Quotations And Aphorisms

‎”Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves, and everyone else can see it right away.”

“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.” -Viktor E. Frankl

The more years we live within our own minds, the longer we struggle with our own shortcomings, and the more likely we are to give up on the excruciating and maybe impossible task of understanding them and overcoming them, and in this we can easily commit the grave error of forgetting them altogether, and of therefore coming to blame the rest of the world for the consequences our own shortcomings bring down upon us.

“We have a natural tendency to listen to the expert, even in a field where there may be no experts” [i.e., where expertise is not possible]

“Lamarck selected an armchair as the source for his evolutionary treatise. Darwin chose pigeons, and revolutionized human thinking. Great theories must sink a huge anchor in details.” -Stephen Jay Gould

“[When you have offended someone], resist the urge to defend yourself at first. This doesn’t mean you need be endlessly berated or that the person who you have offended is right. It simply means that you can’t listen and hear where another person is coming from if you are talking.” -Tami at What Tami Said

“People are entitled to their beliefs, and entitled to the hurt feelings they suffer when they encounter skeptics or agnostics, but unless they can master the anxiety they feel when they learn that someone does not (yet) believe what they say, they rule themselves out of academic inquiry.” -Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained

“Power doesn’t always corrupt. What power always does is reveal. When a guy gets into a position where he doesn’t have to worry anymore, then you see what he wanted to do all along.” – Robert Caro, biographer, quoted in Esquire, Jan 2010

The best defense against having to understand something is to say “I understand completely”.

Anytime you say “yes, but” it makes it look like you didn’t really understand the “yes” part, but just mouthed the word “yes” so that you could get to your own point. This is the origin of a lot shouty arguments: nobody feels like they’re really being heard because every response on either side is a “yes, but”. (And yet, sometimes the “yes” really is just as sincere as the “but”.)

Republicans never deliver the small government they promise and Democrats never deliver the socialist utopias they promise. And thank Thor for that.

Having judgment as the goal when you are gathering knowledge and ideas inevitably results in insufficient knowledge and poor judgments. Judgment need only be passed when there is a practical need or a conclusion catches one by surprise with its inescapability.

“It is not to the outside world directly that we respond, but to its modified and slanted internal representation (in the brain)” -Zoltan Torey, The Crucible Of Consciousness

“You can have compassion without forgiveness” -Alice Sebold, NPR Fresh Air interview

Truth comes before justice.

You can piss some people off by lying to them; others, by telling them the truth

“If everyone needs to think outside the box, maybe it’s the box that needs fixing.” -Malcolm Gladwell, “The Talent Myth”

“To claim that a statement is true is also to make a claim to power because truth can only be produced by power.” -From a SparkNotes summary of the ideas of Michel Foucault

“Conversations about race are not amusing at all when the people who you are discussing the issue with make it clear that (1) they have not thought about the issue much, (2) they don’t care to think about the issue much, but (3) they are determined to talk about the issue anyway.”-Latoya Peterson on Racialicious.com. I would add that this is true about any contentious issue.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” -Charles Darwin

“Julian was wrong. She thought it could be peaceful. But how can it be peaceful, when they try and take away your dignity?” –Children Of Men. Violent revolution, where the ends justify the means, is often more about pride than justice. Seeking justice is seeking understanding, and pride is the greatest barrier to understanding.

“The central motivation for philosophizing is the urgency of human suffering, and the goal of philosophy is human flourishing.” -Martha Nussbaum

“If you simplify your [language], you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.” -George Orwell

“Concrete and positive suggestions for change merely strengthen [the power of the status quo], either as ways of administering the unadministratable, or by calling down repression from the monstrous totality itself.” -Theodore Adorno

You should know your limitations. And if you don’t, you should at least be aware that they exist and be prepared to admit that someone else, anyone you might know or meet, might know them very clearly.

We’re burning our own house down while we’re still inside, pausing only long enough to gripe about the people who are telling us we should put the fire out.

“More Americans were connected to the Internet at the end of the 20th century than were connected to a water supply at the beginning of it” -Thomas Sowell

Some people think that any way of thinking that does not prescribe absolutes is useless, and therefore never see much of what is true.


“Rather as a linguist and philologist may look for the general principles that determine word order and the structure of sentences in English, so the philosophical moralist looks for the general principles, or the single principle, that explain the apparently diverse arrangements that we would consider unjust and therefore wrong. If we do succeed in finding such principles, which fit the facts of our ordinary moral beliefs fairly well except in a few marginal cases, then we can use the principles as a guide in doubtful cases; just as we would use general principles of grammar as a guide in doubtful cases when our intuitions fail us or are uncertain.” -Stuart Hampshire


“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” -Bertrand Russell

“He believes his own fantasy and fights for it with a diseased fury. He’s a pygmy with only one talent, the ability to convince others he is a giant” -Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves

“He took great delight in making every little problem into a major crisis from which he had to emerge victorious” Brett Hauser, from Studs Terkel’s Working

“It is curious, how one often mistrusts one’s own opinions if they are stated by someone else” -Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop

“Excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility” -Ken Follett, The Pillars Of The Earth

It is human nature to confuse strength with intelligence, confidence with good judgment.

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” -Coughlin, from Cocktail

“If earl’s daughters were allowed to marry whom they please, we’d all be ruled by strolling minstrels and dark-eyed outlaws” –The Pillars Of The Earth

“There is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.” – Steve Martin

“Every question possesses a power that is lost in the answer” -Elie Wiesel, Night

“Their certainty is only possible because of their stupidity” -Franz Kafka, The Trial

Interviewer: Why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?

Cristof: We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. It’s as simple as that. He could leave at any time, if his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you is that ultimately Truman prefers his cell.

The Truman Show

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

“What a genius! There is no pleasing him.”

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy; when God changes your mind, that’s faith; when facts change your mind, that’s science” -edge.org

“There aren’t any beginnings, nor any ends” -John Steinbeck

Some people would rather have an opinion than an education

Some people would rather expend the energy to find a reason why they don’t have to bother considering an idea they disagree with than expend the energy to actually consider the idea.

True religion, if there be such a thing, isn’t “god says you must believe this” but “god wants you to understand this”

“Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured” -Christopher Hitchens

Realizing you don’t want to attain enlightenment actually puts you closer to it than someone with a consuming need for it.

I humbly acknowledge that my failure to understand is not necessarily a withering critique of your idea or work of art.

You can take a criticism seriously without accepting its conclusions.

Just as racism, sexism, and most other isms dehumanize individual members of the oppressed group, so too does perpetual victimhood dehumanize individual members of the oppressor group.

It doesn’t promote good decision making to preemptively be either wary of change or wary of the status quo.

Science is (the foundation of) philosophy and economics is (the foundation of) politics.

‘Liberalism’, as it were, is like fire. It is possible to use it to improve things, but you have to be smart and careful and willing to tend to it.

Refusal to understand is not an acceptable strategy of refutation.

Published on January 18, 2010 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  

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