Quotations about   perspective

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He who knows one, knows none.

Max Müller (1823-1900) German-British philologist, Orientalist, religious studies founder
“The Science of Religion,” Lecture 1, Royal Institution (19 Feb 1870), Lectures on the Science of Religion (1872)
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Regarding religion, paraphrasing Goethe on language ("He who knows one language, knows none").
Added on 20-Nov-20 | Last updated 20-Nov-20
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For thee — if this my deed seems foolishness,
The fool has caught the foolish in her folly.

[σοὶ δ᾽ εἰ δοκῶ νῦν μῶρα δρῶσα τυγχάνειν,
σχεδόν τι μώρῳ μωρίαν ὀφλισκάνω.]

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, ll. 469-70 [Antigone] (441 BC) [tr. Donaldson (1848)]
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Alt. trans.:

And if my present actions are foolish in your sight, it may be that it is a fool who accuses me of folly.
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

This to thee may seem
Madness and folly; if it be, 'tis fit
I should act thus; it but resembles thee.
[tr. Werner (1892)]

But you! You think
I've been a fool? It takes a fool to think that.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

If you think I’m a mindless woman then perhaps it's a mindless man who recognises a mindless woman.
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

If you think what I’m doing now is stupid,
perhaps I’m being charged with foolishness
by someone who’s a fool.
[tr. Johnston (2005), ll. 531-33]

And if you think my acts are foolishness
the foolishness may be in a fool's eye.
[tr. Wyckoff]
Added on 19-Nov-20 | Last updated 19-Nov-20
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To be unacquainted with what has passed in the world, before we came into it ourselves, is to be always children. For what is the age of a single mortal, unless it is connected, by the aid of History, with the times of our ancestors?

[Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Orator, ad M. Brutus, ch. 34, sec. 120 (55 BC) [tr. Jones (1776)]
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The original Latin. Alt. trans.
  • "For not to know what happened before one was born, is to be a boy all one s life. For what is the life of a man unless by a recollection of bygone transactions it is united to the times of his predecessors?" [tr. Yonge (1853)]
  • "To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain always a boy. For what is the lifetime of a man, unless it is connected with the lifetime of older men by the memory of earlier events?" [tr. Fox (2007)]
  • "What is a generation, if it is not conjoined with the age of our predecessors by the memory of ancient things?" [tr. @sentantiq]
  • "Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?"
  • "Not to know what happened before you were born is always to be a boy."
  • "To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child."
Added on 16-Nov-20 | Last updated 16-Nov-20
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I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.

E. P. Thompson (1924-1993) British historian, writer, activist [Edward Palmer Thompson]
The Making of the English Working Class, Preface (1963)
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One does not go to the theater to see life and nature; one goes to see the particular way in which life and nature happen to look to a cultivated, imaginative and entertaining man who happens, in turn, to be a playwright.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
The Critic and the Drama, ch. 2 (1922)
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A critical, strong speech made by a man is “blunt” or “outspoken” or “pulls no punches.” A speech of similar force and candor made by a woman is “waspish,” “sarcastic,” or “cutting.” A man of strong opinions is defined as having “deep convictions.” A woman so constituted is merely “opinionated,” and always “aggressive.”

Marya Mannes (1904-1990) American author and critic [pen name "Sec"]
Out of My Time (1971)
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Added on 28-Oct-20 | Last updated 28-Oct-20
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I have no faith in the sense of comforting beliefs which persuade me that all my troubles are blessings in disguise.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“Pleasure Be Your Guide,” The Nation, “Living Philosophies” series #10 (25 Feb 1939)
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Adapted into Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1952)
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Planning for the future without a sense of history is like planting cut flowers.

Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) American historian, professor, attorney, writer
(Attributed)

Occasionally quoted with "... and hoping for the best" added to the end.
Added on 26-Oct-20 | Last updated 26-Oct-20
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One would expect people to remember the past and to imagine the future. But in fact, when discoursing or writing about history, they imagine it in terms of their own experience, and when trying to gauge the future they cite supposed analogies from the past: till, by a double process of repetition, they imagine the past and remember the future.

Lewis B. Namier (1888-1960) Polish-British historian
“Symmetry and Repetition” (1941), Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History (1942)
Added on 22-Oct-20 | Last updated 22-Oct-20
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We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Notes from a Trip to Russia,” Sister Outsider (1984)
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Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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The position which believers and unbelievers occupy with regard to their various forms of faith is very much the same all over the world. The difficulties which trouble us, have troubled the hearts and minds of men as far back as we can trace the beginnings of religious life. The great problems touching the relation of the Finite to the Infinite, of the human mind as the recipient, and of the Divine Spirit as the source of truth, are old problems indeed; and while watching their appearance in different countries, and their treatment under varying circumstances, we shall be able, I believe, to profit ourselves, both by the errors which others committed before us, and by the truth which they discovered. We shall know the rocks that threaten every religion in this changing and shifting world of ours, and having watched many a storm of religious controversy and many a shipwreck in distant seas, we shall face with greater calmness and prudence the troubled waters at home.

Max Müller (1823-1900) German-British philologist, Orientalist, religious studies founder
Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. 1, Preface (1866)
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Added on 16-Oct-20 | Last updated 16-Oct-20
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A set of beliefs is at once a way of seeing the world more clearly while, at the same time, foreclosing an alternative vision.

Lillian Rubin (1924-2014) American writer, professor, psychotherapist, sociologist
Intimate Strangers: Men and Women Together (1983)
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Section reprinted as "The Sexual Dilemma" in Roberta Satow, Gender and Social Life (2000).
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (1855-1897) Irish novelist
Molly Bawn (1878)
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The first formulation of this precise phrase in print. The speaker "quotes" the words, as the sentiment was already widespread (believed to have originated from Hume).
Added on 23-Sep-20 | Last updated 23-Sep-20
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The lesson of History is rarely learned by the actors themselves.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to Professor Demmon (16 Dec 1871)
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Added on 18-Sep-20 | Last updated 18-Sep-20
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Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
“Of the Standard of Taste” (1739)
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Added on 16-Sep-20 | Last updated 16-Sep-20
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We are too prone to judge ourselves by our ideals and other people by their acts. All of us are entitled to be judged by both. We must recognize the dignity of our neighbors and before we act must place ourselves in the place of our neighbor and judge our acts through his eyes.

Dwight Morrow (1873-1931) American businessman, diplomat, politician
Quoted in “Close Mexican Ties Urged by Morrow,” New York Times (17 May 1930)
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The first sentence of this comment by Morrow was popularized in a biography of him, Harold Nicolson, Dwight Morrow (1935). Nicolson is, in turn, often erroneously credited with the quote.

Nicolson noted it was frequently used by Morrow ("'Remember,' he would often repeat, 'that we are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts.'"). He also recounts a variant, "All nations are prone to judge themselves by the loftiness of their own purposes, and to judge others nations by their failure to attain their high purposes."

More discussion of this quotation (and its predecessors) can be found here. Compare also to a related sentiment by Longfellow.
Added on 14-Sep-20 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim,
I wonder how we look to him.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“The Hippopotamus”
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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Objects close to the eye shut out much larger objects on the horizon; and splendors born only of the earth eclipse the stars. So a man sometimes covers up the entire disk of eternity with a dollar, and quenches transcendent glories with a little shining dust.

Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880) American clergyman
Living Words (1860)
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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I don’t think we injye other people’s suffin’, Hinnissy. It isn’t acshally injyement. But we feel betther f’r it.

[I don’t think we enjoy other people’s suffering, Hennessy. It isn’t actually enjoyment. But we feel better for it.]

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
Observations by Mr. Dooley, “Enjoyment” (1902)
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Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 7:3-5 [NRSV]
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Alt. trans.:
  • [KJV] "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
  • [GNT] "Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, 'Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,' when you have a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
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Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) American computer inventor, entrepreneur
“To the Crazy Ones,” TV advertisement (1997)
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Often cited as a quotation from Steve Jobs, this was an Apple advertisement developed by Chiat/Day under the direction of Jobs after his return to the company in 1997, under the campaign "Think Different." The ad and its text was created by Chiat/Day talent like Craig Tanimoto, Rob Siltanen, and Ken Segall. (For more information on the ad's development, see Siltanen's article.)

Jobs did narrate the text at least once, but the original 1997 ad was voiced by Richard Dreyfuss.

Note: nearly all transcripts say, "But the only thing you can't do ..." while the word voiced is "About the only thing you can't do ...."
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Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have.

[Rien n’est plus dangereux qu’une idée, quand on n’a qu’une idée.]

Alain (1868-1951) French philosopher, journalist, pacifist [pseud. for Émile-Auguste Chartier]
Propos sur la religion, #74 (1938)

Alt. trans.: "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one idea."

Sometimes also quoted as "Rien n'est plus dangereux qu'une idée lorsque c'est la seule idée que vous avez."
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Money helps, though not so much as you think when you don’t have it.

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954) American author, poet
“Insulation,” The Bingo Palace (1994)
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The murderer, the victim, the witness, each of us thinks our role is the lead.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Invisible Monsters, ch. 1 (1999)
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It is not the least of a martyr’s scourges to be canonized by the persons who burned him.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 2 (1955)
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To return to the matter of the persona, I repeat that one cannot wholly eliminate oneself for a second, and also sufficient, reason: any fiction (and surely poetry too?) is bound to be transposed autobiography. (True, it may be this at so many removes as to defeat recognition.) I can, and indeed if i would not I still must, relate any and every story I have written to something that happened to me in my own life. But here I am speaking of happenings in a broad sense — to behold and react, is where I am concerned a happening; speculations, unaccountable stirs of interest, longings, attractions, apprehensions without knowable cause — these are happenings, also.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, Preface (1959)
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Added on 6-Jul-20 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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She’s adorn’d
Amply that in her husband’s eye looks lovely —
The truest mirror that an honest wife
Can see her beauty in!

John Tobin (1770-1804) British playwright
The Honey Moon, Act 3, sc. 4 (1805)
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Added on 30-Jun-20 | Last updated 30-Jun-20
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Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, “Consolation Prizes” (2004)
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Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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Thare would be a grate supply ov wit and humor in this world, if we would only giv others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselfs.

[There would be a great supply of wit and humor in this world, if we would only give others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.

Oscar Levant (1906-1972) American pianist, composer, actor, wit
(Attributed)
Added on 28-May-20 | Last updated 28-May-20
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The most that experience seems tew do for us, is tew sho us, what kussid phools every boddy but we, hav made of themselfs.

[The most that experience seems to do for us is to show us what cussed fools everybody but we have made of themselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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A rich man cannot enjoy a sound mind nor a sound body without exercise and abstinence; and yet these are truly the worst ingredients of poverty.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 2 (1761)
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Every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.

Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor
Quoted in the International Herald Tribune (20 Jan 1989)

The above is sometimes cited to his collaborative dialog with Edward Said, Parallels and Paradoxes (2002), but the passage there is slightly different: "I think that every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward eternity."
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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,” Moral, The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe (1872)
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If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago “Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world’s music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don’t have to die of dental abcesses and you don’t have to do what the squire tells you” they’d think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say ‘yes’.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
(Attributed)

Usually cited to alt.fan.pratchett, but not found in the repository.
Added on 17-Apr-20 | Last updated 17-Apr-20
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Things are beautiful if you love them.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Mademoiselle Colombe, Act 2, sc. 2 (1950) [tr. Kronenberger (1954)]
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To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“A Book That Influenced Me,” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
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Just for the record, darling, not all positive change feels positive in the beginning.

Other Authors and Sources
S. C. Lourie
Added on 16-Mar-20 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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There is no “True.” There are only ways of perceiving.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Léon Hennique (3 Feb 1880) [tr. Steegmuller (1982)]
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But I aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what aint. It’s like there was a fellow in every man that’s done a-past the sanity or the insanity, that watches the sane and insane doings of that man with the same horror and the same astonishment.

William Faulkner (1897-1962) American novelist
As I Lay Dying (1930)
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Added on 3-Mar-20 | Last updated 10-Mar-20
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Keep cool: it will be all one a hundred years hence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Montaigne; or, The Skeptic,” Representative Men, Lecture 4 (1850)
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SIR HUMPHREY: A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S3E4 “The Moral Dimension” (1982) [with Antony Jay]
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In the affluent society no sharp distinction can be made between luxuries and necessaries.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Affluent Society, ch. 21, sec. 4 (1998, 4th ed.)
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On sales taxes. Sometimes quoted (from other editions?) as "useful distinction."
Added on 14-Jan-20 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
(Attributed)
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There are few of us who are not protected from the keenest pain by our inability to see what it is that we have done, what we are suffering, and what we truly are. Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearances only.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Erewhon, ch. 3 “Up the River” (1872)
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Things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just; and by knaves as well as by martyrs the just cause is carried forward. Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Representative Men, Lecture 4 “Montaigne; or, The Skeptic” (1850)
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We always require an outside point to stand on, in order to apply the lever of criticism. […] Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 9 “Travels,” ii. “The Pueblo Indians” (1963)
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I’ve learned to write in the first-person singular while remembering always that my writing must speak to the first-person plural.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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While we are poor, the necessarys ov life are the luxurys; after we git ritch, the luxurys are the necessarys.

[While we are poor, the necessaries of life are the luxuries; after we get rich, the luxuries are the necessaries.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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The salvation of America and of the human race depends on the next election, if we believe the newspapers. But so it was last year, and so it was the year before, and our fathers believed the same thing forty years ago.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Oct 1848)
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It is by means of my vices that I understand yours.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (Spring-Summer 1844)
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He recorded this phrase multiple times, including in his lecture, "The Anglo-American" (7 Dec 1852), and Notebook S Salvage.
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The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves; and we injure our own cause, in the opinion of the world, when we too passionately and eagerly defend it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon, Vol. 1, #240 (1820)
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We cannot do without it, and yet we disgrace and vilify the same. It may be compared to a cage, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair to get out.

[Il en advient ce qui se veiod aux cages: les oyseaux qui en sont dehors, desperent d’y entrer: et d’un pareil soing en sortir, ceuix qui sont au dedans.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Upon Some Verses of Virgil,” Essays (1580-88)

On marriage. For more discussion of others who have used this metaphor, see here.

Alt. trans.: "We cannot live without it, and yet we do nothing but decry it. It happens, as with cages, the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out." [tr. Cotton (1877)]

Alt. trans.: "Though we cannot live without it, yet we do nothing but decry it. We see the same with birdcages: the birds outside despair to get in, and those within despair to get out. [Autobiography, ch. 6 "This Discreet Business of Marriage," tr. Lowenthal (1935)]

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Other people’s appetites easily appear excessive when one doesn’t share them.

André Gide (1869-1951) French author, Nobel laureate
The Counterfeiters, “Edouard’s Journal: Oscar Molinier” (1925)
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That which we call sin in others, is experiment for us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Experience,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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