Quotations about   insight

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Whether the particular revelation which you suppose to have been made to yourself were real or imaginary, your reason alone is the competent judge. For, dispute as long as we will on religious tenets, our reason at last must ultimately decide, as it is the only oracle which God has given us to determine between what really comes from him, & the phantasms of a disordered or deluded imagination.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Miles King (26 Sep 1814)
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Added on 12-Sep-22 | Last updated 12-Sep-22
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If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.

[So sind ihm zwei Eigenschaften unentbehrlich: einmal ein Verstand, der auch in dieser gesteigerten Dunkelheit nicht ohne einige Spuren des inneren Lichts ist, die ihn zur Wahrheit führen, und dann Mut, diesem schwachen Lichte zu folgen.]

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) Prussian soldier, historian, military theorist
On War [Vom Kriege] Book 1, ch. 3 “On Military Genius ” (1832) [tr. Howard & Paret (1984)]
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(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

Now, if it is to get safely through this perpetual conflict with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: in the first place an understanding which, even in the midst of this intense obscurity, is not without some traces of inner light, which lead to the truth, and then the courage to follow this faint light.
[tr. Graham (1874)]

Now if it is to get safely through this continual conflict with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: in the first place, an intellect which even in the midst of this intensified obscurity is not without some traces of inner light which lead to the truth, and next, courage to follow this faint light.
[tr. Jolles (1943)]

 
Added on 16-Aug-22 | Last updated 16-Aug-22
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We cannot judge either of the feelings or of the character of men with perfect accuracy, from their actions or their appearances in public; it is from their careless conversation, their half-finished sentences that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real character.

Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) Anglo-Irish writer, novelist
Castle Rackrent, Preface (1800)
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Added on 1-Oct-21 | Last updated 1-Oct-21
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To me, at least, the greatest blasphemy in the world is not the denial of God’s existence, but the claim that we have a pipeline to Him, and that all other claimants are wrong. This assertion is what plunged the world into the bloodiest of wars in the past, and might well do so again if the zealots had their way.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Strictly Personal” column (20 Jan 1985)


Reprinted in Clearing the Ground (1986)
 
Added on 30-Jun-21 | Last updated 30-Jun-21
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The highest exercise of imagination is not to devise what has no existence, but rather to perceive what really exists, though unseen by the outward eye, — not creation, but insight.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Table-talk”
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Added on 28-May-21 | Last updated 28-May-21
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We pick our friends not only because they are kind and enjoyable company, but also, perhaps more importantly, because they understand us for who we think we are.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Added on 30-Jan-20 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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“I truly don’t know her issues,” Weiss said. “But I’ve been in this line of work for a number of years, and my guesses are at least informed by experience.”

“Never a bad thing,” I said.

“Experience can inform,” he said. “It can also distort.”

“Sure,” I said. “But inexperience is rarely useful.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Rough Weather (2008)
 
Added on 21-Jun-17 | Last updated 21-Jun-17
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Observe a man’s actions; scrutinize his motives; take note of the things that give him pleasure. How, then, can he hide from you what he really is?

confucius-what-he-really-is-wist_info-quote

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 [Lun Yü], 2.10 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse] [tr. Giles (1907)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "See what a man does. Mark his motives. Examine in what things he rests. How can a man conceal his character?" [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "Observe [shi] what a man does. Look into [guan] what he has done [you]. Consider [cha] where he feels at home. How then can he hide his character?" [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "See what a man does; contemplate the path he has traversed; examine what he is at ease with. How, then, can he conceal himself?" [tr. Huang (1997)]
 
Added on 29-Nov-16 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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You must look into people as well as at them.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (4 Oct 1746)
 
Added on 11-Oct-16 | Last updated 11-Oct-16
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One sure window into a person’s soul is his reading list.

Tabor - reading list - wist_info quote

Mary B. W. Tabor (b. 1964) American journalist [Mary Britt Wellford Tabor]
“Book Notes,” New York Times (14 Jun 1995)
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Added on 18-Mar-16 | Last updated 18-Mar-16
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Another discovery which came out of my investigation was the fact that when a man gives his order to produce a definite result and stands by that order it seems to have the effect of giving him what might be termed a second sight which enables him to see right through ordinary problems. What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) Scottish-American scientist, inventor, engineer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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When we are convinced of some great truths, and feel our convictions keenly, we must not fear to express it, although others have said it before us. Every thought is new when an author expresses it in a manner peculiar to himself.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes] (1746) [tr. Lee (1903)]
 
Added on 12-Dec-13 | Last updated 12-Dec-13
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This hitteth the naile on the hed.

John Heywood (1497?-1580?) English playwright and epigrammist
Proverbes, Part 2, ch. 11 (1546)
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Added on 7-Oct-13 | Last updated 13-Jul-20
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The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath
Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci (1895)
 
Added on 8-Sep-09 | Last updated 19-Jan-16
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We too often forget that not only is there “a soul of goodness in things evil,” but very generally also, a soul of truth in things erroneous.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) English philosopher, naturalist
First Principles, Pt. I “The Unknowable,” ch. 1 “Religion and Science”” (1862)
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Quoting Shakespeare.
 
Added on 3-Dec-08 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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Men’s maxims reveal their characters.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], #107 (1746) [tr Stevens (1940)]


Alt. trans.: "The maxims of men reveal their hearts."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 31-Jul-18
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To be born enlightened: that is highest. To study and so become enlightened: that is next. To feel trapped and so study: that is third. To feel trapped and never study: that is the level of the common people, the lowest level.

[孔子曰、生而知之者、上也、學而知之者、次也、 困而學之、又其次也、困而不學、民斯爲下矣。]

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 [Lúnyǔ, 论语], Book 16, ch. 9 (16.9) (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Hinton (1998)]
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(Source (Chinese)). Alternate translations:

Those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of men. Those who learn, and so, readily, get possession of knowledge, are the next. Those who are dull and stupid, and yet compass the learning, are another class next to these. As to those who are dull and stupid and yet do not learn; -- they are the lowest of the people
[tr. Legge (1861), sec. 2]

They whose knowledge comes by birth are of all men the first (in understanding); they to whom it comes by study are next; men of poor intellectual capacity, who yet study, may be added as a yet inferior class; and lowest of all are they who are poor in intellect and never learn.
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

The highest class of men are those who are born with a natural understanding. The next class are those who acquire understanding by study and application. There are others again who are born naturally dull, but who yet by strenuous efforts, try to acquire understanding: such men may be considered the next class. Those who are born naturally dull and yet will not take the trouble to acquire understanding: such men are the lowest class of the people.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

Those who have innate wisdom take the biggest rank. Those who acquire it by study rank next. Those who learn despite natural limitations come next. But those who are of limited ability and yet will not learn, -- these form the lowest class of men.
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

Those who know instinctively (as at birth) are the highest; those who study and find out, come next; those who are hampered and study come next. Those who are boxed in and do not study constitute the lowest people.
[tr. Pound (1933)]

Best are those who are born wise. Next are those who become wise by learning. After come those who have to toil painfully in order acquire learning. Finally, to the lowest class of the common people belong those who toil painfully without ever managing to learn.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

Those who are born with knowledge are the highest. Next come those who attain knowledge through stud. Next again come those who turn to study after having been vexed by difficulties. The common people, in so far as they make no effort to study even after having been vexed by difficulties, are the lowest.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

Those who know things from birth come first; those who know things from study come next; those who study things although the find them difficult come next to them;and those who do not study because they find things difficult, that is to say the common people, come last.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

Those who have innate knowledge are the highest. Next come those who acquire knowledge through learning. Next again come those who learn through the trials of life. Lowest are the common people who go through the trials of life without learning anything.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

It is the first class that one gets the knowledge because of one's innateness, it is the second class that one gets the knowledge because of one's studying, it is the third class that one gets studying because of one's encountering the difficulty, and it is under the class that one who does not study even if one encounters difficulties.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #435]

Knowledge (zhi 知) acquired through a natural propensity for it is its highest level; knowledge acquired through study is the next highest; something learned in response to difficulties encountered is again the next highest. But those among the common people who do not learn even when vexed with difficulties -- they are at the bottom of the heap.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

Those who know from birth are the highest, those who know it from study are next, those who despite difficulties study it are next after that. Those who in difficulties do not study: these are the lowest.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

This appears to be the source of the following aphorism frequently attributed to Confucius, and recorded in James Wood, ed., Dictionary of Quotations (1893):

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

For more discussion of that Wood "translation":
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Jun-22
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