Quotations about   meaning of life

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The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Importance of Being Earnest, act 2 (Miss Prism) [1895]
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Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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I really love language; it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies, of our existence. Most of all, it allows us to laugh. We need language.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Macbeth, Act 5, sc. 5 (1606)
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Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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One of the things I like best about animals in the wild is that they’re always off on some errand. They have appointments to keep. It’s only we humans who wonder what we’re here for.

Diane Ackerman (b. 1948) American poet, author, naturalist
“In Praise of Bats,” The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
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Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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Man is the only animal who does not feel at home in nature, who can feel evicted from paradise, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, ch. 10 (1973)
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Sometimes elided, "Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem he has to solve."
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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In short, Mort was one of those people who are more dangerous than a bag full of rattlesnakes. He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe. Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 23-Feb-18 | Last updated 23-Feb-18
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There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
“Salt,” Counsels by the Way (1921 ed.)
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Added on 13-Dec-17 | Last updated 13-Dec-17
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HAL9000: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver (b. 1935) American poet
“The Summer Day,” New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 (1992)
Added on 1-Nov-17 | Last updated 1-Nov-17
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What Man seeks, to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food. He denies that life bounces along at random, at the mercy of events, in sound and in fury. He wants it always to be directed, aimed toward a goal, like an arrow.

François Jacob (1920-2013) French biologist, Nobel prize winner in Medicine
The Statue Within: An Autobiography (1987) [tr. Philip (1988)]
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Added on 18-Sep-17 | Last updated 18-Sep-17
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There may be no good reason for things to be the way they are.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolations for Unpopularity,” sec. 4 (2000)
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Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1947) American anthropologist
An Anthropologist at Work, Journal Entry, 7 Jan 1913 (1959)
Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 2-Sep-17
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Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death. This leads to endless invention of religions. While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important. The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe — these are paramount questions, Ben; they can never be trivial. Science hasn’t solved them — and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, Part 4, ch. 33 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "uncut" original version (1960): "Self-aware man is so built that he cannot believe in his own extinction ... and this automatically leads to endless invention of religions. While this involuntary conviction of immortality by no means proves immortality to be a fact, the questions generated by this conviction are overwhelmingly important ... whether we can answer them or not, or prove what answers we suspect. The nature of life, how the ego hooks into the physical body, the problem of the ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe -- these are paramount questions Ben; they can never be trivial. Science can't, or hasn't, coped with any of them -- and who am I to sneer at religions for trying to answer them, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can't rule Him out because He owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion that I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"
Added on 11-Aug-17 | Last updated 11-Aug-17
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An aim in life is the only fortune worth the finding; and it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Amateur Emigrant, ch. 4 “Steerage Types” (1895)
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Added on 30-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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All life is nucleic acid; the rest is commentary.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“Science: Beginning with Bone,” Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1987)
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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The whole fun of living is trying to make something better.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 9-Oct-15 | Last updated 9-Oct-15
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If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)
Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose; all other things, to reign, to lay up treasure, to build, are, at most, but little appendices and props.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Of Experience,” Essays, Vol 3, ch. 13 [ed. Hazlitt, tr. Cotton]
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Added on 6-Apr-15 | Last updated 6-Apr-15
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Man seeks objectives that enable him to convert the attainment of every goal into a means for the attainment of a new and more desirable goal. The ultimate objective in such a sequence cannot be obtainable; otherwise its attainment would put an end to the process. An end that satisfies these conditions is an ideal …. Thus the formulation and pursuit of ideals is a means by which to put meaning and significance into his life and into the history of which he is part.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
On Purposeful Systems, Vol. 6 (1972) [with R Lincoln and F Emery]
Added on 26-Feb-15 | Last updated 26-Feb-15
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The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.

Bill Hicks (1961-1994) American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, musician [William Melvin "Bill" Hicks]
Revelations (1993)
Added on 30-Jan-15 | Last updated 30-Jan-15
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Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“A Psalm of Life” (1838)
Added on 14-Jan-15 | Last updated 14-Jan-15
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Reason is incompetent to answer any fundamental questions about God, or morality, or the meaning of life.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932)
Added on 2-Dec-14 | Last updated 2-Dec-14
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Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 203 (24 Nov 2013)
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Added on 3-Sep-14 | Last updated 3-Sep-14
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What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other….

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
To the Lighthouse, Part 3, ch. 3 (1927)
Added on 16-Jun-14 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
Speech, Dundee (10 Oct 1908)
Added on 26-May-14 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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God made life to be lived and not to be known.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American-British poet, critic, playwright [Thomas Stearns Eliot]
“East Coker” (1940), Four Quartets (1943)
Added on 20-Nov-09 | Last updated 26-Apr-16
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Standing in the presence of the Unknown, all have the same right to think, and all are equally interested in the great question of origin and destiny. All I claim, all I plead for, is liberty of thought and expression. That is all.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
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The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Moving Pictures (1990)
Added on 19-Mar-08 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) American educator
Baccalaureate address, Antioch College, Ohio (1859)

Final public address.
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Happiness is not the end of life, character is.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Life Thoughts: Gathered from the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (1858)
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Life may have no meaning. Or even worse, it may have a meaning of which I disapprove.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots #1347
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If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
“Answers to Questions on Christianity”
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Jul-15
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When one remembers that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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See also this.
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The longing for certainty and repose is in every human mind. But certainty generally is an illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man.

Holmes - certainty and repose - wist_info quote

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
“The Path of Law,” 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897)
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If a man hasn’t discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Detroit (23 Jun 1963)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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