Quotations about   philosophy

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It was always my hope in writing novels and stories which asked the question, “what is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories and I still couldn’t figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
Added on 18-Jan-19 | Last updated 18-Jan-19
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Phryne was feeling most displeased with a species to which, she reminded herself, she belonged. She took an egg sandwich and a gulp of tea and strove to adjust her philosophy.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
Urn Burial (1996)
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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It is striking how much more seriously we are likely to be taken after we have been dead a few centuries.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Added on 15-Feb-18 | Last updated 15-Feb-18
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It is the trifles of life that are its bores, after all. Most men can meet ruin calmly, for instance, or laugh when they lie in a ditch with their own knee-joint and their hunter’s spine broken over the double post and rails: it is the mud that has choked up your horn just when you wanted to rally the pack; it’s the whip who carries you off to a division just when you’ve sat down to your turbot; it’s the ten seconds by which you miss the train; it’s the dust that gets in your eyes as you go down to Epsom; it’s the pretty little rose note that went by accident to your house instead of your club, and raised a storm from madame; it’s the dog that always will run wild into the birds; it’s the cook who always will season the white soup wrong — it is these that are the bores of life, and that try the temper of your philosophy.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
Under Two Flags, ch. 1 (1867)
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Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
The Enquirer, Essay 15 “Of Choice in Reading” (1797)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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The proper method for hastening the decay of error is not by brute force, or by regulation which is one of the classes of force, to endeavor to reduce men to intellectual uniformity, but on the contrary by teaching every man to think for himself.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 8, ch. 6 “Of the Enjoyment of Liberty” (1793)
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Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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Philosophy had supplied Socrates with convictions in which he had been able to have rational, as opposed to hysterical, confidence when faced with disapproval.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolations for Unpopularity” (2000)
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Added on 24-Aug-17 | Last updated 24-Aug-17
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Truth is compar’d in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetuall progression, they sick’n into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.

[Truth is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.]

John Milton (1608-1674) English poet
Areopagitica (1644)
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Added on 16-Aug-17 | Last updated 16-Aug-17
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A wise man weaves a philosophy out of each acceptance life forces upon him.

Elizabeth Bibesco (1897-1945) Romanian-English writer
Haven (1951)
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Added on 25-May-17 | Last updated 25-May-17
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I have a simple philosophy. Fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) American writer and socialite
(Attributed)

Quoted in Peter Passell & Leonard Ross, The Best (1974). When asked her opinion of the sexual revolution. Also attributed to Wallis Simpson.
Added on 29-Mar-17 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. If the foundation be firm, the foundation will stand.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
Commencement Address, Wheaton College, Norton, Mass. (17 Jun 1921)
Added on 6-Dec-16 | Last updated 6-Dec-16
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The test of a religion or philosophy is the number of things it can explain: so true it is. But the religion of our churches explains neither art not society nor history, but itself needs explanation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
(Misattributed)

Actually American writer and historian James Truslow Adams (1878-1949).Variants:
  • "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live."
  • "There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
Added on 17-Aug-16 | Last updated 17-Aug-16
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To act with common sense according to the moment, is the best wisdom I know; and the best philosophy, to do one’s duties, take the world as it comes, submit respectfully to one’s lot; bless the Goodness that has given so much happiness with it, whatever it is; and despise affectation.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Letter to Horace Mann (27 May 1776)
Added on 5-Feb-16 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, ch. 1, sec. 7 (1845)
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Added on 3-Sep-15 | Last updated 3-Sep-15
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There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man’s life than in all the philosophies.

Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934) Belgian writer
The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1.1 (1967)
Added on 6-Aug-15 | Last updated 6-Aug-15
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The convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
The White House Years, ch. 3 (1979)
Added on 3-Aug-15 | Last updated 3-Aug-15
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Philosophy easily triumphs over past ills and ills to come, but present ills triumph over philosophy.

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Maxims], # 22 (1665-1678) [tr. Tancock (1959)]
Added on 30-Jul-15 | Last updated 30-Jul-15
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Governments make of philosophy a means of serving their state interests, and scholars make of it a trade.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
(Attributed)

Speaking of Hegel acting as an agent of the Prussian government.
Added on 23-Jul-15 | Last updated 23-Jul-15
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It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put one principle into practice.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Diary (17 Mar 1847)
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From his earliest diary entry, when he was 18.Variants:
  • "It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writing than to put one principle into practice."
  • "It is easier to write ten volumes on theoretical principles than to put one principle into practice."
Added on 9-Jul-15 | Last updated 9-Jul-15
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Philosophy directs us first to seek the goods of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied, or are not much wanted.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Advancement of Learning, 8.2 (1605)
Added on 2-Jul-15 | Last updated 2-Jul-15
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There are some philosophers who exist to uphold the status quo, and others who exist to upset it. … For my part, I should reject both those as not being the true business of a philosopher, and I should say the business of a philosopher is not to change the world but to understand it, which is the exact opposite to what Marx said.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Interview with Woodrow Wyatt, BBC television (1959)
Added on 25-Jun-15 | Last updated 25-Jun-15
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The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
The Problems of Philosophy, ch. 15 “The Value of Philosophy” (1912)
Added on 19-Jun-15 | Last updated 19-Jun-15
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Those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last, some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun; for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become a guardian, he will feel it is his duty to those who were formerly his fellow prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, he will see shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to them stupider than before his escape.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 7.514

Summ. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, ch. 15 (1946)
Added on 11-Jun-15 | Last updated 11-Jun-15
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When philosophers try to be politicians, they generally cease to be philosophers.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
A Preface to Politics, ch. 3 (1914)
Added on 4-Jun-15 | Last updated 4-Jun-15
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Now I realize that on any particular decision a very great amount of heat can be generated. But I do say this: life is not made up of just one decision here, or another one there. It is the total of the decisions that you make in your daily lives with respect to politics, to your family, to your environment, to the people about you. Government has to do that same thing. It is only in the mass that finally philosophy really emerges.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican National Committee Luncheon (17 Feb 1955)
Added on 28-May-15 | Last updated 28-May-15
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‘Tis not Wit merely, but a Temper which must form the Well-Bred Man. In the same manner, ’tis not a Head merely, but a Heart and Resolution which must compleat the real Philosopher.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 2 “Miscellany III” (1711)
Added on 16-Jan-15 | Last updated 16-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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If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Attributed)

Attributed to Einstein, but no definitive citation found. See here for more discussion.
Added on 9-May-14 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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LEONATO: For there was never a philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Much Ado About Nothing, Act 5, sc. 1, l. 35 (1598)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Jun-15
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Keep me from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
Mirrors of the Soul (1965)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Oct-16
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What is the first business of one who studies philosophy? To part with self-conceit. For it is impossible for any one to begin to learn what he thinks that he already knows.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, ch. 17, “How To Apply General Principles to Particular Cases” (c. AD 101-108)

Alt. trans.: "It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he thinks he knows." [tr. Long (1890)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-May-14
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There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Divinatione [On Divination], Book 2, sec. 58 (45 BC)

Alt. trans.:
  • "There is nothing so absurd as but some philosopher has said it." Also cited as sec. 119.
  • "In short, somehow or other, I know nothing is so absurd as not to have found an advocate in one of the philosophers." [tr. Yonge (1902)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-Jun-15
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