Quotations about   existence

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Newton and Descartes started to try and prove that God existed in the same way as they would try and prove something in the laboratory or with their mathematics … And when you try and mix science and religion you get bad science and bad religion. The two are doing two different things. … Science can give you a diagnosis of cancer. It can even cure your disease, but it cannot touch your grief and disappointment, nor can it help you to die well.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
“The Reason of Faith,” Interview with Michael Brunton, Ode (Sep-Oct 2009)
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Added on 26-Oct-20 | Last updated 26-Oct-20
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Men may be divided almost any way we please, but I have found the most useful distinction to be made between those who devote their lives to conjugating the verb “to be” and those who spend their lives conjugating the verb “to have.”

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
For the Time Being (1972)
Added on 21-Sep-20 | Last updated 21-Sep-20
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The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12, sec. 3 (1951)
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Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to be a light amid the thorns.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Platonism and the Spiritual Life (1927)
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Added on 19-Mar-20 | Last updated 19-Mar-20
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Man is the only animal who does not feel at home in nature, who can feel evicted from paradise, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, ch. 10 (1973)
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Sometimes elided, "Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem he has to solve."
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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Change is the essence of life: be willing to surrender who you are for what you could become.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
(Attributed)

Sometimes elided to: "Change is the essence of life: surrender who you are for what you could become."
Added on 13-Jul-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.

Fred Rogers (1928-2003) American educator, minister, songwriter, television host ["Mister Rogers"]
You Are Special (1994)
Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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The world either breaks or hardens the heart.

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Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
(Attributed)

Quoted in J. De Finod (ed., trans.) A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880).
Added on 20-Dec-16 | Last updated 20-Dec-16
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It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ch. 19 (1980)
Added on 19-Sep-16 | Last updated 19-Sep-16
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Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
The Wounded Healer (1972)
Added on 11-Mar-16 | Last updated 11-Mar-16
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Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
“No Religion Is an Island,” Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review (Jan 1966)
Added on 8-Jan-16 | Last updated 8-Jan-16
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It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
Viewpoint interview by Bill Stout, KNXT (1 May 1959)

Reprinted in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, ed. by Michelle Feynman, Appendix I (2006).
Added on 27-Nov-07 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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When one remembers that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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See also this.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress, Vol. 1 “Reason in Common Sense,” ch. 10 (1905-06)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Letter (16 Aug 1776)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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The day will happen whether or not you get up.

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Apr-20
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