Quotations about   meaning

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Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
— By Order of the Author

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “Notice” (1884)
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Added on 12-Apr-18 | Last updated 12-Apr-18
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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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This ideal University of Life … would never take the importance of culture for granted. It would know that culture is kept alive by a constant respectful questioning — not by an excessive and snobbish attitude of respect. Therefore, rather than leaving it hanging why one was reading Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, an ideal course covering nineteenth-century literature would ask plainly “What is it that adultery ruins in a marriage?” Students in the ideal University of Life would end up knowing much the same material as their colleagues in other institutions, they would simply have learned it under a very different set of headings.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
“Reclaiming the Intellectual Life for Posterity,” Liberal Education (Spring 2009)
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Added on 18-Aug-17 | Last updated 18-Aug-17
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It should be quite unnecessary to point the moral; the right telling of the story should be sufficient. Do not moralize, but let the facts produce their own moral in the child’s mind.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Education and the Good Life, ch. 11 (1926)
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Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is timid and dislikes going into the water.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft] (1882)
Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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Clarity in language depends on clarity in thought.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
Interview with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN (10 May 1998)
Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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There is a difference between tragedy and blind brutal calamity. Tragedy has meaning, and there is dignity in it. Tragedy stands with its shoulders stiff and proud. But there is no meaning, no dignity, no fulfillment, in the death of a child.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
“The Will” (1953)
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
(Attributed)
Added on 19-Feb-16 | Last updated 19-Feb-16
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If you do everything for one reason, then all you have done will become meaningless when the reason does.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, #41 (2001)
Added on 6-Nov-15 | Last updated 6-Nov-15
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Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one Glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) Spanish mystic, poet, philosopher, saint
“Maxims for Her Nuns”

In Complete Works St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 3 (1963) [ed. Peers]
Added on 28-Oct-15 | Last updated 28-Oct-15
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Don’t write so you can be understood. Write so that you cannot be misunderstood.

Quintilian (39-90) Roman orator [Marcus Fabius Quintilianus]
De Institutione Oratoria, Book 8, ch. 2, l. 24

Alt. trans.: "We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."

Also attributed to Epictetus, Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Taft.
Added on 24-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Jun-16
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Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Lords and Ladies (1992)
Added on 29-Jul-15 | Last updated 29-Jul-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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BENDIS: We’re gonna die.
MAL: We’re not gonna die. We can’t die, Bendis. You know why? Because we are so — very — pretty. We are just too pretty for God to let us die.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
Firefly, 1×01 “Serenity” (pilot) (20 Dec 2002)
Added on 29-Jan-15 | Last updated 29-Jan-15
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Life is a biography, not a series of disconnected moments, more or less pleasurable but increasingly tedious and unsatisfying unless one imposes a purposive pattern upon them.

Theodore Dalrymple (b. 1949) English writer, journalist, psychiatrist [pen name for Anthony (A.M.) Daniels]
Life at the Bottom (2001)
Added on 2-Dec-14 | Last updated 2-Dec-14
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If the world were clear, art would not exist.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Absurd Creation,” The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
Added on 3-Nov-14 | Last updated 3-Nov-14
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I am an agnostic partly because I don’t think it is part of the human condition ever to have very much certainty about anything but moments of pleasure and of imminent and immanent death. I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and am aware that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?

Roz Kaveney (b. 1949) British writer, critic, poet
“On Good Friday, I may not have faith, but that doesn’t make me an atheist,” The Guardian (29 Mar 2013)
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Added on 22-Oct-14 | Last updated 22-Oct-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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Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.

David Sedaris (b. 1956) American humorist, comedian, author
Interview, Louisville Courier-Journal (5 Jun 2005)
Added on 3-Apr-14 | Last updated 31-Oct-14
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There is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of a good cause.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“The Negro Question,” Pageant (Jan 1946)
Added on 9-Dec-13 | Last updated 9-Dec-13
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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)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Aug-16
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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
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-15
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