Quotations about:
    certainty


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They’re talking about things of which they don’t have the slightest understanding, anyway. It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-Austrian Jewish writer
The Trial, ch. 1 (1925) [tr. Wyllie (2003)]
    (Source)

The protagonist Josef K., musing over the minor functionaries who have arrested him on unknown charges.
 
Added on 28-Feb-24 | Last updated 28-Feb-24
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For most men (till by losing rendered sager)
Will back their own opinions by a wager.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
“Beppo,” st. 27 (1818)
    (Source)
 
Added on 17-Jan-24 | Last updated 17-Jan-24
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It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.

[C’est la certitude qu’ils tiennent la vérité qui rend les hommes cruels.]

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
(Misquotation)

Widely attributed (in French and English) to Anatole France, but not found in his works, including the one location it is sometimes cited from, Les Dieux Ont Soif [The Gods Are Thirsty, The Gods Are Athirst, The Gods Will Have Blood] (1912), in either English translation or, more importantly, in the original French.

While thematically keeping in the novel's depiction of the French Revolution and the Terror, the closest match to the quote I can find is this portion of ch. 22, talking about the expediting of the trials of those charged with counter-revolutionary crimes, eliminating the need to prove a misdeed by simply inquiring as to the accused's beliefs.

Justice thus abbreviated satisfied them; the pace was quickened, and no obstacles were left to fret them. They limited themselves to an inquiry into the opinions of the accused, not conceiving it possible that anyone could think differently from themselves except in pure perversity. Believing themselves the exclusive possessors of truth, wisdom, the quintessence of good, they attributed to their opponents noting but error and evil. They felt themselves all-powerful; they envisaged God.
[tr. Allinson (1913), Jackson (1921)]

Justice, thus curtailed, satisfied them; the pace was quickened and no obstacles were left to confuse them. They confined themselves to inquiring into the opinions of the accused, not conceiving it possible that anyone, except from pure perversity, could think differently from themselves. Believing themselves to possess a monopoly of truth, wisdom and goodness, they attributed to their opponents all error, stupidity and evil. They felt themselves omnipotent: their eyes had seen God.
[tr. Davies (1979)]

La justice abrégée les contentait. Rien, dans sa marche accélérée, ne les troublait plus. Ils s’enquéraient seulement des opinions des accusés, ne concevant pas qu’on pût sans méchanceté penser autrement qu’eux. Comme ils croyaient posséder la vérité, la sagesse, le souverain bien, ils attribuaient à leurs adversaires l’erreur et le mal. Ils se sentaient forts : ils voyaient Dieu.
[Original]

 
Added on 9-Nov-23 | Last updated 9-Nov-23
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Change is certain. Progress is not.

E. H. Carr (1892-1982) British historian, journalist, international relations theorist [Edward Hallett "Ted" Carr]
(Attributed)

This is widely cited to his collection, From Napoleon to Stalin and Other Essays (1980), but I cannot find it there.
 
Added on 6-Nov-23 | Last updated 6-Nov-23
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There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.

Bart Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman (b. 1955) American Biblical scholar, author
God’s Problem, ch. 8 (2008)
    (Source)
 
Added on 11-Oct-23 | Last updated 11-Oct-23
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I think nobody should be certain of anything. If you’re certain, you’re certainly wrong, because nothing deserves certainty, and so one ought always to hold all one’s beliefs with a certain element of doubt and one ought to be able to act vigorously in spite of the doubt.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Interview by Woodrow Wyatt, BBC TV (1959)
    (Source)

Collected in Bertrand Russell's BBC Interviews (1959) [UK] and Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1960) [US]. Reprinted (abridged) in The Humanist (1982-11/12), and in Russell Society News, #37 (1983-02).
 
Added on 20-Sep-23 | Last updated 20-Sep-23
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But what is there in man’s precarious life
To be relied on? o’er the foamy deep
Rides the swift vessel by the wind impell’d:
But as to human fortunes, Time reduces
The great to nothing, and augments the small.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Bellerophon [Βελλεροφῶν], frag. 304 (TGF) (c. 430 BC) [tr. Wodhull (1809)]
    (Source)

Barnes frag. 117, Musgrave frag. 20. Alternate translations:

Where indeed is there sureness in man's life? For swift ships the winds drive a straight path on the ocean deep, but men's fortunes are changed by the largeness of time, their greatness to nothing, while with increase for the lesser ....
[tr. Collard, Hargreaves, Cropp (1995)]

Where -- where --
for those that die
life’s sure foundation? If we were ships
over the depths of ocean
winds would drive us
straight.
But those that die
their fortune shifts, it veers
in twists of fate -- as Time
(slowly --– slowly) generates itself
at its own leisure
reducing what was great
to nothing – raising up
another ....
[tr. Stevens (2012)]

 
Added on 12-Sep-23 | Last updated 12-Sep-23
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I conceive that there is nothing which gives a man more pause before taking as absolute what his feelings welcome, and his mind deems plausible, than even the flicker of recollection that something of the sort has been tried before, felt before, disputed before, and for some reason or other has now quite gone into Limbo.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“Sources of Tolerance,” speech, University of Pennsylvania Law School (1930-06)
    (Source)
 
Added on 13-Jul-23 | Last updated 13-Jul-23
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It is often said […] that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascal’s wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?

Richard Dawkins (b. 1941) English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author
Speech, Edinburgh International Science Festival (1992-04-15)

Quoted in "EDITORIAL: A scientist's case against God," The Independent (1992-04-20).
 
Added on 11-Jul-23 | Last updated 11-Jul-23
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I hav lived in this world jist long enuff tew look karefully the seckond time into things that i am the most certain ov the fust time.

[I have lived in this world just long enough to look carefully the second time into things that I am the most certain of the first time.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist, aphorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, ch. 152 “Affurisms: Chicken Feed” (1874)
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Added on 8-Jun-23 | Last updated 18-Jan-24
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The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Monstrous Regiment (2003)
    (Source)
 
Added on 21-Apr-23 | Last updated 21-Apr-23
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Profound ignorance makes a man dogmatical; he who knows nothing thinks he can teach others what he just now has learned himself.

[C’est la profonde ignorance qui inspire le ton dogmatique. Celui qui ne sait rien croit enseigner aux autres ce qu’il vient d’apprendre lui-même.]

Jean de La Bruyere
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 5 “Of Society and Conversation [De la Société et de la Conversation],” § 76 (5.76) (1688) [tr. Van Laun (1885)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Profound Ignorance makes a Man dogmatick. If he knows nothing, he thinks he can teach others what he is to learn himself.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

Profound Ignorance makes a Man dogmatick; he who knows nothing, thinks he can teach others what he just now has learn'd himself.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

A dogmatic tone is generally inspired by abysmal ignorance. The man who knows nothing thinks he is informing others of something which he has that moment learnt.
[tr. Stewart (1970)]

 
Added on 10-Jan-23 | Last updated 6-Jun-23
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He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Idler, # 57 “The Character of Sophron” (19 May 1759)
    (Source)

One of Sophron's (Wisdom's) maxims.
 
Added on 9-Nov-22 | Last updated 9-Nov-22
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There were four things the Master abstained from entirely: he did not speculate, he did not claim or demand certainty, he was not inflexible, and he was not self-absorbed.

[子絕四、毋意、毋必、毋固、毋我]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 9, verse 4 (9.4) (6th C. BC – 3rd C. AD) [tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]
    (Source)

Different versions of the Analects take these four items in slightly differing order, reflected in the translations below. (Source (Chinese)). Alternate translations:

There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.
[tr. Legge (1861)]

The Master barred four (words); - he would have no "shall"s, no "must"s, no "certainly"s, no "I"s.
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

There were four things from which Confucius was entirely free : He was free from self-interest, from prepossessions, from bigotry and from egoism.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

The Master was entirely free from four things: he had no preconceptions, no pre-determinations, no obduracy, and no egoism.
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

He was cut off from four things; he had no prejudices, no categoric imperatives, no obstinacy or no obstinate residues, no time-lags, no egotism.
[tr. Pound (1933); yes, that looks to be five things]

There are four things that the Master wholly eschewed: he took nothing for granted, he was never over-positive, never obstinate, never egotistic.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

The Master recognized four prohibitions; Do not be swayed by personal opinion; recognize no inescapable necessity; do not be stubborn; do not be egotistic.
[tr. Ware (1950)]

He denounced (or tried to avoid completely) four things: arbitrariness of opinions, dogmatism, narrow-mindedness and egotism.
[tr. Lin Yutang (1938)]

There were four things the Master refused to have anything to do with: he refused to entertain conjectures or insist on certainty; he refused to be inflexible or to be egotistical.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

The Master cut out four things. He never took anything for granted, he never insisted on certainty, he was never inflexible and never egotistical.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

The Master absolutely eschewed four things: capriciousness, dogmatism, willfulness, self-importance.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

The Master was absolutely free from four things: free from conjecture, free from arbitrariness, free from obstinacy, free from egoism.
[tr. Huang (1997)]

Confucius prohibited the four points: no wantonness, no dictatorship, no stubbornness, and no arrogance.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998)]

The Master avoided four things: no wish, no will, no set, no self.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998); they further interpret, "no fixed opinions, no foregone conclusions, no stubbornness, no self-absorption"]

The Master had freed himself of four things: idle speculation, certainty, inflexibility, and conceit.
[tr. Hinton (1998)]

The Master observed four prohibitions: no willfulness, no obstinacy, no narrow-mindedness, no egotism.
[tr. Watson (2007)]

The Master stayed away from four things: he did not put forth theories or conjectures; he did not think he must be right; he was not obdurate; he was not self-centered.
[tr. Annping Chin (2014)]

Confucius has four ultimate mindsets for perfect: no prejudice, no absolute must, no fixation, no self.
[tr. Li (2020)]

 
Added on 27-Jun-22 | Last updated 8-May-23
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I believe in evil. It is the property of all those who are certain of truth. Despair and fanaticism are only differing manifestations of evil.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Attributed in a personal communication from Judith Shoolery, in Istvan Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006).
 
Added on 6-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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A maxim for the twenty-first century might well be to start not by fighting evil in the name of good, but by attacking the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found. We should struggle not against the devil himself but what allows the devil to live — Manichaean thinking itself.

Tzvetan Todorov
Tzvetan Todorov (1939-2017) Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, literary critic, sociologist
Hope and Memory: Reflections on the Twentieth Century, ch. 5 (2003)

Paraphrased variant:

We should not be simply fighting evil in the name of good, but struggling against the certainties of people who claim always to know where good and evil are to be found.
 
Added on 13-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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To know all about anything is to know how to deal with it under all circumstances. We feel much happier and more secure when we think we know precisely what to do, no matter what happens, than when we have lost our way and do not know where to turn. And if we have supposed ourselves to know all about anything, and to be capable of doing what is fit in regard to it, we naturally do not like to find that we are really ignorant and powerless, that we have to begin again at the beginning, and try to learn what the thing is and how it is to be dealt with — if indeed anything can be learnt about it. It is the sense of power attached to a sense of knowledge that makes men desirous of believing, and afraid of doubting.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Lecture, London (11 Apr 1876)
    (Source)
 
Added on 8-Nov-21 | Last updated 8-Nov-21
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Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty, and the more we know the more uncertain we become.

Taylor - Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty - wist.info quote

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) British historian, journalist, broadcaster [Alan John Percivale Taylor]
“What Else Indeed?” New York Review of Books (5 Aug 1965)
    (Source)
 
Added on 20-Sep-21 | Last updated 20-Sep-21
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I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth — and truth rewarded me.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) French author, existentialist philosopher, feminist theorist
All Said and Done (1974)
    (Source)
 
Added on 26-Aug-21 | Last updated 26-Aug-21
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Dogma thinks it knows. Belief knows it does not. Dogma is credulous. Belief is sceptical, but forever open-minded.

Graham Dunstan Martin
Graham Dunstan Martin (1932-2021) British author, translator, philologist
Shadows in the Cave (1990)
 
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A common fallacy in much of the adverse criticism to which science is subjected today is that it claims certainty, infallibility and complete emotional objectivity. It would be more nearly true to say that it is based upon wonder, adventure and hope.

Cyril Norman Hinshelwood (1897-1967) British chemist and Nobel laureate
“Classics among the intellectual disciplines,” Presidential Address to the Classical Association, Hull, UK (1959-04-09)

Quoted in the Sunday Times (1959-05-17), and in E. J. Bowen's obituary of Hinshelwood, in Chemistry in Britain, Vol. 3 (1967), p. 534.
 
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It must be remembered that evidence is never complete, that knowledge of truth is always partial, and that to await certainty is to await eternity.

John Bowlby 1907-1990) British psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst
Maternal Care and Mental Health (1951)
    (Source)

The last phrase is often attributed to Jonas Salk, who used it ("It is said to await certainty is to await eternity") in a telegram to Basil O'Connor (8 Nov 1954). But as Salk himself noted, it was not original to him.
 
Added on 5-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.

Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994) Austrian-British philosopher
“Knowledge and the Shaping of Reality,” lecture, Alpbach (Aug 1982)
    (Source)

Reprinted in In Search of a Better World, ch. 1 (1994).
 
Added on 29-Mar-21 | Last updated 29-Mar-21
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You must have three essentials for the investigation of Chan [Zen]. The first is that you must have the foundation of great faith. The second is that you must have a zealous determination. The third is that you must have the feeling of great doubt. If you omit one of these it is like breaking off the leg of a tripod, which ends up becoming a useless vessel.

高峰云、叅禪須具三要 一有大信根
二有大憤志 三有大疑情 苟闕其一
如折足之鼎 終成廢器。

Hyujeong (1520-1604) Korean Seon (Sŏn, Zen) Master [Sosan Taesa, Seosan Daesa, Dae Seonsa]
Mirror of Zen [Samga Gwigam; Samga Kwigom; Seonga Gwigam], ch. 14 [tr. Jorgensen (2012)]
    (Source)

Alternate translations:

For the study of Seon, there are three requirements: (1) having the great root of faith; (2) having great determination, and (3) having great doubt. If you lack one of these, it is like a broken like on a tripod sacrificial vessel. In the end you will discard it.
[tr. Miller (2017)]

There are three essentials to Sŏn meditation. First of all, you must be rooted in Great Faith and Great Confidence. Secondly, one must have Great Anger -- a strong, inwardly-directed, ardent determination to practice. Thirdly, one must have Great Doubt. If one of these is missing, it is like a tripod vessel with one leg cut off -- in the end, it will be of no use.
[Source]

It is well known that Ganhwaseon practitioners must have three things of essential importance: The first is a Foundation of Great Faith (大信根) for the practice which is possible; the second is Great Zealous Determination (大憤志) of practice to attain enlightenment; the third is a Great Feeling of Doubt (大疑情) on the Hwadu. If one of these is lacking, then it is like a tripod pot with a broken foot and is useless.
[Source]

 
Added on 22-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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What certainty can there be in a Philosophy which consists in as many Hypotheses as there are Phenomena to be explained. To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. ‘Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist and mathematician
Opticks, Preface (unpublished) (1703)
    (Source)
 
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Bigotry and science can have no communication with each other, for science begins where bigotry and absolute certainty end. The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof. Let us never forget that tyranny most often springs from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness of one’s beliefs.

Ashley Montagu (1905-1999) British-American anthropologist and humanist [b. Israel Ehrenberg, a/k/a Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu]
Science and Creationism, Introduction (1984)

The second sentence is frequently (mis)quoted:
  • "Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof."
  • "Religion gives us certainty without proof; science gives us proof without certainty."
 
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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As mathematical and absolute certainty is seldom to be attained in human affairs, reason and public utility require that judges and all mankind in forming their opinions of the truth of facts should be regulated by the superior number of the probabilities on the one side or the other whether the amount of these probabilities be expressed in words and arguments or by figures and numbers.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-1793) British barrister, politician, judge, legal reformer
In Andrew Stuart, Letters to the Right Honorable Lord Mansfield (1773)
    (Source)

A restatement by Stuart of a point Mansfield made.
 
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There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” (1959)
    (Source)

Mill is actually describing an argument he goes on to counter.
 
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If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
On Certainty, Para. 115 (1969) [tr. Paul & Anscombe]
 
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Certainty has become a consumer product. It is marketed the world over — by insurance companies, investment advisers, election campaigns, and the medical industry.

Gerd Gigerenzer (b. 1947) German research psychologist
Reckoning with Risk (2003)
 
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Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life. But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed, the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel a man to unfold his powers. If he faces the truth without panic, he will recognize that there is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Man for Himself, ch. 3 (1947)
    (Source)
 
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I believe in evil. It is the property of all those who are certain of truth. Despair and fanaticism are only differing manifestations of evil.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
(Attributed)

Quoted in István Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006), via Judith Shoolery.
 
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It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) English naturalist
The Descent of Man, Introduction (1871)
    (Source)
 
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ONLY THE MADMAN IS ABSOLUTELY SURE.

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) American author, futurist self-described "agnostic mystic" [pen name of Robert Edward Wilson]
The Eye in the Pyramid (1975) [with Robert Shea]
    (Source)
 
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There is nobody, in the commonwealth of learning, who does not profess himself a lover of truth, — and there is not a rational creature, that would not take it amiss, to be thought otherwise of. And yet, for all this, one may truly say, there are very few lovers of truth, for truth-sake, even amongst those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may know, whether he be so, in earnest, is worth inquiry; and I think, there is this one unerring mark of it, viz. the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built on will warrant. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not truth in the love of it, loves not truth for truth-sake, but for some other by-end.

John Locke (1632-1704) English philosopher
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 4 “Of Knowledge and Opinion,” ch. 19 “Of Enthusiasm,” sec. 1 “Love of truth necessary” (1689)
    (Source)
 
Added on 1-Jun-20 | Last updated 1-Jun-20
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We are never so certain of our knowledge as when we’re dead wrong.

Adair Lara (b. 1952) American writer, columnist, teacher
“A Lot of Knowledge Is Dangerous, Too,” San Francisco Chronicle (9 Oct 1997)
    (Source)
 
Added on 20-Apr-20 | Last updated 20-Apr-20
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The certainties of one age are the problems of the next.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, ch. 5 (1926)
    (Source)
 
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So we have to make guesses in order to give any utility at all to science. In order to avoid simply describing experiments that have been done, we have to propose laws beyond their observed range. There is nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that it makes science uncertain. If you thought before that science was certain — well, that is just an error on your part.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
The Character of Physical Law, ch. 3 “The Great Conservation Principles” (1965)
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Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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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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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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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)
 
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HAMLET: 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

Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 124ff (2.2.124-127) (c. 1600)
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A letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, read by Polonius.
 
Added on 13-Jun-16 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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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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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)
 
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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)
 
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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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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)
 
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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)
 
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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)
 
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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 (1932-2016) Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, novelist
The Name of the Rose (1980)
 
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Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec. 9.13 “Conclusion, Pt. 1” (1751)
 
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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
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Philosophy and Politics” (1946)
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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, aphorist
Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (13 Nov 1789)
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See Bullock.
 
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Not that indeed I imitated the sceptics, who only doubt for the sake of doubting, and pretend to be always uncertain; for, on the contrary, my design was only to provide myself with good ground for assurance, and to reject the quicksand and mud in order to find the rock or clay.

[Non que j’imitasse pour cela les sceptiques, qui ne doutent que pour douter, et affectent d’être toujours irrésolus; car, au contraire, tout mon dessein ne tendoit qu’à m’assurer, et à rejeter la terre mouvante et le sable pour trouver le roc ou l’argile.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 3 (1637) [tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Not that I therein imitated the Scepticks, who doubt onely to the end they may doubt, and affect to be always unresolved: For on the contrary, all my designe tended onely to fix my self, and to avoid quick-mires and sands, that I might finde rock and clay.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

Not that in this I imitated the sceptics who doubt only that they may doubt, and seek nothing beyond uncertainty itself; for, on the contrary, my design was singly to find ground of assurance, and cast aside the loose earth and sand, that I might reach the rock or the clay.
[tr. Veitch (1901)]

For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics who doubt only for doubting's sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at a certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath.
[tr. Huxley (1870)]

In doing this I was not copying the sceptics, who doubt only for the sake of doubting and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole aim was to reach certainty -- to cast aside the loose earth and sand so as to come upon rock or clay.
[tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]

 
Added on 28-Dec-12 | Last updated 4-Jun-22
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