Quotations about:
    opinion


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The great misfortune, the root of all the evil to come, was the loss of faith in the value of personal opinions. People imagined that it was out of date to follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing the same tune in chorus, and live by other people’s notions, the notions which were being crammed down everybody’s throat.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago [До́ктор Жива́го], Part 2, ch. 13 “Opposite the House of Caryatids,” sec. 14 [Yury] (1955) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), UK ed.]
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Alternate translations:

The main misfortune, the root of all evil to come, was loss of the confidence in the value of one's own opinion. People imagined that it was out of date of follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing in chorus, and live by other people's notions, notions that were crammed down everybody's throat.
[tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), US ed.]

The main trouble, the root of the future evil, was loss of faith in the value of one’s own opinion. People imagined that the time when they followed the urgings of their moral sense was gone, that now they had to sing to the general tune and live by foreign notions imposed on everyone.
[tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky (2010)]

 
Added on 21-May-24 | Last updated 14-May-24
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To be enlightened: a big phrase! Certain men think themselves enlightened because they are decided: thus taking conviction for truth, and strong conception for intelligence. There are others who, because they know all the words, think they know all the truths.
 
[Être éclairé, c’est un grand mot! Il y a certains hommes qui se croient éclairés, parce qu’ils sont décidés, prenant ainsi la conviction pour la vérité, et la forte conception pour l’intelligence. Il en est d’autres qui, parce qu’ils savent tous les mots, croient savoir toutes les vérités.]

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist, philosopher, essayist, poet
Pensées [Thoughts], ch. 4 “De la Nature des Esprits [On the Nature of Minds],” ¶ 36 (1850 ed.) [tr. Calvert (1866), ch. 5]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Enlightenment -- a great word! Some men think themselves enlightened, because they are decided, taking conviction for truth, and strong conception for intelligence. Others, because they know all that can be said think that they know all truth.
[tr. Lyttelton (1899), ch. 3, ¶ 15]

Enlightenment is a fine word! Some men fancy themselves enlightened because they are decisive, thus taking conviction for truth, and force of conception for intelligence. Others think that because they have every word at their command, they have every truth also.
[tr. Collins (1928), ch. 4]

Because they know all the words, they think they know all the truths.
[tr. Auster (1983)], 1819 entry]

 
Added on 6-May-24 | Last updated 6-May-24
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If in the following pages I seem to express myself dogmatically, it is only because I find it very boring to qualify every phrase with an ‘I think’ or ‘to my mind.’ Everything I say is merely an Opinion of my own. The reader can take it or leave it. If he has the patience to read what follows he will see that there is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 5 (1938)
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Added on 18-Apr-24 | Last updated 18-Apr-24
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Most often people seek in life occasions for persisting in their opinions rather than for educating themselves.

André Gide (1869-1951) French author, Nobel laureate
“An Unprejudiced Mind,” sec. 1, Pretexts (1959) [ed. O’Brien (1964)]
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Once a man’s understanding has settled on something (either because it is an accepted belief or because it pleases him), it draws everything else also to support and agree with it. And if it encounters a larger number of more powerful countervailing examples, it either fails to notice them, or disregards them, or makes fine distinctions to dismiss and reject them, and all of this with much dangerous prejudice, to preserve the authority of its first conceptions.

[Intellectus humanus in iis quae semel placuerunt (aut quia recepta sunt et credita, aut quia delectant), alia etiam omnia trahit ad suffragationem et consensum cum illis: et licet major sit instantiarum vis et copia, quae occurrunt in contrarium; tamen eas aut non observat, aut contemnit, aut distinguendo summovet et rejicit, non sine magno et pernicioso praejudicio, quo prioribus illis syllepsibus authoritas maneat inviolata.]

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Instauratio Magna [The Great Instauration], Part 2 “Novum Organum [The New Organon],” Book 1, Aphorism # 46 (1620) [tr. Silverthorne (2000)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

The human understanding, when any preposition has been once laid down, (either from general admission and belief, or from the pleasure it affords,) forces every thing else to add fresh support and confirmation; and although more cogent and abundant instances may exist to the contrary, yet either does not observe or despises them, or gets rid of and rejects them by some distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the authority of its first conclusions.
[tr. Wood (1831)]

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.
[tr. Spedding (1858)]

The human Intellect, in those things which have once pleased it (either because they are generally received and believed, or because they suit the taste), brings everything else to support and agree with them; and though the weight and number of contradictory instances be superior, still it either overlooks or despises them, or gets rid of them by creating distinctions, not without great and in jurious prejudice, that the authority of these previous conclusions may be maintained inviolate.
[tr. Johnson (1859)]

Once a human intellect has adopted an opinion (either as something it likes or as something generally accepted), it draws everything else in to confirm and support it. Even if there are more and stronger instances against it than there are in its favour·, the intellect either overlooks these or treats them as negligible or does some line-drawing that lets it shift them out of the way and reject them. This involves a great and pernicious prejudgment by means of which the intellect’s former conclusions remain inviolate.
[tr. Bennett (2017)]

 
Added on 1-Feb-24 | Last updated 20-Mar-24
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Perhaps people with my point of view are in a minority today. But the fact of being in a minority does not, in itself, trouble me, nor do I see anything un-American about being in a minority position. Quite the contrary. The minority views of one day are frequently the majority views of another, and in the possibility of this being so rests all our potentiality for progress.

Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) American-Canadian journalist, author, urban theorist, activist
“No Virtue in Meek Conformity” (1952)
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Foreword to her response to a State Department Loyalty Security Board interrogatory (1952-03-25). Reprinted in Vital Little Plans (2016).
 
Added on 29-Jan-24 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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For most men (till by losing rendered sager)
Will back their own opinions by a wager.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
“Beppo,” st. 27 (1818)
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Added on 17-Jan-24 | Last updated 17-Jan-24
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It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English author
Pride and Prejudice, ch. 18 [Elizabeth] (1813)
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Added on 7-Dec-23 | Last updated 7-Dec-23
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“What think you of books?” said he, smiling.
“Books — oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings.”
“I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions.”

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English author
Pride and Prejudice, ch. 18 [Darcy and Elizabeth] (1813)
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Added on 29-Nov-23 | Last updated 29-Nov-23
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There is virtually no opinion an individual can hold that is so outlandish that he will not find other believers on the Web.

Elizabeth Kolbert (b. 1961) American journalist and author
“The Things People Say,” The New Yorker (2009-11-02)
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Added on 8-Aug-23 | Last updated 8-Aug-23
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It is all right to say exactly what you think if you have learned to think exactly.

No picture available
Marcelene Cox (1900-1998) American writer, columnist, aphorist
“Ask Any Woman” column, Ladies’ Home Journal (1945-11)
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Cox provided a variant of this aphorism in the 1959-01 issue of LHJ: "Anyone has the right to say what he thinks, if he thinks."
 
Added on 25-Jul-23 | Last updated 25-Jul-23
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To my mind, a man without a bias cannot write interesting history — if, indeed, such a man exists. I regard it as mere humbug to pretend to a lack of bias.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Autobiography, ch. 13 (1968)
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Added on 23-May-23 | Last updated 23-May-23
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Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter: Hence they chearfully serve all contending Writers that pay them well, without regarding on which side they are of the Question in Dispute.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher, aphorist
“Apology for Printers,” Philadelphia Gazette (1731-06-10)
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Added on 26-Apr-23 | Last updated 26-Apr-23
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The delight of social relations between friends is fostered by a shared attitude to life, together with certain differences of opinion on intellectual matters, through which either one is confirmed in one’s own views, or else one gains practice and instruction through argument.

[Le plaisir de la société entre les amis se cultive par une ressemblance de goût sur ce qui regarde les moeurs, et par quelques différences d’opinions sur les sciences: par là ou l’on s’affermit dans ses sentiments, ou l’on s’exerce et l’on s’instruit par la dispute.]

Jean de La Bruyere
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 5 “Of Society and Conversation [De la Société et de la Conversation],” § 61 (5.61) (1688) [tr. Stewart (1970)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

The pleasure of Society amongst Friends is cultivated by a likeness of Inclinations, as to Manners; and a difference in Opinion, as to Sciences: the one confirms and humours us in our sentiments; the other exercises and instructs us by disputation.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

The Pleasure of Society amongst Friends, is cultivated by a likeness of Inclinations, as to Manners, and by some difference in Opinion, as to Sciences: The one confirms us in our Sentiments, the other exercises and instructs us by Disputation.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

The pleasure of social intercourse amongst friends is kept up by a similarity of morals and manners, and by slender differences in opinion about science; this confirms us in our sentiments, exercises our faculties or instructs us through arguments.
[tr. Van Laun (1885)]

 
Added on 14-Feb-23 | Last updated 6-Jun-23
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Violent zeal for truth has a hundred to one odds to be either petulancy, ambition, or pride.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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Added on 23-Jan-23 | Last updated 23-Jan-23
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It was one of the rules which above all others made Doctr. Franklin the most amiable of men in society, “never to contradict any body.” if he was urged to announce an opinion, he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph (24 Nov 1808)
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Referring to Benjamin Franklin.
 
Added on 31-Oct-22 | Last updated 31-Oct-22
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For a truth, once established by proof, does neither gain force nor certainty by the consent of all scholars, nor lose by the general dissent.

Maimonides
Maimonides (1135-1204) Spanish Jewish philosopher, scholar, astronomer, physician [Moses ben Maimon, Rambam, רמב״ם]
Guide for the Perplexed, Part 2, ch. 15 (c. 1190) [tr. Friedlander (1885)]
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Alternate translation:

For when something has been demonstrated, the correctness of the matter is not increased and certainty regarding it is not strengthened by the consensus of all men of knowledge with regard to it. Nor could its correctness be diminished and certainty regarding it be weakened even if all the people on earth disagreed with it.
[tr. Pines (1963)]

 
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A Man is glad to gain Numbers on his Side, as they serve to strengthen him in his private Opinions. Every Proselyte is like a new Argument for the Establishment of his Faith. It makes him believe that his Principles carry Conviction with them, and are the more likely to be true, when he finds they are conformable to the Reason of others, as well as to his own. And that this Temper of Mind deludes a Man very often into an Opinion of his Zeal, may appear from the common Behaviour of the Atheist, who maintains and spreads his Opinions with as much Heat as those who believe they do it only out of Passion for God’s Glory.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
The Spectator, #185 (2 Oct 1711)
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Added on 8-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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Every fool stands convinced; and everyone convinced is a fool; and the faultier a man’s judgment, the firmer his conviction.

[Todo necio es persuadido, y todo persuadido necio; y quanto mas erroneo su dictamen, es mayor su tenacidad.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 183 (1647) [tr. Fischer (1937)]
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(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translation:

All Fools are Opiniatours, and all Opiniatours are Fools. The more Erroneous their Opinions are, the more they hug them.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

Every fool is fully convinced, and every one fully persuaded is a fool: the more erroneous his judgment the more firmly he holds it.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

Fools are stubborn, and the stubborn are fools, and the more erroneous their judgment is, the more they hold onto it.
[tr. Maurer (1992)]

 
Added on 13-May-22 | Last updated 20-Feb-23
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Some men believe their own Opinions no less firmly than others do their positive Knowledge.

Aristotle - Some men believe their own Opinions no less firmly than others do their positive Knowledge - wist.info quote

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 7, ch. 3 (7.3) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Chase (1847)]
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Alternate translations:

Some men put no less faith in their own uncertified opinions than do others in the verified truths of science.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 127]

For some people are as strongly convinced of their opinions as others of their knowledge.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

Some people have just as strong a belief in their mere opinions as others have in what they really know.
[tr. Peters (1893), 7.3.4]

Some men are no less convinced of what they think than others of what they know.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

Some men are just as firmly convinced of what they opine as others are of what they know.
[tr. Rackham (1934)]

Some people have no less conviction about that they believe than others do about what they know scientifically.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

Some men are just as sure of the truth of their opinions as others are of what they know.
[tr. Thomson (1953)]

Some men are no less convinced of their opinions about things than others of the things they know.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

There are some people who have no less confidence than others hav ein what they know.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

Some are no less convinced of what they opine about than are other people of what they know.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

 
Added on 29-Mar-22 | Last updated 29-Mar-22
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To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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When men are brought face to face with their opponents, forced to listen and learn and mend their ideas, they cease to be children and savages and begin to live like civilized men. Then only is freedom a reality, when men may voice their opinions because they must examine their opinions.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
“The Indispensable Opposition,” The Atlantic Monthly (Aug 1939)
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Added on 9-Mar-22 | Last updated 9-Mar-22
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You will always find some Eskimos ready to instruct the Congolese on how to cope with heat waves.

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts [Myśli nieuczesane] (1957) [tr. Gałązka (1962)]
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Added on 15-Feb-22 | Last updated 15-Feb-22
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Reader and hearer, Aulus, love my stuff;
A certain poet says it’s rather rough.
Well, I don’t care. For dinners or for books
The guest’s opinion matters, not the cook’s.

[Lector et auditor nostros probat, Aule, libellos,
Sed quidam exactos esse poeta negat.
Non nimium curo: nam cenae fercula nostrae
Malim convivis quam placuisse cocis.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 9, epigram 81 (9.81) (AD 94) [tr. Francis & Tatum (1924)]
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"To Aulus". The numbering for this epigram varies between 81, 82, and 83 within in Book 9. (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

The readers and the hearers like my books,
And, yet, some writers cannot them digest:
But what care I? for when I make a feast,
I would my guests should praise it, not the cooks.
[tr. Harington (16th C)]

Readers and hearers, both my Bookes renowne;
Some Poets say th' are not exactly done.
I care not much; like banquets, let my Bookes
Rather be pleasing to the guests than Cookes.
[tr. May (1629), 9.82]

My works the reader and the hearer praise:
They're not exact; a brother poet says:
I heed not him; for when I give a feast,
Am I to please the cook, or please the guest?
[tr. Hay (1755), ep. 82]

The reader and the hearer like my lays.
But they're unfinisht things, a poet says.
The stricture ne'er shall discompose my looke:
My chear is for my guests, and not for cooks.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), 3.14]

My works the reader and the hearer praise; --
They're incorrect, a brother poet says:
But let him rail; for when I give a feast,
Am I to praise the cook, or please the guest?
[tr. Hoadley (fl. 18th C), 9.82, §255]

The reader and the hearer approve of my small books, but a certain critic objects that they are not finished to a nicety. I do not take this censure much to heart, for I would wish that the course of my dinner should afford pleasure to guests rather than to cooks.
[tr. Amos (1858) 2.24]

My readers and hearers, Aulus, approve of my compositions; but a certain critic says that they are not faultless. I am not much concerned at his censure; for I should wish the dishes on my table to please guests rather than cooks.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

Reader and hearer both my verses praise:
Some other poet cries, "They do not scan."
But what care I? my dinner's always served
To please my guests, and not to please the cooks.
[ed. Harbottle (1897)]

Though my readers sincerely admire me,
A poet finds fault with my books.
What's the odds? When I'm giving a dinner
I'd rather please guests than the cooks.
[tr. Nixon (1911)]

Reader and hearer approve of my works, Aulus, but a certain poet says they are not polished. I don't care much, for I should prefer the courses of my dinner to please guests rather than cooks.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

"Unpolished" -- so that scribbler sneers,
While he that reads and he that hears,
Approve my little books;
I do not care a single jot,
My fame is for my guests and not
     To please my rival cooks.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

The public likes my poems, though
A certain poet thinks them rough
Or never polished quite enough.
I could not care less! I prefer
The morsels served up in my books
To please my guests, not would-be cooks.
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

Readers and listeners like my books,
Yet a certain poet calls them crude.
What do I care? I serve up food
To please my guests, not fellow cooks.
[tr. Michie (1972)]

Everyone enjoys my delightful books
Except a certain poet who objects.
I aim to please my guests, not other cooks.
[tr. O'Connell (1991)]

Reader and listener approve my little books, Aulus, but a certain poet says they lack finish. I don't care too much; for I had rather the courses at my dinner pleased the diners than the cooks.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Read or recited, my verse is much praised,
Aulus, yet one poet opines: "Ill-phrased."
I couldn't care less! When I set a table,
My guests, not the cooks, should say I'm able.
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

My books are praised by him who reads,
Though critics damn them in their screeds.
But who's to judge a proper meat --
Another cook, or those who eat?
[tr. Wills (2007), ep. 83]

 
Added on 14-Jan-22 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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In the course of my travels I remarked that all those whose opinions are decidedly repugnant to ours are not in that account barbarians and savages, but on the contrary that many of these nations make an equally good, if not better, use of their reason than we do. I took into account also the very different character which a person brought up from infancy in France or Germany exhibits, from that which, with the same mind originally, this individual would have possessed had he lived always among the Chinese or with savages, and the circumstance that in dress itself the fashion which pleased us ten years ago, and which may again, perhaps, be received into favor before ten years have gone, appears to us at this moment extravagant and ridiculous. I was thus led to infer that the ground of our opinions is far more custom and example than any certain knowledge.

[Et depuis, en voyageant, ayant reconnu que tous ceux qui ont des sentiments fort contraires aux nôtres ne sont pas pour cela barbares ni sauvages, mais que plusieurs usent autant ou plus que nous de raison; et ayant considéré combien un même homme, avec son même esprit, étant nourri dès son enfance entre des Français ou des Allemands, devient différent de ce qu’il seroit s’il avoit toujours vécu entre des Chinois ou des cannibales, et comment, jusques aux modes de nos habits, la même chose qui nous a plu il y a dix ans, et qui nous plaira peut-être encore avant dix ans, nous semble maintenant extravagante et ridicule; en sorte que c’est bien plus la coutume et l’exemple qui nous persuade, qu’aucune connaissance certaine.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 2 (1637) [tr. Veitch (1901)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

And having since observ’d in my travails, That all those whose opinions are contrary to ours, are not therefore barbarous or savage, but that many use as much or more reason then we; and having consider’d how much one Man with his own understanding, bred up from his childhood among the French or the Dutch, becomes different from what he would be, had he alwayes liv’d amongst the Chineses, or the Cannibals: And how even in the fashion of our Clothes, the same thing which pleas’d ten years since, and which perhaps wil please ten years hence, seems now to us ridiculous and extravagant. So that it’s much more Custome and Example which perswades us, then any assured knowledg.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

I further recognized in the course of my travels that all those whose sentiments are very contrary to ours are yet not necessarily barbarians or savages, but may be possessed of reason in as great or even a greater degree than ourselves. I also considered how very different the self-same man, identical in mind and spirit, may have become, according as he is brought up from childhood amongst the French or Germans, or has passed his whole life amongst Chinese or cannibals. I likewise noticed how even in the fashions of one's clothing the same thing that pleased us ten years ago, and which will perhaps please us once again before ten years are passed, seems at the present time extravagant and ridiculous. I thus concluded that it is much more custom and example that persuade us than any certain knowledge.
[tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]

Since then I have recognized through my travels that those with views quite contrary to ours are not on that account barbarians or savages, but that many of them make use of reason as much or more than we do. I thought, too, how the same man, with the same mind, if brought up from infancy among the French or Germans, develops otherwise than he would if he had always lived among the Chinese or cannibals; and how, even in our fashions of dress, the very thing that pleased us ten years ago, and will perhaps please us again ten years hence, now strikes us as extravagant and ridiculous. Thus it is custom and example that persuade us, rather than any certain knowledge.
[tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]

 
Added on 11-Jan-22 | Last updated 4-Jun-22
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Truth is like the flu. I fight it off, but it changes in other bodies and returns in a form to which I am not immune.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, #49 (Spring 1999)
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No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe.

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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A man may be in as just possession of Truth as of a City, and yet be forced to surrender.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Religio Medici, Part 1, sec. 6 (1643)
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A painting in a museum probably hears more foolish remarks than anything else in the world .

[Ce qui entend le plus de bêtises dans le monde est peut-être un tableau de musée.]

Brothers Goncourt
The Brothers Goncourt - Edmond (1822-96) & Jules (1830-70), French writers [a.k.a. J.E. de Goncourt]
Idées et sensations (1866)
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Often mis-cited to just Edmond. Alternate translations:
  • "A painting in a museum hears more ridiculous opinions than anything else in the world."
  • "What hears the most stupid remarks in the world is perhaps a painting in a museum." [Source]
  • "Perhaps what hears the most nonsense in the world is a museum painting." [Source]
 
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Why would we worry what others think of us if their opinions did not change us?

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, #387 (2001)
 
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A bore: Someone who persists in holding to his own views after we have enlightened him with ours.

Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) American billionaire
(Attributed)

Quoted in Ted Goodman, ed., The Forbes Book of Business Quotations (1997).
 
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The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

Stanley Fish (b. 1938) American literary theorist, legal scholar, author
“Conspiracy Theories 101,” New York Times (23 Jul 2006)
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There is, in fact, no academic requirement to include more than one view of an academic issue, although it is usually pedagogically useful to do so. The true requirement is that no matter how many (or few) views are presented to the students, they should be offered as objects of analysis rather than as candidates for allegiance.

Stanley Fish (b. 1938) American literary theorist, legal scholar, author
“Conspiracy Theories 101,” New York Times (23 Jul 2006)
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Men are educated and the State uplifted by allowing all — every one — to broach all their mistakes and advocate all their errors. The community that will not protect its most ignorant and unpopular member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
“The Scholar in a Republic,” Speech, Centennial Anniversary of the Phi Beta Kapa of Harvard College (30 Jun 1881)
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The problem with evidence is it doesn’t always support your opinion.

Stephen Colbert (b. 1964) American political satirist, writer, comedian
Interview with Ron Suskind (13 Jul 2006)
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Errors and mistakes, however gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied, but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye, and there is neither jest nor guilt in a man’s losing his way in either case. Charity bids us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity, at the same time, forbids, either to punish or ridicule his misfortune.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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On religious tolerance.
 
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Every man’s reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion, as that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but God only knows who has found it. It is, therefore, as unjust to persecute as it is absurd to ridicule people for those several opinions which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of their reason.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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Speaking of religious beliefs.
 
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The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Interview with Roger Errera (Oct 1973), The New York Review of Books (26 Oct 1978)
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An old belief is like an old shoe. We so value its comfort that we fail to notice the hole in it.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
 
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It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 12, ch. 4 [tr. Hays (2002)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "I have often wondered how each man should love himself more than any other; and yet make less account of his own opinion concerning himself, than of the opinions of others." [tr. Foulis (1742)]
  • "I have often wondered, whence it comes to pass, that although every one loves himself more than he does any other man, he should yet pay a greater regard to the opinion of other people concerning him than to his own." [tr. Graves (1792)]
  • "I have often wondered how it comes to pass that everybody should love themselves best, and yet value their neighbor's opinion about themselves more than their own." [tr. Collier (rev.)]
  • "I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others." [tr. Long (1862)]
  • "How is it that every person loves themselves more than any other person, yet still gives more value to the opinions of others than the opinion they hold of themselves?" [tr. McNeill (2019)]
 
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Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them. The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.

James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) American historian and educator
The Mind in the Making, ch. 4 “Rationalizing” (1921)
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Although in our country the Chief Magistrate must almost of necessity be chosen by a party and stand pledged to its principles and measures, yet in his official action he should not be the President of a part only, but of the whole people of the United States. While he executes the laws with an impartial hand, shrinks from no proper responsibility, and faithfully carries out in the executive department of the Government the principles and policy of those who have chosen him, he should not be unmindful that our fellow-citizens who have differed with him in opinion are entitled to the full and free exercise of their opinions and judgments, and that the rights of all are entitled to respect and regard.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1845)
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You both seem concern’d lest I have imbib’d some erroneous Opinions. Doubtless I have my Share, and when the natural Weakness and Imperfection of Human Understanding is considered, with the unavoidable Influences of Education, Custom, Books and Company, upon our Ways of thinking, I imagine a Man must have a good deal of Vanity who believes, and a good deal of Boldness who affirms, that all the Doctrines he holds, are true; and all he rejects, are false. And perhaps the same may be justly said of every Sect, Church and Society of men when they assume to themselves that Infallibility which they deny to the Popes and Councils. I think Opinions should be judg’d of by their Influences and Effects; and if a Man holds none that tend to make him less Virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous; which I hope is the Case with me.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher, aphorist
Letter to Josiah and Abiah Franklin (13 Apr 1738)
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His parents.
 
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They clung to their rock-bottom opinions. They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) American author, poet
Love Medicine, ch. 2 (1984)
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One person with a belief, is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 1 (1861)
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Often misquoted, "One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests."
 
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And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) American poet and satirist
“The Blind Men and the Elephant,” st. 8 and “Moral” (c. 1861; publ. 1872)
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Saxe introduced the parable, which dates back to India (c. 500 BC) to American audiences. He wrote the poem originally against what he felt was extremism on both sides that led the the American Civil War.
 
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I have found that a story leaves a deeper impression when it is impossible to tell which side the author is on.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Letter

Writing to a friend about Anna Karenina, and how he had rewritten a conversation (Part 4, ch. 1) between Levin and the priest four times, to hide which one he favored.
 
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When blithe to argument I come,
Though armed with facts, and merry,
May Providence protect me from
The fool as adversary,
Whose mind to him a kingdom is
Where reason lacks dominion,
Who calls conviction prejudice
And prejudice opinion.

Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) American author, poet
“Moody Reflections,” The New Yorker (13 Feb 1954)
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Opinions are not to be learned by rote, like the letters of an alphabet, or the words of a dictionary. They are conclusions to be formed, and formed by each individual in the sacred and free citadel of the mind, and there enshrined beyond the arm of law to reach, or force to shake; ay! and beyond the right of impertinent curiosity to violate, or presumptuous arrogance to threaten.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 6 “Formation of Opinions” (1829)
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Youth finds no value in the views it disagrees with, but maturity includes discovering that even an opinion contrary to ours may contain a vein of truth we could profitably assimilate to our own views.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
Pieces of Eight (1982)
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Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises.

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system, I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919) [dissent]
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I must intreat your patience — your gentle hearing. I am not going to question your opinions. I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is, examine; enquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the ground of your opinions, the for and the against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 3 “Of the more Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge” (1829)
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An opinion, right or wrong, can never constitute a moral offense, nor be in itself a moral obligation. It may be mistaken; it may involve an absurdity, or a contradiction. It is a truth; or it is an error: it can never be a crime or a virtue.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Few Days in Athens, Vol. 2, ch. 14 (1822)
 
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Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

John Wooden (1910-2010) American basketball player and coach
They Call Me Coach, ch. 9, epigram (1972)
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Not everyone is worth listening to.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation For Unpopularity” (2000)
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Added on 12-Oct-17 | Last updated 12-Oct-17
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