A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)

This page pairs important quotations from the history of Western philosophy with links to free online philosophy resources. Quotations are listed in roughly chronological order and range from the Pre-Socratics to the modern day. The related articles, videos, and podcasts are from reliable sources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aeon, Philosophy Bites, Wireless Philosophy, and so on. If you find a particular quotation interesting, these will help you easily find more information about that topic or philosopher in whatever format best suits your learning style. The goal is to create a flexible, beginner-friendly way for anyone to get started learning about philosophy.

There are 66 quotations and over 300 resources in this list. The full list of quotes is below:

The Full List


By convention are sweet and bitter, hot and cold, by convention is colour; in truth are atoms and the void.

– Democritus, Fragment 125

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I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.

– Socrates, as quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, Bk. II, Socrates

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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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And now, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold! human beings living in an underground den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance….

They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave. To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of reality.

– (edited version of) The Republic, 514A, trans. Benjamin Jowett

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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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The true order of going, or being led, to the things of love is to begin with the beautiful things on earth and to mount upwards for the sake of other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies, and from beautiful bodies to beautiful practices, and then to beautiful thoughts until he comes to understand absolute beauty, and to know what the essence of beauty is.

– Plato, Symposium, 211BC

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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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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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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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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, trans. Norman W. De Witt

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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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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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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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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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If a human is created all at once, created with his limbs separated and he does not see them, and if it happens that he does not touch them and they do not touch each other, and he hears no sound, he would be ignorant of the existence of the whole of his organs, but would know the existence of his individual being as one thing, while being ignorant of all the former things. What is itself the unknown is not the known.

– Avicenna, as quoted in Michael Marmura, “Avicenna’s ‘Flying Man’ in Context”

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Whatever is in motion must be moved by something else. Moreover, this something else, if it too is in motion, must be moved by something else, and that in turn by yet another thing. But this cannot go on forever, because if it did there would be no first mover and hence no other mover. For second movers do not move except when moved by a first mover, just as a stick does not move anything except when moved by a hand. So we must reach a first mover which is not moved by anything. And this all men think of as God.

– St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Pt. 1, qu. 2, a. 1

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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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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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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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The first [rule] was never to accept anything as true if I did not have evident knowledge of it’s truth: that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions…. But immediately I noticed that while I was trying to think everything false, it was necessary that I, who was thinking this, was something. And observing that this truth ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’ was so firm and sure that all the most extravagant suppositions of the sceptics were incapable of shaking it, I decided that I could accept it without scruple as the first principle of the philosophy I was seeking.

– René Descartes, Discourse on the Method

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Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. 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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Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager?…

Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 418, trans. John Passmore

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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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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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A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.

But in spite of the misleadingness of such expectations, they nevertheless exist. The mere fact that something has happened a certain number of times causes animals and men to expect that it will happen again. Thus our instincts certainly cause us to believe the sun will rise to-morrow, but we may be in no better a position than the chicken which unexpectedly has its neck wrung.

– Bertrand Russell on Hume’s problem of induction, The Problems of Philosophy, Ch. 6

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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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Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves the master of others are indeed greater slaves than they. How did this transformation come about? I do not know. How can it be made legitimate? That question I believe I can answer.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Maurice Cranston

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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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Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. … We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.

– Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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[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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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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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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and 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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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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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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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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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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A person’s life can be meaningful only if she cares fairly deeply about some thing or things, only if she is gripped, excited, interested, engaged, or as I earlier put it, if she loves something—as opposed to being bored by or alienated from most or all that she does. Even a person who is so engaged, however, will not live a meaningful life if the objects or activities with which she is so occupied are worthless. A person who loves smoking pot all day long, or doing endless crossword puzzles, and has the luxury of being able to indulge in this without restraint does not thereby make her life meaningful. Finally, this conception of meaning specifies that the relationship between the subject and the object of her attraction must be an active one. … One must be able to be in some sort of relationship with the valuable object of one’s attention—to create it, protect it, promote it, honor it, or more generally, to actively affirm it in some way or other.

– Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters

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