Quotations about   certainty

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Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life!

George Meredith (1828-1909) English novelist and poet
Modern Love, Sonnet 50 (1862)
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Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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He took my seat and smiled again, like an affable crocodile. He was probably a very principled man, too. So were they all, all principled men. And women. There were few things more annoying than a visibly principled person. Or more troublesome. Most of the ones I’d met could have used a little uncertainty to dilute their principled-ness.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Hush Money (1999)
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Added on 31-May-17 | Last updated 31-May-17
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It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
The Ascent of Man, Ep. 11 “Knowledge or Certainty” (1973)
Added on 16-Jan-17 | Last updated 16-Jan-17
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Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

Shakespeare - never doubt I love - wist_info quote

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2 (1603)
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Added on 13-Jun-16 | Last updated 13-Jun-16
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I am often inclined to be envious of other people’s religion. They are so cocksure dogmatically that they act as though they are omniscient. Life has no doubts, its direction is determined, all evil is by hypothesis overruled by an all-wise God for good. I do not share this view of life, any more than I share the Christian Science views of disease, but I can see that it makes people enthusiastic, effective, self-forgetful and often fanatical and great bores.

Henry Joel Cadbury (1883-1974) American biblical scholar, Quaker historian, writer, activist
“My Personal Religion,” lecture, Harvard School of Divinity (1936)
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Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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The problem is that the people with the most ridiculous ideas are always the people who are most certain of them.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
The Decider (21 Jul 2007)
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-May-16
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So as this only point among the rest remaineth sure and certain, namely, that nothing is certain.

Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) Roman author, naturalist, philosopher, military commander [Gaius Plinius Secundus]
Natural History, Book 2, ch. 7 (AD 77-79)
Added on 9-May-16 | Last updated 9-May-16
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It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

Mencken - dull man who is sure - wist_info quote

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“The National Letters,” Prejudices: Second Series (1920)
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Added on 2-May-16 | Last updated 2-May-16
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Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What does the scientist have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Asimov’s Guide to Science (1972)
Added on 26-Apr-16 | Last updated 26-Apr-16
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The world is made up for the most part of morons and natural tyrants, sure of themselves, strong in their own opinions, never doubting anything.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) American lawyer
Personal Liberty (1928)
Added on 25-Apr-16 | Last updated 25-Apr-16
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‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.

Christopher Bullock (1690?-1724) English actor and dramatist
The Cobler of Preston (1716)
Added on 18-Apr-16 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)
Added on 12-Apr-16 | Last updated 12-Apr-16
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They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.

Umberto Eco (b. 1932) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
The Name of the Rose (1980)
Added on 2-Sep-14 | Last updated 2-Sep-14
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The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Philosophy and Politics” (1946)
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Added on 9-Jul-13 | Last updated 29-Jan-14
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Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency, but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (13 Nov 1789)

See Bullock.
Added on 3-May-13 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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It is this belief in absolutes, I would hazard, that is the great enemy today of the life of the mind. This may seem a rash proposition. The fashion of the time is to denounce relativism as the root of all evil. But history suggests that the damage done to humanity by the relativist is far less than the damage done by the absolutist — by the fellow who, as Mr. Dooley once put it, “does what he thinks th’ Lord wud do if He only knew th’ facts in th’ case.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
“The Opening of the American Mind,” New York Times (23 Jul 1989)
Added on 9-Apr-10 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

Sir Laurens Jan van der Post (1906-1996) Afrikaner author, conservationist, statesman, humanitarian [a.k.a. Laurens van der Post]
The Lost World of the Kalahari, ch. 3 (1958)
Added on 6-May-09 | Last updated 9-May-16
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Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized a man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report : H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956)
Added on 28-Oct-08 | Last updated 25-Sep-14
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We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.

[Eigentlich weiss man nur wenn man wenig weiss; mit dem Wissen wachst des Zweifel.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-May-14
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If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts, he shall end in certainties.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
De Augmentis Scientiarum [Advancement of Learning], Book 1, ch. 5, sec. 8 (1605)

Alt trans. (Willey Book ed., (1944)): "If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient with them, we shall end in certainties."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Jul-14
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The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician
Montreal Medical Journal (1902)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
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The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

Hand - spirit of liberty - wist_info quote

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (21 May 1941)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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The longing for certainty and repose is in every human mind. But certainty generally is an illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man.

Holmes - certainty and repose - wist_info quote

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
“The Path of Law,” 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897)
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Too much positive is either scared or stupid or both. Reality is uncertain.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Early Autumn (1981)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

[Le doute n’est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Frederick II of Prussia (6 Apr 1767)

Alt trans.
  • "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."
  • "Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
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