Quotations about   irrationality

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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 (19 Dec 1749)
Added on 1-Apr-21 | Last updated 1-Apr-21
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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

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.)

  • 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)
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)

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)
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)
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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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)

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)

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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