Life part 3



We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age than that which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some thoughts always find us young, and keep us so. Such a thought is the love of the universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that contemplation with the feeling that it rather belongs to the ages than to mortal life. – Emerson, The Over-Soul

…grace is more beautiful than beauty. – Emerson, Social Aims

Hay un solo niño bello en el mundo y cada madre lo tiene. – José Martí
(There’s only one beautiful baby in the world and each mother has it.)


EPICURE, n. An opponent of Epicurus, an abstemious philosopher who, holding that pleasure should be the chief aim of man, wasted no time in gratification from the senses. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


Value, far from being contrasted with fact and logic as swamp with firm ground…is more fundamental than either…Neither logic nor history nor physics nor philosophy nor any other sphere in which this is preferred to that, where one view may and must be compared in soundness with another, where reasons may be adjudged good or bad, strong or weak, can be a vantage from which a philosopher may look down on the concept of value, unless we talk of looking down to mark the necessary but rare recognition that here if anywhere is the bedrock in search of which so many philosophers have scanned the sky. – JR Bambrough, Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, p106

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. – Wilde, Lady Windemere’s Fan, Lord Darlington, Act III

Whatever has various respects, must have various appearances of good and evil, beauty or deformity: thus, the gardener tears up as a weed, the plant which the physician gathers as a medicine; and “a general…will look with pleasure over a plain, as a fit place on which the fate of empires might be decided in battle; which the farmer will despise as bleak and barren, neither fruitful of pasturage, nor fit for tillage.”
+++++Two men examining the same question, proceed commonly like the physician and gardener in selecting herbs, or the farmer and hero looking on the plain; they bring minds impressed with different notions, and direct their inquiries to different ends; they form, therefore, contrary conclusions, and each wonders at the other’s absurdity. – Johnson, Adventurer, No. 107

Moral dilemmas are only possible for those with strongly held principles… Often today we…take whatever value seems expedient in the moment to justify our actions. We then sanctimoniously elevate moral neglect into high duty by invoking the doctrine that all value assertions are unscientific and relative. In our efforts to rid ourselves of the responsibilities (and anguish) of moral dilemmas, we have thrown out our best chance to develop character. – Laurence Boldt, Zen and the Art of Making a Living

The majority go by personal appearances, not by proofs of intellectual power; and they are quite right in this, for they are better judges of the one than the other. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life, p289


Nothing is so contagious as an example. We never do great good or great evil without bringing about more of the same on the part of others. – La Rochefoucauld

True vice is human nature strangled by the suicide of attempting the impossible. – Santayana, Soliloquies in England, Dickens, p72

…evil is good in the making. – Emerson, Fate

I believe precisely the opposite, namely that most of the good in the world is done by people in no way noted for their culture and refinement. And that most of the mischief in the world has been caused by beauty. Even though it may have promoted the happiness, or rather the sensual pleasure of individuals. – Lichtenberg

There is a good Use to be made of the most contemptible Things, and an ill one of those that are the most valuable. – Halifax

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.” – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.2

…I have no other idea of what is commonly understood by wickedness than that which constantly displays itself (though is trifles and on a ludicrously small scale) in early childhood.
…the child…cried only to vent its passion and alarm the house, and I saw in its frantic screams and gestures that great baby, the world, tumbling about in its swaddling-clothes, and tormenting itself and others for the last six-thousand years! The plea of ignorance, of folly, of grossness, or selfishness makes nothing either way: it is the downright love of pain and mischief for the interest it excites, and the scope it gives to an abandoned will, that is the root of all the evil, and the original sin of human nature. There is a love of power in the mind independent of the love of good, and this love of power, when it comes to be opposed to the spirit of good, and is leagued with the spirit of evil to commit it with greediness, is wickedness. I know of no other definition. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On Depth and Superficiality

I have always found that so-called bad people gain in one’s estimation when one gets to know them better, and good people decline. – Lichtenberg


Can it be that the evil in the world is in general of more use than the good? – Lichtenberg

Even the mistakes we so frequently make are useful in that in the end they accustom us to believing that everything may be different from what we imagine it to be. – Lichtenberg

Good is promoted even by the worst. Don’t despise even the Kneelands and Andrew Jacksons. In the great cycle they find their place and like the insect that fertilizes the soil with worm casts or the scavenger bustard that removes carrion they perform a beneficence they know not of, and cannot hinder if they would. – Emerson, journals, Apr 26, 1834

No hay mal que por bien no venga. – spanish proverb (There is no evil from which no good comes.)

When life gets too tedious, disgust quickly re-enchants it. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher


There is a balance of power in the human mind, by which defects frequently assist in furthering our views, as superfluous excellences are converted into the nature of impediments… – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life

Men are in numberless instances qualified for certain things for no other reason than because they are qualified for nothing else… In common life, the narrowness of our ideas and appetites is more favourable to the accomplishment of our designs, by confining our attention and ambition to one single object, than a greater enlargement of comprehension or susceptibility of taste, which (as far as the trammels of custom and routine of business are concerned) only operate as diversions to our ensuring the main chance; &, even in the pursuit of arts and science, a dull plodding fellow will often do better than one of a more mercurial and fiery cast – the mere unconsciousness of his own deficiencies, or of anything beyond what he himself can do, reconciles him to his mechanical progress, and enables him to perform all that lies in his power with labour and patience. By being content with mediocrity, he advances beyond it… To do any one thing best, there should be an exclusiveness, a concentration, a bigotry, a blindness of attachment to that one object. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualification Necessary to Success in Life


For other things, I make poetry of them, but the moral sentiment makes poetry of me. – Emerson

Every man, in his own opinion, forms an exception to the ordinary rules of morality. – Hazlitt, Characteristics, 305.

MORAL, adj. Conforming to a local and mutable standard of right. Having the quality of general expediency.
+++++It is sayd there be a raunge of mountaynes in the Easte, on one syde of the which certayn conducts are immorall, yet on the other syde they are holden in good esteeme; wherebye the mountayneer is much conveenyenced, for it is given to him to goe downe eyther way and act as it shall suite his moode, withouten offence. – Gooke’s Meditations
+++++– Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

IMMORAL, adj. Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral. If man’s notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this of expediency; if they originated, or could have originated, in any other way; if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from, and nowise dependent on, their consequences – then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Every man takes care that his neighbour shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he do not cheat his neighbour. Then all goes well. He has changed his market-cart into a chariot of the sun. – Emerson, Conduct of Life, Worship, p133

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither one nor another. – RL Stevenson, A Christmas Sermon

How these people who would moralize nature hate nature; and if they loved nature, how sweetly and firmly would morality take its human place there without all this delusion and bluster! – Santayana, Ideas, Soliloquies in England, p232

The world stands on ideas, and not on iron or cotton; and the iron of iron, the fire of fire, the ether and source of all the elements is moral force. – Emerson, Perpetual Forces

…Since those days we have discovered how much larger the universe is, and we have lost our way in it. Any day it may come over us again that our modern liberty to drift in the dark is the most terrible negation of freedom. Nothing happens to us as we would. We want peace and make war. We need science and obey the will to believe, we love art and flounder among whimsicalities, we believe in general comfort and equality and we strain every nerve to become millionaires. After all, antiquity must have been right in thinking that reasonable self-direction must rest on having a determinate character and knowing what it is, and that only the truth about God and happiness, if we somehow found it, could make us free. But the truth is not to be found by guessing at it, as religious prophets and men of genius have done, and then damning every one who does not agree. Human nature, for all its substantial fixity, is a living thing with many varieties and variations. All diversity of opinion is therefore not founded on ignorance; it may express a legitimate change of habit or interest. The classic and Christian synthesis from which we have broken loose was certainly premature, even if the only issue of our liberal experiments should be to lead us back to some such equilibrium. Let us hope at least that the new morality, when it comes, may be more broadly based than the old on knowledge of the world, not so absolute, not so meticulous, and not chanted so much in the monotone of an abstracted sage. – Santayana, Classic Liberty, Soliloquies in England, p168-9

Whatever volume of Emerson we take up, the Moral Law holds the same place in his thoughts. It is the one statable revelation of truth which he is ready to stake his all upon. “The illusion that strikes me as the masterpiece in that ring of illusions which our life is, is the timidity with which we assert our moral sentiment. We are made of it, the world is built by it, things endure as they share it; all beauty, all health, all intelligence exist by it; yet we shrink to speak of it or range ourselves by its side. Nay, we presume strength of him or them who deny it. Cities go against it, the college goes against it, the courts snatch any precedent at any vicious form of law to rule it out; legislatures listen with appetite to declamations against it and vote it down.”
+++++With this very beautiful and striking passage no one will quarrel, nor will any one misunderstand it.
+++++The following passage has the same sort of poetical truth. “Things are saturated with the moral law. There is no escape from it. Violets and grass preach it; rain and snow, wind and tides, every change, every cause in Nature is nothing but a disguised missionary.” …
+++++But Emerson is not satisfied with metaphor. “We affirm that in all men is this majestic perception and command; that it is the presence of the eternal in each perishing man; that it distances and degrades all statements of whatever saints, heroes, poets, as obscure and confused stammerings before its silent revelation. They report the truth. It is the truth.” In this last extract we have Emerson actually affirming that his dogma of the Moral Law is Absolute Truth. He thinks it not merely a form of truth, like the old theologies, but very distinguishable from all other forms in the past. – JJ Chapman, Emerson

We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together. – Churchill, 1920

It is hard to find anyone who is willing to say that what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. – Zen Master Zhenjing

A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is inevitably plain. – Wilde

Silence…can speak. – A Man for All Seasons

Almost all philosophers, in their ethical systems, first lay down a false doctrine, and then argue that wickedness consists in acting in a manner that proves it false, which would be impossible if the theory were true. Of this pattern Locke affords an example. – Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p595


We love characters in proportion as they are impulsive and spontaneous. The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him. – Emerson, Spiritual Laws

If mankind suddenly became virtuous, many thousands would die of hunger. – Lichtenberg

It suffices for a man’s justification if he has so lived that on account of his virtues he deserves to be forgiven his faults. – Lichtenberg

Order leads to all the virtues! but what leads to order? – Lichtenberg

Much has been said, and said truly, of the monkish morbidity, of the hysteria which as often gone with the visions of hermits or nuns. But let us never forget that this visionary religion is, in one sense, necessarily more wholesome than our modern and reasonable morality. It is more wholesome for this reason, that it can contemplate the idea of success or triumph in the hopeless fight towards the ethical ideal, in what Stevenson called, with his usual startling felicity, “the lost fight of virtue.” A modern morality, on the other hand, can only point with absolute conviction to the horrors that follow breaches of law; its only certainty is a certainty of ill. It can only point to imperfection. It has no perfection to point to. But the monk meditating upon Christ or Buddha has in his mind an image of perfect health, a thing of clear colours and clean air. He may contemplate this ideal wholeness and happiness far more than he ought; he may contemplate it to the neglect of exclusion of essential things; he may contemplate it until he has become a dreamer or a driveller; but still it is wholeness and happiness that he is contemplating. He may even go mad; but he is going mad for the love of sanity. But the modern student of ethics, even if he remains sane, remains sane from an insane dread of insanity.
+++++The anchorite rolling on the stones in a frenzy of submission is a healthier person fundamentally than many a sober man in a silk hat who is walking down Cheapside. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.2

Notwithstanding the bitterness and cruel practices of the white bicycle riders, their friends and sympathisers, against me, I hold no animosity towards any man. Life is too short for a man to hold bitterness in his heart. As the late Booker T. Washington, the great Negro educator, so beautifully expressed it, “I shall allow no man to narrow my soul and drag me down, by making me hate him.” – Marshall “Major” Taylor, “the greatest black cyclist ever”

…people nowhere demand the picturesque so much as in their virtues. – Stevenson, Beggars

…it would never do to establish our superiority over others by the acquisition of greater virtues, or by discarding our vices; but it is charming to do this by merely repeating a different formula of prayer, turning to the east instead of the west. – Hazlitt, On Party Spirit

Sincerity is the easiest virtue to fake. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

Virtue by premeditation isn’t worth much. Feeling or habit is the thing. – Lichtenberg

The well-bred man stands somewhere between the astute man and the good man, although at an unequal distance from these two extremes.
+++++The distance between the well-bred man and the astute man dwindles day by day, and is on the point of disappearing.
+++++The astute man is one who conceals his passions, understands his own interests, sacrifices a great deal to them, and has succeeded in acquiring wealth or in retaining it.
+++++The well-bred man is one who commits neither highway robbery nor murder, whose vices, in short, cause no scandal.
+++++Everyone knows that a good man is well-bred, but it is amusing to reflect that not every well-bred man is good.
+++++The good man is one who is neither a saint nor a hypocrite, and who has confined himself to being merely virtuous. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 55

A blackguard is a fellow who does not care whom he offends: a clown is a blockhead who does not know when he offends: a gentleman is one who understands and shows every mark of deference to the claims of self-love in others, and exacts it in return from them. – Hazlitt, On the Look of a Gentleman

Way to a Christian virtue. Learning from one’s enemies is the best way toward loving them; for it makes us grateful to them. – Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims

…when I have said something as if the wickedness of the world gave me concern, [Dr Johnson] would cry out aloud against canting, and protest that he thought there was very little gross wickedness in the world, and still less of extraordinary virtue.
Nothing indeed more surely disgusted Dr Johnson than hyperbole: he loved not to be told of sallies of excellence, which he said were seldom valuable, and seldom true. “Heroic virtues (said he) are the bon mots of life; they do not appear often, and when they do appear are too much prized I think; like the aloe-tree, which shoots and flowers once in a hundred years. But life is made up of little things; and that character is the best which does little but repeated acts of beneficence; as that conversation is the best which consists in elegant and pleasing thoughts expressed in natural and pleasing terms.” – Hesther Lynch Piozzi (Mrs Thrale), Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson, p41

…if we explore the literature of Heroism, we shall quickly come to Plutarch, who is its Doctor and historian. To him we owe the Brasidas, the Dion, the Epaminondas, the Scipio of old, and I must think we are more deeply indebted to him than to all the ancient writers. Each of his “Lives” is a refutation to the despondency and cowardice of our religious and political theorists. A wild courage, a Stoicism not of the schools, but of the blood, shines in every anecdote, and has given that book its immense fame. – Emerson, Heroism

An essential circumstance in rendering justice to others, is to do so promptly and without delay: to make them wait for it is an injustice. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 81

What she accounted virtue was…rather the repenting of sins than the avoidance of them. – Lichtenberg

One of the most difficult arts for man to acquire is surely the art of acquiring courage. Those who lack it find it most readily under the powerful protection of one who does possess it and who can then aid us if all else fails. Since, however, there is so much affliction in the world against which the courage of no human creature can serve to offer sufficient comfort to the weaker, religion offers an excellent substitute. Religion is really the art of acquiring for oneself comfort and courage in affliction, and the strength to work against it, through thoughts of God and by no other means. I have known people to whom their good fortune was their God. They believed in their good fortune and their belief gave them courage. Courage gave them good fortune and good fortune gave them courage. It is a great loss for a man is he loses faith in a wise being who directs the world. I believe this is an inevitable consequence of all study of philosophy and of nature. One does not lose belief in a God, to be sure, but it is no longer the benevolent God of our childhood; it is a being whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and this is not especially helpful to the helpless. – Lichtenberg

These fresh beginnings led me by a new path into a different intellectual world, possessing a simple and dignified economy which I could not look upon without enthusiasm. Soon, as I continued to explore it, I could see only foolishness and error in the doctrines of our sages, nothing but oppression and misery in our social order. Deluded by my stupid conceit, I thought that I was born to destroy all these deceits, and judging that in order to gain a hearing I must reconcile my actions to my principles, I adopted that singular course which I have not been allowed to pursue, and which my pretended friends have never been able to pardon, since it set an example which at first made me ridiculous, but which would finally have earned me respect if it had been possible for me to persevere with it.
+++++Until then I had been good; from that moment I became virtuous, or at least intoxicated with virtue. – Rousseau, Confessions, p387-8

Knowledge blows up, but charity builds up. – St Paul


If we saw the sun for the first time it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors. Now that we see it for the hundredth time we call it, in the hideous and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth, “the light of common day.” We are inclined to increase our claims. We are inclined to demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to demand a green sun. Humility is perpetually putting us back in the primal darkness. There all light is lightning, startling and instantaneous. Until we understand that original dark, in which we have neither sight nor expectation, we can give no hearty and childlike praise to the splendid sensationalism of things. The terms “pessimism” and “optimism,” like most modern terms, are unmeaning. But if they can be used in any vague sense as meaning something, we may say that in this great fact pessimism is the very basis of optimism. The man who destroys himself creates the universe. To the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sun is really a sun; to the humble man, and to the humble man alone, the sea is really a sea. When he looks at all the faces in the street, he does not only realize that men are alive, he realizes with a dramatic pleasure that they are not dead. – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.12 Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson


Things always bring their own philosophy with them, that is, prudence. No man acquires property without acquiring with it a little arithmetic also. – Emerson, Montaigne

Sometimes we only trust because prudence seems too arduous. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

The warrior and the statesman, like the skilful gambler, do not make opportunities but prepare them, attract them, and seem almost to determine chance. Not only are they, unlike the fool and the coward, adept at making use of opportunities when these occur; they know furthermore how to take advantage, by means of precautions and wise measures, of such and such an opportunity, or of several at once. If one thing happens, they win; if another, they are still the winners; the same circumstance often makes them win in a variety of ways. These prudent men may be praised for their good fortune as well as their good management, and rewarded for their luck as well as for their merits. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 74

People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it’s impossible to count them accurately. – Wilde, letter from Paris, May 1900

Since it is only in the long run that, according to Locke, self-interest and the general interest coincide, it becomes important that men should be guided, as far as possible, by the long-run interests. That is to say, men should be prudent. – Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p593


…there are no cynics, there are no materialists. Every man is idealistic; only it so often happens that he has the wrong ideal. Every man is incurably sentimental; but, unfortunately, it is so often a false sentiment. When we talk, for instance, of some unscrupulous commercial figure, and say that he would do anything for money, we use quite an inaccurate expression, and we slander him very much. He would not do anything for money. He would do some things for money; he would sell his soul for money, for instance; and, as Mirabeau humorously said, he would be quite wise “to take money for muck.” He would oppress humanity for money; but then it happens that humanity and the soul are not things that he believes in; they are not his ideals. But he has his own dim and delicate ideals; and he would not violate these for money. He would not drink out of the soup-tureen, for money. He would not wear his coat-tails in front, for money. He would not spread a report that he had softening of the brain, for money. In the actual practice of life we find, in the matter of ideals, exactly what we have already found in the matter of ritual. We find that while there is a perfectly genuine danger of fanaticism from the men who have unworldly ideals, the permanent and urgent danger of fanaticism is from the men who have worldly ideals.
+++++People who say that an ideal is a dangerous thing, that it deludes and intoxicates, are perfectly right. But the ideal which intoxicates most is the least idealistic kind of ideal. The ideal which intoxicates least is the very ideal ideal; that sobers us suddenly, as all heights and precipices and great distances do. Granted that it is a great evil to mistake a cloud for a cape; still, the cloud, which can be most easily mistaken for a cape, is the cloud that is nearest the earth. Similarly, we may grant that it may be dangerous to mistake an ideal for something practical. But we shall still point out that, in this respect, the most dangerous ideal of all is the ideal which looks a little practical. It is difficult to attain a high ideal; consequently, it is almost impossible to persuade ourselves that we have attained it. But it is easy to attain a low ideal; consequently, it is easier still to persuade ourselves that we have attained it when we have done nothing of the kind. To take a random example. It might be called a high ambition to wish to be an archangel; the man who entertained such an ideal would very possibly exhibit asceticism, or even frenzy, but not, I think, delusion. He would not think he was an archangel, and go about flapping his hands under the impression that they were wings. But suppose that a sane man had a low ideal; suppose he wished to be a gentleman. Any one who knows the world knows that in nine weeks he would have persuaded himself that he was a gentleman; and this being manifestly not the case, the result will be very real and practical dislocations and calamities in social life. It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.
+++++The matter may, perhaps, be illustrated by a parallel from our modern politics. When men tell us that the old Liberal politicians of the type of Gladstone cared only for ideals, of course, they are talking nonsense – they cared for a great many other things, including votes. And when men tell us that modern politicians of the type of Mr. Chamberlain or, in another way, Lord Rosebery, care only for votes or for material interest, then again they are talking nonsense – these men care for ideals like all other men. But the real distinction which may be drawn is this, that to the older politician the ideal was an ideal, and nothing else. To the new politician his dream is not only a good dream, it is a reality. The old politician would have said, “It would be a good thing if there were a Republican Federation dominating the world.” But the modern politician does not say, “It would be a good thing if there were a British Imperialism dominating the world.” He says, “It is a good thing that there is a British Imperialism dominating the world;” whereas clearly there is nothing of the kind. The old Liberal would say “There ought to be a good Irish government in Ireland.” But the ordinary modern Unionist does not say, “There ought to be a good English government in Ireland.” He says, “There is a good English government in Ireland;” which is absurd. In short, the modern politicians seem to think that a man becomes practical merely by making assertions entirely about practical things. Apparently, a delusion does not matter as long as it is a materialistic delusion. Instinctively most of us feel that, as a practical matter, even the contrary is true. I certainly would much rather share my apartments with a gentleman who thought he was God than with a gentleman who thought he was a grasshopper. To be continually haunted by practical images and practical problems, to be constantly thinking of things as actual, as urgent, as in process of completion – these things do not prove a man to be practical; these things, indeed, are among the most ordinary signs of a lunatic. That our modern statesmen are materialistic is nothing against their being also morbid. Seeing angels in a vision may make a man a supernaturalist to excess. But merely seeing snakes in delirium tremens does not make him a naturalist.
+++++And when we come actually to examine the main stock notions of our modern practical politicians, we find that those main stock notions are mainly delusions. A great many instances might be given of the fact. We might take, for example, the case of that strange class of notions which underlie the word “union,” and all the eulogies heaped upon it. Of course, union is no more a good thing in itself than separation is a good thing in itself. To have a party in favour of union and a party in favour of separation is as absurd as to have a party in favour of going upstairs and a party in favour of going downstairs. The question is not whether we go up or down stairs, but where we are going to, and what we are going, for? – Chesterton, Heretics, ch.18


We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to see the world. – Proust

Ridi si sapis. – Martial
(Mirth is necessary to wisdom.)

Men cannot exercise their rhetoric unless they speak, but their philosophy even whilst they are silent or jest merrily; for as it is the highest degree of injustice not to be just and yet to seem so, so it is the top of wisdom to philosophize and yet not appear to do it…the very jest and merry talk of true philosophers move those that are not altogether insensible, and unusually reform – Plutarch

El sabio siempre quiere aprender; el ignorante siempre quiere enseñar. – Spanish proverb
(The wise person always wants to learn; the ignorant person always wants to teach.)

The world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold, is there only by sufferance – your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow. – Emerson

The most useful Part of Wisdom is for a Man to give a good guess, what others think of him.
+++++It is a dangerous thing to guess partially, and a melancholy thing to guess right. – Halifax

Wise men often tremble at the very things which fill the thoughtless with security. – Burke, Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol (II. 254)

A wise man will speak the truth with temperance that he may speak it the longer. – Burke

Wise conduct turns on two pivots, the past and the future. The man who has a faithful memory and great foresight is in no danger of censuring in others what he may have done himself, or of condemning an action of which, in a similar case and under those circumstances, he would inevitably be guilty himself one day. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 73

Plutarch…with every virtue under heaven, thought it the top of wisdom to philosophize yet not appear to do it, and to reach in mirth the same ends which the most serious are proposing. – Emerson, Plutarch

Wisdom consists of asking questions instead of taking things for granted. True wisdom consists of taking things for granted instead of asking so many questions. Shut up and deal the cards! – Dennis Rohatyn, Philosophy, History, Sophistry, p166

Is the situation so uncommon, then, in which philosophy forbids one to philosophize? – Lichtenberg

Life itself is a mixture of power and form, and will not bear the least excess of either. To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. – Emerson, Experience

If we will take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures. The great gifts are not got by analysis. Everything good is on the highway. …We may climb into the thin and cold realm of pure geometry and lifeless science, or sink into that of sensation. Between these extremes is the equator of life, of thought, of spirit, of poetry – a narrow belt. – Emerson, Experience

Great men feel that they are so by sacrificing their selfishness and falling back on what is humane; in renouncing family, clan, country, and each exclusive and local connection, to beat with the pulse and breathe with the lungs of nations. – Emerson, Demonology

A fool is “happy” when his cravings are satisfied. A warrior is happy without reason. – The Way of the Peaceful Warrior


To be overwise is to ossify; and the scruple-monger ends by standing stock-still. – Stevenson, Aes Triplex

Overwiseness is one of the most contemptible kinds of unwisdom. – Lichtenberg

To think contrary to one’s era is heroism. But to speak against it is madness. – Ionesco

It is a self-flattering Contradiction, that wise Men despise the Opinion of Fools, and yet are proud of having their Esteem. – Halifax

It is more desirable to be the handsomest than the wisest man in his Majesty’s dominions, for there are more people who have eyes than understandings. …The accomplishments of the body are obvious and clear to all: those of the mind are recondite and doubtful, and therefore grudgingly acknowledged, or held up as the sport of prejudice, spite and folly. – Hazlitt, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life, footnote

With all my indolence I have ever grown in knowledge of myself without possessing the power to effect an improvement; indeed, the fact that I could perceive how indolent I was has often seemed to me sufficient recompense for it, and the pleasure I received from the exact observation of a fault was often greater than the vexation aroused in me by the fault itself. So very much more did I account the professor in me than I did the man. Strange are the ways Heaven directs its saints. – Lichtenberg

What need of books these truths to tell,
Which folks perceive that cannot spell?
And must we spectacles apply,
To see what hurts our naked eye? – Prior

[From Montaigne’s rafters:]
Be not overwise lest thou should become senseless. – Eccl. 7
Be not wiser than may be needful, but be wise in moderation. – Romans 12
No one has ever known the truth and no one will know it. – Xenophanes


There are more fools than wise men, and even in the wise man himself there is more folly than wisdom. – Chamfort

A wise man knows an ignorant one, because he has been ignorant himself; but the ignorant cannot recognise the wise, because he has never been wise. – Persian saying

April 4, 1849. Imbecility and Energy. The key to the age is this thing, and that thing, and that other, as the young orators describe. I will tell you the key to all ages, Imbecility: imbecility in the vast majority of men at all times and in every man, even heroes, in all but certain eminent moments victims of mere gravitation, custom, fear, sense. This gives force to the strong, that the others have no habit of self reliance or original action. – Emerson, journal, aged 46

301. The best lesson we can learn from witnessing the folly of mankind is not to irritate ourselves against it. – Hazlitt, Characteristics

It is the Fools and the Knaves that make the Wheels of the World turn. They are the World; those few who have Sense or Honesty sneak up and down single, but never go in Herds. – Halifax

One day everything will be well, that is our hope; today everything is fine, that is our illusion. – Voltaire

Mankind are a herd of knaves and fools. It is necessary to join the crowd, or get out of their way, in order not to be trampled to death by them. – Hazlitt, Characteristics, 239

Most beautiful but dumb girls think they are smart and get away with it, because other people, on the whole, aren’t much smarter. – Louise Brooks

There is a false modesty which is vanity, a false honour which is vainglory, a false nobility which is pettiness, a false goodness which is hypocrisy, a false virtuousness which is prudery. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Women, 48

We should not be angry with men when we see their harshness, their ingratitude, their injustice, their pride, their self-love and forgetfulness of others; they are made thus, it is their nature; we might as well protest because a stone falls or because the sparks fly upward. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, I

There are five Orders of Fools, as of Building; 1. The Blockhead, 2. Coxcomb. 3. Vain Blockhead, 4. Grave Coxcomb, and 5. The Half-witted Fellow; this last is of the Composite Order. – Halifax

Folly hath a long Tail that is not seen at first: for every single Folly hath a Root, out of which more are ready to sprout; and a Fool hath so unlimited a Power of mistaking, that a Man of Sense can never comprehend to what degree it may extend. – Halifax

Weak Men are apt to be cruel, because they stick at nothing that may repair the ill Effects of their Mistakes.
+++++Folly is often more cruel in the Consequence, than Malice can be in the Intent. – Halifax

A Man had as good go to Bed to a Razor, as to be intimate with a foolish Friend. – Halifax

The next best thing to being rational would be to be aware that one was not rational; such knowledge is incompatible with actual madness. In the same way, the next best thing to being intelligent would be to realize one’s lack of intelligence. In this way one would achieve the impossible: wanting intelligence, one would yet be neither a plain fool, nor a self-satisfied fool, nor an impertinent fool. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 88

The greatest Part of the Business of the World, is the Effect of not thinking. – Halifax

Names to Men of Sense are no more than Fig-leaves; to the generality they are thick Coverings that hide the Nature of Things from them.
+++++Fools turn Good-Sense upon its Head, they take Names for Things, and Things only for Names. – Halifax

The flatterer does not think highly enough of himself or others. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 90

It is common and quite natural to judge another’s work solely in relation to one’s own. Thus the poet, full of lofty and sublime ideas, has a poor opinion of the orator, whose speech is often concerned with purely factual matters; and the man who is writing the history of his country cannot understand how a reasonable person can spend his life imagining fictions, or hunting for rhymes; so, too, the student of theology, deep in the first four centuries, treats any other sort of learning as dreary, vain and useless, while he himself may be despised by the geometrician. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 62

Ask a metaphysician what subject he understands best, and he will tell you that which he knows least about. – Hazlitt, On Novelty and Familiarity

Nothing is more evident than that Nature hates Mind. Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it just as they die of any other disease. Fortunately, in England at any rate, thought is not catching. Our splendid physique as a people is entirely due to our national stupidity. I only hope we shall be able to keep this great historic bulwark of our happiness for many years to come; but I am afraid that we are beginning to be over-educated; at least everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching – that is really what our enthusiasm for education has come to. – Wilde, The Decay of Lying

We grow tired of everything but turning others into ridicule, and congratulating ourselves on their defects. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker

Inner harmony is attained only when, by some means, terms are made with the environment. When it occurs on any other than an “objective” basis, it is illusory – in extreme cases to the point of insanity. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p17

We grizzle every day. I see no need of it. – Emerson

For as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy; it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition. – Addison, Popular Superstitions

The faults of fools are sometimes so clumsy and difficult to foresee that they baffle wise men, and are useful only to those who commit them. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 62

The fool feels awkward; the coxcomb has a fine and self-confident air; the impertinent fellow displays effrontery; men of worth are modest. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 53

Our best indemnity for the poor opinion men may hold of our minds, morals and manners is the mean and unworthy character of those they admire. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 43

The self-satisfied man is one who combines experience in certain trivial matters, honoured by the name of business, with a very second-rate mind.
+++++A grain of intelligence and an ounce of experience more than are comprised in the make-up of the self-satisfied man produce the self-important man.
+++++So long as we merely laugh at the self-important man, he has no other name; as soon as we complain of him, he becomes an arrogant man. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 54

If the multitude ever deviate into the right, it is for the wrong reasons. – Lord Chesterfield

Man’s natural instinct, in fact, is never toward what is sound and true; it is toward what is specious and false. Let any great nation of modern times be confronted by two conflicting propositions, the one grounded upon the utmost probability and reasonableness and the other upon the most glaring error, and it will almost invariably embrace the latter. It is so in politics, which consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all. It is so in religion, which, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities. It is so in nearly every field of thought. The ideas that conquer the race most rapidly and arouse the wildest enthusiasm and are held most tenaciously are precisely the ideas that are most insane. This has been true since the first “advanced” gorilla put on underwear, cultivated a frown and began his first lecture tour in the first chautauqua, and it will be so until the high gods, tired of the farce at last, obliterate the race with one great, final blast of fire, mustard gas and streptococci.
+++++No doubt the imagination of man is to blame for this singular weakness. That imagination, I daresay, is what gave him his first lift above his fellow primates. It enabled him to visualize a condition of existence better than that he was experiencing, and bit by bit he was able to give the picture a certain crude reality. Even to-day he keeps on going ahead in the same manner. That is, he thinks of something that he would like to be or to get, something appreciably better than what he is or has, and then, by the laborious, costly method of trial and error, he gradually moves toward it. In the process he is often severely punished for his discontent with God’s ordinances. He mashes his thumb, he skins his shin; he stumbles and falls; the prize he reaches out for blows up in his hands. But bit by bit he moves on, or, at all events, his heirs and assigns move on. Bit by bit he smooths the path beneath his remaining leg, and achieves pretty toys for his remaining hand to play with, and accumulates delights for his remaining ear and eye.
+++++Alas, he is not content with this slow and sanguinary progress! Always he looks further and further ahead. Always he imagines things just over the sky-line. This body of imaginings constitutes his stock of sweet beliefs, his corpus of high faiths and confidences – in brief, his burden of errors. And that burden of errors is what distinguishes man, even above his capacity for tears, his talents as a liar, his excessive hypocrisy and poltroonery, from all the other orders of mammalia. Man is the yokel par excellence, the booby unmatchable, the king dupe of the cosmos. He is chronically and unescapably deceived, not only by the other animals and by the delusive face of nature herself, but also and more particularly by himself – by his incomparable talent for searching out and embracing what is false, and for overlooking and denying what is true. – Mencken, Meditation on Meditation, Ad Imaginem Dei Creavit Illum, Prejudices: Third Series, 1922, p125-8

Coal laughs at ashes not knowing that the same fate which has befallen them will befall it. – Masai proverb

QUIXOTIC, adj. Absurdly chivalric, like Don Quixote. An insight into the beauty and excellence of this incomparable adjective is unhappily denied to him who has the misfortune to know that the gentleman’s name is pronounced Ke-ho-tay.
++++++++When ignorance from out of our lives can banish
++++++++Philology, ’tis folly to know Spanish.
+++++++++++++Juan Smith

+++++– Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


All is vanity. – The Bible, Ecclesiastes 12:8

…vanity is…the true elixir of life. – Hazlitt, On Sitting for One’s Picture

It is a hard and nice subject for a man to speak of himself, says Cowley; it grates his own heart to say anything of disparagement, and the reader’s ears to hear anything of praise from him. Let the tenor of his discourse be what it will upon this subject, it generally proceeds from vanity. An ostentatious man will rather relate a blunder or an absurdity he has committed, than be debarred from talking of his own person. – Addison, Cowley and Montaigne

Nothing can exceed the vanity of our existence but the folly of our pursuits. – Oliver Goldsmith, 1768

Men wish, in their hearts, to be well thought of, and they carefully conceal this wish because they want to appear virtuous, and because to seek to derive from virtue any advantage other than virtue itself, namely esteem and praise, would mean not being virtuous but being fond of esteem and praise, in other words vain: men are very vain, and they hate nothing more than being thought so. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 65

A vain man finds satisfaction in speaking well or ill of himself; a modest man does not speak about himself.
+++++Nothing more clearly reveals the absurdity of vanity, and what a shameful vice it is, than the fact that it dares not show itself, and often hides behind the appearance of its opposite. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 66

Men hold moral virtues of little account, and worship physical and intellectual gifts. A man who can say of himself, quite coolly &, so he thinks, without offending against modestly, that he is kind, constant, loyal, sincere, fair-minded, grateful, dares not say that he is lively, that he has fine teeth or a soft skin: that would be going too far.
+++++It is true that there are two virtues that men admire, bravery and generosity, because there are two things that they respect, and that these virtues make one neglect, namely life and money: and so nobody dares profess to be brave or generous. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 84

The Vanity of teaching often tempteth a Man to forget he is a Blockhead. – Halifax

The World is nothing but Vanity cut out into several Shapes. – Halifax

Every German village has its Pyramid; the church steeple…Why did they build such tall structures? Certainly not solely on account of the bells. Vanity, mixed with religion and perhaps superstition, was what created these Pyramids – in Germany just as much as in Egypt. – Lichtenberg

A little Vanity may be allowed in a Man’s Train, but it must not sit down at Table with him.
+++++Without some Share of it, Mens Talents would be buried like Ore in a Mine unwrought. – Halifax

Every body hath not Wit enough to Act out of Interest, but every body hath little enough to do it out of Vanity. – Halifax


I maintain that there is no common language or medium of understanding between people of education and without it between those who judge of things from books or from their senses. Ignorance has so far the advantage over learning; for it can make an appeal to you from what you know; but you cannot react upon it through that which it is a perfect stranger to. Ignorance is, therefore, power. – Hazlitt, On Personal Identity

There is nothing more dreadful than active ignorance. – Goethe, Art and Antiquity, V, 3

To be thought wise, it is for the most part only to seem so; and the noisy demagogue is easily translated, by the popular voice, into the orator and patriot. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualification Necessary to Success in Life

All the intelligence in the world has no effect on an unintelligent man; he has no ideas, and he is incapable of benefiting by those of others. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 87

The clash, if there is such a broad civilizational collision, is not of cultures but of ignorance. – Aga Khan


As our interest in anything wears out with time and habit, we exaggerate the outward symptoms of zeal as mechanical helps to devotion, dwell the longer on our words as they are less felt, and hence the very origin of the term, cant. The cant of sentimentality has succeeded to that of religion. There is a cant of humanity, of patriotism and loyalty – not that people do not feel these emotions, but they make too great a fuss about them, and drawl out the expression of them till they tire themselves and others. There is a cant about Shakspeare. There is a cant about Political Economy just now. In short, there is and must be a cant about everything that excites a considerable degree of attention and interest, and that people would be thought to know and care rather more about them than they actually do. Cant is the voluntary overcharging or prolongation of a real sentiment; hypocrisy is the setting up a pretension to a feeling you never had and have no wish for. There are people who are made up of cant, that is, of mawkish affectation and sensibility; but who have not sincerity enough to be hypocrites, that is, have not hearty dislike or contempt enough for anything, to give the lie to their puling professions of admiration and esteem for it. – Hazlitt, On Cant and Hypocrisy


A man should be very sure that he himself is not what he has always in his mouth. – Hazlitt, On Nicknames

A hundred times a day when we go mocking our neighbour we are really mocking ourselves; we abominate in others those faults which are most manifestly our own, and with a miraculous lack of shame and perspicacity, are astonished by them. – Montaigne, III 8

There is no trusting to appearances, we are told; but this maxim is of no avail, for men are the eager dupes of them. Life, it has been said, is “the art of being well deceived;” and accordingly, hypocrisy seems to be the great business of mankind. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life, p286

Political parties, however much they may be founded upon narrow class interests and however evidently they may work against the interests of the majority, love to identify themselves with the universe, or at least to present themselves as co-operating with all the citizens of the state, and to proclaim that they are fighting in the name of all and for the good of all. – Michels, Political Parties, 1915, p15


The most essential mental quality for a free people, whose liberty is to be progressive, permanent and on a large scale, is much stupidity. – Bagehot

For God’s sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself! – RL Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, p103

More undertakings fail for want of spirit than for want of sense. Confidence gives a fool the advantage over a wise man. – Hazlitt, On Manner


Love is fabled to be blind; but kindness is necessary to perception. – Emerson, Prudence

We speak of perception and its object. But perception and its object are built up and completed in one and the same continuing operation. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p177

…to perceive, a beholder must create his own experience. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p54

Perceptions do not remain in the mind, as would be suggested by the trite simile of the seal and the wax, passive and changeless, until time wears off their rough edges and makes them fade. No, perceptions fall into the brain rather as seeds into a furrowed field or even as sparks into a keg of gunpowder. Each image breeds a hundred more, sometimes slowly and subterraneously, sometimes (as when a passionate train is started) with a sudden burst of fancy. – Santayana

Outside us. It is truly very hard to say how we arrive at this concept, for what we perceive we really perceive within us. To perceive something outside oneself is a contradiction: we perceive only within ourselves, that which we perceive is merely a modification of our own self and thus takes place within us. – Lichtenberg

For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. – W Lippmann

Men are as they believe…Intellect measures itself by its counteraction to any accumulation of material force. There is no mass which it cannot surmount and dispose of. The exertions of this force are the eminent experiences, – out of a long life all that is worth remembering. These are the moments that balance years. Does anyone doubt between the strength of a thought and that of an institution? – Emerson, The Man of Letters

…what stands out most in our minds are the metaphors themselves and the insights they have given us into our own daily experiences. We still react with awe when we notice ourselves and those around us living by metaphors like TIME IS MONEY, LOVE IS A JOURNEY, and PROBLEMS ARE PUZZLES. We continually find it important to realize that the way we have been brought up to perceive our world is not the only way and that it is possible to see beyond the “truths” of our culture.
+++++But metaphors are not merely things to be seen beyond. In fact, one can see beyond them only by using other metaphors. It is as though the ability to comprehend experience through metaphor were a sense, like seeing or touching or hearing, with metaphors providing the only ways to perceive and experience much of the world. Metaphor is as much a part of our functioning as our sense of truth, and as precious. – Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (end of book)

…objects of most of our ordinary perception lack completeness. They are cut short when there is recognition; that is to say when the object is identified as one of a kind, or of a species within the kind. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p177

The order of scientific thought is quite incongruent with the way in which reality exists or with the way in which it comes before us. We break the solid plenitude of fact into separate essences, conceive generally what exists only particularly. The reality exists as a plenum. All its parts are contemporaneous, each is as real as any other. But we can neither experience nor think this plenum. What we experience is a chaos of fragmentary impressions; what we think is an abstract system of hypothetical data and laws. – W James, Principles of Psychology, II 634

…in this great society wide lying around us, a critical analysis would find very few spontaneous actions. It is almost all custom and gross sense. There are even few opinions, and these seem organic in the speakers, and do not disturb the universal necessity. – Emerson, Experience

It is the part of wisdom to note the double meaning of such ideas as “acceptance”. There is an acceptance that is of the intellect; it signifies facing facts for what they are. There is another acceptance that is of the emotions and the will; that involves commitment of desire and effort. So far are the two from being identical that acceptance in the first sense is the precondition of all intelligent refusal of acceptance in the second sense. – Dewey, Individualism, Old and New

A perception is always a generalization. It lifts the object, whether in material or moral nature, into a type. The animal, the low degrees of intellect, know only individuals. The philosopher knows only laws. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

There is a prophetic aspect to all observation; we can perceive the meaning of what exists only as we forecast the consequences it entails. – Dewey, Individualism, Old and New

Individuality is inexpungable because it is a matter of distinctive sensitivity, selection, choice, response and utilization of conditions. For this reason, if for no other, it is impossible to develop integrated individuality by any all-embracing system or program. – Dewey, Individualism, Old and New

– I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind – that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
+++++– I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
+++++– I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…
+++++– I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
+++++– I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…
+++++– I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
+++++– I believe in the reality of progress.
+++++– I – But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant. – Mencken


…There is no thought which is not seed as well as fruit… – Emerson, journals, 1826?

Any one who thinks, and is determined to let nothing stop him from thinking, is a philosopher… – Collingwood, An Essay on Philosophical Method, 15

Real thinking is always to some extent experimental in its method; it always starts from practice and returns to practice; for it is based on ‘interest’ in the thing thought about; that is, on a practical concern with it. – Collingwood, New Leviathan, 18.13

The commonest remark, if the man could only extend it a little, would make him a genius; but the thought is prematurely checked, and grows no more. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion. Must that needs be evil? We, it seems, are critical; we are embarrassed with second thoughts; we cannot enjoy anything for hankering to know whereof the pleasure consists; we are lined with eyes; we see with our feet; the time is infected with Hamlet’s unhappiness – “Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” – Emerson, The American Scholar, 1837

Our false philosophy is incorporated in our entire language; we can, so to speak, not reason without reasoning falsely. We fail to consider that speaking, regardless of what, is a philosophy…Our whole philosophy is a rectification of colloquial linguistic usage, thus rectification of a philosophy, and indeed of the most universal and general… – Lichtenberg

In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions. – A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p91

The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the ‘psychologist’s fallacy’ par excellence. – W James, Principles of Psychology, I, vii p196, 1890

[‘the Planck Problem’:] An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning. – Max Planck, Philosophy of Physics, 1936, p97

In the right state, [the scholar] is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking. – Emerson, The American Scholar

People do not like your philosopher at all, for he does not look, say or think as they do; and they respect him still less. The majority go by personal appearances, not by proofs of intellectual power; and they are quite right in this, for they are better judges of the one than the other. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life, p289

We say of an experience of thinking that we reach or draw a conclusion. Theoretical formulation of the process is often made in such terms as to conceal effectively the similarity of “conclusion” to the consummating phase of every developing integral experience.
+++++…In fact, in an experience of thinking, premisses emerge only as a conclusion becomes manifest. The experience, like that of watching a storm reach its height and gradually subside, is one of continuous movement of subject-matters.
+++++Hence an experience of thinking has its own esthetic quality. It differs from those experiences that are acknowledged to be esthetic, but only in its materials. The material of the fine arts consists of qualities; that of experience having intellectual conclusion are signs or symbols having no intrinsic quality of their own, but standing for things that may in another experience be qualitatively experienced. The difference is enormous. It is one reason why the strictly intellectual art will never be popular as music is popular. Nevertheless, the experience itself has a satisfying emotional quality because it possesses internal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and organized movement. This artistic structure may be immediately felt. In so far, it is esthetic. …no intellectual activity is an integral event (is an experience), unless it is rounded out with this quality. Without it, thinking is inconclusive. In short, esthetic cannot be sharply marked off from intellectual experience since the latter must bear an esthetic stamp to be itself complete. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p37-8


…a thought that is separated from the mental road that leads towards it, a thought standing alone and abrupt as an island, is an abstraction in the worst sense of the word, and by the same token is unintelligible. – Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, p15


LANGUAGE, n. The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another’s treasure. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

When a man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet. – Wilde

Language was given to man to conceal his thoughts. – Talleyrand

INTERPRETER, n. One who enables two persons of different languages to understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to the interpreter’s advantage for the other to have said. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

If we think much for ourselves we discover that much wisdom has been gathered into language. It is not very probable that we ourselves carry it all in, but much wisdom does in fact reside there, as it does in proverbs. – Lichtenberg

LEXICOGRAPHER, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his dictionary, comes to be considered “as one having authority,” whereas his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a chronicle as if it were a statute. Let the dictionary (for example) mark a good word as “obsolete” or “obsolescent” and few men thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however desirable its restoration to favor – whereby the process of impoverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary, recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has no following and is tartly reminded that “it isn’t in the dictionary” – although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that was in the dictionary. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

OBSOLETE, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words.
+++++A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer’s attitude toward “obsolete” words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


…every philosophical statement is intended to express the rejection of some definite proposition which the person making the statement regards as erroneous. …a non-philosophical judgement, when it affirms, denies indiscriminately all the judgements incompatible with it; a philosophical judgement, when it affirms, picks out some one incompatible judgement, focuses itself on the denial of that, and by this denial comes to focus or define its own precise significance. … Empirically, cases can perhaps be found in which a philosopher makes an assertion with no very clear idea of what he means to deny. But if so, he is committing the fallacy of abstract affirmation; and though it is doubtless possible to think what is substantially true while yet thinking in terms of this fallacy, the truth is attained not because of, but in spite of, the principles employed in the search.
+++++ 7. The principle of concrete affirmation, as the denial of this fallacy, can be applied in two ways.
+++++ As applied to one’s own thought, it runs: ‘If you want to be clear as to what you are asserting, be clear as to what you are denying.’ In other words, it is never enough to state your aim in a special philosophical inquiry by saying that you wish to discover the truth about a particular subject; this must always be further defined by adding that you wish to discover what exactly is wrong with this or that view of it. And this implies that without systematic and painstaking analysis of false views, to discover where they are false, there is in philosophy no reaching any truth that is worth reaching.
+++++The principle also applies to our comprehension of others’ thoughts. Here it runs thus: ‘In reading or listening to a philosopher, never be content to ask yourself what he means to affirm, without at the same time asking what he means to deny.’ It is of great importance to observe this rule in our philosophical reading; important because difficult; for the great philosophers of the past, whose works stand like islands out of continents otherwise submerged by the waters of time, have formed their own views by criticizing others that have not come down to us except so far as we can reconstruct them from these same criticisms. Yet, if we cannot understand what the doctrines were which a Plato or a Parmenides meant to deny, it is certain that to just that extent we are unable to grasp what it was that he meant to affirm. – Collingwood, Essay on Philosophical Method, p106-9


A sensible person will soon see the folly and wickedness of thinking to please. Sensible men are very rare. A sensible man does not brag, avoids introducing the names of his creditable companions, omits himself as habitually as another man obtrudes himself in the discourse, and is content with putting his fact or theme simply on its ground. You shall not tell me that your commercial house, your partners, or yourself are of importance; you shall not tell me that you have learned to know men; you shall make me feel that; your saying so unsays it. You shall not enumerate your brilliant acquaintances, nor tell me by their titles what books you have read. I am to infer that you keep good company by your better information and manners, and to infer your reading from the wealth and accuracy of your conversation. – Emerson, Greatness

The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons. – Emerson

If a man tells me that he has an intense love of Nature, I know, of course, that he has none. – Emerson, XII 142

Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious… The use of the word ‘obvious’ indicates the absence of logical argument. – Errol Morris


There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the various systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. …With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of the epoch. – AN Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p69

INNATE, adj. Natural, inherent – as innate ideas, that is to say, ideas that we are born with, having had them previously imparted to us. The doctrine of innate ideas is one of the most admirable faiths of philosophy, being itself an innate idea and therefore inaccessible to disproof, though Locke foolishly supposed himself to have given it “a black eye.” Among innate ideas may be mentioned the belief in one’s ability to conduct a newspaper, in the greatness of one’s country, in the superiority of one’s civilization, in the importance of one’s personal affairs and in the interesting nature of one’s diseases. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

If the inquirer can find a person to experiment upon who is well trained in a certain type of scientific work, intelligent and earnest in his devotion to it, and unaccustomed to metaphysics, let him probe into various presuppositions that his ‘subject’ has been taught to make in the course of his scientific education, and invite him to justify each or alternatively to abandon it. If the ‘inquirer’ is skilful and the ‘subject’ the right kind of man, these invitations will be contemplated with equanimity, and even with interest, so long as relative presuppositions are concerned. But when an absolute presupposition is touched, the invitation will be rejected, even with a certain degree of violence.
+++++The rejection is a symptom that the ‘subject’, cooperating with the work of analysis, has come to see that the presupposition he is being asked to justify or abandon is an absolute presupposition; and the violence with which it is expressed is a symptom that he feels the importance of this absolute presupposition for the kind of work to which he is devoted. This is what in the preceding chapter I called being ‘ticklish in one’s absolute presuppositions’; and the reader will see that this ticklishness is a sign of intellectual health combined with a low degree of analytical skill. A man who is ticklish in that way is a man who knows, ‘instinctively’ as they say, that absolute presuppositions do not need justification. In my own experience I have found that when natural scientists express hatred of ‘metaphysics’ they are usually expressing this dislike of having their absolute presuppositions touched. I respect it, and admire them for it; though I do not expect scientists who give way to it to rise very high in the scientific world.
+++++ This is a precarious method, because the qualifications it demands in the ‘subject’ are too delicate. As soon as the ‘subject’ understands what is going on he will lose the ticklishness on which his value depends, because it is conditional on a kind of virginity in the reflective faculties. Perhaps there was a kind of justice in the allegation that Socrates, the great master of this method, ‘corrupted the young men’, where the word translated ‘corrupt’ was the same word which, when used of a girl, meant ‘seduce’. The only altogether satisfactory method is for the analyst to experiment on himself; because this is the only case in which familiarity with the experiments will make the subject more valuable, instead of less valuable, to the inquirer. But it demands great resolution, and the temptation to cheat is stronger than one would expect.
+++++The purpose of the experiments is to find out what absolute presuppositions are as a matter of fact made on a certain occasion or on occasions of a certain kind. The process, simply qua analysis, is identical with the analysis of ordinary science. In either case presuppositions are brought to light, and about each one the question is raised and settled whether it is relative or absolute. But after this the two processes diverge. In ordinary science the relative presuppositions are put into the basket, and later on the question is raised when and how they shall be justified. The absolute presuppositions are thrown back. In metaphysics it is the relative presuppositions that are thrown back, and the absolute presuppositions that are put into the basket; not in order to justify them, because to talk of justifying them is to talk nonsense (Chap. IV, prop. 5); but in order to have them scientifically described.
+++++Aristotle’s identification of metaphysics with theology may serve as a reminder that no human being can contemplate these two alternative procedures with quite the same feelings. You may call it superstition or what you will, but hard names make no difference to the fact that there is something a little uncanny about absolute presuppositions. They give people more than a touch of the feeling which Rudolf Otto called numinous terror. This mattered less at a period of history when people had their well-established methods (magic, we call them) of dissipating the terror and enabling themselves to face the things that inspired it. Ours is an age when people pride themselves on having abolished magic and pretend that they have no superstitions. But they have as many as ever. The difference is that they have lost the art, which must always be a magical art, of conquering them. So it is a special characteristic of modern European civilization that metaphysics is habitually frowned upon and the existence of absolute presuppositions denied. This habit is neurotic. It is an attempt to overcome a superstitious dread by denying that there is any cause for it. If this neurosis ever achieves its ostensible object, the eradication of metaphysics from the European mind, the eradication of science and civilization will be accomplished at the same time. – Collingwood, Essay on Metaphysics, p43-6

There are two things you can do with absolute presuppositions, and I agree that one of them is what the ordinary scientist does, and the other what the metaphysician does. You can presuppose them, which is what the ordinary scientist does; or you can find out what they are, which is what the metaphysician does. When I speak of finding out what they are I do not mean finding out what it is to be an absolute presupposition, which is work for a logician; I mean finding out what absolute presuppositions are in fact made. When I say that this is what metaphysicians do I mean that this is what I find them doing when I read their works from Aristotle onwards. – Collingwood, Essay on Metaphysics, p54

In the biological sciences, the present tendency is towards emphasizing applied mathematics, as in biochemistry, and also in genetics, where the Platonism of Mendel has succeeded the Aristotelianism of Darwin. The biological controversy between ‘mechanists’ and ‘vitalists’ is in effect a struggle between Platonists and Aristotelians, friends of applied mathematics and friends of quality, for the last citadel of Aristotelian natural science. To the mere spectator, there seems to be evidence that the ‘mechanists’ are winning. But a biological ‘mechanist’, like any other scientist in the tradition of Galileo, is working on presuppositions that no experience can confirm and no experiment verify. When he says that the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, he does not mean only that the pages of this book which have been read in the past have been found to be written in this language, nor even only that this is true of the pages that have been read in the past and also, probably, of those which he is just about to read. He means that the book of nature is quite certainly written in that language from end to end. And no one thinks that this will ever be ‘verified’. It is an absolute presupposition, in other words a matter of ‘faith’. Galileo is deliberately applying to ‘nature’ the principle which Augustine laid down with regard to the Holy Scriptures, the book par excellence ‘written by the hand of God’: that whatever doubts may arise about the meaning of this or that passage, it has a meaning, and the meaning is true (Conf. xii. 23-4).
+++++Here, accordingly, a ‘logical positivist’ who was in earnest with his principles would lift up his voice. ‘You are affirming a proposition’, he would say, ‘which applies to an indefinite number of instances, described as observable, which nevertheless have not all been observed and in fact never will be all observed. Tell me that mathematics has been applied by this or that person to this or that thing in the world of nature, for example to colours by Newton, or to heredity by Mendel, and I know what you mean and can admit that what you say is either true or false. But tell me that mathematics is applicable to everything in nature, and I cannot either agree or disagree: the proposition you are affirming is one which can never be verified, and therefore I maintain that it has no meaning.’
+++++I do not know why the logical positivists have not thus pilloried as nonsensical the principle that mathematics is applicable to everything in nature; unless it is that they know this principle to be one upon which natural science ever since Galileo has depended, and still depends, for its very possibility. Being the declared friends of natural science, they would never dream of making a fuss about anything which natural scientists find it necessary to take for granted. So they let it pass, and to ease their consciences drop heavily upon the proposition ‘God exists’, because they think nobody believes in God except poor miserable parsons, whose luggage enjoys no such diplomatic immunity. If they knew a little more about the history of science, they would know that the belief in the possibility of applied mathematics is only one part of the belief in God. – Collingwood, Essay on Metaphysics, p255-7


Wherever there is a capacity of conceiving of things as different from what they are, there must be a principle of taste and selection a disposition to make them better, and a power to make them worse. …If goodness were only a theory, it were a pity it should be lost to the world. There are a number of things, the idea of which is a clear gain to the mind. Let people, for instance, rail at friendship, genius, freedom, as long as they will – the very names of these despised qualities are better than anything else that could be substituted for them, and embalm even the most envenomed satire against them. It is no small consideration that the mind is capable even of feigning such things. – Hazlitt, On Cant and Hypocrisy


…there is, I maintain, no such thing as the real world, no unique, ready-made, absolute reality apart from and independent of all versions and visions. Rather, there are many right world-versions, some of them irreconcilable with others; and thus there are many worlds if any. A version is not so much made right by a world as a world is made by a right version. Obviously rightness has therefore to be determined otherwise than by matching a version with a world. My relativism, which nevertheless recognizes the difference between right and wrong versions, does not stop with representation and vision and realism and resemblance but goes through to reality as well. – Nelson Goodman, Realism, Relativism, and Reality, New Literary History, 14/2, 1983

Children avow a deep-seated conviction of the independence of reality from discourse when they chant, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. And the same children, some years later, will feel sure that measures of referential distance from symbol to object are exclusively features of the organization of discourse, verbal or nonverbal, without effect upon reality. Are the stories upon stories we have been counting, then, merely stories, without reality?
+++++On the contrary, I think the American system rather than the European system applies here: stories begin not one flight up but at the ground level. Any notion of a reality consisting of objects and events and kinds established independently of discourse and unaffected by how they are described or otherwise presented must give way to the recognition that these, too, are parts of the story. If we dismiss measures of referential distance as not matters of fact because they are discourse dependent, we shall have trouble finding features that are matters of fact. Remoteness of reference is indeed variable and relative; and elements near each other in one chain may be far apart in another. But if these distances are nonfactual because they are thus discourse dependent, then so also, for example, is motion. The same object may simultaneously rotate in opposite directions, dance madly, and remain at rest, depending upon the frame of reference – or, better, the world-version – in question. To eliminate the effects of “conventions of discourse” is to eliminate motion entirely – and virtually everything else. For not only the motion of objects but the objects themselves and the categories they belong to depend upon an organization effected by discourse. – Nelson Goodman, Routes of Reference, Critical Inquiry, 8/1, 1981

…a world cannot be separated from versions. …a new version may replace an old; but…we cannot find a world apart from all versions. – Nelson Goodman, Routes of Reference, Critical Inquiry, 8/1, 1981

We ‘make’ the world by construing symbol systems…which are numerous and equally legitimate: descriptive theories, perceptions, novels, paintings, musical scores, etc. …each of these ways of worldmaking is a world-version rather than a version of the world in the sense that there is no world in itself before or beneath these versions. …world versions other than the scientific ones are neither true nor false. And yet some may be said to be right and others wrong. There must be therefore criteria to assign or to deny rightness to non-descriptive world versions. – N. Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, (quoted in P. Ricoeur, Critical Discussions: Ways of Worldmaking, in Philosophy and Literature, 4/1, 1980)

The apparent conflict between true descriptions shows that they are not descriptions of the same thing. The earth that is truly described as in motion is not the earth that is truly described as at rest. And the world of the one has no room for a planet like the other. So if both descriptions are true, they are true in different worlds.
+++++There are then many worlds if any. Our talk of a world amounts to talk of a true or right world version. And we make worlds by making right versions. But notice the word ‘right’. For philosophers like Richard Rorty, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend, loss of the world results in a skepticism that despairs of distinguishing between what is true and what is false, and reduces all science and other inquiry to idle conversation. For us, the rejection of untenable notions of a ready-made world and of truth as determined by it increases the importance of distinguishing between right and wrong versions. We can make versions at will, but making right versions (hence worlds), like making sofas and souffles, takes skill and care. For a version does not become right by our declaring it to be so.
+++++Of course, with the world gone, rightness cannot be identified with correspondence to reality. How should rightness be construed? If we look to familiar kinds of rightness that are partly or wholly independent of truth, we find abundant clues. A deductive argument may be valid even if its conclusion is false; for from false premises a false conclusion can be validly deduced. An inductive argument may be valid even if its premises are true and its conclusion false; for inductive validity does not insure against improbable occurrences. A sample may be fair even if it does not accurately reflect what is sampled; for a fair sample is one that is fairly taken, and an unevenly distributed population may lack features exemplified by its fairly taken samples. Categories may be right or wrong even though, not being sentences, they are neither true nor false. Having been ordered to shoot anyone who moved, the guard shot all his prisoners, contending that they were all moving rapidly around the sun. Although true, his contention was plainly wrong, for it involved an inappropriate category of motion. A true sentence can thus be wrong through using inappropriate categories, and a false one partially right through using appropriate ones. From such observations we may try to develop a serviceable conception of rightness. – Goodman/Elgin, Interpretation and Identity: Can the Work Survive the World?, Critical Inquiry, 12/3, 1986


…the imagination is, as it were, the self-consciousness of instinct, the contribution which the inner capacity and demand of the mind makes to experience. To indulge the imagination is to express the universal self, the common and contagious element in all individuals, that rudimentary potency which they all share. – Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Understanding, Imagination and Mysticism

The inadequacy of each of our faculties is what occasions the intrusion of some other faculty into its field. The defect of sense calls in imagination, the defect of imagination calls in reasoning, the defect of reasoning divination. If our senses were clairvoyant and able to observe all that is going on in the world, if our instincts were steady, prompting us to adequate reactions upon these observations, the fancy might remain free. We should not need to call upon it to piece out the imperfections of sense and reflection, but we should employ it only in avowed poetry, only in building dream-worlds alongside of the real, not interfering with the latter or confusing it, but repeating its pattern with as many variations as the fertility of our minds could supply. As it is, the imagination is brought into the service of sense and instinct, and made to do the work of intelligence. This substitution is the more readily effected, in that imagination and intelligence do not differ in their origin, but only in their validity. Understanding is an applicable fiction, a kind of wit with a practical use. Common sense and science live in a world of expurgated mythology, such as Plato wished his poets to compose, a world where the objects are imaginative in their origin and essence, but useful, abstract, and beneficent in their suggestions. The sphere of common sense and science is concentric with the sphere of fancy; both more in virtue of the same imaginative impulses. The eventual distinction between intelligence and imagination is ideal; it arises when we discriminate various functions in a life that is dynamically one. Those conceptions which, after they have spontaneously arisen, prove serviceable in practice, and capable of verification in sense, we call ideas of the understanding. The others remain ideas of the imagination. The shortness of life, the distractions of passion, and the misrepresentation to which all transmitted knowledge is subject, have made the testing of ideas by practice extremely slow in the history of mankind. Hence the impurity of our knowledge, its confusion with fancy, and its painful inadequacy to interpret the whole world of human interests. These shortcomings are so many invitations to foreign powers to intervene, so many occasions for new waves of imagination to sweep away the landmarks of our old labour, and flood the whole mind with impetuous dreams.
+++++It is accordingly the profounder minds that commonly yield to the imagination, because it is these minds that are capable of feeling the greatness of the problems of life and the inadequacy of the understanding, with its present resources to solve them. The same minds are, moreover, often swayed by emotion, by the ever-present desire to find a noble solution to all questions, perhaps a solution already hallowed by authority and intertwined inextricably, for those who have always accepted it, with the sanctions of spiritual life. Such a coveted conclusion may easily be one which the understanding, with its basis in sense and its demand for verification, may not be able to reach. Therefore the impassioned soul must pass beyond the understanding, or else go unsatisfied; and unless it be as disciplined as it is impassioned it will not tolerate dissatisfaction. From what quarter, then, will it draw the wider views, the deeper harmonies, which it craves? Only from the imagination. There is no other faculty left to invoke. The imagination, therefore, must furnish to religion and to metaphysics those large ideas tinctured with passion, those supersensible forms shrouded in awe, in which alone a mind of great sweep and vitality can find its congenial objects. Thus the stone which the builder, understanding, rejected, becomes the chief stone of the corner; the intuitions which science could not use remain the inspiration of poetry and religion.
+++++The imagination, when thus employed to anticipate or correct the conclusions of the understanding, is of course not called imagination by those who appeal to it. The religious teachers call it prophecy or revelation, the philosophers call it a higher reason. But these names are merely eulogistic synonyms for imagination, implying (what is perfectly possible) that the imagination has not misled us. They imply on the contrary that in the given instances the imagination has hit upon an ultimate truth. A prophet, unless he be the merely mechanical vehicle of truths he does not understand, cannot be conceived as anything but a man of imagination, whose visions miraculously mirror the truth. A metaphysician who transcends the intellect by his reason can be conceived only as using his imagination to such good purpose as to divine by it the ideal laws of reality or the ultimate goals of moral effort. His reason is an imagination that succeeds, an intuition that guesses the principle of experience. But if this intuition were of such a nature that experience could verify it, then that higher reason or imagination would be brought down to the level of the understanding; for understanding, as we have defined it, is itself a kind of imagination an imagination prophetic of experience, a spontaneity of thought by which the science of perception is turned into the art of life. The same absence of verification distinguishes revelation from science; for when the prophecies of faith are verified, the function of faith is gone. Faith and the higher reason of the metaphysicians are therefore forms of imagination believed to be avenues to truth, as dreams or oracles may sometimes be truthful, not because their necessary correspondence to truth can be demonstrated, for then they would be portions of science, but because a man dwelling on those intuitions is conscious of a certain moral transformation, of a certain warmth and energy of life. This emotion, heightening his ideas and giving them power over his will, he calls faith or high philosophy, and under its dominion he is able to face his destiny with enthusiasm, or at least with composure.
+++++The imagination, even when its premonitions are not wholly justified by subsequent experience, has thus a noble role to play in the life of man. Without it his thoughts would be not only far too narrow to represent, although it were symbolically, the greatness of the universe, but far too narrow even to render the scope of his own life and the conditions of his practical welfare. Without poetry and religion the history of mankind would have been darker than it is. Not only would emotional life have been poorer, but the public conscience, the national and family spirit, so useful for moral organization and discipline, would hardly have become articulate. By what a complex and uninspired argumentation would the pure moralist have to insist upon those duties which the imagination enforces so powerfully in oaths sworn before the gods, in commandments written by the finger of God upon stone tablets, in visions of hell and heaven, in chivalrous love and loyalty, and in the sense of family dignity and honour? What intricate, what unavailing appeals to positive interests would have to be made before those quick reactions could be secured in large bodies of people which can be produced by the sight of a flag or the sound of a name? The imagination is the great unifier of humanity. – Santayana, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Understanding, Imagination and Mysticism


It is the process of analogy; and the human mind knows no other. All new knowledge depends upon our ability to find in our present knowledge an analogy for the new phenomenon. – Oakeshott, History is a Fable

Most of the expressions we use are metaphorical: they contain the philosophy of our ancestors. – Lichtenberg

We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on… – Lichtenberg

New metaphors, like conventional metaphors, can have the power to define reality. They do this through a coherent network of entailments that highlight some features of reality and hide others. The acceptance of the metaphor, which forces us to focus only on those aspects of our experience that it highlights, leads us to view the entailments of the metaphor as being true. Such “truths” may be true, of course, only relative to the reality defined by the metaphor. …
+++++Though questions of truth do arise for new metaphors, the more important questions are those of appropriate action. In most cases, what is at issue is not the truth or falsity of a metaphor but the perceptions and inferences that follow from it and the actions that are sanctioned by it. In all aspects of life, not just in politics or in love, we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed to act on the basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor. – Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p157-8

…truth is always relative to a conceptual system that is defined in large part by metaphor. Most of our metaphors have evolved in our culture over a long period, but many are imposed upon us by people in power – political leaders, religious leaders, business leaders, advertisers, the media, etc. In a culture where the myth of objectivism is very much alive and truth is always absolute truth, the people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true – absolutely and objectively true. – Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors We Live By

Far from being a mere matter of ornament, [metaphor] participates fully in the progress of knowledge: in replacing some stale ‘natural’ kinds with novel and illuminating categories, in contriving facts, in revising theory, and in bringing us new worlds. – N. Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters, p71, 1984

…it is very dubious whether the spirit of war does not still colour our morality far too much. Metaphors from law and metaphors from war make most of our current moral phrases, and a nice examination would easily explain that both rather vitiate what both often illustrate. The military habit makes man think far too much of definite action, and far too little of brooding meditation. Life is not a set campaign, but an irregular work, and the main forces in it are not overt resolutions, but latent and half-involuntary promptings. The mistake of military ethics is to exaggerate the conception of discipline, and so to present the moral force of the will in a barer form than it ever ought to take. Military morals can direct the axe to cut down the tree, but it knows nothing of the quiet force by which the forest grows. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, 1872

Metaphor is both important and odd – its importance odd and its oddity important. – Nelson Goodman


A fact is not called a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does not fall into one of your scholastic categories. – RL Stevenson, An Apology for Idlers

In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classroom. – Stephen Jay Gould

I regard the very use of the word “fact” as misleading, because “fact” is an emotive word which suggests something hard and firm. What we have in science is always a jumble of observation, understanding of the equipment with which the observation was carried out, interpretation and analysis. We can never clear one from the other. Certain experiments that were interpreted in a particular way in their day we now interpret quite differently – but they might well have been claimed as “facts” in those days…It’s important to realise that in science it isn’t a question of who is right and who is wrong. It is much more a question of who is useful, who is stimulating, who has helped things forward. – H. Bondi, The achievements of Karl Popper, The Listener, 88/2265, p226

The statement is, I think, susceptible of overwhelming proof, that moral codes assume a particular view of the facts. Under the term moral codes I include all kinds: personal, family, economic, professional, legal, patriotic, international. At the center of each there is a pattern of stereotypes about psychology, sociology, and history. The same view of human nature, institutions or tradition rarely persists through all codes. There is a war supposed to affect all alike. Two men are partners in business. One enlists; the other takes a war contract. The soldier sacrifices everything, perhaps even his life. He is paid a dollar a day, and no one says, no one believes, that you could make a better soldier out of him by any form of economic incentive. That motive disappears out of his human nature. The contractor sacrifices very little, is paid a handsome profit over costs, and few say or believe that he would produce the munitions if there were no economic incentive. That may be unfair to him. The point is that the accepted patriotic code assumes one kind of human nature, the commercial code another. And the codes are probably founded on true expectations to this extent, that when a man adopts a certain code he tends to exhibit the kind of human nature which the code demands.
+++++That is one reason why it is so dangerous to generalize about human nature. A loving father can be a sour boss, an earnest municipal reformer, and a rapacious jingo abroad. His family life, his business career, his politics, and his foreign policy rest on totally different versions of what others are like and of how he should act. These versions differ by codes in the same person, the codes differ somewhat among persons in the same social set, differ widely as between social sets, and between two nations, or two colours, may differ to the point where there are no common assumptions whatever. That is why people professing the same stock of religious beliefs can go to war. The element of their belief which determines conduct is that view of the facts which they assume.
+++++That is where codes enter so subtly and so persuasively into the making of public opinion. The orthodox theory holds that a public opinion constitutes a moral judgment on a group of facts. The theory I am suggesting is that, in the present state of education, a public opinion is primarily a moralized and codified version of the facts. I am arguing that the pattern of stereotypes at the center of our codes largely determines what group of facts we shall see, and in what light we shall see them. That is why, with the best will in the world, the news policy of a journal tends to support its editorial policy; why a capitalist sees one set of facts, and certain aspects of human nature, literally sees them; his socialist opponent another set and other aspects, and why each regards the other as unreasonable or perverse, when the real difference between them is a difference of perception. That difference is imposed by the difference between the capitalist and socialist pattern of stereotypes. “There are no classes in America,” writes an American editor. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” says the Communist Manifesto. If you have the editor’s pattern in your mind, you will see vividly the facts that confirm it, vaguely and ineffectively those that contradict. If you have the communist pattern, you will not only look for different things, but you will see with a totally different emphasis what you and the editor happen to see in common. …
And since my moral system rests on my accepted version of the facts, he who denies either my moral judgements or my version of the facts, is to me perverse, alien, dangerous. How shall I account for him? The opponent has always to be explained, and the last explanation that we ever look for is that he sees a different set of facts. Such an explanation we avoid, because it saps the very foundation of our own assurance that we have seen life steadily and seen it whole. It is only when we are in the habit of recognizing our opinions as a partial experience seen through our stereotypes that we become truly tolerant of an opponent. Without that habit, we believe in the absolutism of our own vision, and consequently in the treacherous character of all opposition. For while men are willing to admit that there are two sides to a “question”, they do not believe that there are two sides to what they regard as a “fact.” And they never do believe it until after long critical education, they are fully conscious of how second-hand and subjective is their apprehension of the social data.
+++++So where two factions see vividly each its own aspect, and contrive their own explanations of what they see, it is almost impossible for them to credit each other with honesty. If the pattern fits their experience at a crucial point, they no longer look upon it as an interpretation. They look upon it as “reality”. It may not resemble the reality, except that it culminates in a conclusion which fits a real experience.
+++++…For the opponent presents himself as the man who says, evil be thou my good. He is an annoyance who does not fit into the scheme of things. Nevertheless he interferes. And since that scheme is based in our minds on incontrovertible fact fortified by irresistible logic, some place has to be found for him in the scheme. Rarely in politics or industrial disputes is a place made for him by the simple admission that he has looked upon the same reality and seen another aspect of it. That would shake the whole scheme. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1922, p81

The English are always degrading truths into facts. When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value. – Wilde, Maxims for the Use of the Overeducated

Every fact is related on one side to sensation, and on the other to morals. The game of thought is, on the appearance of one of these two sides, to find the other… Nothing so thin but has these two faces, and when the observer has seen the obverse, he turns it over to see the reverse. Life is a pitching of this penny – heads or tails. We never tire of this game, because there is still a slight shudder of astonishment at the exhibition of the other face, at the contrast of the two faces. A man if flushed with success, and bethinks himself what this good luck signifies. He drives his bargain in the street; but it occurs that he is also bought and sold. He sees the beauty of a human face, and searches the cause of that beauty, which must be more beautiful. He builds his fortunes, maintains the laws, cherishes his children; but he asks himself, Why? and whereto? This head and this tail are called, in the language of philosophy, Infinite and Finite; Relative and Absolute; Apparent and Real; and many fine names beside.
+++++Each man is born with a predisposition to one or the other of these sides of nature; and it will easily happen that men will be found devoted to one or the other. One class has the perception of difference, and is conversant with facts and surfaces, cities and persons, and the bringing certain things to pass – the men of talent and action. Another class have the perception of identity, and are men of faith and philosophy, men of genius.
+++++Each of these riders drives too fast. Plotinus believes only in philosophers; Fenelon, in saints; Pindar and Byron, in poets. Read the haughty language in which Plato and the Platonists speak of all men who are not devoted to their own shining abstractions: other men are rats and mice. …The correspondence of Pope and Swift describes mankind around them as monsters, and that of Goethe and Schiller…is scarcely more kind.
+++++It is easy to see how this arrogance comes. …Does he not rest in angles and colors, but beholds the design? – he will presently undervalue the actual object. In powerful moments, his thought has dissolved the works of art and nature into their causes, so that the works appear heavy and faulty. He has a conception of beauty which the sculptor cannot embody. – Emerson, Montaigne


..a dogma means a thing which is not thought dogmatic. – Chesterton, Heretics

…intelligence will compete in vain against beliefs which are habitual and irrational. Whenever a scientist upholds his ideas with a faith like that of vital, living faith, doubt his science. In one of Baroja’s books one character says to another, “This man believes in anarchy as in the Virgin of the Pillar”; whereupon a third comments, “Believing is believing, and always the same.” – Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, p116

Believe, certainly; we cannot help believing; but believe rationally, holding what seems certain for certain, what seems probable for probable, what seems desirable for desirable, and what seems false for false. – Santayana, Character and Opinion in the US, Ch.3 William James

…human beings are absurdly easy to indoctrinate; they seek it… men would rather believe than know. – EO Wilson, Sociobiology, p562

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed. – Chesterton, Heretics, end

“All clear ideas are true,” was for ages a philosophical maxim, and though no maxim can be more unsound, none can be more exactly conformable to ordinary human nature. The child resolutely accepts every idea which passes through its brain as true; it has no distinct conception of an idea which is strong, bright, and permanent, but which is false too. The mere presentation of an idea, unless we are careful about it, or unless there is within some unusual resistance, makes us believe it; and this is why the belief of others adds to our belief so quickly, for no ideas seem so very clear as those inculcated on us from every side. – Bagehot, Physics and Politics, III

ABSURDITY, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable. – Wilde

First we have to believe, and then we believe. – Lichtenberg

There are two kinds of true believers in this world: those who are fanatical and those who are fanatically unfanatical. – Dennis Rohatyn, Philosophy, History, Sophistry, p174

The believing mind is a curious thing. It must absorb its endless rations of balderdash, or perish. – Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, July 27, 1925

There are few people in the world who do not believe many things which they would, if they subjected them to closer examination, find they did not understand. They believe merely on the word of many other people, or think they lack the ancillary knowledge which if they acquired it would abolish all doubt. Thus it is possible for there to be a universal belief in a proposition whose truth no man has yet tested. – Lichtenberg

…we obstinately believe things to be to the last what we at first wished to find them. – Hazlitt, On Novelty and Familiarity

There is a constant battle in the human heart between our fictionalized images and the actual truth. We fabricate ideal poetic, artistic and religious visions of what might have been in the past or could be in the future. There is a constant tension between the scientist and the poet, the philosopher and the artist, the practical man and the visionary. The scientist, philosopher, and practical man wish to interpret the universe and understand it for what it really is; the others are inspired by what it might become. Scientists wish to test their hypothetical constructs; dreamers live by them. All too often what people crave is faith and conviction, not tested knowledge. Belief far outstrips truth as it soars on the wings of imagination.
+++++[This temptation] lurks deep within the human breast. It is an ever-present, tempting humans by the lure of transcendent realities, subverting the power of their critical intelligence, enabling them to accept unproven and unfounded myth systems.
+++++…This impulse is so strong that it has inspired the great religions and paranormal movements of the past and the present and goaded otherwise sensible men and women to swallow patently false myths and to repeat them constantly as articles of faith. – Paul Kurtz, Transcendental Temptation, p477, 1986

The more ridiculous a belief system, the higher the probability of its success. – Wayne R Bartz

…at the level of social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment takes place through the medium of fictions.
+++++By fictions I do not mean lies. I mean a representation of the environment which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself. The range of fiction extends all the way from complete hallucination to the scientists’ perfectly self-conscious use of a schematic model, or his decision that for his particular problem accuracy beyond a certain number of decimal places is not important. A work of fiction may have almost any degree of fidelity, and so long as the degree of fidelity can be taken into account, fiction is not misleading. In fact, human culture is very largely the selection, the rearrangement, the tracing of patterns upon, and the stylizing of, what William James called “the random irradiations and resettlements of our ideas.” The alternative to the use of fictions is direct exposure to the ebb and flow of sensations. That is not a real alternative, for however refreshing it is to see at times with a perfectly innocent eye, innocence itself is not wisdom, though a source and corrective of wisdom.
+++++…To traverse the world men must have maps of the world. …For when full allowance has been made for deliberate fraud, political science still has to account for such facts as two nations attacking one another, each convinced that it is acting in self-defense, or two classes at war with each certain that it speaks for the common interest. They live, we are likely to say, in different worlds. More accurately, they live in the same world, but they think and feel in different ones. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p10-13

Substitute in the following passage of Mr Berenson’s the words “politics”, “business”, and “society”, for the word “art” and the sentences will be no less true: “…unless years devoted to the study of all schools of art have taught us also to see with our own eyes, we soon fall into the habit of moulding whatever we look at into the forms borrowed from the one art with which we are acquainted. There is our standard of artistic reality. Let anyone give us shapes and colours which we cannot instantly match in our paltry stock of hackneyed forms and tints, and we shake our heads at his failure to reproduce things as we know they certainly are, or we accuse him of insincerity.” – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p57

There is a connection between our vision and the facts, but it is a strange connection. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p58

We do not so much see this man and that sunset; rather we notice that the thing is man or sunset, and then see chiefly what our mind is already full of on those subjects… For the attempt to see all things freshly and in detail, rather than as types and generalities, is exhausting, and among busy affairs practically out of the question…
+++++The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences are those which create and maintain the repertory of stereotypes. We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them…
+++++What matters is the character of those stereotypes, and the gullibility with which we employ them.
+++++…if our philosophy tells us that each man is only a small part of the world, that his intelligence catches at best only phases and aspects in a coarse net of ideas, then, when we use our stereotypes, we tend to know they are only stereotypes, to hold them lightly, to modify them gladly. We tend, also, to realize more and more clearly when our ideas started, where they started, how they came to us, why we accepted them. All useful history is antiseptic in that fashion. It enables us to know what fairy tale, what school book, what tradition, what novel, play, picture, phrase, planted one preconception in this mind, another in that mind. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p60

There is nothing so obdurate to education or to criticism as the stereotype. It stamps itself upon the evidence in the very act of securing the evidence. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p65

For what operates in history is not the systematic idea as a genius formulated it, but shifting imitations, replicas, counterfeits, analogies, and distortions in individual minds.
+++++Thus Marxism is not necessarily what Karl Marx wrote in Das Kapital, but whatever it is that all the warring sects believe, who claim to be the faithful. From the gospels you cannot deduce the history of Christianity. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion

Not only did he not believe in ghosts, he wasn’t even afraid of them. – Lichtenberg

…as the essence of courage is to stake one’s life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists. – William Salter


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. – Voltaire

We seldom convince anyone of what they do not already believe. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

…it is the end of eloquence, in a half-hour’s discourse, – perhaps by a few sentences, – to persuade a multitude of persons to renounce their opinions, and change the course of life. – Emerson


When the chips are down, meaning is negotiated: you slowly figure out what you have in common, what it is safe to talk about, how you can communicate unshared experience or create a shared vision. – Lakoff/Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p232, 1980

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