This page contains a collection of quotes on philosophy, arranged in roughly chronological order. Details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.
Socrates: Philosophy begins in wonder.
– Plato, Thaetetus, 155B, trans. Benjamin Jowett
The activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of virtuous activities; at all events the pursuit of it is thought to offer pleasures marvellous for their purity and their enduringness, and it is to be expected that those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who inquire.
– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1177a24, trans. W. D. Ross
It is the effect of philosophy, which is the medicine of our souls; it banishes all groundless apprehensions, frees us from desires, and drives away fears.
– Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, II, 4, trans. C. D. Yonge
Philosophy, thou guide of life! thou discoverer of virtue and expeller of vices! what had not only I myself, but the whole life of man, been without you? . . . You have been the inventress of laws; you have been our instructress in morals and discipline; to you we fly for refuge; from you we implore assistance; and as I formerly submitted to you in a great degree, so now I surrender up myself entirely to you. For one day spent well, and agreeably to your precepts, is preferable to an eternity of error. Whose assistance, then, can be of more service to me than yours, when you have bestowed on us tranquillity of life, and removed the fear of death?
– Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V, 2, trans. C. D. Yonge
When a man sees another handling an ax badly, he does not say, “What is the use of the carpenter’s art? See how badly carpenters do their work”; but he says just the contrary, “This man is not a carpenter, for he uses an ax badly.” In the same way if a man hears another singing badly, he does not say, “See how musicians sing”; but rather, “This man is not a musician.” But it is in the matter of philosophy only that people do this. When they see a man acting contrary to the profession of a philosopher, they do not take away his title, but they assume him to be a philosopher, and from his acts deriving the fact that he is behaving indecently they conclude that there is no use in philosophy.
– Epictetus, Discourses, IV, 8, trans. George Long
Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.
– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. Robert Drew Hicks
Philosophy . . . consists in keeping the daemon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, II, 17, trans. George Long
‘Tis a thousand pities that matters should be at such a pass in this age of ours, that philosophy, even with men of understanding, should be, looked upon as a vain and fantastic name, a thing of no use, no value, either in opinion or effect, of which I think those ergotisms and petty sophistries, by prepossessing the avenues to it, are the cause. And people are much to blame to represent it to children for a thing of so difficult access, and with such a frowning, grim, and formidable aspect. Who is it that has disguised it thus, with this false, pale, and ghostly countenance? There is nothing more airy, more gay, more frolic, and I had like to have said, more wanton. She preaches nothing but feasting and jollity; a melancholic anxious look shows that she does not inhabit there.
– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 25, Of the Education of Children, trans. Charles Cotton
Whoever goes in search of any thing must come to this, either to say that he has found it, or that it is not to be found, or that he is yet upon the search. All philosophy is divided into these three kinds; her design is to seek out truth, knowledge, and certainty.
– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton
Philosophy being nothing else but the study of wisdom and truth, it may with reason be expected that those who have spent most time and pains in it should enjoy a greater calm and serenity of mind, a greater clearness and evidence of knowledge, and be less disturbed with doubts and difficulties than other men. Yet so it is, we see the illiterate bulk of mankind that walk the high-road of plain common sense, and are governed by the dictates of nature, for the most part easy and undisturbed. To them nothing that is familiar appears unaccountable or difficult to comprehend. They complain not of any want of evidence in their senses, and are out of all danger of becoming Sceptics. But no sooner do we depart from sense and instinct to follow the light of a superior principle, to reason, meditate, and reflect on the nature of things, but a thousand scruples spring up in our minds concerning those things which before we seemed fully to comprehend.
– George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Introduction, 1
I do not think that there has ever been a philosopher with a system who did not at the end of his life avow that he had wasted his time. It must be admitted that the inventors of the mechanical arts have been much more useful to mankind than the inventors of syllogisms: the man who invented the shuttle surpasses with a vengeance the man who imagined innate ideas.
– Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, Precis of Ancient Philosophy, trans. Peter Gay
Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.
– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7
All the philosophy . . . in the world, and all the religion, which is nothing but a species of philosophy, will never be able to carry us beyond the usual course of experience, or give us measures of conduct and behaviour different from those which are furnished by reflections on common life.
– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, XI, 113
In the progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other employment, the principal or sole trade and occupation of a particular class of citizens. Like every other employment, too, it is subdivided into a great number of different branches, each of which affords occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other business, improve dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, I, 1
The essential business of philosophy, indeed, is to mark out [its own] limits.
– Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, The Discipline of Pure Reason in the Sphere of Dogmatism., trans. J. M. D. Meiklejohn
Attend to thyself; turn thine eye away from all that surrounds thee and into thine own inner self! Such is the first task imposed upon the student by Philosophy. We speak of nothing that is without thee, but merely of thyself.
– J. G. Fitche, Science of Knowledge, Introuction, trans. A. E. Kroeger
There are two kinds of history; the history of politics and the history of literature and art. The one is the history of the will; the other, that of the intellect. The first is a tale of woe, even of terror: it is a record of agony, struggle, fraud, and horrible murder en masse. The second is everywhere pleasing and serene, like the intellect when left to itself, even though its path be one of error. Its chief branch is the history of philosophy. This is, in fact, its fundamental bass, and the notes of it are heard even in the other kind of history. These deep tones guide the formation of opinion, and opinion rules the world. Hence philosophy, rightly understood, is a material force of the most powerful kind, though very slow in its working. The philosophy of a period is thus the fundamental bass of its history.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, Some forms of Literature, trans. T. Bailey Saunders
Speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears every other influence save those which it must itself obey.
– J. S. Mill, Bentham
Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest vistas. It ‘bakes no bread,’ as has been said, but it can inspire our souls with courage; and repugnant as its manners, its doubting and challenging, its quibbling and dialectics, often are to common people, no one of us can get along without the far-flashing beams of light it sends over the world’s perspectives. These illuminations at least, and the contrast-effects of darkness and mystery that accompany them, give to what it says an interest that is much more than professional.
– William James, Pragmatism, I
It is astonishing to see how many philosophical disputes collapse into insignificance the moment you subject them to this simple test of tracing a concrete consequence. There can BE no difference any-where that doesn’t MAKE a difference elsewhere—no difference in abstract truth that doesn’t express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen. The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it will make to you and me, at definite instants of our life, if this world-formula or that world-formula be the true one.
– William James, Pragmatism, II
Metaphysics means nothing but the unusually obstinate effort to think clearly.
– William James, Psychology, VI
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, I, 6, trans. Helen Zimmern
There are questions regarding the truth or untruth of which it is not for man to decide; all the capital questions, all the capital problems of valuation, are beyond human reason…. To know the limits of reason—that alone is genuine philosophy.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, LV, trans. H. L. Mencken
Know of a quote that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!