Quotations about   humanity

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We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will, therefore, always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. No, we are complicated machines; and though we have one main spring that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (19 Dec 1749)
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Added on 1-Apr-21 | Last updated 1-Apr-21
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As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Life of the Mind (1977)
Added on 25-Mar-21 | Last updated 25-Mar-21
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The human race exaggerates everything: its heroes, its enemies, its importance.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998)
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But since, as Plato has admirably expressed it, we are not born for ourselves alone, but our country claims a share of our being, and our friends a share; and since, as the Stoics hold, everything that the earth produces is created for man’s use; and as men, too, are born for the sake of men, that they may be able mutually to help one another; in this direction we ought to follow Nature as our guide, to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving, and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together, man to man.

[Sed quoniam, ut praeclare scriptum est a Platone, non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici, atque, ut placet Stoicis, quae in terris gignantur, ad usum hominum omnia creari, homines autem hominum causa esse generatos, ut ipsi inter se aliis alii prodesse possent, in hoc naturam debemus ducem sequi, communes utilitates in medium afferre mutatione officiorum, dando accipiendo, tum artibus, tum opera, tum facultatibus devincire hominum inter homines societatem.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 7 / sec. 22 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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Original Latin. Referring to Plato, Epistle 9, to Archytas: "No one of us exists for himself alone, but one share of our existence belongs to our country, another to our parents, a third to the rest of our friends, while a great part is given over to those needs of the hour with which our life is beset." [tr. Bury (1966)]

Alternate translations:

"But seeing (as is excellently said by Plato) we are not born for ourselves alone; but that our native country, our friends and relations, have a just claim and title to some part of us;" and seeing whatsoever is created on earth was merely designed (as the Stoics will have it) for the service of men; and men themselves for the service, good, and assistance of one another; we certainly in this should be followers of Nature, and second her intentions; and by producing all that lies within the reach of our power for the general interest, by mutually giving and receiving good turns, by our knowledge, industry, riches, or other means, should endeavour to keep up that love and society, that should be amongst men.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

But, according to the excellent observation of Plato, "since we were not born for ourselves alone, our country and our friends have separate claims upon us." The produce of the earth, according to the Stoics, is intended wholly for the use of man; but men were designed for the service of men, by being made able to communicate reciprocal benefits to each other. In this view we ought to follow nature as our guide; and, by the exchange of services, by giving and receiving, to bring forward general advantages for the common good. We ought, by knowledge, industry, and wealth, to bind closer the society of men with men.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

But (as has been strikingly said by Plato) we are not born for ourselves alone, and our country claims her share, and our friends their share of us; and, as the Stoics hold, all the earth produces is created for the used of man, so men are created for the sake of men, that they may mutually do good to one another; in this we ought to take nature for our guide, to throw into the public stock the offices of general utility by a reciprocation of duties; sometimes by receiving, sometimes by giving, and sometimes to cement human society by arts, by industry, and byh our resources.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

But since, as it has been well said by Plato, we are not born for ourselves alone; since our country claims a part in us, our parents a part, our friends a part; and since, according to the Stoics, whatever the earth bears is created for the use of men, while men were brought into being for the sake of men, that they might do good to one another, -- in this matter we ought to follow nature as a guide, to contribute our part to the common good, and by the interchange of kind offices, both in giving and receiving, alike by skill, by labor, and by the resources at our command, to strengthen the social union of men among men.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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For even the humblest person, a day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Condition of Man (1944)
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Added on 17-Feb-21 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.

There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.

Forward!

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) American animator and cartoonist [Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr.]
The Pogo Papers, Introduction (1953)

This looks to be the origin of the famous Pogo phrase, "We have met the enemy and he is us," which Kelly introduced in that shorter form in 1970. Both are inspired by Oliver Perry's report on the Battle of Lake Erie (1813), "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
Added on 15-Feb-21 | Last updated 15-Feb-21
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Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech.

[διότι δὲ πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ζῷον πάσης μελίττης καὶ παντὸς ἀγελαίου ζῴου μᾶλλον, δῆλον. οὐθὲν γάρ, ὡς φαμέν, μάτην ἡ φύσις ποιεῖ·]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics [Πολιτικά], Book 1, ch. 2, sec. 10 / 1253a.7-11 [tr. Jowett (1885)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "And that man is a social animal in a fuller sense than any bee or gregarious animal is evident; for nature, we say, makes nothing without an object, and man is the only animal that possesses rational speech." [tr. Bolland (1877)]
  • "The gift of speech also evidently proves that man is a more social animal than the bees, or any of the herding cattle: for nature, as we say, does nothing in vain, and man is the only animal who enjoys it." [tr. Ellis (1912)]
  • "And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech." [tr. Rackham (1932)]
  • "That man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or any herd animal is clear. For, as we assert, nature does nothing in vain; and man alone among the animals has speech." [tr. Lord (1984)]
  • "It is also clear why a human is more of a political animal than any bee or any other gregarious animal. For nature does nothing pointlessly, as we say, and a human being alone among the animals has speech." [tr. Reeve (2007)]
  • "It is clear that man is a political animal, more than every bee and herd animal: for nature makes nothing in vain and man alone of living things has reason." [tr. @sentantiq (2011)]
Added on 12-Feb-21 | Last updated 12-Feb-21
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The vanity of man revolts from the serene indifference of the cat.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
“The Grocer’s Cat,” Americans and Others (1912)
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The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?

Pablo Casals (1876-1973) Spanish cellist, conductor, composer
In Joys and Sorrows: Reflections‎ by Pablo Casals as told to Albert E. Kahn (1970)
Added on 29-Jan-21 | Last updated 29-Jan-21
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The domestic cat is a contradiction. No animal has developed such an intimate relationship with mankind, while at the same time demanding and getting such independence of movement and action.

Desmond Morris (b. 1928) English zoologist, ethologist, author
Catwatching, Introduction (1986)
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Added on 19-Jan-21 | Last updated 19-Jan-21
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War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.

Benjamin Ferencz (b. 1920) American lawyer, international legal scholar, activist
“What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know,” interview with Leslie Stahl, 60 Minutes (7 May 2017)
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Ferencz served as chief prosecutor of twenty Einsatzgruppen officers during the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Longer excerpt:

STAHL: Did you meet a lot of people who perpetrated war crimes who would otherwise in your opinion have been just a normal, upstanding citizen?
FERENCZ: Of course, is my answer. These men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war. These were people who could quote Goethe, who loved Wagner, who were polite --
STAHL: What turns a man into a savage beast like that?
FERENCZ: He's not a savage. He's an intelligent, patriotic human being.
STAHL: He's a savage when he does the murder though.
FERENCZ: No. He's a patriotic human being acting in the interest of his country, in his mind.
STAHL: You don't think they turn into savages even for the act?
FERENCZ: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.
Added on 8-Jan-21 | Last updated 8-Jan-21
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Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) English poet and critic
Literature and Dogma, Preface (1873)
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Above all, the search after truth and its eager pursuit are peculiar to man. And so, when we have leisure from the demands of business cares, we are eager to see, to hear, to learn something new, and we esteem a desire to know the secrets or wonders of creation as indispensable to a happy life. Thus we come to understand that what is true, simple, and genuine appeals most strongly to a man’s nature.

[In primisque hominis est propria veri inquisitio atque investigatio. Itaque cum sumus necessariis negotiis curisque vacui, tum avemus aliquid videre, audire, addiscere cognitionemque rerum aut occultarum aut admirabilium ad beate vivendum necessarian! ducimus. Ex quo intellegitur, quod verum, simplex sincerumque sit, id esse naturae hominis aptissimum.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 4 / sec. 13 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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Original Latin. Alt. trans.:

But of all the properties and inclinations of men, there is none more natural and peculiar to them than an earnest desire and search after truth. Hence it is that our minds are no sooner free from the thoughts and engagements of necessary business, but we presently long to be either seeing, or hearing, or learning of something; and esteem the knowledge of things secret and wonderful as a necessary ingredient of a happy life. Whence it appears that nothing is more agreeable and suited to the nature and minds of men than undisguised openness, truth, and sincerity.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

The desire and investigation of truth is proper to man. When disengaged from necessary business and cares, we are eager to add to our knowledge by examining for ourselves or listening to others. The discovery of what is secret or wonderful, we are disposed to conceive essential to happiness. Hence, what is true, simple, and undisguised, is best adapted to human nature.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

The distinguishing property of man is to search for and to follow after truth. Therefore, when relaxed from our necessary cares and concerns, we then covet to see, to hear, and to learn somewhat; and we esteem knowledge of things either obscure or wonderful to be the indispensable means of living happily. From this we understand that truth, simplicity, and candour, are most agreeable to the nature of mankind.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

The research and investigation of truth, also, are a special property of man. Thus, when we are free from necessary occupations, we want to see, or hear, or learn something, and regard the knowledge of things either secret or wonderful as essential to our living happily and well.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]
Added on 4-Jan-21 | Last updated 4-Jan-21
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A cat can be trusted to purr when she is pleased, which is more than can be said for human beings.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
A Rustic Moralist (1934)
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little –”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME … SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point –”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Hogfather (1996)
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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No matter how black, white, male, female, Irish, German, tall, short, ugly or pretty you felt this year, you are part of a family that has been targeted by an unforgiving cosmos since its inception but has, regardless, survived. If a TV show about this family were to be created, you would very, very much enjoy it, and pay very much money for several seasons of it on DVD, because humanity, warts and all, is an inherently heroic species that has spent about 99.99% of its short lifetime as an underdog. And If you see no billboards telling you that, it’s not because it’s not true. It’s because there’s little to no profit to be made telling you.

I could go on and on about the suffering we’ve endured and the adaptations we’ve made, but to me, our species’ crowning jewel is that on the shortest day of the year, when the sun spends most of its time swallowed, when everything is frozen, when nothing can grow, when the air is so cold our voices stop right in front of our faces … we put a string of lights on a universe that is currently doing nothing to earn it. We not only salvage an otherwise desolate time of year, we make it the best time of year.

Dan Harmon (b. 1973) American writer, producer, entertainer
“Drunk High Christmas Greetings!” blog entry, DanHarmon.com (26 Dec 2008)
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Added on 17-Dec-20 | Last updated 17-Dec-20
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Angels are souls blown into lights,
Jinn are souls blown into winds,
and Human Beings are souls blown into shapes.

Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240) Arab Andalusian Muslim scholar, Sufi mystic, poet, philosopher [ابن عربي‎‎]
(Attributed)
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Added on 24-Nov-20 | Last updated 24-Nov-20
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Whether listening to the shrieks of the Shaman sorcerers of Tatary, or to the odes of Pindar, or to the sacred songs of Paul Gerhard; whether looking at the pagodas of China, or the Parthenon of Athens, or the cathedral of Cologne; whether reading the sacred books of the Buddhists, of the Jews, or of those who worship God in spirit and in truth, we ought to be able to say, like the Emperor Maximilian, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto;” or, translating his words somewhat freely, “I am a man; nothing pertaining to man I deem foreign to myself.”

Max Müller (1823-1900) German-British philologist, Orientalist, religious studies founder
Chips from a German Workshop, “Lecture on the Vedas” (1866)
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Added on 13-Nov-20 | Last updated 13-Nov-20
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What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
Zorba the Greek, ch. 23 (1946)
Added on 9-Nov-20 | Last updated 9-Nov-20
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“People aren’t either wicked or noble,” the hook-handed man said. “They’re like chef salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Grim Grotto (2004)
Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 21-Oct-20
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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks.

John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist
The Yosemite, ch. 15 “Hetch Hetchy Valley” (1912)
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Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 21-Oct-20
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A lot of the arguments about religion going on at the moment spring from a rather inept understanding of religious truth. Our notion changed during the early modern period when we became convinced that the only path to any kind of truth was reason. That works beautifully for science but doesn’t work so well for the humanities. Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life.

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 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
The Saviors of God [Salvatores Dei], “The Preparation: Second Duty,” #22 (1923) [tr. Friar [1960])
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Which is it? Is man one of God’s blunders? Or is God one of man’s blunders?

[Wie? ist der Mensch nur ein Fehlgriff Gottes? Oder Gott nur ein Fehlgriff des Menschen?]

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
Twilight of the Idols [Die Götzen-Dämmerung], “Apophthegms and Darts [Sprüche und Pfeile]” #7 (1889)

Alt. trans.:
  • "How is it? Is man only a mistake of God? Or God only a mistake of man? --" [tr. Common (1896)]
  • "What? Is man just one of God's mistakes? Or is God just one of man's? --" [tr. Large (1998),"Maxims and Barbs"]
  • "What? Is man just God's mistake? Or is God just man's mistake?" [tr. Norman (2005), "Arrows and Epigrams"]
  • "What? Is man merely a mistake of God's? Or God merely a mistake of man's?" [tr. Hollingdale (1968)]
  • "Which is it? Is man only a blunder of God? Or is God only a blunder of man?" [tr. Ludovici (1911), "Maxims and Missiles"]
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When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men’s souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
BBC Radio broadcast (16 Jun 1941)
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First published in the Imperial Review (28 Jun 1941).
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The history of the human race is a continual struggle from darkness towards light. It is, therefore, to no purpose to discuss the use of knowledge; man wants to know, and when he ceases to do so, he is no longer man.

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian
“A New Route to the North Pole,” The Forum (Aug 1891)
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For the wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.

Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) American author, poet
Saint-Watching, “Running to Paradise” (1969)
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That men should pray and fight for their own freedom, and yet keep others in slavery, is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and, perhaps, impious part, but the history of mankind is filled with instances of human improprieties.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
Letter to Rev. Doctor Price (27 Sep 1785)
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Added on 23-Sep-20 | Last updated 23-Sep-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)
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Man, in his present state, appears to be a degraded creature; his best gold is mixed with dross, and his best motives are very far from being pure and free from earth and impurity.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
Letter to Lindley Murray (22 Aug 1774)
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As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.

[Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 6, ll. 146-49 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Lattimore (1951)]
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Like the race of leaves
The race of man is, that deserves no question; nor receives
My being any other breath? The wind in autumn strows
The earth with old leaves, then the spring the woods with new endows;
And so death scatters men on earth, so life puts out again
Man’s leavy issue.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 141ff]

Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies,
They fall successive, and successive rise:
So generations in their course decay;
So flourish these, when those are past away.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]


For, as the leaves, such is the race of man.
The wind shakes down the leaves, the budding grove
Soon teems with others, and in spring they grow.
So pass mankind. One generation meets
Its destined period, and a new succeeds.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 175ff]

As is the race of leaves, even such is the race of men. Some leaves the wind sheds upon the ground, but the fructifying wood produces others, and these grow up in the season of spring. Such is the generation of men; one produces, another ceases.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

The race of man is as the race of leaves:
Of leaves, one generation by the wind
Is scatter'd on the earth; another soon
In spring's luxuriant verdure bursts to light.
So with our race; these flourish, those decay.
[tr. Derby (1864)]


Even as are the generations of leaves such are those likewise of men; the leaves that be the wind scattereth on the earth, and the forest buddeth and putteth forth more again, when the season of spring is at hand; so of the generations of men one putteth forth and another ceaseth.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

Men come and go as leaves year by year upon the trees. Those of autumn the wind sheds upon the ground, but when spring returns the forest buds forth with fresh vines. Even so is it with the generations of mankind, the new spring up as the old are passing away.
[tr. Butler (1898)]


Even as are the generations of leaves, such are those also of men. As for the leaves, the wind scattereth some upon the earth, but the forest, as it bourgeons, putteth forth others when the season of spring is come; even so of men one generation springeth up and another passeth away.
[tr. Murray (1924)]


Very like leaves upon this earth are the generations of men -- old leaves, cast on the ground by wind, young leaves the greening forest bears when spring comes in. So mortals pass; one generation flowers even as another dies away.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]


Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.
[tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 171-75]
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Man is rated the highest animal, at least among all animals who returned the questionnaire.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
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Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
I Shall Wear Midnight (2010)
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Man’s greatest blunder has been in trying to make peace with the skies instead of making peace with his neighbors.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
In The Philistine (Sep 1910)
    (Source)

Reprinted in The Philosophy of Elbert Hubbard, "Epigrams" (1916) [ed. Hoyle].
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It is not murder which is forgiven but the killer, his person as it appears in circumstances and intentions. The trouble with the Nazi criminals was precisely that they renounced voluntarily all personal qualities, as if nobody were left to be either punished or forgiven. They protested time and again that they had never done anything out of their own initiative, that they had no intentions whatsoever, good or bad, and that they only obeyed orders.

To put it another way: the greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Some Questions of Moral Philosophy,” Lecture (1965-66)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Responsibility and Judgment (2003).
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There is a raging tiger inside every man whom God put on this earth. Every man worthy of the respect of his children spends his life building inside himself a cage to pen that tiger in.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
America Comes of Middle Age: Columns, 1950-1962 (1963)
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I must respekt thoze, I suppose, who never make enny blunders, but I don’t luv them.

[I must respect those, I suppose, who never make any blunders, but I don’t love them.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Affurisms” (1874)
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MORDEN: Think about it, Captain. Look at the long history of human struggle. Six thousand years of recorded wars, bloodshed, atrocities beyond description. But look at what came out of all that. We’ve gone to the stars. Split the atom. Written sonnets. We would never have evolved this far if we hadn’t been at each other’s throats, evolving our way up inch by inch.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×22 “Z’Ha’Dum” (28 Oct 1996)
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To believe that man’s aggressiveness or territoriality is in the nature of the beast is to mistake some men for all men, contemporary society for all possible societies, and, by a remarkable transformation, to justify what is as what needs must be; social repression becomes a response to, rather than a cause of, human violence.

Leon Eisenberg (1922-2009) American psychiatrist and medical educator
“The Human Nature of Human Nature,” Science (14 Apr 1972)
    (Source)

Based on an address at Faculty of Medicine Day, McGill University Sesquicentennial Celebration, Montreal, Canada (1 Oct 1971).
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For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror, most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, ch. 14 (1963)
    (Source)

Speaking of resistance to Nazi atrocities.
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Pessimism about man serves to maintain the status quo. It is a luxury for the affluent, a sop to the guilt of the politically inactive, a comfort to those who continue to enjoy the amenities of privilege.

Leon Eisenberg (1922-2009) American psychiatrist and medical educator
“The Human Nature of Human Nature,” Science (14 Apr 1972)
    (Source)

Based on an address at Faculty of Medicine Day, McGill University Sesquicentennial Celebration, Montreal, Canada (1 Oct 1971).
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With St. Paul it is quite different. He is a saint without a luminous halo. His personal characteristics are too distinct and too human to make idealisation easy. For this reason he has never been the object of popular devotion. Shadowy figures like St. Joseph and St. Anne have been divinised and surrounded with picturesque legends; but St. Paul has been spared the honour or the ignominy of being coaxed and wheedled by the piety of paganised Christianity. No tender fairy-tales are attached to his cult; he remains for us what he was in the flesh. It is even possible to feel an active dislike for him.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“St. Paul” (1914), Outspoken Essays: First Series (1914)
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The brain is only three pounds of blood, dream, and electricity, and yet from that mortal stew come Beethoven’s sonatas. Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz. Audrey Hepburn’s wish to spend the last month of her life in Somalia, saving children.

Diane Ackerman (b. 1948) American poet, author, naturalist
A Natural History of Love, “Brain-Stem Sonata: The Neurophysiology of Love” (1994)
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Man proposes, and God disposes.

[Ordina l’uomo e Dio dispone.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 46, st. 35 (1532)
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God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
“Moralités” (1932), Tel Quel 1 (1941)
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One does not become fully human painlessly.

Rollo May (1909-1994) American psychotherapist
Foreword to Ronald S. Valle and Mark King, Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology (1978)
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We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. Ideas of the Stone Age exist side by side with the latest scientific thought. Only a fraction of mankind has emerged from the Dark Ages, and in the most lucid brains, as Logan Pearsall Smith has said, we come upon “nests of woolly caterpillars.”

Bergen Evans (1904-1978) American educator, writer, lexicographer
The Natural History of Nonsense, ch. 1 “Adam’s Navel” (1946)

The Smith reference.
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Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is just a thousand thousand smears of paint. Michelangelo’s David is just a million hits with a hammer. We’re all of us a million bits put together the right way.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Diary (2003)
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The human baby, the human being, is a mosaic of animal and angel.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
The Ascent of Man, ch. 1 (1973)
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CHORUS [LEADER]:
Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly, calamitous creatures of clay!

[ἄγε δὴ φύσιν ἄνδρες ἀμαυρόβιοι, φύλλων γενεᾷ προσόμοιοι,
ὀλιγοδρανέες, πλάσματα πηλοῦ, σκιοειδέα φῦλ᾽ ἀμενηνά,
ἀπτῆνες ἐφημέριοι ταλαοὶ βροτοὶ ἀνέρες εἰκελόνειροι]

Aristophanes (c.450-c.388 BC) Athenian comedic playwright
The Birds, ll. 685-687 (414 BC) [tr. Frere (1839)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Come now, ye men, in nature darkling, like to the race of leaves, of little might, figures of clay, shadowy feeble tribes, wingless creatures of a day, miserable mortals, dream-like men." [tr. Hickie (1853)]
  • "Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race, whose life is but darkness, as unreal as a shadow, the illusion of a dream." [tr. O'Neill (1938)]
  • "Come, ye of mortal mould, whose life is spent in darkness, ye who are like to the race of leaves, ye that are weak in action, ye images of clay, ye feeble shadowy tribes, ye wingless creatures of a day, ye miserable mortals, ye men like unto the stuff which dreams are made of ...." [tr. Warter (1830)]
  • "Now then, ye men by nature just faintly alive, like to the race of leaves, do-littles, artefacts of clay, tribes shadowy and feeble, wingless ephemerals, suffering mortals, dreamlike people ...." [tr. Henderson (1998)]
  • "Ye men who are dimly existing below, who perish and fade as the leaf, / Pale, woebegone, shadowlike, spiritless folk, life feeble and wingless and brief, / Frail castings in clay, who are gone in a day, like a dream full of sorrow and sighing ...." [tr. Rogers (1906)]
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CHORUS: Full of wiles, full of guile, at all times, in all ways, are the children of Men.

[δολερὸν μὲν ἀεὶ κατὰ πάντα δὴ τρόπον / πέφυκεν ἄνθρωπος]

Aristophanes (c.450-c.388 BC) Athenian comedic playwright
The Birds, ll. 451-2 (414 BC) [tr. Rogers (1906)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Man naturally is deceitful, ever indeed, and always, in every one thing." [tr. Warter (1830)]
  • "Man is naturally deceitful ever, in every way!" [tr. Hickie (1853)]
  • "Man is a truly cunning creature." [abridged tr. O'Neill (1938)]
  • "A treacherous thing always in every way is human nature." [tr. Henderson (1998)]
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Art — the one achievement of Man which has made the long trip up from all fours seem well advised.

James Thurber (1894-1961) American cartoonist and writer
Forum and Century (Jun 1939)

Also quoted in Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1939).
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The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) American fabulist [Howard Phillips Lovecraft]
“The Call of Cthulhu,” ch. 1, opening words (1928)
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We thus learn that Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) English naturalist
The Descent of Man, ch. 21 (2nd ed., 1875)
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Do not only look
For gentlefolk in castles: everywhere,
In humble dwellings and in haylofts, too,
The hearts of men are often kind and true.

[Che non pur per cittadi e per castella,
Ma per tuguri ancora e per fenili
Spesso si trovan gli uomini gentili.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 14, st. 62 (1532) [tr. Reynolds (1973)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.: "For not alone dwells Hospitality / In court and city; but ofttimes we find / In loft and cottage men of gentle kind." [tr. Rose (1831)]
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