Quotations about:
    irrationality


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Didst thou but know the inly touch of love;
Thou wouldst as soon go kindle fire with snow,
As seek to quench the fire of love with words.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, sc. 7, l. 18ff [Julia] (c. 1590)
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Added on 29-Jun-22 | Last updated 29-Jun-22
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Thinking is difficult, therefore let the herd pronounce judgment!

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, ch. 2 (1959) [tr. Hull]
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The motto of the "relatively unconscious man" who "clings to the commonplace, the obvious, the probable, the collectively valid." Reprinted in the The Collected Works of C.G. Jung - Civilization in Transition, vol. 10, ¶ 653.

Probable source of the frequently-attributed (but unfound) "Thinking is difficult. That's why most people judge."
 
Added on 26-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Politics is mostly non-rational; the world is suffering from some kind of mental disorder which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“As I Please” column, Tribune (29 Nov 1946)
 
Added on 15-Nov-21 | Last updated 15-Nov-21
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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, #209 (19 Dec 1749)
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Added on 1-Apr-21 | Last updated 11-Oct-22
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The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.

Sam Harris (b. 1967) American author, philosopher, neuroscientist
The End of Faith (2004)
 
Added on 8-Mar-21 | Last updated 8-Mar-21
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I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of the people.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist and mathematician
(Attributed)
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Supposedly after the ruinous stock price collapse of the "South Sea Bubble" in 1720, in which Newton lost £20,000.

The earliest mention of this is found in Joseph Spence, Second Memorandum Book (1756), collected in Joseph Spence (ed. Samuel Weller Singer), Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men (1820). There a Lord Radnor is quoted as saying: "When Sir Isaac Newton was asked about the continuance of the rising of South Sea stock? — He answered, 'that he could not calculate the madness of the people.'" (Note that this supposedly takes place before the bubble bursts.)

Variants:
  • I can calculate the motions of erratic bodies, but not the madness of a multitude. ["Mammon and the Money Market," The Church of England Quarterly Review (1850)]
  • I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.
  • I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies but not the madness of men.
  • I can calculate the movement of stars, but not the madness of men.
 
Added on 14-Jan-21 | Last updated 14-Jan-21
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There are two kinds of fears: rational and irrational — or, in simpler terms, fears that make sense and fears that don’t. For instance, the Baudelaire orphans have a fear of Count Olaf, which makes perfect sense, because he is an evil man who wants to destroy them. But if they were afraid of lemon meringue pie, this would be an irrational fear, because lemon meringue pie is delicious and would never hurt a soul. Being afraid of a monster under the bed is perfectly rational, because there may in fact be a monster under your bed at any time, ready to eat you all up, but fear of realtors is an irrational fear. Realtors, as I’m sure you know, are people who assist in the buying and selling of houses. Besides occasionally wearing an ugly yellow coat, the worst a realtor can do to you is show you a house that you find ugly, so it is completely irrational to be terrified of them.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Wide Window (2000)
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Added on 6-Jan-21 | Last updated 6-Jan-21
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Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
“Intelligence and Drama,” The American Mercury (Dec 1925)
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Reprinted in House of Satan (1926).
 
Added on 7-Dec-20 | Last updated 7-Dec-20
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Protestant theology has restricted the meaning of Faith too much — explaining it as subjective assurance or trust. It has sometimes been assumed that this attitude of throwing oneself into the arms of Divine grace may dispense us from the duty of forming rational convictions, and of directing our lives in accordance with them. Faith and fact come to be divorced. Either they are supposed to be directed to different objects, or we are told that the same proposition may be true for faith and false for science — in which case we are on a quicksand, and are driven to play fast and loose with veracity.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
Assessments and Anticipations, ch. 7 “Faith” (1929)
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Added on 21-Sep-20 | Last updated 21-Sep-20
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Idiosyncratic belief systems which are shared by only a few adherents are likely to be regarded as delusional. Belief systems which may be just as irrational but which are shared by millions are called world religions. When comparing the beliefs held by psychotics with the religious beliefs held by normal people, it is impossible to say that one set of beliefs is delusional while the other is sane.

Anthony Storr (1920-2001) English psychiatrist and author
Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners and Madmen, ch. 10 (1996)
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Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 11-Feb-21
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Anger is the common substitute for logic among those who have no evidence for what they desperately want to believe.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“The Tyrannosaurus Prescription”
 
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the Trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp (30 Jul 1816)
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Added on 28-Feb-11 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, ch. 5 (1876)
 
Added on 31-Aug-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an Atheist by scripture.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
The American Crisis #5, “To General Sir William Howe” (23 Mar 1778)
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Sometimes shortened as: "To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead."
 
Added on 18-Jul-07 | Last updated 16-Feb-21
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One man’s perfectly rational and objective decision making may be another man’s utter insanity.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Ron Ward
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Nov-21
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History warns us, however, that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions; and, as matters now stand, it is hardly rash to anticipate that, in another twenty years, the new generation, educated under the influences of the present day, will be in danger of accepting the main doctrines of the ‘Origin of Species’ with as little reflection, and it may be with as little justification, as so many of our contemporaries, twenty years ago, rejected them. Against any such a consummation let us all devoutly pray; for the scientific spirit is of more value than its products, and irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
“The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species,” lecture, Royal Institution (19 Mar 1880)
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First printed in Nature: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science (6 May 1880).
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Nov-21
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To let a sudden fit of anger make you forget the dangers you risk for yourself and for those who are nearest and dearest to you — is this not clouded judgment?

[A. 一朝之忿、忘其身以及其親、非惑與。]

[B. 一朝之忿忘其身以及其亲非惑与]

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 12, verse 21 (12.21) (6th C. BC – AD 3rd C.) [tr. Chin (2014)]
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Waley suggests the internal rhymes in both the questions in 12.21 and this particular answer mean they are quotations from an outside source, a "didactic poem," and thus carry additional meaning now lost.

(Source (Chinese) A, B). Alternate translations:

For a morning's anger to disregard one's own life, and involve that of his parents; -- is not this a case of delusion?
[tr. Legge (1861)]

And as to illusions, is not one morning's fit of anger, causing a man to forget himself, and even involving the consequences those who are near and dear to him -- is not that an illusion?
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

If a man allows himself to lose his temper and forget himself of a morning, in such a way as to become careless for the safety of is own person and for the safety of his parents and friends: -- is that not a case of a great delusion in life?
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

For a morning's anger to forget his own safety and involve that of his relatives, is not this irrational?
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

For one morning’s temper to jeopard one's life and even that of one's relatives, isn’t that hallucination?
[tr. Pound (1933)]

Because of a morning's blind rage to forget one's own safety and even endanger one's kith and kin, is that not a case of divided mind?
[tr. Waley (1938)]

To let a sudden fit of anger make you forget the safety of your own person or even that of your parents, is that not misguided judgment?
[tr. Lau (1979)]

To be oblivious of one's own person and even of one's own parents all because of a morning's anger -- is this not a confusion?
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

To endanger oneself and one's kin in a sudden fit of anger: is this not an instance of incoherence?
[tr. Leys (1997)]

If one has any anger so that one forgets one's pro0per behavior to take the anger upon the relatives, is not one confused?
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #307]

In a moment of rage to forget not only one's own person but even one's parents -- is this not being in a quandary?
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]
For the anger of a morning, to forget one's self and even one's kin, is that not a contradiction?
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

To endanger yourself and your family, all in a morning's blind rage -- is that not delusion?
[tr. Hinton (1998)]

To forget yourself in a moment of anger and thereby bring ruin upon both you and your family -- is this not an example of confusion?
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

Because of one morning's anger, to forget your own safety and even endanger those close to you -- this is faulty thinking, isn't it?
[tr. Watson (2007)]

If you act out of animus with the consequence of hurting yourelf and yoru loved ones, is that an example of delusion?
[tr. Li (2020)]

A common paraphrase of this is "When anger rises, think of the consequences." This is attributed to Confucius in Kang-Hi (K'ang-hsi, Kangxi) The Sacred Edict, Maxim #16 (1670, 1724) [tr. Milne (1817)]. An alternate translation is "In anger, think of the trouble" [tr. Baller (1892), ch. 16, sec. 15]
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Jan-23
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