Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. – Berlioz

The human mind…is the expression of an animal life, swimming hard in the sea of matter. It begins by being the darkest belief and the most helpless discomfort, and it proceeds gradually to relieve this uneasiness and to tincture this blind faith with more and more luminous Ideas. – Santayana, Ideas, Soliloquies in England, p229-30

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. – Wilde, Lady Windemere’s Fan, Mr. Dumby, Act III

There are only three things that happen to a man: birth, life and death. He is unaware of birth, he suffers at death, and he forgets to live. – La Bruyere, Characters, p194

I say “Poor me!” – but why? I am only experiencing what it is to be human. – Euripides, Bellerophon

Life is eating us up. We shall be fables presently. Keep cool; it will all be one a hundred years hence. – Emerson, Montaigne

…we are always getting ready to live, but never living. – Emerson

‘T is with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again. – Emerson

Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. – W James, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings

Every man has three characters: That which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has. – Alphonse Karr

It is very certain that we ought not to be, and shall not be contented with any goal we have reached. Our aim is no less than greatness; that which invites all, belongs to us all, to which we are all sometimes untrue, cowardly, faithless, but of which we never quite despair, and which, in every sane moment, we resolve to make our own. It is also the only platform on which all men can meet. What anecdotes of any man do we wish to hear or read? Only the best. Certainly not those in which he was degraded to the level of dulness or vice, but those in which he rose above all competition by obeying a light that shone to him alone. This is the worthiest history of the world. – Emerson, Greatness

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance and meaning. – Pablo Casals

…we do not, properly speaking, love life at all, but living. – RL Stevenson, Aes Triplex

Every human benefit, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise. – Burke

Most insidious of all is the compromise an individual makes with himself when ambitions start to falter, and he begins to ‘accept his limitations’ – a phrase that far more often denotes retreat and weariness in the face of failure than a just discernment of powers. Unamuno said that we are all potentially heroes and geniuses, if only we would have the courage, and do the hard work, necessary to becoming so. Perhaps – here finding the exception to Burke’s rule – the one compromise we should never make is with life. – AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things, p17

The awareness of human separation, without reunion by love – is the source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety – Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, p14

Now anticipation is an odd thing, as we all know – imaginative, credulous, and sure of its facts before the event; difficult to please and overcritical when the time comes. Reality never seems enough to it, because it has no real idea what it wants… – Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed

…Spinoza wrote that ‘The meditation of the wise man is a meditation not on death, but on life.’ …Hopes for an afterlife are, in fact, a sad reflection on, and a condemnation of, the facts of this life. That should make us understand better Spinoza’s dictum… for it should help us see that if life for many makes them envy the dead, humanity has failed itself badly. – AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things, p33

Every one lives by selling something, whatever be his right to it. – Stevenson, Beggars

To build is to be robbed. – Johnson, Idler no. 62

If a man own land, the land owns him. – Emerson

…every move actually sacrifices something. – Mihai Suba, Dynamic Chess Strategy

The advice that is wanted is commonly unwelcome, and that which is not wanted is evidently impertinent. – Johnson

To travel hopefully is better than to arrive. – Stevenson

Human life is so far a game of cross-purposes. If we wish a thing to be kept secret, it is sure to transpire: if we wish it to be known, not a syllable is breathed about it. This is not meant; but it happens from mere simplicity and thoughtlessness. No one has ever yet seen through all the intricate folds and delicate involutions of our self-love, which is wrapped up in a set of smooth flimsy pretexts like some precious jewel in covers of silver paper. – Hazlitt, On Depth and Superficiality

The extent to which the process of living in any day or hour is reduced to labeling situations, events, and objects as “so-and-so” in mere succession marks the cessation of a life that is a conscious experience. Continuities realized in an individual, discrete, form are the essence of the latter.
+++++ Art is thus prefigured in the very processes of living. A bird builds its nest and a beaver its dam when internal organic pressures cooperate with external materials so that the former are fulfilled and the latter are transformed in a satisfying culmination. We may hesitate to apply the word “art”, since we doubt the presence of directive intent. But all deliberation, all conscious intent, grows out of things once performed organically through the interplay of natural energies. Were it not so, art would be built on quaking sands, nay, on unstable air. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p24

…we have an experience when the material experienced runs its course to fulfilment. Then and then only is it integrated within and demarcated in the general stream of experience from other experiences. …In such experiences, every successive part flows freely, without seam and without unfilled blanks, into what ensues. …As one part leads into another and as one part carries on what went before, each gains distinctiveness in itself. …Because of continuous merging, there are no holes, mechanical junctions, and dead centres when we have an experience. There are pauses, places or rest, but they punctuate and define the quality of movement. They sum up what has been undergone and prevent its dissipation and idle evaporation. …In a work of art, different acts, episodes, occurrences melt and fuse into unity, and yet do not disappear and lose their own character as they do so – just as in a genial conversation there is a continuous interchange and blending, and yet each speaker not only retains his own character but manifests it more clearly than is his wont.
+++++ An experience has a unity that gives it its name, that meal, that storm, that rupture of friendship. The existence of this unity is constituted by a single quality that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts. This unity is neither emotional, practical, or intellectual, for these terms name distinctions that reflection can make within it. …Yet the experience was not a sum of these different characters; they were lost in it as distinctive traits. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p35-7


A golden rule: We must judge men, not by their opinions, but by what these opinions make of them. – Lichtenberg

To this day, my whole philosophy totters after an hour’s sympathetic conversation with total strangers: it seems so foolish to me to wish to be right at the price of love, and not be able to communicate what one considers most valuable lest one destroy the sympathy. – Nietzsche, letter to Gast, 20 Aug 1880

Pure intellect is the pure devil when you have got off all the masks of Mephistopheles. – Emerson, journals, VI 497


Man reaches each stage in his life as a novice. – Chamfort

We are rarely taught by our own experience; and much less do we put faith in that of others. – Hazlitt, Characteristics, 297.

Experience no more makes us wise than hearing notes makes us musical; for both demand the prior capacity to discern innate structure. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

What is the good of drawing conclusions from experience? I don’t deny that we sometimes draw the right conclusions, but don’t we just as often draw the wrong ones? And isn’t that what I was trying to say? A game of chance. – Lichtenberg

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. – Wilde, Lady Windemere’s Fan, Mr. Dumby, Act III

Experiencing like breathing is a rhythm of intakings and outgivings… – Dewey, Art as Experience


What can we see, read, acquire, but ourselves? – Emerson

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. – Talmud

God himself sees in things only himself. – Lichtenberg

We discover no cause in things but notice only that which corresponds to something within ourselves. Wherever we look we see only ourselves. – Lichtenberg

…we cannot remember too often that when we observe nature, and especially the ordering of nature, it is always ourselves alone we are observing. – Lichtenberg


A Man hath too little Heat, or Wit, or Courage, if he hath not sometimes more than he should.
Just enough of a good thing is always too little. – Halifax

ONCE, adv. Enough. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

TWICE, adv. Once too often. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

MORE, adj. The comparative degree of too much. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


It is a proverb, that “courtesy costs nothing;” but calculation might come to value love for its profit. Love is fabled to be blind; but kindness is necessary to perception; love is not a hood, but an eye-water. – Emerson, Prudence

We can deeply love what we do not know, but we cannot deeply know what we do not love. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

ARDOR, n. The quality that distinguishes love without knowledge. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


PAST, n. That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we have a slight and regrettable acquaintance. A moving line called the Present parts it from an imaginary period known as the Future. These two grand divisions of Eternity, of which the one is continually effacing the other, are entirely unlike. The one is dark with sorrow and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy. The Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of song. In the one crouches Memory, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mumbling penitential prayer; in the sunshine of the other Hope flies with a free wing, beckoning to temples of success and bowers of ease. Yet the Past is the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of to-morrow. They are one – the knowledge and the dream. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

PRESENT, n. That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No-one confines his unhappiness to the present. – Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter V

When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when we look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that our life is embosomed in beauty. Behind us, as we go, all things assume pleasing forms, as clouds do far off. Not only things familiar and stale, but even the tragic and terrible are comely, as they take their place in the pictures of memory. – Emerson, Spiritual Laws

Let us let the grass grow over it. – Lichtenberg

The necessity of action to the mind, and the keen edge it gives to our desires, is shown in the different value we set on past and future objects. It is commonly, and we might almost say universally, supposed, that there is an essential difference in the two cases. In this instance, however, the strength of our passions has converted an evident absurdity into one of the most inveterate prejudices of the human mind. That the future is really or in itself of more consequence than the past, is what we can neither assent to nor even conceive. It is true, the past has ceased to be, and is no longer anything, except to the mind; but the future is still to come, and has an existence in the mind only. The one is at an end, the other has not even had a beginning; both are purely ideal : so that this argument would prove that the present only is of any real value, and that both past and future objects are equally indifferent, alike nothing. Indeed, the future is, if possible, more imaginary than the past; for the past may in some sense be said to exist in its consequences; it acts still; it is present to us in its effects; the mouldering ruins and broken fragments still remain; but of the future there is no trace. What a blank does the history of the world for the next six thousand years present to the mind, compared with that of the last? All that strikes the imagination, or excites any interest in the mighty scene is what has been. Neither in reality, then, nor as a subject of general contemplation, has the future any advantage over the past; but with respect to our own passions and pursuits it has. We regret the pleasures we have enjoyed, and eagerly anticipate those which are to come; we dwell with satisfaction on the evils from which we have escaped, and dread future pain. The good that is past is like money that is spent, which is of no use, and about which we give no further concern. The good we expect is like a store yet untouched, in the enjoyment of which we promise ourselves infinite gratification. What has happened to us we think of no consequence what is to happen to us, of the greatest. Why so? Because the one is in our power, and the other not; because the efforts of the will to bring an object to pass or to avert it, strengthen our attachment to or our aversion from that object; because the habitual pursuit of any purpose redoubles the ardour of our pursuit, and converts the speculative and indolent interest we should otherwise take in it into real passion. Our regrets, anxiety, and wishes, are thrown away upon the past, but we encourage our disposition to exaggerate the importance of the future, as of the utmost use in aiding our resolutions and stimulating our exertions.
+++++It in some measure confirms this theory, that men attach more or less importance to past and future events, according as they are more or less engaged in action and the busy scenes of life. Those who have a fortune to make, or are in pursuit of rank and power, are regardless of the past, for it does not contribute to their views: those who have nothing to do but to think, take nearly the same interest in the past as in the future. The contemplation of the one is as delightful and real as of the other. – Hazlitt, Mind and Motive

MONUMENT, n. A structure intended to commemorate something which either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.
+++++The bones of Agamemnon are a show,
+++++And ruined is his royal monument,
but Agamemnon’s fame suffers no diminution in consequence. The monument custom has its reductiones ad absurdum in monuments “to the unknown dead” – that is to say, monuments to perpetuate the memory of those who have left no memory. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


Children are haughty, disdainful, quick to anger, envious, curious, self-seeking, lazy, fickle, timid, intemperate, untruthful, secretive; they laugh and weep readily; the most trivial subjects give them immoderate delight or bitter distress; they wish not to be hurt, but they like hurting others: they are men already. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Man, 50

INFANCY, n. The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, “Heaven lies about us.” The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

CHILDHOOD, n. The period of human life intermediate between the idiocy of infancy and the folly of youth – two removes from the sin of manhood and three from the remorse of age. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

…the child’s father of the man. – Wordsworth

…it is only the young who can receive much reward from men’s praise: the old, when they are great, get too far beyond and above you to care what you think of them. You may urge them with sympathy, and surround them then with acclamation; but they will doubt your pleasure, and despise your praise. You might have cheered them in their race through the asphodel meadows of their youth; you might have brought the proud, bright scarlet into their faces, if you had but cried once to them “Well done,” as they dashed up to the first goal of their early ambition. But now, their pleasure is in memory, and their ambition is in heaven. They can be kind to you, but you nevermore can be kind to them. You may be fed with the fruit and fullness of their old age, but you were as the nipping blight to them in their blossoming, and your praise is only as the warm winds of autumn to the dying branches. – Ruskin, A Joy For Ever, p31-32


The secret of the illusoriness is in the necessity of a succession of moods or objects. Gladly would we anchor, but the anchorage is quicksand… The child asks, “Mamma, why don’t I like the story as well as when you told it me yesterday?” Alas, child, it is so with the oldest cherubim of knowledge. But will it answer thy question to say, Because thou wert born to a whole, and this story is a particular? The reason of the pain this discovery causes us (and we make it late in respect to works of art and intellect), is the plaint of tragedy which murmurs from it in regard to persons, to friendship and love. – Emerson, Experience


REALLY, adv. Apparently. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

Imagination is…sometimes truer than reality… – Hazlitt, On Novelty and Familiarity

…matter of fact is our perception of the grosser and more external shapes of truth; fiction represents the residuum and the mystery. To love matter of fact is to have a lively sense of the visible and immediate; to love fiction is to have as lively a sense of the possible and the remote. – Leigh Hunt, Fiction and Fact

Only a rich imagination can deeply fathom reality. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher


…the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. – Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life


He who sets before him, as in a picture, this vast image of our mother Nature in her entire majesty; who reads in her aspect such universal and continual variety; who discerns himself therein, and not himself only but a whole kingdom, to be but a most delicate dot – he alone esteems things according to the just measure of their greatness. – Montaigne

Our whole life is a compromise, an incipient loose harmony between the passions of the soul and the forces of nature, forces which likewise generate and protect the souls of other creatures, endowing them with powers of expression and self-assertion comparable with our own, and with aims no less sweet and worthy in their own eyes; so that the quick and honest mind cannot but practise courtesy in the universe, exercising its will without vehemence or forced assurance, judging with serenity, and in everything discarding the word absolute as the most false and the most odious of words. – Santayana, Egotism in Practice, Egotism in German Philosophy, p168

Go out of doors and get the air. Ah, if you knew what was in the air. – Emerson, Perpetual Forces

The universe does not attract us till it is housed in an individual. – Emerson

The worst feature of our biography is that it is a sort of double consciousness, that the true lives of the Understanding and of the Soul which we lead, really show very little relation to each other, that they never meet and criticize each other, but one prevails now, all buzz and din, and the other prevails then, all infinitude and paradise, and with the progress of life the two discover no greater disposition to reconcile themselves. – Emerson, Journals, July 1841

…few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun… The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. – Emerson, Nature

To say we perceive external objects is contradictory; it is impossible for man to go outside himself. When we believe we are seeing objects we are seeing only ourselves. We can really perceive nothing in the world except ourselves and the changes that take place in us. It is likewise impossible for us to feel for others, as it customary to say we do; we feel only for ourselves. The proposition sounds a harsh one, but it is not when it is correctly understood. We love neither father, nor mother, nor wife, nor child: what we love are the pleasant sensations they produce in us…Nothing else is at all possible, and he who denies this proposition cannot have understood it. – Lichtenberg

However we may imagine the nature of the things outside us to be, something of the subject will and must always adhere to them. It is, it seems to me, a very unphilosophical idea to regard our soul as a merely passive thing; no, it also lends to the objects. In this way there can be no creature in the world which knows the world as it is… – Lichtenberg

The noble simplicity in the works of nature only too often originates in the noble shortsightedness of him who observes it. – Lichtenberg

I have made this capital mistake all my life, in imagining that those objects which lay open to all, and excited an interest merely from the idea of them, spoke a common language to all; and that nature was a kind of universal home, where all ages, sexes, classes meet. Not so. The vital air, the sky, the woods, the streams all these go for nothing, except with a favoured few. The poor are taken up with their bodily wants; the rich, with external acquisitions: the one, with the sense of property the other, of its privation. – Hazlitt, On Personal Identity

…I am cheered by the moist, warm, glittering, budding, melodious hour, that takes down the narrow walk of my soul, and extends its life and pulsation to the very horizon. That is morning, to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as Nature. – Emerson, Literary Ethics

Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence. – Emerson, The Over-Soul

Society is for those who follow the Court or populate cities; nature is only for those who inhabit the country; they alone are alive, or at least know that they are alive. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 110

If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence. – George Eliot, Middlemarch

There is nothing that will cure the senses but the soul, and there is nothing that will cure the soul but the senses. – Wilde

…beauty in nature is not ultimate, it is the herald of inward and eternal beauty. – Emerson

What caused the wildfire influence of Rousseau but the assurance he gave that man’s nature was in harmony with the nature of things, if only the paralyzing corruptions of custom would stand from between? – W James, The Sentiment of Rationality

[Nature] does not bandy words with us, but comes in with a new ravishing experience and makes the old time ridiculous. – Emerson, The Scholar

The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of Nature. Every day, the sun; and, after sunset, Night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day, men and women, conversing, beholding and beholden. The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He must settle its value in his mind. What is Nature to him? – Emerson, The American Scholar

…we learn nothing rightly until we learn the symbolical character of life. Day creeps after day, each full of facts, dull, strange, despised things, that we cannot enough despise, – call heavy, prosaic and desert. The time we seek to kill: the attention it is elegant to divert from things around us. And presently, the aroused intellect finds gold and gems in one of these scorned facts, – then finds that the day of facts is a rock of diamonds; that a fact is an Epiphany of God. – Emerson

…what is classification but the perceiving that…objects are not chaotic, and are not foreign, but have a law which is also a law of the human mind? – Emerson, The American Scholar

…Nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind…So much of Nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess. And, in fine, the ancient precept “Know thyself”, and the modern precept, “Study Nature,” become at last one maxim. – Emerson, The American Scholar

Invite Hitler and Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island with its many beautiful buildings. You will give all this, but neither your minds nor your souls. – Gandhi, in London, 1940 [urggh…]


‘HUMANITY.’ – We do not regard the animals as moral beings. But do you suppose the animals regard us as moral beings? An animal which could speak said : “Humanity is a prejudice of which we animals at least are free.” – Nietzsche, Daybreak, 334

The most perfect ape cannot draw an ape; only man can do that, but, likewise, only man regards the ability to do this as a sign of superiority. – Lichtenberg

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. – Johnson

Little men, six feet tall at most, who show yourselves off in fairs as giants and prodigies, that men will pay to stare at, if you reach a greater height; who shamelessly assume the titles of Highness and Eminence, which befit those mountain peaks that touch the sky and behold clouds forming beneath them; proud and arrogant animals, who despise all other species, though you cannot even stand comparison with the elephant or the whale… Don’t your common proverbs say: ravening wolves, raging lions, mischievous as a monkey? And what are you yourselves? I am for ever having dinned into my ears: Man is a rational animal. To whom do you owe this definition? to wolves, monkeys or lions? or did you grant it to yourselves? It is laughable, indeed, that you should have ascribed the worse qualities to the animals, your brethren, and allotted the best to yourselves. Just allow them to define themselves and you’ll see how, forgetting their good manners, they will treat you. I shall not dwell, O man, on your fickleness, your folly and capriciousness, which put you far below the mole and the tortoise – La Bruyere, C, Of Opinions, 119.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX NOT FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

As psychological research shows, people tend to project disgust properties onto groups of people in their own society, who come to figure as surrogates for people’s anxieties about their own animality. By branding members of these groups as disgusting, foul, smelly, slimy, the dominant group is able to distance itself even further from its own animality. Such irrational projections have been involved in antisemitism through the ages, and in misogyny in more or less every society. They are also involved in more localized forms of discrimination, such as the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy, or American discrimination against homosexuals. – Martha Nussbaum


We cannot get over being deceived by our enemies and betrayed by our friends, yet we are often content to be so treated by ourselves. – La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 114.

A gossip is one who talks to you about others, a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself. – Lisa Kirk, 1954

He who has looked on at the childish satisfaction of other people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical indulgence. – Stevenson, An Apology for Idlers

One is quick to know one’s slightest assets and slow to discern one’s defects; one is conscious of having fine eyebrows and well-shaped nails, yet one is scarcely aware of being blind in one eye, and completely unaware of being unintelligent. – La Bruyere, Characters, On Man

The man goes too far, but do I not do so too? He likes to hear himself in his enthusiasm. Do I not like to hear myself being witty? or expressing my cold-blooded contempt for all that is done out of enthusiasm? – Lichtenberg

The importance and unimportance of the self cannot be exaggerated. – Reginald Blyth

All men think all men mortal but themselves. – Young

He who comes up to his own idea of greatness, must always have had a very low standard of it in his mind. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, Whether Genius is Conscious of its Powers?

DIARY, n. A daily record of that part of one’s life, which he can relate to himself without blushing. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

SELF-EVIDENT, adj. Evident to one’s self and to nobody else. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

SELFISH, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

…put his ear close by himself and hold his breath and listen. – Montaigne


EGOTIST, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

The two rarest things to be met with are good sense and good-nature. For one man who judges right, there are twenty who can say good things; as there are numbers who will serve you or do friendly actions, for one who really wishes you well. It has been said, and often repeated, that “mere good-nature is a fool” : but I think that the dearth of sound sense, for the most part, proceeds from the want of a real, unaffected interest in things, except as they react upon ourselves, or from a neglect of the maxim “Nihil humani a me alienum puto.” The narrowness of the heart warps the understanding, and makes us weigh objects in the scales of our self-love, instead of those of truth and justice. – Hazlitt, On the Spirit of Obligations

…to leave egotism out of human nature, is to “leave the part of Hamlet out of the play of Hamlet” – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Spirit of Controversy

He who is enamoured of himself will at least have the advantage of being inconvenienced by few rivals. – Lichtenberg


Tell me what you think you are and I will tell you what you are not. – Amiel, Journal intime, 1866

A he-goat doesn’t realize that he smells. – Nigerian proverb

He who knows himself properly can very soon learn to know all other men. It is all reflection. – Lichtenberg

Almost every person, if you will believe himself, holds a quite different theory of life from the one on which he is patently acting. – Stevenson, The English Admirals

Men who know well how to observe themselves and are secretly proud of it often rejoice at the discovery of a weakness in themselves when the discovery ought to disturb them. That much higher do many rate the professor over the man. – Lichtenberg

He who will not be the better for other Mens Faults, hath no cure left for his own.
But he that can probe himself to cure his own Faults, will seldom need either the Surgery of his Friends or of his Enemies. – Halifax


We’re here on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for, we don’t know. – Auden

It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice. – Buddha

Though you see the seven defects of others, we do not see our own ten defects. – Japanese proverb

The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us. – Quentin Crisp, How to Become a Virgin

You believe I run after the strange because I do not know the beautiful; no, it is because you do not know the beautiful that I seek the strange. – Lichtenberg

He despises me because he does not know me, and I despise his accusations because I know myself. – Lichtenberg

We esteem in other people, only those aspects that correspond to something in ourselves; to have a good opinion of another, it seems, is to put him on an equal footing with oneself. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 71

No man is truly himself but in the idea which others entertain of him. The mind, as well as the eye, “sees not itself, but by reflection from some other thing.” What parity can there be…between what we do with ease, and what we thought it impossible ever to have done… – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, Whether Genius is Conscious of its Powers?

Man loves company, even if it is only that of a smouldering candle. – Lichtenberg

How happily a man would live if he concerned himself with other people’s affairs as little as he does with his own. – Lichtenberg

ADMIRATION, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

A following Wit will be welcome in most Companies; A leading one lieth too heavy for Envy to bear.
Out-doing is so near reproaching, that it will generally be thought very ill Company.
Any thing that shineth doth in some measure tarnish every thing that standeth next to it.
Keeping much Company generally endeth in playing the Fool or the knave with them. – Halifax

To think the worst of others, and do the best we can ourselves, is a safe rule, but a hard one to practise. – Hazlitt, Characteristics, 240.

…until we know what others think they know, we cannot truly understand their acts. – W Lippmann, Public Opinion, p9

In general, wit shines only by reflection. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Conversation of Authors

We blame in others only those faults by which we do not profit. – Dumas père

The despised person is ever present. – Baganda proverb

We must be as courteous to a man as to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light. – Emerson

There are few sensible people, we find, except those who share our opinions. – La Rochefoucauld

Count from yourself in order the persons that have near relation to you up to ten or fifteen, and see if you can consider your whole relation to each without squirming. That will be something. – Emerson

By that time Men are fit for Company, they see the Objections to it. – Halifax

Those who think ill of us without really knowing us do us no harm; they are not in fact attacking us, but some figure of their imagination. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 35


I like a friend better for having faults that one can talk about. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker

Friendship cometh oftener by Chance than by Choice, which maketh it generally so uncertain. – Halifax

In the Commerce of the World, Men struggle little less with their Friends, than they do with their Enemies. – Halifax

Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer. – Wilde, A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated (1894)

There are only two things which, given sufficient desire, close friends feel entirely justified in stealing: your books and your spouse. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

When you have done enough for certain people to deserve their friendship, if your efforts should fail, you have still another resource, which is to do nothing further. – La Bruyere

It is delightful to seek out one’s friends from sympathy and esteem; it is painful to frequent them from self-interest; that is like soliciting. – La Bruyere

ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


To live is the rarest thing is the world. Most people exist, that is all. – Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities. Conventionalities are at length as bad as impurities. Even the facts of science may dust the mind by their dryness, unless they are in a sense effaced each morning, or rather rendered fertile by the dews of fresh and living truth. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven. – Thoreau, Life Without Principle

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. – James A. Michener

To become a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life. – Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

…the notion of Discipline and Interference lies at the very root of all human progress or power; that the “Let-alone” principle is, in all things which man has to do with, the principle of death; that it is ruin to him, certain and total, if he lets his land alone – if he lets his fellow-men alone – if he lets his own soul alone. That his whole life, on the contrary, must, if it is healthy life, be continually one of ploughing and pruning, rebuking and helping, governing and punishing… – Ruskin, A Joy For Ever, p20

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world. – RL Stevenson

The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away. – Emerson

Victory over things is the office of man. Of course, until it is accomplished, it is the war and insult of things over him. His continual tendency, his great danger, is to overlook the fact that the world is only his teacher, and the nature of sun and moon, plant and animal only a means of arousing his interior activity. Enamored of their beauty, comforted by their convenience, he seeks them as ends, and fast loses sight of the fact that they have worse than no values, that they become noxious, when he becomes their slave. – Emerson, Education

A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes. – TH Huxley

We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them. – Emerson, Experience

Success: what we can make of the mess we have made of things. – TS Eliot

Be careful of how you live your life, you may end up having to live your life that way. – Keith Curran, Walking the Dead

Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make that man another you. One’s enough. – Emerson, Education

It is so hard to forget what it is worse than useless to remember! If I am to be a thoroughfare, I prefer that it be of the mountain-brooks, the Parnassian streams, and not the town-sewers. There is inspiration, that gossip which comes to the ear of the attentive mind from the courts of heaven. There is the profane and stale revelation of the bar-room and the police court. The same ear is fitted to receive both communications. Only the character of the hearer determines to which it shall be open, and to which closed. – Thoreau, Life Without Principle

‘T is the most difficult of tasks to keep
Heights which the soul is competent to gain. – Wordsworth


Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee, and do not try to make the universe a blind alley. – Emerson, journals, VI 525

Be that you are: be that cheerly and sovereignly. – Emerson, The Scholar

Stick to your own; don’t inculpate yourself in the local, social or national crime, but follow the path your genius traces like the galaxy of heaven for you to walk in. – Emerson, Greatness

The best thing one can do in this world is to sidle quietly along without any inflexible philosophy… – Emerson, journals, Oct-Nov 1824

The world is a rough and rocky place; you can either cover it in leather or wear shoes. – Tibetan proverb

Nurture your mind with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes. – Disraeli

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
+++++But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. …
+++++A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day. – “Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.” – Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. – Emerson, Self-Reliance

There is no more important rule of conduct in the world than this: attach yourself as much as you can to people who are abler than you and yet not so very different that you cannot understand them… – Lichtenberg

There are objections to every course of life and action, and the practical wisdom infers an indifferency, from the omnipresence of objection. The whole frame of things preaches indifferency. Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. – Emerson, Experience

…to be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings

Hear what the morning says and believe that. – Emerson

Creeds are nothing, life is everything. …You can do far more by presenting to the world the example of noble social relations than by enumerating any set of principles. Know all you can, love all you can, do all you can – that is the whole duty of man. …Be friends, in the truest sense, each to the other. There is nothing in all the world like friendship, when it is deep and real. …The divine…is a republic of self-existent spirits, each seeking the realization of its ideas through love, through intimacy with all the rest, and finding its heaven in such intimacy. – Thomas Davidson

[Thomas Davidson’s Maxims]
1. Rely upon your own energies, and do not wait for, or depend on other people.
2. Cling with all your might to your own highest ideals, and do not be led astray by such vulgar aims as wealth, position, popularity. Be yourself.
3. Your worth consists in what you are, and not in what you have. What you are will show in what you do.
4. Never fret, repine, or envy. Do not make yourself unhappy by comparing your circumstances with those of more fortunate people; but make the most of the opportunities you have. Employ profitably every moment.
5. Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone.
6. Do not believe that all greatness and heroism are in the past. Learn to discover princes, prophets, heroes, and saints among the people about you. Be assured they are there.
7. Be on earth what good people hope to be in heaven.
8. Cultivate ideal friendships, and gather into an intimate circle all your acquaintances who are hungering for truth and right. Remember that heaven itself can be nothing but the intimacy of pure and noble souls.
9. Do not shrink from any useful or kindly act, however hard or repellent it may be. The worth of acts is measured by the spirit in which they are performed.
10. If the world despise you because you do not follow its ways, pay no heed to it. But be sure your way is right.
11. If a thousand plans fail, be not disheartened. As long as your purposes are right, you have not failed.
12. Examine yourself every night, and see whether you have progressed in knowledge, sympathy, and helpfulness during the day. Count every day a loss in which no progress has been made.
13. Seek enjoyment in energy, not in dalliance. Our worth is measured solely by what we do.
14. Let not your goodness be professional; let it be the simple, natural outcome of your character. Therefore cultivate character.
15. If you do wrong, say so, and make what atonement you can. That is true nobleness. Have no moral debts.
16. When in doubt how to act, ask yourself, What does nobility command? Be on good terms with yourself.
17. Look for no reward for goodness but goodness itself. Remember heaven and hell are utterly immoral institutions, if they are meant as reward and punishment.
18. Give whatever countenance and help you can to every movement and institution that is working for good. Be not sectarian.
19. Wear no placards, within or without. Be human fully.
20. Never be satisfied until you have understood the meaning of the world, and the purpose of our own life, and have reduced your world to a rational cosmos. – Thomas Davidson

Do not, then, let your first thought be your only thought. Consider if there cannot be some other way. For all those who believe that they alone are wise, that theirs is the only word, the only will, are seen to be empty when opened out for inspection. It is no weakness for a man, though he is wise, to learn when he is wrong and to know when to yield. – Haemon to his father Creon, in Euripides’ Antigone

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. – Robert Fulghum, Maybe (Maybe Not)

To know how to employ the unexpected occurrences of life to one’s own advantage in such a way that people believe you have foreseen and desired them is often called being fortunate and is the making of a man in the world. Indeed, merely to know this rule and to keep it always in mind is itself a strength and a support. – Lichtenberg

There is another way of lengthening one’s life that lies wholly within our power. Rise early, purposeful employment of our time, selection of the most suitable means for achieving an end we have in view and its vigorous employment once it is selected. It is possible to grow very old in this way provided we have ceased to measure our life by the calendar…Once you have decided to undertake a piece of work it is not a good thing to keep the whole of it before your mind; I at least have found doing so very disheartening. What you should do is work at that which lies immediately to hand, and when it is finished go on to the next…To start on a thing straightaway without putting it off for a minute, much less an hour or a day, is likewise a way of making time expand. – Lichtenberg

No experience is terrible unless you make it so. – Menander, The Arbitration

A Man must stoop sometimes to his ill Star, but he must never lie down to it. – Halifax

Simplify, simplify. – Thoreau

Penetrate to the bottom of the fact that draws you, although no newspaper, no poet, no man, has ever yet found life and beauty in that region, and presently when men are whispered by the gods to go and hunt in that direction, they shall find that they cannot get to the point which they would reach without passing over that highway which you have built. Your hermit’s lodge shall be the Holy City and the Fair of the whole world. – Emerson

Play out the game, act well your part, and if the gods have blundered, we will not. – Emerson, Journals

Our conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. – Emerson

Thyme, the most acid and dry of plants, provides bees with honey; and likewise intelligent people can invariably find something congruent with and useful to themselves from the most forbidding of situations.
+++++ The chief thing, then, to practise and pursue is the attitude exemplified by the man whose stone missed his dog and hit his stepmother: “That’s not bad either!” he said. – Plutarch, On Contentment

…this crisis in the life of each earnest man, which comes in so forbidding and painful aspect, has nothing in it that need alarm or confound us. It is the inevitable result of the relation of the soul to the existing corruption of society. It puts to man the question, Will you fulfil the demands of the soul or will you yield yourself to the conventions of the world? In some form the question comes to each. None can escape the challenge. But why need you sit cowering there, pale and pouting, or why with such a mock tragic air affect such a discontent and superiority?
+++++There is nothing to fear. If you would obey the soul, obey it. Do your own work, and you shall have leave to do it. The bugbear of society is only such until you have accepted your own law. Then all omens are good; all stars auspicious; all men your allies; all parts of life take order and beauty. – Emerson, The Protest

The victory is won as soon as any Soul has learned always to take sides with Reason against himself; to transfer his Me from his person, his name, back upon Truth and Justice, so that when he is disgraced and defeated and fretted and disheartened, and wasted by nothings, he bears it well, never one instant relaxing his watchfulness, and, as soon as he can get a respite from the insults or the sadness, records all these phenomena, pierces their beauty as phenomena, and, like a God, oversees himself…Keep the habit of the observer, and, as far as you can, break off your association with your personality and identify yourself with the Universe. Be a football to Time and Chance, the more kicks the better, so that you inspect the whole game and know its utmost law. – Emerson, journal, 1837

‘What do you do for relaxation? how do you spend your time?’ you are asked, by fools and by intelligent people. If I reply: in keeping my eyes open and seeing, in listening and hearing, in enjoying health, rest and leisure, it means nothing to them. The great and enduring blessings, the only real blessings, do not count for them, are not appreciated. ‘Do you play cards? do you go to masked balls?’ And you have to reply.
+++++Is leisure a blessing for a man if it is so boundless that it only serves to make him wish for one thing, which is to have less leisure?
+++++Leisure is not the same thing as idleness; it is a free use of one’s time, the choice of one’s work and occupation. To have leisure, in a word, does not mean doing nothing but being sole arbiter of what one does or does not do. In this sense, what a blessing it is! – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Opinions, 104

It is not propositions, not new dogmas and the logical exposition of the world that are our first need, but to watch and continually cherish the intellectual and moral sensibilities and woo them to stay and make their homes with us. Whilst they abide with us, we shall not think amiss. – Emerson

Conserve your powers. Daily renewed sense yearnings sap your inner peace; they are like openings in a reservoir that allow vital waters to be wasted in the desert soil of materialism.
+++++The forceful activating impulse of wrong desire is the greatest enemy to the happiness of man. Roam in the world as a lion of self-control; don’t let the frogs of sense weakness kick you around. – Sri Yukteswar

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. – Mark Twain

I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

The way to secure success is to be more anxious about obtaining it than deserving it; the surest hindrance to it is to have too high a standard of refinement in our own minds, or too high an opinion of the discernment of the public. He who is determined not to be satisfied with anything short of perfection, will never do anything at all, either to please himself or others. The question is not what we ought to do, but what we can do for the best. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Qualification Necessary to Success in Life

…refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement, by doing certain things which are calculated to give rise to comment on your appearance or way of living generally. Avoid shabby attire, long hair, an unkempt beard, an outspoken dislike of silverware, sleeping on the ground and all other misguided means to self-advertisement. The very name of philosophy, however modest the manner in which it is pursued, is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society. Inwardly, everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd. Our clothes should not be gaudy, yet they should not be dowdy either. We should not keep silver plate with inlays of solid gold, but at the same time we should not imagine that doing without gold and silver is proof that we are leading the simple life. Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they may have to imitate us in everything. The first thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of fellowship, of belonging to mankind and being members of a community; being different will mean the abandoning of that manifesto. We must watch that the means by which we hope to gain admiration do not earn ridicule and hostility. Our motto…is to live in conformity with nature: it is quite contrary to nature to torture one’s body, to reject simple standards of cleanliness and make a point of being dirty, to adopt a diet that is not just plain but hideous and revolting. …Philosophy calls for simple living, not for doing penance, and the simple way of life need not be a crude one. The standard which I accept is this: one’s life should be a compromise between the ideal and the popular morality. People should admire our way of life but they should at the same time find it understandable. – Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter V

Anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings. – Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter V

Max Delbruck’s Principle of Limited Sloppiness: Be sloppy enough that something unexpected may happen but not so sloppy that you can’t tell what it was.

Be wiser than other people if you can, but do not tell them so. – Lord Chesterfield, letter to his son

It is fatal to spiritual health to lose your admiration. “Let others wrangle,” said St Augustine; “I will wonder.” – Emerson, Plutarch

The inconvenience of living in a cabin is that people become all eye. ‘Tis a great part of wellbeing to ignorize a good deal of your fellowman’s history and not count his warts nor expect the hour when he shall wash his teeth. – Emerson, journals, January 16, 1833


But what is a good life? Had William James, had the people about him, had modern philosophers anywhere, any notion of that? I cannot think so. They had much experience of personal goodness, and love of it; they had standards of character and right conduct; but as to what might render human existence good, excellent, beautiful, happy, and worth having as a whole, their notions were utterly thin and barbarous. They had forgotten the Greeks, or never known them. – Santayana, Character and Opinion in the US, Ch.3 William James


A rush of thoughts is the only conceivable prosperity that can come to us. Fine clothes, equipages, villa, park, social consideration, cannot cover up real poverty and insignificance from my own eyes, or from others like mine. – Emerson, Inspiration

Every hour has its morning, noon and night. – Emerson, journals, V 461

All good conversation, manners, and action, come from a spontaneity which forgets usages, and makes the moment great. – Emerson, Experience


Let us be crowned with roses, let us drink wine, and break up the tiresome old roof of heaven into new forms. – Hafiz

…I find nothing in fables more astonishing that my experience in every hour. One moment of a man’s life is a fact so stupendous as to take the lustre out of all fiction. – Emerson, Demonology

There are some occult facts in human nature that are natural magic. The chief of these is the glance (oeillade). – Emerson, Journal

There is no limit to the capacity of immediate sensuous experience to absorb into itself meanings and values that in and of themselves – that is in the abstract – would be designated “ideal” and “spiritual”. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p29

When I stamp through the mud in dirty boots, I hug myself with the feeling of my immortality. – Emerson

To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo. …Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p18

I am content and occupied with such miracles as I know, such as my eyes and ears daily show me, such as humanity and astronomy. – Emerson, Demonology

Every living experience owes its richness to what Santayana well calls “hushed reverberations.” – Dewey, Art as Experience, p18

These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird notes, this sky with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedge, such things as these are the mother tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the subtle inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass today might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sunshine and grass of far-off years, which still live in us and transform our perception into love. – George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

The live being recurrently loses and reestablishes equilibrium with his surroundings. The moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of intensest life. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p17

When all materials are interpenetrated by rhythm, the theme or “subject” is transformed into a new subject-matter. There is that sudden magic which gives us the sense of an inner revelation brought to us about something we had supposed to be known through and through. – Dewey, Art as Experience, p170-1

…that redundancy or excess of life which in conscious beings we call ecstasy. – Emerson


Each finds a tender and very intelligent conscience a disqualification for success. Each requires of the practitioner a certain shutting of the eyes, a certain dapperness and compliance, an acceptance of customs, a sequestration from the sentiments of generosity and love, a compromise of private opinion and lofty integrity… The fact that a new thought and hope have dawned in your breast, should apprise you that in the same hour a new light broke in upon a thousand private hearts… And further I will not dissemble my hope that each person whom I address has felt his own call to cast aside all evil customs, timidity, and limitations, and to be in his place a free and helpful man, a reformer, a benefactor, not content to slip along through the world like a footman or a spy, escaping by his nimbleness and apologies as many knocks as he can, but a brave and upright man who must find or cut a straight road to everything excellent in the earth, and not only go honorably himself, but make it easier for all who follow him to go in honor and with benefit. – Emerson

Books, monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which he finds the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the eloquent praise him and accost him, and he is stimulated wherever he moves as by personal allusions. A true aspirant, therefore, never needs look for allusions personal and laudatory in discourse. He hears the commendation, not of himself, but, more sweet, of that character he seeks in every word that is said concerning character; yea, further, in every fact and circumstance – in the running river and the rustling corn. – Emerson, History

The whole value of history, of biography, is to increase my self-trust, by demonstrating what man can be and do. – Emerson, Literary Ethics

No great man will ever drill. None will ever solve the problem of his character according to our preconceived notions or wishes, but only in his high, unprecedented way. – Emerson, Journals, V 323

…he who proceeds on his own path in this fashion encounters no one: that is inherent in “proceeding on one’s own path”. No one comes along to help him: all the perils, accidents, malice and bad weather which assail him he has to tackle by himself. For his path is his alone – as is, of course, the bitterness and occasional ill-humour he feels at this “his alone”: among which is included, for instance, the knowledge that even his friends are unable to divine where he is or where he is going, that they will still sometimes ask themselves: “what? is he going at all? does he still have – a path?” – Nietzsche, Daybreak, Preface, 2

…the conscience of good intentions, howsoever succeeding, is a more continual joy to nature, than all the provisions which can be made for security and repose. – Bacon, Advancement of Learning, p168

We are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. – Emerson

…every day is Doomsday. – Emerson

Naturally there are a lot of things about me requiring to be built up or fined down or eliminated. Even this, the fact that it perceives the failings it was unaware of in itself before, is evidence of a change for the better in one’s character. In the case of some sick people it is a matter for congratulations when they come to realize for themselves that they are sick. – Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Letter VI


When the spirit chooses you for its scribe to publish some commandment, it makes you odious to men, and men odious to you, and you shall accept that loathsomeness with joy. The moth must fly to the lamp, and you must solve those questions though you die. – Emerson, Inspiration

Few of our deeper problems can be resolved; most must be outgrown. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

Problem gives rise to problem. We may study forever, and we are never as learned as we would. – Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, El Dorado

It makes all the difference in the world whether a thinker stands in personal relation to his problems, in which he sees his destiny, his need, and even his highest happiness, or can only feel and grasp them impersonally, with the tentacles of cold, prying thought. – Nietzsche

To say that a question arises, is to say that it has a logical connexion with our previous thoughts, that we have a reason for asking it and are not moved by mere capricious curiosity. – Collingwood, Philosophy of History, Essays, p137


I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of the sacredness of private integrity. – Emerson


When a man thinks happily, he finds no foot-track in the field he traverses. …the sole terms on which [the Past] can become ours are its subordination to the Present. Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor. – Emerson, Quotation and Originality

The wise man is to settle it immovably in his mind, that he only is fit to decide on his best action; he only is fit to praise it; his verdict is praise enough, and as to society, ‘their hiss is thine applause’ – Emerson, Journals, 1833-5

…every mind has a new compass, a new north, a new direction of its own, differencing its genius and aim from every other mind; as every man, with whatever family resemblances, has a new countenance, new manner, new voice, new thoughts, and new character. Whilst he shares with all mankind the gift of reason, and the moral sentiment, there is a teaching for him from within, which is leading him in a new path, and, the more it is trusted, separates and signalizes him, while it makes him more important and necessary to society. We call this specialty the bias of each individual. And none of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone. …A point of education that I can never too much insist upon is this tenet, that every individual man has a bias which he must obey, and that it is only as he feels and obeys this that he rightly develops and attains his legitimate power in the world. It is his magnetic needle, which points always in one direction to his proper path, with more or less variation from any other man’s. He is never happy nor strong until he finds it, keeps it; learns to be at home with himself; learns to watch the delicate hints and insights that come to him, and to have the entire assurance of his own mind. And in this self-respect, or hearkening to the privatest oracle, he consults his ease, I may say, or need never be at a loss. In morals this is conscience; in intellect, genius; in practice, talent; not to imitate or surpass a particular man in his way, but to bring out your own new way; to each his own method, style, wit, eloquence. – Emerson, Greatness

If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away. – Thoreau

If one asks, now, what the value of Thomas Davidson was, what was the general significance of his life, apart from his particular books and articles, I have to say that it lay in the example he set to us all of how, even in the midst of this intensely worldly social system of ours, in which each human interest is organized so collectively and so commercially, a single man may still be a knight-errant of the intellectual life, and preserve full freedom in the midst of sociability. Extreme as was his need of friends, and faithful as he was to them, he yet lived mainly in reliance on his private inspiration. Asking no man’s permission, bowing the knee to no tribal idol, renouncing the conventional channels of recognition, he showed us how a life devoted to purely intellectual ends could be beautifully wholesome outwardly, and overflow with inner contentment. Fortunately this type of man is recurrent, and from generation to generation, literary history preserves examples. But it is infrequent enough for few of us to have known more than one example – I count myself happy in knowing two and a half! The memory of Davidson will always strengthen my faith in personal freedom and its spontaneities, and make me less unqualifiedly respectful than ever of “Civilization,” with its herding and branding, licensing and degree-giving, authorizing and appointing, and in general regulating and administering by system the lives human beings. Surely the individual, the person in the singular number, is the more fundamental phenomenon, and the social institution, of whatever grade, is but secondary and ministerial. Many as are the interests which social systems satisfy, always unsatisfied interests remain over, and among them are interests to which system, as such, does violence whenever it lays its hand upon us. The best Commonwealth will always be the one that most cherishes the men who represent the residual interests, the one that leaves the largest scope to their peculiarities. – W James, Memories and Studies, ch.5 Thomas Davidson: A Knight-Errant of the Intellectual Life

This book is for those who, like the mythic heroes of old, are ready to make of their lives a quest for the shining apparition of their own best self – ready to take the hero’s journey. The word hero is etymologically related to heresy and heretic. All three are derived from the Greek hairetikos, meaning “able to choose”. A hero is a chooser. A hero chooses the questions of his or her life and thereby his quest.
+++++…In other words, the questions we ask or fail to ask shape the journeys of our lives. What distinguishes the hero from the rest is that he or she chooses the questions and earnestly seeks them; the rest blindly, and often half-heartedly, follow the conventional questions of their society. As Joseph Campbell puts it, “The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored.” – Laurence Boldt, Zen and the Art of Making a Living, p91

There is something in Archimedes or in Luther or Samuel Johnson that needs no protection. There is somewhat in the true scholar which he cannot be laughed out of, nor be terrified or bought off from. Stick to your own; don’t inculpate yourself in the local, social, or national crime, but follow the path your genius traces like the galaxy of heaven, for you to walk in. – Emerson, Greatness

Do not trifle with your perceptions, or hold them cheap. They are your door to the seven heavens, and if you pass it by you will miss your way. Say, what impresses me ought to impress me. I am bewildered by the immense variety of attractions and cannot take a step; but this one thread, fine as gossamer, is yet real; and I hear a whisper, which I dare trust, that it is the thread on which the earth and the heaven of heavens are strung.
+++++The universe is traversed by paths or bridges or stepping-stones across the gulfs of space in every direction. To every soul that is created is its path, invisible to all but itself. Each soul, therefore, walking in its own path walks firmly; and to the astonishment of all other souls, who see not its path, it goes as softly and playfully on its way as if, instead of being a line, narrow as the edge of a sword, over terrific pits right and left, it were a wide prairie. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect


What anecdotes of any man do we wish to hear or read? Only the best. Certainly not those in which he was degraded to the level of dulness or vice, but those in which he rose above all competition by obeying a light that shone to him alone. – Emerson

To doubt things which are now believed without any further investigation whatever: that is everywhere the main thing. – Lichtenberg

That people who read so astonishingly should often be such bad thinkers may likewise have its origin in the constitution of our brain. It is certainly not a matter of indifference whether I learn something without effort or finally arrive at it myself through my system of thought. In the latter case everything has roots, in the former it is merely superficial. – Lichtenberg

We live day by day under the illusion that it is the fact or event that imports, whilst really it is not that which signifies, but the use we put it to, or what we think of it. We esteem nations important, until we discover that a few individuals much more concern us; then, later, that it is not at last a few individuals, or any sacred heroes, but the lowliness, the outpouring, the large equality to truth, of a single mind, as if in the narrow walls of a human heart the whole realm of truth, the world of morals, the tribunal by which the universe is judged, found room to exist. – Emerson, Inspiration

The one thing not to be forgiven in intellectual persons is that they believe in the ideas of others. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

…he who has ideas of his own is a bad judge of another man’s. – Plutarch

It is all very well to talk about being the captain of your soul. It is hard, and only a few heroes, saints and geniuses have been the captains of their souls for any extended period of their lives. Most men, after a little freedom, have preferred authority with the consoling assurances and the economy of effort which it brings. “If, outside of Christ, you wish by your own thoughts to know your relation to God, you will break your neck. Thunder strikes him who examines.” Thus spoke Martin Luther, and there is every reason to suppose that the German people thought he was talking the plainest commonsense. – W Lippmann, A Preface to Morals, p14

Thinking for oneself is often recommended only for the purpose of studying how to distinguish between truth and the errors other people make. That is certainly useful, but is it all? …Someone once said with great truth that though printing had certainly propagated learning it had also reduced its content. Much reading is harmful to thinking. The greatest thinkers I have known have been precisely those who of all the scholars I have known had read least. Is enjoyment of the senses nothing whatever, then? – Lichtenberg

People who have read a great deal seldom make great discoveries. I do not say this to excuse laziness, for invention presupposes an extensive contemplation of things on one’s own account; one must see for oneself more than let oneself be told. – Lichtenberg

Many people know everything they know in the way we know the solution of a riddle after we have read it or been told it, and that is the worst kind of knowledge and the least to be cultivated; we ought rather to cultivate that kind of knowledge which enables us to discover for ourselves in case of need that which others have to read or be told of in order to know it… – Lichtenberg

The air…invites man with provoking indifference to total indolence and to immortal actions…the vast Eternity of capacity, of freedom, opens before you, but without a single impulse…It demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common yokes and motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, vast his contemplations, that he may truly be a world, society, law to himself; that a simple purpose may be as strong as iron necessity is to others. – Emerson

There are two mischievous superstitions. I know not which does the most harm, one, that “I am wiser than you,” and the other that “You are wiser than I.” The truth is that every man is furnished, if he will heed it, with wisdom necessary to steer his own boat, – if he will not look away from his own to see how his neighbour steers his. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

An intellectual man has the power to go out of himself and see himself as an object; therefore his defects and delusions interest him as much as his successes. He not only wishes to succeed in life, but he wishes in thought to know the history and destiny of a man; whilst the cloud of egotists drifting about are only interested in a success to their egotism. – Emerson, Natural History of Intellect

It is impossible to have bad taste, but many people have none at all. Most people have no ideas, says Dr Price, they talk about a thing but they don’t think: this is what I have several times called having an opinion. – Lichtenberg

Rational free-spirits are the light brigade who go on ahead and reconnoitre the ground which the heavy brigade of the orthodox will eventually occupy. – Lichtenberg

If we thought more for ourselves we would have very many more bad books and very many more good ones. – Lichtenberg

MAD, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that themselves are sane. For illustration, this present (and illustrious) lexicographer is no firmer in the faith of his own sanity than is any inmate of any madhouse in the land; yet for aught he knows to the contrary, instead of the lofty occupation that seems to him to be engaging his powers he may really be beating his hands against the window bars of an asylum and declaring himself Noah Webster, to the innocent delight of many thoughtless spectators. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


Every condition of the soul has its own sign and expression…So you will see how hard it is to seem original without being so. – Lichtenberg

A great genius seldom makes his discoveries on paths frequented by others. When he discovers things he usually also discovers the path to the discovery. – Lichtenberg

We are obliged to regard many of our original minds as crazy at least until we have become as clever as they are. – Lichtenberg

…Goethe preferred to associate with an original fool rather than with a sensible man. – Lichtenberg


What is a man good for without enthusiasm? and what is enthusiasm but this daring of ruin for its object? – Emerson, Inspiration


A musician was wont to say, that men knew not how much more he delighted himself with his playing than he did others; for if they knew, his hearers would rather demand of him than give him a reward. The scholar is here to fill others with love and courage by confirming their trust in the love and wisdom which are at the heart of all things; to affirm noble sentiments; to hear them where ever spoken, out of the deeps of ages, out of the obscurities of barbarous life, and to republish them:- to untune nobody, but to draw all men after the truth, and keep men spiritual and sweet.
+++++ Language can hardly exaggerate the beatitude of the intellect flowing into the faculties… – Emerson, The Scholar

Adam in the garden, I am to new name all the beasts in the field and all the gods in the sky. I am to invite men drenched in time to recover themselves and come out of time, and taste their native immortal air. – Emerson, 1839

Men are convertible… They want awakening. Get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep, out into God’s universe, to a perception of its beauty and hearing of its Call. – Emerson, Journals and Misc. Notebooks, 4:278

…that firm and cheerful temper, infinitely removed from sadness, which reigns through the kingdoms of chemistry, vegetation, and animal life. – Emerson, The Scholar

Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods. – Emerson, letter to Margaret Fuller, Oct 2, 1840


There are defeats more triumphant than victories. – Montaigne

The power of persistence, of enduring defeat and of gaining victory by defeats, is one of these forces which never loses its charm. …How we prize a good continuer! – Emerson, Perpetual Forces

…Sophocles has a character remark that when you yield to friends, you win the victory. The idea of good defeats – those in which you learn, or give, or allow the better to flourish – is an important one. Spinoza wrote that weapons never conquer minds, only magnanimity and love; to be conquered by these things is a great victory in itself, because it is a response to what is best. To recognise an argument as sound, and to defer to it, or to grasp the justice of another’s cause and to make way for it, are likewise victorious defeats.
+++++Defeat is always an opportunity… nothing happens without a lesson to offer, or without opening other routes into the future. – AC Grayling, The Meaning of Things, p25


Rushing fools have more fun than refraining angels. – DJ Morgan, British Chess Magazine, Jan 1958, p11

…the Bronte genius was above all things deputed to assert the supreme unimportance of externals. Up to that point truth had always been conceived as existing more or less in the novel of manners. Charlotte Bronte electrified the world by showing that an infinitely older and more elemental truth could be conveyed by a novel in which no person, good or bad, had any manners at all. Her work represents the first great assertion that the humdrum life of modern civilisation is a disguise as tawdry and deceptive as the costume of a bal masque. She showed that abysses may exist inside a governess and eternities inside a manufacturer; her heroine is the commonplace spinster, with the dress of merino and the soul of flame.
+++++…the whole aim and purport and meaning of the work of the Brontes is that the most futile thing in the whole universe is fact. Such a story as “Jane Eyre” is in itself so monstrous a fable that it ought to be excluded from a book of fairy tales. The characters do not do what they ought to do, nor what they would do, nor it might be said, such is the insanity of the atmosphere, not even what they intend to do. The conduct of Rochester is so primevally and superhumanly caddish that Bret Harte in his admirable travesty scarcely exaggerated it. “Then, resuming his usual manner, he threw his boots at my head and withdrew,” does perhaps reach to something resembling caricature. The scene in which Rochester dresses up as an old gipsy has something in it which is really not to be found in any other branch of art, except in the end of the pantomime, where the Emperor turns into a pantaloon. Yet, despite this vast nightmare of illusion and morbidity and ignorance of the world, “Jane Eyre” is perhaps the truest book that was ever written. Its essential truth to life sometimes makes one catch one’s breath. For it is not true to manners, which are constantly false, or to facts, which are almost always false; it is true to the only existing thing which is true, emotion, the irreducible minimum, the indestructible germ. It would not matter a single straw if a Bronte story were a hundred times more moonstruck and improbable than “Jane Eyre,” or a hundred times more moonstruck and improbable than “Wuthering Heights.” It would not matter if George Read stood on his head, and Mrs. Read rode on a dragon, if Fairfax Rochester had four eyes and St. John Rivers three legs, the story would still remain the truest story in the world. The typical Bronte character is, indeed, a kind of monster. Everything in him except the essential is dislocated. His hands are on his legs and his feet on his arms, his nose is above his eyes, but his heart is in the right place.
+++++ The great and abiding truth for which the Bronte cycle of fiction stands is a certain most important truth about the enduring spirit of youth, the truth of the near kinship between terror and joy. The Bronte heroine, dingily dressed, badly educated, hampered by a humiliating inexperience, a kind of ugly innocence, is yet, by the very fact of her solitude and her gaucherie, full of the greatest delight that is possible to a human being, the delight of expectation, the delight of an ardent and flamboyant ignorance. She serves to show how futile it is of humanity to suppose that pleasure can be attained chiefly by putting on evening dress every evening, and having a box at the theatre every first night. It is not the man of pleasure who has pleasure; it is not the man of the world who appreciates the world. The man who has learnt to do all conventional things perfectly has at the same time learnt to do them prosaically. It is the awkward man, whose evening dress does not fit him, whose gloves will not go on, whose compliments will not come off, who is really full of the ancient ecstasies of youth. He is frightened enough of society actually to enjoy his triumphs. He has that element of fear which is one of the eternal ingredients of joy. This spirit is the central spirit of the Bronte novel. It is the epic of the exhilaration of the shy man. As such it is of incalculable value in our time, of which the curse is that it does not take joy reverently because it does not take it fearfully. The shabby and inconspicuous governess of Charlotte Bronte, with the small outlook and the small creed, had more commerce with the awful and elemental forces which drive the world than a legion of lawless minor poets. She approached the universe with real simplicity, and, consequently, with real fear and delight. She was, so to speak, shy before the multitude of the stars, and in this she had possessed herself of the only force which can prevent enjoyment being as black and barren as routine. The faculty of being shy is the first and the most delicate of the powers of enjoyment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of pleasure. – Chesterton, Varied Types, ch.1, Charlotte Bronte

All joy – even in hitherto unknown territories – is a sort of homecoming. – Simon May, The Pocket Philosopher

Pleasure may be achieved without paying the price of strenuous effort, but joy cannot… In short, intolerance of unpleasurable experience creates deadly boredom. – K. Lorenz, Civilised Man’s 8 Deadly Sins, p39


Happy are they who live in the dream of their own existence, and see all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar, and into whom the spirit of the world has not entered! They have not been “hurt by the archers,” nor has the iron entered their souls. They live in the midst of arrows and of death, unconscious of harm. The evil things come not nigh them. The shafts of ridicule pass unheeded by, and malice loses its sting. The example of vice does not rankle in their breasts, like the poisoned shirt of Nessus. Evil impressions fall off from them like drops of water. The yoke of life is to them light and supportable. The world has no hold on them. They are in it, not of it; and a dream and a glory is ever around them! – Hazlitt, end of Mind and Motive, 1815

Genuine serenity in the enjoyment of life is compatible only with truth. Newton, Franklin: they were really to be envied. – Lichtenberg

HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another. – Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary

But for an utmost end, in which the ancient philosophers placed felicity, and disputed much concerning the way thereto, there is no such thing in this world, nor way to it, more than to Utopia; for while we live, we have desires, and desire presupposeth a further end. Seeing all delight is appetite, and desire of something further, there can be no contentment but in proceeding, and therefore we are not to marvel, when we see that as men attain to more riches, honour, or other power, so their appetite continually groweth more and more; and when they are come to the utmost degree of some kind of power they pursue some other, as long as in any kind they think themselves behind any other. Of those, therefore, that have attained the highest degree of honour and riches, some have affected mastery in some art, as Nero in music and poetry, Commodus in the art of a gladiator; and such as affect not some such thing, must find diversion and recreation of their thoughts in the contention either of play or business, and men justly complain as of a great grief that they know not what to do. Felicity, therefore, by which we mean continual delight, consists not in having prospered, but in prospering. – Hobbes


Conversation, which, when it is best, is a series of intoxications. Not Aristotle, not Kant or Hegel, but conversation, is the right metaphysical professor. This is the true school of philosophy, this the college where you learn what thoughts are, what powers lurk in those fugitive gleams, and what becomes of them; how they make history. A wise man goes to this game to play upon others, and to be played upon, and at least as curious to know what can be drawn from himself as what can be drawn from them. For, in discourse with a friend, our thought, hitherto wrapped in our consciousness, detaches itself, and allows itself to be seen as a thought, in a manner as new and entertaining to us as to our companions. – Emerson, Inspiration

The art of conversation consists far less in displaying much wit oneself than in helping others to be witty: the man who leaves your company pleased with himself and his own wit is very pleased with you. Men don’t want to admire you, they want to be found agreeable themselves; they are less anxious to be instructed or even amused than to be appreciated and praised; and the subtlest pleasure lies in giving pleasure to another. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Society and Conversation, 16

The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as being heard. Authors in general are not good listeners… The best converser I know is, however, the best listener. I mean Mr Northcote, the painter. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Conversation of Authors

The soul of conversation is sympathy. – Authors should converse chiefly with authors, and their talk should be of books… There is nothing so pedantic as pretending not to be pedantic. No man can get above his pursuit in life: it is getting above himself, which is impossible. There is a freemasonry in all things. You can only speak to be understood, but this you cannot be, except by those who are in on the secret. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Conversation of Authors

Pedantry is the too frequent or unseasonable intruding our own knowledge in common discourse, and placing too great a value upon it; by which definition, men of the court, or of the army, may be as guilty of pedantry, as a philosopher or a divine; and it is the same vice in women, when they are over copious upon the subject of their petticoats, or their fans, or their china. For which reason, although it be a piece of prudence, as well as good manners, to put men upon talking on subjects they are best versed in, yet that is a liberty wise men could hardly take; because, beside the imputation of pedantry, it is what he would never improve by. – Swift, Hints Toward an Essay in Conversation.

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while. – Thoreau, Life Without Principle

…egotists in conversation…are generally the vain or shallow part of mankind, people being naturally full of themselves when they have nothing else in them. – Addison, Cowley and Montaigne

To say of something simply that it is good or that it is bad, and the reasons why it is good or bad, requires good sense and the gift of expression: and these are not easily come by. It is quicker to assert in decisive tones, which imply the proof of what one is saying, either that it is execrable or that it is miraculous. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Society and Conversation, 19

Cleon’s remarks are unkind or unfair, one or the other; but he adds that that’s the way he is, he says what he thinks. – La Bruyere, Characters, Of Society and Conversation, 22

Something witty can be said against anything and for anything. A witty man could, of course, say something against this assertion that would perhaps make me regret it. – Lichtenberg

…there was Captain Burney, who had you at a disadvantage by never understanding you. – Hazlitt, The Plain Speaker, On the Conversation of Authors

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *