Quotations about   intellect

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Intellect needs to be understood not as some kind of a claim against the other human excellences for which a fatally high price has to be paid, but rather as a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consummated.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Part 1, ch. 2 “On the Unpopularity of Intellect” (1962)
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Added on 18-Nov-20 | Last updated 18-Nov-20
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The case against intellect is founded upon a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice, and the “purely” theoretical mind is so much disesteemed. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism. Once the validity of these antagonisms is accepted, then the case for intellect, and by extension for the intellectual, is lost. Who cares to risk sacrificing warmth of emotion, solidity of character, practical capacity, or democratic sentiment in order to pay deference to a type of man who at best is deemed to be merely clever and at worst may even be dangerous?

Douglas R. Hofstadter (b. 1945) American academic, cognitive scientist, author
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Part 1, ch. 2 “On the Unpopularity of Intellect” (1962)
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Added on 11-Nov-20 | Last updated 11-Nov-20
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He says, You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish Sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish from the cinemas it will rot in your head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) Irish-American teacher and writer
Angela’s Ashes, ch. 8 (1996)
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Added on 27-Aug-20 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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At twenty the will rules; at thirty the intellect; at forty the judgment.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], #298 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Alt trans.: "When one is twenty, the will reigns; a thirty, the intelligence; at forty, judgment." [tr. Maurer (1992)]
Added on 14-Feb-20 | Last updated 14-Feb-20
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Wisdom is corrupted by ambition, even when the quality of the ambition is intellectual. For ambition, even of this quality, is but a form of self-love ….

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
Notes from Life, “Wisdom” (1847)
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Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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Character is higher than intellect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
The American Scholar, Sec. 3 (1837)
Added on 3-Jan-17 | Last updated 3-Jan-17
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A house is no home unless it contain food and fire for the mind as well as for the body.

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) American journalist, critic, transcendentalist, reformer [Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli]
Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)
Added on 6-Oct-16 | Last updated 6-Oct-16
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Our Passions, Ambition, Avarice, Love, Resentment &c possess so much metaphysical Subtilty and so much overpowering Eloquence, that they insinuate themselves into the Understanding and the Conscience and convert both to their Party. And I may be deceived as much as any of them, when I Say, that Power must never be trusted without a Check.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson (2 Feb 1816)
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Added on 3-Aug-16 | Last updated 3-Aug-16
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She hung up and I set out the chess board. I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armour, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) American novelist
The Long Goodbye, ch. 24 (1953)
Added on 26-Jul-16 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.

Sterne - desire of knowledge - wist_info quote

Laurence Sterne (1713-1786) Anglo-Irish novelist, Anglican clergyman
Tristam Shandy, Book 1, ch. 3 (1760-1767)
Added on 3-Mar-16 | Last updated 3-Mar-16
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Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) French author
Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27)
Added on 8-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Feb-16
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I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consultin’ with the rain;
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’,
If I only had a brain.

E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (1896-1981) American lyricist [Edgar Yipsel Harburg, b. Isidore Hochberg]
“If I Only Had a Brain,” The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Added on 3-Feb-16 | Last updated 3-Feb-16
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One of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely to intelligence.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Transformations of Man, 7.1 (1956)
Added on 28-Jul-15 | Last updated 28-Jul-15
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It is better to be a beggar than ignorant; for a beggar only wants money, but an ignorant person wants humanity.

Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435 – c. 356 BC) Cyrenaic philosopher, Hedonist
(Attributed)
Added on 12-Jun-15 | Last updated 12-Jun-15
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No state can be more destitute than that of a him who, when the delites of sense forsake him, has no pleasures of the mind.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Plays of William Shakespeare, “Cymbeline” (1765)
Added on 10-Apr-15 | Last updated 10-Apr-15
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And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta (4 Feb 1968)
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See Matthew 23:11-12.
Added on 3-Apr-15 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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Man can learn nothing unless he proceeds from the known to the unknown.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 4 (1928)
Added on 20-Feb-15 | Last updated 20-Feb-15
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If we do not plant it [knowledge] when young, it will give us no shade when we are old.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (11 Dec 1747)
Added on 5-Jan-15 | Last updated 5-Jan-15
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If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Attributed)

Attributed to Einstein, but no definitive citation found. See here for more discussion.
Added on 9-May-14 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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It behooves all men who wish to excel the other animals to strive with might and main not to pass through life unheralded, like the beasts, which Nature has fashioned groveling and slaves to the belly. All our power, on the contrary, lies in both mind and body; we employ the mind to rule, the body rather to serve; the one we have in common with the Gods, the other with the brutes. Therefore I find it becoming, in seeking renown, that we should employ the resources of the intellect rather than those of brute strength, to the end that, since the span of life which we enjoy is short, we may make the memory of our lives as long as possible.

[Omnis homines qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus summa ope niti decet ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit. Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est; animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est. Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa qua fruimur brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Bellum Catilinae [The War of Catiline; The Conspiracy of Catiline], ch. 1, sent. 1-3 [tr. Rolfe (1931)]
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Original Latin. Alt. trans.:

"To maintain the dignity of human nature is the true ambition of man; and to that end it becomes the duty of all, who aspire to distinguish themselves from the race of inferior animals, to exert their most strenuous efforts, lest they pass their days in silence, like the herds of the field, formed by nature prone to the earth, and governed altogether by the incitements of appetite. Man is composed of mind and body, and in the exercise of both consists the energy of his nature. The mind is the directing principle; the body is subservient. The former we participate with the gods; the latter we hold in common with the brute creation. Hence the fame acquired by our intellectual powers has ever appeared to me the truest glory, far superior to all that can be achieved by mere corporeal vigor; and since the life we enjoy is frail and transitory, it should be the endeavour of every man to extend his fame, and leave a lasting memorial of his existence." [tr. Murphy (1807)]

"Men who would act up to the dignity of their nature ought not to pass their lives in obscurity, like the beasts of the field, formed with bodies prone to the earth, and under necessary subjection to their appetites. Now, our faculties are twofold; those of the soul, and those of the body: the soul was designed for sovereign command, the body for subjection: the former we enjoy in common with the gods, the latter with the brute creation. So that to me it appears more agreeable to nature to pursue glory by the abilities of the mind than those of the body; and as our lives are but of short duration, it should be our study to render our memory immortal." [tr. Rose (1831)]

"It becomes all men, who are anxious that they should excel other animals, to strive with their utmost might that they may not pass their life in silence like cattle, which nature has formed with their faces downwards, and slaves to their belly. But all our vigour is placed in the mind and in the body. We for the most part make use of the government of the mind, the submission of the body. The one we have in common with the gods, and the other with brutes. Wherefore it appears to me more proper to seek for glory by the abilities of the mind rather than by those of mere force; and since that life which we enjoy is short, to make the memory of ourselves as lasting as possible." [Source (1841)]

"It becomes all men, who desire to excel other animals, to strive, to the utmost of their power, not to pass through life in obscurity, like the beasts of the field, which nature has formed groveling and subservient to appetite. All our power is situated in the mind and in the body. Of the mind we rather employ the government; of the body, the service. The one is common to us with the gods; the other with the brutes. It appears to me, therefore, more reasonable to pursue glory by means of the intellect than of bodily strength, and, since the life which we enjoy is short, to make the remembrance of us as lasting as possible." [tr. Watson (1867)]

"Every man who is anxious to excel the lower animals should strive with all his power not to pass his life in obscurity like the brute beasts, whom nature has made the grovelling slaves of their belly. Now our whole ability resides jointly in our mind and body. In the case of the mind it is its power of guidance, in the case of the body its obedient service that we rather use, sharing the former faculty with the gods, the latter with the brute creation. This being so, I think it right to seek repute by my powers rather of intellect than of strength, and since the very life which we enjoy is short, to make the memory of us as abiding as may be." [tr. Pollard (1882)]

"All persons who are enthusiastic that they should transcend the other animals ought to strive with the utmost effort not to pass through a life of silence like the cattle, which nature has fashioned to be prone and obedient to their stomachs. Our entire power resides in the mind as well as the body: we use the mind to command, the body to serve; the former we share wit the gods, the latter with the beasts. Therefore it seems to me more correct to seek glory with our intellectual rather than with our physical resources, and, because the very life that we enjoy is short, to ensure that a recollection of ourselves lasts as long as possible. [tr. Woodman (2007)]
Added on 10-Apr-14 | Last updated 23-Oct-20
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For the renown which riches or beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession.

[Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Bellum Catilinae [The War of Catiline; The Conspiracy of Catiline], ch. 1, sent. 4 [tr. Rolfe (1931)]
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Original Latin. Alt. trans.:
  • "For what are all the advantages of wealth, and all the graces of form and feature? mere precarious gifts, that soon fade and moulder away. It is virtue, and virtue only, that ennobles the human character, and lives in the memory of the after-times." [tr. Murphy (1807)]
  • "For the splendour derived from riches and beauty is short-lived and frail, virtue alone confers immortality." [tr. Rose (1831)
  • "For the glory of riches and beauty is fickle and frail; virtue is accounted bright and everlasting." [Source (1841)]
  • "For the glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and perishable; that of intellectual power is illustrious and immortal." [tr. Watson (1867)]
  • "The glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and frail, but personal merit is held in eternal honour." [tr. Pollard (1882)]
  • "The glory of riches and appearance is fleeting and fragile, but to have prowess is something distinguished and everlasting. [tr. Woodman (2007)]
  • "For the fame of riches and beauty is fickle and frail, while virtue is eternally excellent."
Added on 3-Apr-14 | Last updated 23-Oct-20
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Reason, devoid of the purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalizations.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” Christian Century (13 Apr 1960)
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Added on 26-Apr-10 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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To live is like to love — all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Life and Love” (1912)
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Added on 27-Nov-08 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.

Alfred Whitney Griswold (1906–1963) American historian, educator
“A Little Learning,” address to students, Phillips Academy, Andover (Spring 1952)

Reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (Nov 1952)
Added on 8-Feb-08 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist and mathematician
Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, 2.27 [ed. D. Brewster (1855)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Mar-14
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Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.

[La pensée est le labeur de l’intelligence, la rêverie en est la volupté.]

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Les Misérables, Vol. 4 “St. Denis,” Book 2 “Eponine,” ch. 1 “The Field of the Lark” (1862) [tr. Wilbour]

Alt trans. [Denny (1980)]: "Thought is the work of the intellect, reveries its self-indulgence." Cited as Part IV, ch. 2 "Eponine."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question and discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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