Philistinism

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A philistine is a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his or her group and time. ... Philistinism implies not only a collection of stock ideas but also the use of set phrases, clichés, banalities expressed in faded words. A true philistine has nothing but these trivial ideas of which he entirely consists. ~ Vladimir Nabokov
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. ~ Matthew Arnold
Nothing is so hateful to the philistine as the "dreams of his youth." ... For what appeared to him in his dreams was the voice of the spirit, calling him once, as it does everyone. It is of this that youth always reminds him, eternally and ominously. That is why he is antagonistic toward youth. ~ Walter Benjamin

Philistinism, in philosophy and æsthetics, describes an attitude of anti-intellectualism that undervalues or despises art, beauty, spirituality, and intellect.

Arranged alphabetically by author or source:
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A[edit]

  • 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

B[edit]

  • Because he never raises his eyes to the great and the meaningful, the philistine has taken experience as his gospel. It has become for him a message about life's commonness. But he has never grasped that there exists something other than experience, that there are values—inexperienceable—which we serve.
    • Walter Benjamin, "Experience" (1913), L. Spencer and S. Jost, trans., Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, volume 1 (1996), p. 4
  • Nothing is so hateful to the philistine as the "dreams of his youth." ... For what appeared to him in his dreams was the voice of the spirit, calling him once, as it does everyone. It is of this that youth always reminds him, eternally and ominously. That is why he is antagonistic toward youth.
    • Walter Benjamin, "Experience" (1913), L. Spencer and S. Jost, trans., Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, volume 1 (1996), pp. 4-5

K[edit]

  • To the Philistine, art is fancy dress for everyday toil and trouble. He snaps at ornaments like a dog at sausage.
    • Karl Kraus, Dicta and Contradicta, J. McVity, trans. (2001), #371

N[edit]

  • A philistine is a full-grown person whose interests are of a material and commonplace nature, and whose mentality is formed of the stock ideas and conventional ideals of his or her group and time. I have said "full-grown person" because the child or the adolescent who may look like a small philistine is only a small parrot mimicking the ways of confirmed vulgarians, and it is easier to be a parrot than to be a white heron. "Vulgarian" is more or less synonymous with "philistine": the stress in a vulgarian is not so much on the conventionalism of a philistine as on the vulgarity of some of his conventional notions. I may also use the terms genteel and bourgeois. Genteel implies the lace-curtain refined vulgarity which is worse than simple coarseness. To burp in company may be rude, but to say "excuse me" after a burp is genteel and thus worse than vulgar. The term bourgeois I use following Flaubert, not Marx. Bourgeois in Flaubert's sense is a state of mind, not a state of pocket. A bourgeois is a smug philistine, a dignified vulgarian.
    • Vladimir Nabokov, “Philistines and Philistinism,” Lectures on Russian Literature (1981), p. 309
  • Philistinism implies not only a collection of stock ideas but also the use of set phrases, clichés, banalities expressed in faded words. A true philistine has nothing but these trivial ideas of which he entirely consists.
    • Vladimir Nabokov, “Philistines and Philistinism,” Lectures on Russian Literature (1981), p. 309
  • The Philistine … strictly separates “the earnestness of life” (under which term he understands his calling, his business, and his wife and child) from … trivialities, and among the latter he includes all things which have any relation to culture. Therefore, woe to the art that takes itself seriously, that has a notion of what it may exact, and that dares to endanger his income, his business, and his habits!
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, A. Ludovici, trans., “David Strauss,” § 1.2, p. 18

S[edit]

  • The Philistine … is a man without intellectual needs. Now it follows from this that, as regards himself, he is left without any intellectual pleasures in accordance with the principle, il n’est pas de vrais plaisirs qu’avec de vrais besoins [There are no true pleasures without true needs].
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 344
  • A great affliction of all Philistines is that idealities afford them no entertainment, but to escape from boredom they are always in need of realities.
    • Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 345

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