question the division of labor than the medieval philosophy that served the Church could call in question the existence of God.

Assorted opinions[edit]


Skepticism is a virtue if it comes at the right time, when we are trying to decide upon the truth or falsity of a claim. If it comes too early, when we have yet to understand what is being claimed—if we use it merely as an excuse to evade the effort to understand points of view different from our own—then it is certainly a vice.

The boy who cried "socially constructed"[edit]

Skeptics who cry "socially constructed" whenever they hear any truth claim are, it seems to me, very much like the shepherd boy who cries ‘wolf’ merely to amuse himself. First they claim the truths of mathematics are socially constructed. Then they claim the truths of physics are socially constructed. Finally, it's time to criticize psychiatry’s credulous labeling of homosexuality as a disease. By then, no one is listening.

Neighbor love[edit]

The way to find joy in the company of others is to love them. When I hold back my love, I may feel that I am being frugal and prudent, but I am really just depriving myself of joy.

If I interpret “Love thy neighbor” as a sacrifice, I have perverted its meaning. Love for my neighbor allows me to experience a profound joy in her presence. I love her as much for my sake as for hers.

If I interpret “Love thy neighbor” to mean “Love all men equally,” I have also perverted its meaning. Equality is not the important thing. Love is the important thing. A far better interpretation is “Love each person as much as you possibly can.”

When I read that “God is love,” I do not interpret this to mean that the ruler in the heavens is a loving ruler, I interpret it to mean that love is divine.