The Daily Idea – Full List of Quotes and Resources

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The Full List


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, that is, how to produce the least possible evil and the greatest goodness in one’s life. At present, people study useless sciences, but forget to study this, the most important knowledge.

– Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, March 16, trans. Peter Sekirin

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The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason.

– Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, XV

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Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most of us take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy, and the task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.

– Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, VI

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What is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance.

– Henry David Thoreau, Walking

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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

– J. K. Galbraith, A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter, Ch. 3

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The most common sort of lie is that by which a man deceives himself: the deception of others is a relatively rare offence.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, LV, trans. H. L. Mencken

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The nature of self-love and of this human Ego is to love self only and consider self only. But what will man do? He cannot prevent this object that he loves from being full of faults and wants. He wants to be great, and he sees himself small. He wants to be happy, and he sees himself miserable. He wants to be perfect, and he sees himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of love and esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only their hatred and contempt. This embarrassment in which he finds himself produces in him the most unrighteous and criminal passion that can be imagined; for he conceives a mortal enmity against that truth which reproves him, and which convinces him of his faults. He would annihilate it, but, unable to destroy it in its essence, he destroys it as far as possible in his own knowledge and in that of others; that is to say, he devotes all his attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself, and he cannot endure either that others should point them out to him, or that they should see them. Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a still greater evil to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 100, trans. W. F. Trotter

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When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows…

Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental.

– The Buddha, Sallatha Sutta, The Arrow, trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. The things that are within our power are by nature free, and immune to hindrance and obstruction, while those that are not within our power are weak, slavish, subject to hindrance, and not our own. Remember, then, that if you regard that which is by nature slavish as being free, and that which is not your own as being your own, you’ll have cause to lament, you’ll have a troubled mind, and you’ll find fault with both gods and human beings; but if you regard only that which is your own as being your own, and that which isn’t your own as not being your own (as is indeed the case), no one will ever be able to coerce you, no one will hinder you, you’ll find fault with no one, you’ll accuse no one, you’ll do nothing whatever against your will, you’ll have no enemy, and no one will ever harm you because no harm can affect you.

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, I, trans. Robin Hard

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All Hellenistic schools seem to define [wisdom] in approximately the same terms: first and foremost, as a state of perfect peace of mind. From this viewpoint, philosophy appears as a remedy for human worries, anguish, and misery brought about, for the Cynics, by social constraints and conventions; for the Epicureans, by the quest for false pleasures; for the Stoics, by the pursuit of pleasure and egoistic self-interest; and for the Skeptics, by false opinions. Whether or not they laid claim to the Socratic heritage, all Hellenistic philosophers agreed with Socrates that human beings are plunged in misery, anguish, and evil because they exist in ignorance. Evil is to be found not within things, but in the value judgments with people bring to bear upon things. People can therefore be cured of their ills only if they are persuaded to change their value judgments, and in this sense all these philosophies wanted to be therapeutic.

– Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy, II, 7, trans. Michael Chase

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Many statesmen and philosophers came to him [Alexander the Great] with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, “Yes,” said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.” It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”

– Diogenes, as quoted by Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Alexander, 14, trans. Bernadotte Perrin

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I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with pleasure at home. But on further consideration, when, after finding the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found that there is one very real reason, namely, the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 139, trans. W. F. Trotter

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Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact. Perhaps their pride is like that of the fox who had lost his tail; if so, the way to cure it is to point out to them how they can grow a new tail. Very few men, I believe, will deliberately choose unhappiness if they see a way of being happy. I do not deny that such men exist, but they are not sufficiently numerous to be important.

– Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, I, 1

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Those only are happy … who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit…. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.

– John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, V

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He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent.
He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty.
He who works hard gets wealth; he who knows when he has enough is truly rich.

– Laozi, Tao te Ching, XXXIII, trans. James Legge

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There is no one but yourself who knows whether you are cowardly and cruel, or loyal and devout. Others do not see you, they guess at you by uncertain conjectures; they see not so much your nature as your art. Therefore do not cling to their judgements; cling to your own….

It is a rare life that remains well-ordered even in private. Any man can play his part in the side show and represent a worthy man on the boards; but to be disciplined within, in his own bosom, where all is permissible, where all is concealed–that’s the point.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Of Repentance, trans. Donald M. Frame

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A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

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For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret, he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up. What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of things, in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their end. All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who will follow these marvellous processes? The Author of these wonders understands them. None other can do so.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 72, trans. W. F. Trotter

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The greatest weight: — What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence–even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 341, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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The true, the beautiful, the good: through all the ages of man’s conscious evolution these words have expressed three great ideals: ideals which have instinctively been recognized as representing the sublime nature and lofty goal of all human endeavour.

– Rudolf Steiner, The True, the Beautiful, the Good

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What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. . . . There is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. . . . Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.

– Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 28, trans. P. Mairet

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Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.

– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 29, trans. Justin O’Brien

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Nobody is very likely to consider a doctrine true merely because it makes people happy or virtuous…. Happiness and virtue are no arguments. But people like to forget—even sober spirits—that making unhappy and evil are no counterarguments. Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the ‘truth” one could still barely endure—or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, XXXIX, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition. But certainty is an absurd one.

– Voltaire, Letter to Frederick the Great, 28 Nov, 1770, trans. S. G. Tallentyre

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He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment. … Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. … So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil’s advocate can conjure up.

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, II

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Error is not only the absolute error of believing what is false, but also the quantitative error of believing more or less strongly than is warranted by the degree of credibility properly attaching to the proposition believed in relation to the believer’s knowledge. A man who is quite convinced that a certain horse will win the Derby is in error even if he does win.

– Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, V, 6

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What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts.

– T. H. Huxley, On the Natural Inequality of Men, fn. 1

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You should abstain from arguments. They are very illogical ways to convince people. Opinions are like nails: the stronger you hit them, the deeper inside they go.

– Juvenal, as quoted by Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Nov. 4, trans. Peter Sekirin

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So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, the worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded its adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach.

– J. S. Mill, The Subjection of Women, I

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When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true….

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, I, 9 – 10, trans. W. F. Trotter

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It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Intro.

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The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities – perhaps the only one – in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.

– Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 216

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Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.

– Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, IV, 9, trans. W. J. Greenstreet

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The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, II

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False ideas which gain currency can easily be recognized by the loud fanfare with which they are accompanied. Real truth does not need any outer embellishments.

– Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Aug. 5, trans. Peter Sekirin

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If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, II

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The notion of freedom of speech is being co-opted by dominant social groups, distorted to serve their interests, and used to silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. All too often, when people depict others as threats to freedom of speech, what they really mean is, “Quiet!”

– Jason Stanley & Kate Manne, When Free Speech Becomes a Political Weapon, Nov 13, 2015

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Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

– Lord Acton, Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 3 Apr, 1887

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A question arises: whether it be better [for a prince] to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. . . . Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women.

– Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, XVII, trans. W. K. Marriott

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Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go…. To prevent this abuse, it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power.

– Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, XI, 4, trans. Thomas Nugent

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If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression.

– Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge, VI, trans. C. Gordon, L. Marshall. J. Mepham, K. Soper

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I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.

– Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, IV

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I found ‘Woman’, by nature, formed no less capable of all that is good and great than ‘Man’; and that the Authority which they have usurped over us, is from Force, rather than the Law of Nature.

– Mary Astell, An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex

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I deny that any one knows, or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. If men had ever been found in society without women, or women without men, or if there had been a society of men and women in which the women were not under the control of the men, something might have been positively known about the mental and moral differences which may be inherent in the nature of each. What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing—the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others.

– John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, I

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One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described feminine.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 83, trans. H. M. Parshley

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There are no conditions to which a man cannot become used, especially if he sees that all around him are living in the same way.

– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, VII, 13, trans. Constance Garnett

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The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.

– Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Vol. 1, Ch. 18

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To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.

– Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, IV

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A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

– Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, XVII

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What one generation finds ridiculous, the next accepts; and the third shudders when it looks back on what the first did.

– Peter Singer, Writings on an Ethical Life

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For almost all of human history—from the evolution of Homo sapiens two hundred thousand years ago until the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago—the average income across all countries was the equivalent of two dollars per day or less. Even now, more than half of the world still lives on four dollars per day or less. Yet, through some outstanding stroke of luck, we have found ourselves as the inheritors of the most astonishing period of economic growth the world has ever seen, while a significant proportion of people stay as poor as they have ever been.

Moreover, because of that economic progress, we live at a time in which we have the technology to easily gather information about people thousands of miles away, the ability to significantly influence their lives, and the scientific knowledge to work out what the most effective ways of helping are. For these reasons, few people who have ever existed have had so much power to help others as we have today.

– Will MacAskill, Doing Good Better, I

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The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

– Karl Marx, Theses of Feuerbach, XI, trans. W. Lough

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Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil

– Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

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Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. … Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

– St. Augustine, City of God, IV, 4, trans. Marcus Dods

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I conceive that there are two kinds of inequality among the human species; one, which I call natural or physical, because it is established by nature, and consists in a difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind or of the soul: and another, which may be called moral or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorised by the consent of men. This latter consists of the different privileges, which some men enjoy to the prejudice of others; such as that of being more rich, more honoured, more powerful or even in a position to exact obedience.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Intro., trans. G. D. H. Cole

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Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

– Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, II, 6, trans. S. Moore & E. Aveling

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I find it hard to have patience with historians who boast, as some modern Western historians do, that they keep entirely to the facts of history and they don’t go in for theories. Why, every so-called fact that they present to you had some pattern of theory behind it. Historians who genuinely believe they have no general ideas about history are, I would suggest to them, simply ignorant of the workings of their own minds, and such willful ignorance is … unpardonable.

– Arnold J. Toynbee, Radio Debate (1948)

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As the traveller who has been once from home is wiser than he who has never left his own door step, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinise more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.

– Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, Introduction

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The thing, above all, that a teacher should endeavor to produce in his pupils, if democracy is to survive, is the kind of tolerance that springs from an endeavor to understand those who are different from ourselves. It is perhaps a natural human impulse to view with horror and disgust all manners and customs different from those to which we are used. Ants and savages put strangers to death. And those who have never traveled either physically or mentally find it difficult to tolerate the queer ways and outlandish beliefs of other nations and other times, other sects and other political parties. This kind of ignorant intolerance is the antithesis of a civilized outlook, and is one of the gravest dangers to which our overcrowded world is exposed.

– Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, pg. 121

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The surest way to ruin a youth is by teaching him to respect those who think like him more highly than those who think differently.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn, 297, trans. Brittain Smith

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Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination, and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

– Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, XV

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The unexamined life is not worth living.

– Socrates, as quoted in Plato, Apology, 37B, trans. Benjamin Jowett

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Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

– Plotinus, First Ennead, VI, 9, trans. S. MacKenna

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We would think a man insane who, instead of covering his house with a roof and putting windows in his window frames, goes out in stormy weather, and scolds the wind, the rain, and the clouds. But we all do the same when we scold and blame the evil in other people instead of fighting the evil which exists in us. It is possible to get rid of the evil inside of us, as it is possible to make a roof and windows for our house. This is possible. But it is not possible for us to destroy evil in this world, just as we cannot order the weather to change and the clouds to disappear. If, instead of teaching others, we would educate and improve ourselves, then there would be less evil in this world, and all people would live better lives.

– Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Jan 21, trans. Peter Sekirin

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The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.

– Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, p. 32, trans. H. V. Hong

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The great man is the one who does not lose his child’s-heart.

– Mencius, The Book of Mencius, Bk. 4, Pt. 2, V. 12, trans. James Legge

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Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most wretched and frail of all creatures is man, and withal the proudest. He feels and sees himself lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and rivetted to the worst and deadest part of the universe, in the lowest story of the house, the most remote from the heavenly arch, with animals of the worst condition of the three; and yet in his imagination will be placing himself above the circle of the moon, and bringing the heavens under his feet. ‘Tis by the same vanity of imagination that he equals himself to God, attributes to himself divine qualities, withdraws and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures, cuts out the shares of the animals, his fellows and companions, and distributes to them portions of faculties and force, as himself thinks fit. How does he know, by the strength of his understanding, the secret and internal motions of animals?—from what comparison betwixt them and us does he conclude the stupidity he attributes to them? When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

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Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indedible stamp of his lowly origin.

– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, III, 21

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Man is something that shall be overcome…

A polluted stream is man. One must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean. Behold, I teach you the overman: he is this sea; in him your great contempt can go under.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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Many men have got a great name from the false opinions of the crowd. And what could be baser than such a thing? For those who are falsely praised, must blush to hear their praises. And if they are justly won by merits, what can they add to the pleasure of a wise man’s conscience? For he measures his happiness not by popular talk, but by the truth of his conscience.

– Boethius, The Consolations of Philosophy, III, trans. W. V. Cooper

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It is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1109a24, trans. W. D. Ross

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It’s quite true what philosophy says, that life must be understood backwards. But one then forgets the other principle, that it must be lived forwards. A principle which, the more one thinks it through, precisely leads to the conclusion that life in time can never be properly understood, just because no moment can acquire the complete stillness needed to orient oneself backward.

– Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard’s Papirer, p. 61, trans. A. Hannay

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Some things are hurrying into existence, and others are hurrying out of it; and of that which is coming into existence part is already extinguished. Motions and changes are continually renewing the world, just as the uninterrupted course of time is always renewing the infinite duration of ages. In this flowing stream then, on which there is no abiding, what is there of the things which hurry by on which a man would set a high price? It would be just as if a man should fall in love with one of the sparrows which fly by, but it has already passed out of sight.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, VI, 15, trans. George Long

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In a world where all is unstable, and nought can endure, but is swept onwards at once in the hurrying whirlpool of change; where a man, if he is to keep erect at all, must always be advancing and moving, like an acrobat on a rope—in such a world, happiness in inconceivable. … In the first place, a man never is happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbor with masts and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

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Nihilism stands at the door: whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Bk. I, Section 1, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale

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Man is condemned to be free.

– Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 34, trans. P. Mairet

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I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?

– Epictetus, Discourses, I, 1, trans. George Long

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The thing I fear most is fear.… Those who are in pressing fear of losing their property, of being exiled, of being subjugated, live in constant amguish, losing even the capacity to drink, eat, and rest; whereas the poor, the exiles, and the slaves often live as joyfully as other men. And so many people who, unable to endure the pangs of fear, have hanged themselves, drowned themselves, or leaped to their death, have taught us well that fear is even more unwelcome and unbearable than death itself.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 18, Of Fear, trans. Donald M. Frame

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Anger seems to listen to argument to some extent, but to mishear it, as do hasty servants who run out before they have heard the whole of what one says, and then muddle the order, or as dogs bark if there is but a knock at the door, before looking to see if it is a friend; so anger by reason of the warmth and hastiness of its nature, though it hears, does not hear an order, and springs to take revenge. For argument or imagination informs us that we have been insulted or slighted, and anger, reasoning as it were that anything like this must be fought against, boils up straightway.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1149a25, trans. W. D. Ross

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Hesitation is the best cure for anger. Seek this concession from anger right away, not to gain its pardon, but that it may evidence some discrimination. The first blows of anger are heavy, but if it waits, it will think again. Do not try to destroy it immediately. Attacked piecemeal, it will be entirely overcome.

– Seneca, On Anger, II, 29

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There is internal war in man between reason and the passions. If he had only reason without passions … If he had only passions without reason … But having both, he cannot be without strife, being unable to be at peace with the one without being at war with the other. Thus he is always divided against, and opposed to himself. This internal war of reason against the passions has made a division of those who would have peace into two sects. The first would renounce their passions, and become gods; the others would renounce reason, and become brute beasts. But neither can do so, and reason still remains, to condemn the vileness and injustice of the passions, and to trouble the repose of those who abandon themselves to them; and the passions keep always alive in those who would renounce them.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, VI, 412-413, trans. W. F. Trotter

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We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

– David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. II, III, 3

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Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire.

– François VI de la Rochefoucault, Maxims, 276

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One might compare the relation of the ego to the id with that between a rider and his horse. The horse provides the locomotive energy, and the rider has the prerogative of determining the goal and of guiding the movements of his powerful mount towards it. But all too often in the relation between the ego and the id we find a picture of the less ideal situation in which the rider is obliged to guide his horse in the direction in which itself wants to go.

– Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, XXXIII, trans. W. J. H. Sprott

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It can be no easy task to rule others, when we find it so hard a matter to govern ourselves; and as to dominion, that seems so charming, the frailty of human judgment and the difficulty of choice in things that are new and doubtful considered, I am very much of opinion that it is far more easy and pleasant to follow than to lead; and that it is a great settlement and satisfaction of mind to have only one path to walk in, and to have none to answer for but a man’s self.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 42, Of the Inequailty Amoungst Us, trans. Charles Cotton

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There is nothing softer and weaker than water.
And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.
For this reason there is no substitute for it.
All the world knows that the weak overcomes the strong and the soft overcomes the hard.
But none can practice it.

– Laozi, Tao te Ching, ch. 78, trans. Wing-Tsit Chan

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Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits.

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 16, trans. R. M. Gummere

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A superior man in dealing with the world is not for anything or against anything. He follows righteousness as the standard.

– Confucius, Analects, ch. 4, v. 10, trans. Wing-Tsit Chan

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Virtue . . . is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect; and again it is a mean because the vices respectively fall short of or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and chooses that which is intermediate.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1106b36, trans. W. D. Ross

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None of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1103a14, trans. W. D. Ross

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Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: the habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer, write.

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 18, trans. George Long

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Human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete. But we must add ‘in a complete life.’ For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1097b22, trans. W. D. Ross

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Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgement, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good.

– Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, I, trans. T. K. Abbott

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So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only.

– Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, II, trans. T. K. Abbott

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What is good?—Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil?—Whatever springs from weakness.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, II, trans. H. L. Mencken

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There is master morality and slave morality – … when it is the rulers who determine the concept ‘good’, … the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad’ means the same thing as ‘noble’ and ‘despicable’ – the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘evil originates elsewhere…. The noble type of man feels himself to be the determiner of values, he does not need to be approved of, he judges ‘what harms me is harmful in itself’…. The slave is suspicious of the virtues of the powerful: he is sceptical and mistrustful, keenly mistrustful of everything ‘good’ that is honoured among them – he would like to convince himself that happiness itself is not genuine among them. On the other hand, those qualities which serve to make easier the existence of the suffering will be brought into prominence and flooded with light: here it is that pity, the kind and helping hand, the warm heart, patience, industriousness, humility, friendliness come into honour – for here these are the most useful qualities and virtually the only means of enduring the burden of existence. Slave morality is essentially the morality of utility.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, s. 260, trans. R. J. Hollingdale

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It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of [morally] well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fideility, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of [morally] well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase.

– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, I, 5

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Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think; every effort we can make to throw off our subjection will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it.

– Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

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When we say that pleasure is the end and aim, … we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul.

– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. Robert Drew Hicks

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It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.

– John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, II

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Men procure the actual pleasures of human life by way of pain—I mean not only the pain that comes upon us unlooked for and beyond our will, but unpleasantness planned and willingly accepted. There is no pleasure in eating or drinking, unless the discomfort of hunger and thirst come before. Drunkards eat salty things to develop a thirst so great as to be painful, and pleasure arises when the liquor quenches the pain of the thirst. And it is the custom that promised brides do not give themselves at once lest the husband should hold the gift cheap unless delay had set him craving. We see this in base and dishonourable pleasure, but also in the pleasure that is licit and permitted, and again in the purest and most honourable friendship. We have seen it in the case of him who had been dead and was brought back to life, who had been lost and was found. Universally the greater joy is heralded by greater pain.

– St. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, 3, trans. Francis J. Sheed

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It is strange that we should not realise that no enemy could be more dangerous to us than the hatred with which we hate him, and that by our efforts against him we do less damage to our enemy than is wrought in our own heart.

– St. Augustine, Confessions, I, 18, trans. Francis J. Sheed

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Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends? Or how can prosperity be guarded and preserved without friends? The greater it is, the more exposed is it to risk. And in poverty and in other misfortunes men think friends are the only refuge. It helps the young, too, to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs and supplementing the activities that are failing from weakness; those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions . . . for with friends men are more able both to think and to act.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1155a5, trans. W. D. Ross

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No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned round when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existing things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would ere long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily tortures would be a relief; for these would make us feel that, however bad might be our plight, we had not sunk to such a depth as to be unworthy of attention at all.

– William James, The Principles of Psychology, X

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We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we desire to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavour to shine. We labour unceasingly to adorn and preserve this imaginary existence, and neglect the real. And if we possess calmness, or generosity, or truthfulness, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to that imaginary existence. We would rather separate them from ourselves to join them to it; and we would willingly be cowards in order to acquire the reputation of being brave…. We are so presumptuous that we would wish to be known by all the world, even by people who shall come after, when we shall be no more; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six neighbours delights and contents us.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 147-148, trans. W. F. Trotter

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Dare to know! “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

– Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?, trans. Mary C. Smith

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It is difficult to define knowledge, difficult to decide whether we have any knowledge, and difficult, even if it is conceded that we sometimes have knowledge to discover whether we can ever know that we have knowledge in this or that particular case.

– Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, XIII

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It were far better never to think of investigating the truth at all, than to do so without a method. . . . Moreover by a method I mean certain and simple rules, such that, if a man observe them accurately, he shall never assume what is false as true, and will never spend his mental efforts to no purpose, but will always gradually increase his knowledge and so arrive at a true understanding of all that does not surpass his powers.

– René Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, IV, trans. E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross

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There is no greater mistake than the hasty conclusion that opinions are worthless because they are badly argued.

– T. H. Huxley, Natural Rights and Political Rights

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If human grasp were capable and strong enough to seize on truth by our own means, these means being common to all men, this truth would be conveyed from hand to hand, from one to another; and at least there would be some one thing to be found in the world, amongst so many as there are, that would be believed by men with an universal consent; but this, that there is no one proposition that is not debated and controverted amongst us, or that may not be, makes it very manifest that our natural judgment does not very clearly discern what it embraces; for my judgment cannot make my companions approve of what it approves; which is a sign that I seized it by some other means than by a natural power that is in me and in all other men.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond, trans. Charles Cotton

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The old saying of the two kinds of truth. To the one kind belongs statements so simple and clear that the opposite assertion obviously could not be defended. The other kind, the so-called ‘‘deep truths,’’ are statements in which the opposite also contains deep truth.

– Niels Bohr, as quoted in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. P. A. Schilpp

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What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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Pragmatism . . . asks its usual question. “Grant an idea or belief to be true,” it says, “what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?” The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: TRUE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CAN ASSIMILATE, VALIDATE, CORROBORATE AND VERIFY. FALSE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CANNOT. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.

– William James, Pragmatism, II

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Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

– Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit

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Some years ago I was struck by how many false things I had believed, and by how doubtful was the structure of beliefs that I had based on them. I realized that if I wanted to establish anything in the sciences that was stable and likely to last, I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations.

– René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, I

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Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

– Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, II, trans. Herbert A. Giles

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When I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that … this truth, I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM), was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method, IV, trans. John Veitch

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Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds [of scepticism], nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther. Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7

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We can never make absolutely certain that our theory is not lost. All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory. We do so by trying to refute our theory; that is, by trying to test it severely in the light of all our objective knowledge and all our ingenuity. It is, of course, always possible that our theory may be false even if it passes all these tests; this is allowed for by our search for versimilitude. But if it passes all these tests then we may have good reason to conjecture that our theory, which as we know has a greater truth content than its predecessor, may have no greater falsity content. And if we fail to refute the new theory, especially in fields in which its predecessor has been refuted, then we can claim this as one of the objective reasons for the conjecture that the new theory is a better approximation of truth than the old theory.

– Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge, p. 81

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We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. . . . Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of the superfluous causes.

– Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, III, 1, trans. Andrew Motte

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Nothing is vital for science; nothing can be. . . . The scientific man is not the least bit wedded to his conclusions. He risks nothing upon them. He stands ready to abandon one or all as soon as experience opposes them.

– C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, I, 635

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In everything that is supposed to be scientific, Reason must be awake and reflection applied. To him who looks at the world rationally the world looks rationally back. The relation is mutual.

– G. W. F. Hegel, Reason in History, p. 13, trans. R. Hartman

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Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested.

– Francis Bacon, Novum Organon, I, 95

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If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

– Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, (5. Feb. 1676)

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Man has existed for about a million years. He has possessed writing for about 6,000 years, agriculture somewhat longer, but perhaps not much longer. Science as a dominant factor in determining the beliefs of educated men, has existed for about 300 years; as a source of economic technique, for about 150 years. In this brief period it has proved itself an incredibly powerful revolutionary force. When we consider how recently it has risen to power, we find ourselves forced to believe that we are at the very beginning of its work in transforming human life.

– Bertrand Russell, Science and Tradition

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The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall. Until we understand ourselves, … until we answer those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally, we’re on very thin ground.

– E. O. Wilson, Harvard Magazine, Sept. 9, 2009

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Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

– I. J. Good, Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine

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It is characteristic of our age to endeavour to replace virtues by technology. That is to say, wherever possible we strive to use methods of physical or social engineering to achieve goals which our ancestors thought attainable only by the training of character. Thus, we try so far as possible to make contraception take the place of chastity, and anasthetics take the place of fortitude; we replace resignation by insurance policies and munificence by the welfare state. It would be idle romanticism to deny such techniques and institutions are often less painful and more efficient methods of achieving the goods and preventing the evils which unaided virtue once sought to achieve and avoid. But it would be an equal and opposite folly to hope that the take-over of virtue by technology may one day be complete…

– Anthony Kenny, The Anatomy of the Soul, p. 26

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We live in the age of philosophy, science, and intellect. Huge libraries are open for everyone. Everywhere we have schools, colleges, and universities which give us the wisdom of the people from many previous millennia. And what then? Have we become wiser for all this? Do we better understand our life, or the meaning of our existence? Do we know what is good for our life?

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as quoted by Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Jul. 9, trans. Peter Sekirin

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Today, for the mass of humanity, science and technology embody ‘miracle, mystery, and authority’. Science promises that the most ancient human fantasies will at last be realized. Sickness and ageing will be abolished; scarcity and poverty will be no more; the species will become immortal. Like Christianity in the past, the modern cult of science lives on the hope of miracles. But to think that science can transform the human lot is to believe in magic. Time retorts to the illusions of humanism with the reality: frail, deranged, undelivered humanity. Even as it enables poverty to be diminished and sickness to be alleviated, science will be used to refine tyranny and perfect the art of war.

– John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, 4

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Education is, as a rule, the strongest force on the side of what exists and against fundamental change: threatened institutions, while they are still powerful, possess themselves of the educational machine, and instill a respect for their own excellence into the malleable minds of the young. Reformers retort by trying to oust their opponents from their position of vantage. The children themselves are not considered by either party; they are merely so much material, to be recruited into one army or the other. If the children themselves were considered, education would not aim at making them belong to this party of that, but at enabling them to choose intelligently between the parties; it would aim at making them able to think, not making them think what their teachers think. Education as a political weapon could not exist if we respected the rights of children.

– Bertrand Russell, Education

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It is very strange that ever since people began to think about education they should have hit upon no other way of guiding children than emulation, jealousy, envy, vanity, greediness, base cowardice, all the most dangerous passions, passions every ready to ferment, ever prepared to corrupt the soul even before the body is full-grown. With every piece of precocious instruction which you try to force into their minds you plant a vice in the depths of their hearts; foolish teachers think they are doing wonders when they are making their scholars wicked in order to teach them what goodness is, and then they tell us seriously, “Such is man.” Yes, such is man, as you have made him.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, II, trans. Barbara Foxley

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What experience and history teach is this—that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

– G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Introduction, 2, trans. J. Sibree

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If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

– Frederick Douglass, The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies

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Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue… There is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood….

We who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing create, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

– Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

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In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law… That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, … and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.

– Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

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In such a condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, I, 13

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To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.

– Michael Oakeshott, On Being Conservative

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A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.

– Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

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Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy . . . cities will never have rest from their evils, –nor the human race, as I believe.

– Plato, The Republic, V, 473A, trans. Benjamin Jowett

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Man being . . . by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.

– John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, ch. 8, sec. 95

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He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

– Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government

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Is … improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage, or as an inconveniency, to the society? The answer seems at first abundantly plain. Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part, can never be regarded as any inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, I, 8

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By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he [the owner of capital] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, IV, 2

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We flatter ourselves undeservedly if we represent human civilization as entirely the product of conscious reason or as the product of human design… Though our civilization is the result of a cumulation of individual knowledge, it is not by the explicit or conscious combination of all this knowledge in any individual brain… Many of the greatest things man has achieved are not the result of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately co-ordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand. They are greater than any individual precisely because they result from the combination of knowledge more extensive than a single mind can master.

– Friedrich Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science, VIII

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The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

– Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, I, trans. Samuel Moore

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All ran headlong to their chains, in hopes of securing their liberty; for they had just wit enough to perceive the advantages of political institutions, without experience enough to enable them to foresee the dangers. . . . Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery and wretchedness.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, I, trans. G. D. H. Cole

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Modern man, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of his individual self; that is, the expression of his intellectual, emotional and sensuous potentialities. Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless. This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives he is confronted with are either to escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of man.

– Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Foreword

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The proletarian [propertyless worker] is helpless; left to himself, he cannot live a single day. The bourgeoisie [capitalist class] has gained a monopoly of all means of existence in the broadest sense of the word. What the proletarian needs, he can obtain only from this bourgeoisie, which is protected in its monopoly by the power of the State. The proletarian is, therefore, in law and in fact, the slave of the bourgeoisie, which can decree his life or death. It offers him the means of living, but only for an “equivalent” for his work. It even lets him have the appearance of acting from a free choice, of making a contract with free, unconstrained consent, as a responsible agent who has attained his majority. Fine freedom, where the proletarian has no other choice than that of either accepting the conditions which the bourgeoisie offers him, or of starving, of freezing to death, of sleeping naked among the beasts of the forests! A fine “equivalent” valued at pleasure by the bourgeoisie! And if one proletarian is such a fool as to starve rather than agree to the equitable propositions of the bourgeoisie, his “natural superiors,” another is easily found in his place; there are proletarians enough in the world, and not all so insane as to prefer dying to living.

– Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, III, trans. F. K. Wischnewetzky

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

– Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

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I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.

– Mikhail Bakunin, Man, Society, and Freedom, trans. Sam Dolgoff.

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[Alexander] Pope has elegantly said “a perfect woman’s but a softer man.” And if we take into consideration, that there can be but one rule of moral excellence for beings made of the same materials, organized after the same manner, and subjected to the same laws of Nature, we must either agree with Mr. Pope, or we must reverse the proposition, and say, that a perfect man is a woman formed after a coarser mold.

– Catherine Macaulay, Letters on Education with Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects

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Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. … They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of others. … And, this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness. Can it be doubted that any of the other yokes which mankind have succeeded in breaking, would have subsisted till now if the same means had existed, and had been as sedulously used, to bow down their minds to it?

– John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, I

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It seems most unlikely that so much effort would have been put into making women artificially dependent on men if they had been naturally so.

– Janet Radcliffe Richards, The Sceptical Feminist

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Gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts.

– Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, pt. 3, ch. 4

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It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.

– Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, III

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The money that we possess is the instrument of liberty, that which we lack and strive to obtain is the instrument of slavery.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, I, trans. W. Conyngham Mallory

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It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his neighbour’s property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough.

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 2, trans. R. M. Gummere

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When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look “well-dressed” we are not providing for any important need. We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving. It follows from what I have said earlier that we ought to give money away, rather than spend it on clothes which we do not need to keep us warm. To do so is not charitable, or generous. Nor is it the kind of act which philosophers and theologians have called “supererogatory” – an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do. On the contrary, we ought to give the money away, and it is wrong not to do so.

– Peter Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality

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The greatest privilege of wealth is, beyond all peradventure, the opportunity it affords for doing good, without sacrificing one’s fortune.

– Cicero, De Officiis, II, 18, trans. Walter Miller

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Where there is anything like an equal distribution of wealth—that is to say, where there is general patriotism, virtue, and intelligence—the more democratic the government the better it will be; but where there is gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, the more democratic the government the worse it will be; for, while rotten democracy may not in itself be worse than rotten autocracy, its effects upon national character will be worse. To give the suffrage to tramps, to paupers, to men to whom the chance to labor is a boon, to men who must beg, or steal, or starve, is to invoke destruction. To put political power in the hands of men embittered and degraded by poverty is to tie firebrands to foxes and turn them loose amid the standing corn; it is to put out the eyes of a Samson and to twine his arms around the pillars of national life.

– Henry George, Progress and Poverty, X, 4

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No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy—be it economically rich (as in contemporary Western Europe or North America) or relatively poor (as in post-independence India, or Botswana, or Zimbabwe). Famines have tended to occur in colonial territories governed by rulers from elsewhere (as in British India or in an Ireland administered by alienated English rulers), or in one-party states (as in the Ukraine in the I930s, or China during 1958-I96I, or Cambodia in the I970s}, or in military dictatorships (as in Ethiopia, or Somalia, or some of the Sahel countries in the near past).

– Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, I

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The case for majority rule should not be overstated. No sensible democrat would claim that the majority is always right. If 49% of the population can be wrong, so can 51%.

– Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, Ends and Means

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Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Maxims for Revolutionaries

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Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.

– John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1, 1, 1

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The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought to himself of saying “This is mine”, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and that the earth itself belongs to no one!’

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, II, trans. G. D. H. Cole

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The equal right of all people to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air — a right proclaimed by the very fact of their existence. We cannot suppose that some people have a right to be in this world and others do not.

– Henry George, Progress and Poverty, VII, 1

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I recognize, as the all-comprehensive, and only right and proper end of Government, the greatest happiness of the members of the community in question; the greatest happiness – of them all, without exception, in so far as possible: the greatest happiness of the greater number of them.

– Jeremy Bentham, Parliamentary Candidate’s Proposed Declaration of Principles

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The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, I

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Protection … against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.

– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, I

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It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up on renunciation [of instinctual desires], how much it presupposes the non-satisfaction of powerful drives – by suppression, repression or some other means. Such ‘cultural frustration’ dominates the large sphere of interpersonal relations; as we already know, it is the cause of the hostility that all civilizations have to contend with.

– Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, Ch. 3, trans. David McLintock

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The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

– Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface, trans. A. Wood

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Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state arid a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.

– Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

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Wherever men oppress their fellows, wherever they enslave them, they will endeavor to find the needed apology for such enslavement and oppression in the character of the people oppressed and enslaved.

– Frederick Douglass, Speech at annual meeting of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Boston, Mass., Apr. 1865

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If the whole social function of ideology could be summed up cynically as a myth (such as Plato’s ‘beautiful lies’ or the techniques of modern advertising) fabricated and manipulated from the outside by the ruling class to fool those it is exploiting, then ideology would disappear with classes. But as we have seen that even in the case of a class society ideology is active on the ruling class itself and contributes to its moulding, to the modification of its attitudes to adapt it to its real conditions of existence (for example, legal freedom) — it is clear that ideology (as a system of mass representations) is indispensable in any society if men are to be formed, transformed and equipped to respond to the demands of their conditions of existence.

– Louis Althusser, For Marx, VII, 4, trans. Ben Brewster

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The crucial difficulty with which we are confronted lies in the fact that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself. Man represses the irrational passions of destructiveness, hate, envy, revenge; he worships power, money, the sovereign state, the nation; while he pays lip service to the teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the human race, those of Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed — he has transformed these teachings into a jungle of superstition and idol-worship.

– Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Foreword II

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[The worker] does not fulfil himself in his work but denies himself, has a feeling of misery rather than well-being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. The worker, therefore, feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work he feels homeless. His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labour. It is not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means for satisfying other needs.

– Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts 1844, Estranged Labour

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We are again confronted with one of the most vexing aspects of advanced industrial civilization: the rational character of its irrationality. Its productivity and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, to turn waste into need, and destruction into construction, the extent to which this civilization transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and body…. The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.

– Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, I, 1

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A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible, world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything is possible and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

– Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 3, II

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Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington

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Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”– they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity.

– Cornell West, Race Matters, p. 107

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The task for art to accomplish is to make that feeling of brotherhood and love of one’s neighbor, now attained only by the best members of society, the customary feeling and the instinct of all men.

– Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, XX, trans. A. Maude

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We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.

– Pablo Picasso, The Arts, May 1923

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What is originality? To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us all in the face. The way men usually are, it takes a name to make something visible for them.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 261, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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A master of any art avoids excess and defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses this — the intermediate not in the object but relatively to us. If it is thus, then, that every art does its work well — by looking to the intermediate and judging its works by this standard (so that we often say of good works of art that it is not possible either to take away or to add anything, implying that excess and defect destroy the goodness of works of art, while the mean preserves it; and good artists, as we say, look to this in their work).

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1106b5, trans. W. D. Ross

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Taste is the faculty of judging an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful.

– Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. J. H. Bernard

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the real beauty, or real deformity, is as fruitless an enquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter.

– David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste

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By convention are sweet and bitter, hot and cold, by convention is colour; in truth are atoms and the void…. In reality we apprehend nothing for certain, but only as it changes according to the condition of our body and of the things that impinge on and offer resistance to it.

– Democritus, Fragment 125

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Men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are conditioned.

– Spinoza, Ethics, II, Prop. 35, trans. R. M. H. Elwes

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There is something ineffable about the felt nature of consciousness.… It seems to escape any attempt at objective definition. Louis Armstrong (some say it was Fats Weller) was once asked to define jazz. [He replied:] “Man, if you gotta ask, you’re never gonna know.”

We can say the same about attempts to define consciousness.

– David Papineau, Introducing Consciousness, I

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An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms. For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes

– Pierre Simon de Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, trans. Andrew I. Dale

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When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it? Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it.

– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, IX, 1, trans. L. Maude & A. Maude

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Where does time come from, and by what way does it pass, and where does it go, while we are measuring it? Where is it from?—obviously from the future. By what way does it pass ?—by the present. Where does it go?—into the past. In other words it passes from that which does not yet exist, by way of that which lacks extension, into that which is no longer. … What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know.

– St. Augustine, Confessions, XI, 21, trans. Francis J. Sheed

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As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

– Albert Einstein, Geometry and Experience, trans. George Barker Jeffery & Wilfrid Perrett

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Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. . . . Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.

– Bertrand Russell, Mathematics and the Metaphysicians

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When one of those who were present said, “Persuade me that logic is necessary,” he replied: Do you wish me to prove this to you? The answer was, “Yes.” Then I must use a demonstrative form of speech. This was granted. How then will you know if I am cheating you by argument? The man was silent. Do you see, said Epictetus, that you yourself are admitting that logic is necessary, if without it you cannot know so much as this, whether logic is necessary or not necessary

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 25, trans. George Long

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Philosophy begins in wonder.

– Plato, Theaetetus, 155B, trans. Benjamin Jowett

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What am I? What ought I to do? What may I hope and believe? To this everything in philosophy can be reduced. It were to be wished that other things may be thus simplified; at least we ought to try whether everything that we intend to treat of in a book cannot at once be so epitomized.

– Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Reflections of Lichtenberg, p. 75, trans. Norman Alliston

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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.

– William James, Pragmatism, I

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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.

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Economy

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Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher, that you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintances, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything—in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered all these things, approach, if you please—that is, if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquillity. If not, do not come hither; do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publican, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man, either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals; apply yourself either to things within or without you—that is, be either a philosopher or one of the mob.

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, XXIX, trans. T. W. Higginson

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The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

– John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, XXIV

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No statement is too absurd for some philosophers to make.

– Cicero, On Divination, II, 58, trans. W. A. Falconer

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There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.

– Soren Kierkegaard, Journal, 1837, trans. Alexander Dru

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The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.6, trans. C. K. Ogden

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When a simple man who has no skill in dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards imagines to be false, whether really false or not, and then another and another, he has no longer any faith left, and great disputers, as you know, come to think at last that they have grown to be the wisest of mankind; for they alone perceive the utter unsoundness and instability of all arguments. . . . How melancholy, if there be such a thing as truth or certainty or possibility of knowledge—that a man should have lighted upon some argument or other which at first seemed true and then turned out to be false, and instead of blaming himself and his own want of wit, because he is annoyed, should at last be too glad to transfer the blame from himself to arguments in general: and for ever afterwards should hate and revile them, and lose truth and the knowledge of realities.

– Plato, Phaedo, 90A, trans. Benjamin Jowett

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The problems [of philosophy] are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, I, 109, trans. G. E. Anscombe

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What is the purpose of philosophy? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, I, 309, trans. G. E. Anscombe

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You do not get to philosophy by reading many and multifarious philosophical books, nor by torturing yourself with solving the riddles of the universe … philosophy remains latent in every human existence and need not be first added to it from somewhere else.

– Martin Heidegger, The Metaphysical Foundation of Logic, p. 18, trans. Michael Heim

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Be a philosopher; but, amidst your philosophy, be still a man.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, I, 4

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Who can decide offhand which is absolutely better, to live or to understand life? We must do both alternately, and man can no more limit himself to either than a pair of scissors can cut with a single one of its blades.

– William James, Some Problems of Philosophy, IV

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Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, IV, 7

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Man cannot, when he enters into his full measure of life, elude this question. It confronts all, and all in some fashion answer it, and it is this answer which is the essence of religion; the answer to the question, Wherefore do I live, and what is my relation to the infinite universe about me? … There is no religion, however cultured, however crude, but has its beginnings in the assessment of the relations of man to the surrounding universe or to its first cause. There is no ceremony of religion so rustic, nor ritual so refined, which has not a like foundation. All the teaching of religion is the expression of the relations in which the founder of the religion regards himself—and therefore all mankind—as standing towards the universe or towards its origin and first cause.

– Leo Tolstoy, Religion and Morality, trans. Vladimir Tchertkoff

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It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should be, and that it should not be.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, III, 230, trans. W. F. Trotter

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But how are you [God] omnipotent, if you are not capable of all things? Or, if you can not be corrupted, and can not lie, nor make what is true, false –as, for example, if you should make what has been done not to have been done, and the like. –how are you capable of all things?

– St. Anselm, Proslogium, VII, trans. S. N. Deane

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When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, X, 91

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Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

– Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. Joseph O’Malley

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Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” … Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? …

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. “How shall we comfort ourselves. The murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 125, trans. Walter Kaufmann

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The most barbarous and the most fantastic rites and the strangest myths translate some human need, some aspect of life, either individual or social. . . . In reality, then, there are no religions which are false. All are true in their own fashion; all answer, though in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence.

– Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Introduction, trans. Joseph Ward Swain

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He who enters religion does not make profession to be perfect, but he professes to endeavor to attain perfection; even as he who enters the schools does not profess to have knowledge, but to study in order to acquire knowledge.

– St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, 186, 2, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Provence

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Young men are fitter to invent, than to judge; fitter for execution, than for counsel; and fitter for new projects, than for settled business. For the experience of age, in things that fall within the compass of it, directeth them; but in new things, abuseth them. The errors of young men, are the ruin of business; but the errors of aged men, amount but to this, that more might have been done, or sooner. Young men, in the conduct and manage of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few principles, which they have chanced upon absurdly; care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first; and, that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them; like an unready horse, that will neither stop nor turn. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.

– Francis Bacon, Of Youth and Age

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  • Ageing – podcast via BBC’s In Our Time podcast
  • Ageing – podcast via The Philosopher’s Zone


He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Sufferings of the World, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

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Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming at its close; the last drink delights the toper, the glass which souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness. Each pleasure reserves to the end the greatest delights which it contains. Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline. And I myself believe that the period which stands, so to speak, on the edge of the roof, possesses pleasures of its own. Or else the very fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place of the pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out one’s appetites, and to have done with them!

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 12, trans. R. M. Gummere

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Man at his birth is supple and submissive; at his death, stiff and unbending. So it is with all things.
Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and fragile; at their death, dry and withered.
Thus it is that: firmness and strength are the companions of death, softness and suppleness the companions of life.
Hence: he who relies on the strength of his forces does not conquer; and: a tree which is strong and broad invites the axe.
Therefore: what is firm and strong is inferior to what is soft and supple.

– Laozi, Tao Te Ching, LXXVI, trans. James Legge

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Habituate yourself to the belief that death is nothing to us, because all good and evil lies in consciousness and death is the loss of consciousness. Hence a right understanding of the fact that death is nothing to us renders enjoyable the mortality of life, not by adding infinite time but by taking away the yearning for immortality, for there is nothing to be feared while living by the man who has genuinely grasped the idea that there is nothing to be feared when not living. … Therefore death, the most frightening of evils, is nothing to us, for the excellent reason that while we live it is not here and when it is here we are not living.

– Epicurus, Letters to Menoeceus, 65, trans. Norman W. De Witt

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It is with life as it is with a play, – it matters not how long the action is spun out, but how good the acting is. It makes no difference at what point you stop. Stop whenever you choose; only see to it that the closing period is well turned.

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 77, trans. R. M. Gummere

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Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 19, That to Study Philosophy Is to Learn How to Die, trans. Charles Cotton

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He who pretends to look on death without fear lies. All men are afraid of dying, this is the great law of sentient beings, without which the entire human species would soon be destroyed.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse

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A man condemned to immediate execution will not think about the growth of his estate, or about achieving glory, or about the victory of one group over another, or about the discovery of a new planet. But one minute before his death a man may wish to console an abused person, or help an old person to stand up, or to put a bandage on someone’s injury, or to repair a toy for a child.

– Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Feb. 2, trans. Peter Sekirin

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  • Is death bad for you? – article by Shelly Kagan via The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Death – podcast via BBC’s In Our Time


To live is not to breathe but to act. It is to make use of our organs, our senses, our faculties, of all the parts of ourselves which give us the sentiment of our existence. The man who has lived the most is not he who has counted the most years but he who has most felt life.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Bk. 1, trans. Allan Bloom

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It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

– Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, trans. C. D. N. Costa

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We regret losing a purse full of money, but a good thought which has come to us, which we’ve heard or read, a thought which we should have remembered and applied to our life, which could have improved the world—we lose this thought and promptly forget about it, and we do not regret it, though it is more precious than millions.

– Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, Jun. 11, trans. Peter Sekirin

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As Tolstoy states in the final quotation of this series, we often underestimate the value that good ideas and clear thoughts can play in improving our lives. If one of these quotes or resources had a positive impact on the way you think about the world, then please consider supporting this project by sharing it with a friend, or by making a donation below. These donations will help me to make further improvements to this project.

Thank you,
Lennox Johnson