Quotations about:
    rationality


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What have you to say against laughing? Cannot one be very serious even whilst laughing? Dear Major, laughter keeps us more rational than vexation.

[Was haben Sie denn gegen das Lachen? Kann man denn auch nicht lachend sehr ernsthast sein? Lieber Major, das Lachen erhält uns vernünftiger als der Verdruss.]

Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramaturg, writer
Minna von Barnhelm, Act 4, sc. 6 [Minna] (1763) [tr. Holroyd/Bell (1888)]
    (Source)

(Source (German)). Alternate translation:

What have you to say against laughing? Can we not while laughing be very serious? Laughing keeps us more rational than sadness caused by vexation.
[Source (1884)]

 
Added on 10-Jan-24 | Last updated 10-Jan-24
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The one thing needed is the correction of terms. […] If terms be incorrect, then statements do not accord with facts; and when statements and facts do not accord, then business is not properly executed; when business is not properly executed, order and harmony do not flourish; when order and harmony do not flourish, then justice becomes arbitrary; and when justice becomes arbitrary the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Hence whatever a wise man denominates he can always definitely state, and what he so states he can put into practice, for the wise man will no no account have anything remiss in his definitions.

[擧爾所知、爾所不知、人其舍諸。 … 名不正、則言不順、言不順、則事不成。事不成、則禮樂不興、禮樂不興、則刑罰不中、刑罰不中、則民無所措手足。 故君子名之必可言也、言之必可行也、君子於其言、無所茍而已矣。]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 13, verse 3 (13.3.2, 5-7) (6th C. BC – AD 3rd C.) [tr. Soothill (1910)]
    (Source)

On the first thing he would do if given administration of a government. See also Socrates. Brooks identifies this as an interpolation to Book 13 around the time of Book 19.

(Source (Chinese)). Alternate translations:

What is necessary is to rectify names. [...] If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
[tr. Legge (1861)]

One thing of necessity, the rectification of terms. [...] If terms be incorrect, language will be incongruous; and if language be incongruous, deeds will be imperfect. -- So, again, when deeds are imperfect, propriety and harmony cannot prevail, and when this is the case laws relating to crime will fail in their aim; and if these last so fail, the people will not know where to set hand or foot. -- Hence, a man of superior mind, certain first of his terms, is fitted to speak; and being certain of what he says can proceed upon it. In the language of such a person there is nothing heedlessly irregular, -- and that is the sum of the matter.
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

I would begin by defining the names of things. [...] Now, if names of things are not properly defined, words will not correspond to facts. When words do not correspond to facts, it is impossible to perfect anything. Where it is impossible to perfect anything, the arts and institutions of civilisation cannot flourish. When the arts and institutions of civilisation cannot flourish, law and justice cannot attain their ends; and when law and justice do not attain their ends, the people will be at a loss to know what to do. Therefore a wise and good man can always specify whatever he names; whatever he can specify, he can carry out. A wise and good man makes it a point always to be exact in the words he uses.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

Settle the names (determine a precise terminology). [...] If words (terminology) are not (is not) precise, they cannot be followed out, or completed in action according to specifications. When the services (actions) are not brought to true focus, the ceremonies and music will not prosper; where rites and music do not flourish punishments will be misapplied, not make bullseye, and the people won’t know how to move hand or foot (what to lay hand on, or stand on). Therefore the proper man must have terms that can be spoken, and when uttered be carried into effect; the proper man’s words must cohere to things, correspond to them (exactly) and no more fuss about it.
[tr. Pound (1933)]

It would certainly be to correct language. [...] If language is incorrect, then what is said does not concord with what was meant; and if what is said does not concord with what was meant, what is to be done cannot be effected. If what is to be done cannot be effected, then rites and music will not flourish. If rites and music do not flourish, then mutilations and lesser punishments will go astray. And if mutilations and lesser punishments go astray, then the people have nowhere to put hand or foot. Therefore the gentleman uses only such language as is proper for speech, and only speaks of what it would be proper to carry into effect. The gentleman, in what he says, leaves nothing to mere chance.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

The indispensable is to render designations correct. [...] If the designations are not correct, language will not be clear. If language is not clear, duties will not be carried out. If duties arc not carried out, rites and music will not flourish. If rites and music do not flourish, then punishments will not be specific. If punishments arc not specific, then the people will do nothing without getting into trouble, lienee when the perfect gentleman has given something a name it may with all certainty be expressed in language; when he expresses it, it may with certainty be set in operation. In regard to his language the perfect gentleman is never careless in any respect.
[tr. Ware (1950)]

If something has to be put first, it is, perhaps, the rectification (cheng) of names. [...] When names are not correct, what is said will not sound reasonable; when what is said does not sound reasonable, affairs will not culminate in success; when affairs do not culminate in success, rites and music will not flourish; when rites and music do not flourish, punishments will not fit the crimes; when punishments do not fit the crimes, the common people will not know where to put hand or foot. Thus when the gentleman names something, the name is sure to be usable in speech, and when he says something this is sure to be practicable. The thing about the gentleman is that his is anything but casual where speech is concerned.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

What is necessary is to rectify names, is it not? [...] If names are not rectified, then words are not appropriate. If words are not appropriate, then deeds are not accomplished. If deeds are not accomplished, then the rites and music do not flourish. If the rites and music do not flourish, then punishments do not hit the mark. If punishments do not hit the mark, then the people have nowhere to put hand or foot. So when a gentleman names something, the name can definitely be used in speech; and when he says something, it can definitely be put into practice. In his utterances the gentleman is definitely not casual about anything.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

It would certainly be to rectify the names. [...] If the names are not correct, language is without an object. When language is without an object, no affair can be effected. When no affair can be effected, rites and music wither. When rites and music wither, punishments and penalties miss their target. When punishments and penalties miss their target, the people do not know where they stand. Therefore whatever a gentleman conceives of, he must be able to say; and whatever he says, he must be able to do. In the matter of language, a gentleman leaves nothing to chance.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

It must be the rectification of character. [...] For if characters are not correct, speech will not be relevant; if speech is not relevant, affairs will not be accomplished; if affairs are not accomplished, the rituals and music will not prevail; if the rituals and music do not prevail, tortures and penalties will not be just right; if tortures and penalties are not just right, the people will not know where to put their hands and feet. Therefore, when the gentleman adopts a character, he surely can used it to say things; when he says something, it surely can be put into practice. The gentleman, in regard to his speech, is never negligent, that is all.
[tr. Huang (1997)]

I must define the intention of names! [...] If the intention of names is not defined, the word will not be exact; if the word is not exact, the thing will not be done; if the thing is not done, the rituals and music will not be practiced; if the rituals and music are not practiced, the penalty will not be appropriate; if the penalty is not appropriate, people will not know where to go and how to do. So a gentleman must can word out its intention when he names a thing, and must can practice it after he words out the intention. So a gentleman is never unserious to his words.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #313]

Without question it would be to insure that names are used properly (zhengming). [...] When names are not used properly, language will not be used effectively; when language is not used effectively, matters will not be taken care of; when matters are not taken care of, the observance of ritual propriety (li) and the playing of music (yue) will not flourish; when the observance of ritual propriety and the playing of music do not flourish, the application of laws and punishments will not be on the mark. When the application of laws and punishments is not on the mark, the people will not know what to do with themselves. Thus, when the exemplary person puts a name to something, it can certainly be spoken, and when spoken it can certainly be acted upon. There is nothing careless in the attitude of the exemplary person toward what is said.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

It would certainly be to rectify names, would it not? [...] If names are not rectified, speech will not be representative. If speech is not representative, things will not get done. If things do not get done, rites and music will not flourish. If rites and music do not flourish, punishments and penalties will not be just. And if punishments and penalties are not just, the people will have nowhere to put hand or foot. Therefore, as to the gentleman: if he names something, it must be sayable, and if he says something, it must be doable. The gentleman's relation to words is to leave nothing whatever to chance.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

The rectification of names. Without a doubt. [...] Listen. If names aren't rectified, speech doesn't follow from reality. If speech doesn't follow from reality, endeavors never come to fruition. If endeavors never come to fruition, then Ritual and music cannot flourish. If Ritual and music cannot flourish, punishments don't fit the crime. If punishments don't fit the crime, people can't put their hands and feet anywhere without fear of losing them. Naming enables the noble-minded to speak, and speech enables the noble-minded to act. Therefore, the noble-minded are anything but careless in speech.
[tr. Hinton (1998)]

It would, of course, be the rectification of names. [...] If names are not rectified, speech will not accord with reality; when speech does not accord with reality, things will not be successfully accomplished. When things are not successfully accomplished, ritual practice and music will fail to flourish; when ritual and music fail to flourish, punishments and penalties will miss the mark. And when punishments and penalties miss the mark, the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves. This is why the gentleman only applies names that can be properly spoken and assures that what he says can be properly put into action. The gentleman simply guards against arbitrariness in his speech. That is all there is to it.
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

If I had to name my first action, I would rectify names. [...] If names are not rectified, then speech will not function properly, and if speech does not function properly, then undertakings will not succeed. If undertakings do not succeed, then rites and music will not flourish. If rites and music do not flourish, then punishments and penalties will not be justly administered. And if punishments and penalties are not justly administered, then the common people will not know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, when the gentleman names a thing, that naming can be conveyed in speech, and if it is conveyed in speech, then it can surely be put into action. When the gentleman speaks, there is nothing arbitrary in the way he does so.
[tr. Watson (2007)]

It would have to be rectifying names. [...] If names are not rectified, what is said will not seem reasonable. When what is said does not seem reasonable, nothing will be accomplished. When nothing gets accomplished, rites and music will not flourish. When rites and music do not flourish, punishment and penalties [will take their place, and they] will fail to be just when put into use. And when punishments and penalties fail to be just in practice, people will not know where to put their hands and feet. Thus when a gentleman names something, the name can surely hold up in speech. When he says something, his words can surely be carried out in action. When a gentleman speaks, there is nothing casual or careless about what he says.
[tr. Chin (2014)]

 
Added on 4-Apr-23 | Last updated 8-May-23
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Perhaps the hardest thing for humans to do is to imagine the world as it is imagined by others. We tend to confuse acting in accordance with the goals and values of the society in which we live with rationality; we tend to confuse intelligence with thinking in accordance with those goals and values. And, of course, we are always inclined to see events as predetermined — and we are almost always wrong.

Masha Gessen (b. 1967) Russian-American journalist, author, translator, activist
“The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments,” The New Yorker (20 Feb 2018)
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We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will, therefore, always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. No, we are complicated machines; and though we have one main spring that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #209 (19 Dec 1749)
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There are two kinds of fears: rational and irrational — or, in simpler terms, fears that make sense and fears that don’t. For instance, the Baudelaire orphans have a fear of Count Olaf, which makes perfect sense, because he is an evil man who wants to destroy them. But if they were afraid of lemon meringue pie, this would be an irrational fear, because lemon meringue pie is delicious and would never hurt a soul. Being afraid of a monster under the bed is perfectly rational, because there may in fact be a monster under your bed at any time, ready to eat you all up, but fear of realtors is an irrational fear. Realtors, as I’m sure you know, are people who assist in the buying and selling of houses. Besides occasionally wearing an ugly yellow coat, the worst a realtor can do to you is show you a house that you find ugly, so it is completely irrational to be terrified of them.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Wide Window (2000)
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The difference between a conviction and a prejudice is that you can explain a conviction without getting angry.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Anonymous

No definitive source is found for this quotation. Frequently attributed to Gregory Benford, Deeper than the Darkness (1970), but it has shown up anonymously at least as early as 1951 as "filler" material in periodicals. Also sometimes attributed to Samuel Butler or Dorothy Sarnoff, but not with any citation.
 
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G’KAR: If you’re going to be worried every time the universe doesn’t make sense, you’re going to be worried every moment of every day for the rest of your natural life.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 4×02 “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?” (11 Nov 1996)
 
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The security of society lies in custom and unconscious instinct, and the basis of the stability of society, as a healthy organism, is the complete absence of any intelligence amongst its members. The great majority of people being aware of this, rank themselves naturally on the side of that splendid system that elevates them to the dignity of machines, and rage so wildly against the intrusion of the intellectual faculty into any question that concerns life, that one is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
“The Critic as Artist,” Intentions (1891)
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The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation for Unpopularity” (2000)
 
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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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The law no passion can disturb. ‘Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis mens sine affectu, written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials” (4 Dec 1770)
 
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Rationality is not one of humanity’s strong points.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The Ghost Brigades, ch. 5 (2006)
 
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The reason that truth is stranger than fiction is that fiction has to have a rational thread running through it in order to be believable, whereas reality may be totally irrational.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
(Attributed)

See Twain.
 
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Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.

russell - not to be absolutely certain is i think one of the essential things in rationality - wist.info quote

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?” sec. “Don’t Be Too Certain!” (1949)
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Originally given as a speech, "Agnosticism v. Atheism," Rationalist Press Assoc. Annual Dinner, London (1949-05-20), then printed as "Agnosticism v. Atheism," The Literary Guide and Rationalist Review (1949-07), then released as an essay under this title later in 1949.
 
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Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) American author, illustrator [pseud. of Theodor Geisel]
“Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat,” interview by Miles Corwin, Los Angeles Times (1983-11-27)
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Once you touch the biographies of human beings, the notion that political beliefs are logically determined collapses like a pricked balloon.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
A Preface to Morals, ch. 7 (1913)
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Man prefers to believe what he wants to be true. He rejects what is difficult because he is too impatient to make the investigation; he rejects sensible ideas, because they limit his hopes; he rejects the deeper truths of nature because of superstition; he rejects the light of experience, because he is arrogant and fastidious, believing that the mind should not be seen to be spending its time on mean, unstable things; and he rejects anything unorthodox because of common opinion. In short, emotion marks and stains the understanding in countless ways which are sometimes impossible to perceive.

[Quod enim mavult homo verum esse, id potius credit. Rejicit itaque difficilia, ob inquirendi impatientiam; sobria, quia coarctant spem; altiora naturae, propter superstitionem; lumen experientiae, propter arrogantiam et fastum, ne videatur mens versari in vilibus et fluxis; paradoxa, propter opinionem vulgi; denique innumeris modis, iisque interdum imperceptibilibus, affectus intellectum imbuit et inficit.]

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Instauratio Magna [The Great Instauration], Part 2 “Novum Organum [The New Organon],” Book 1, Aphorism # 49 (1620) [tr. Silverthorne (2000)]
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See Demosthenes.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For man always believes more readily that which he prefers. He, therefore, rejects difficulties for want of patience in investigation; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths of nature, from superstition; the light of experiment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should appear to be occupied with common and varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar; in short, his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways.
[tr. Wood (1831)]

For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding.
[tr. Spedding (1858)]

For man more readily believes what he wishes to be true. And so it rejects difficult things, from impatience of inquiry; -- sober things, because they narrow hope; -- the deeper thigns of Nature, from superstition; -- the light of experience, from arrogance and disdain, lest the mind should seem to be occupied with worthless and changing matters; -- paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar: -- in short, the affections enter and corrupt the intellect in innumerable ways, and these sometimes imperceptible.
[tr. Johnson (1859)]

For a man is more likely to believe something if he would like it to be true. Therefore he rejects

  • difficult things because he hasn’t the patience to research them,
  • sober and prudent things because they narrow hope,
  • the deeper things of nature, from superstition,
  • the light that experiments can cast, from arrogance and pride (not wanting people to think his mind was occupied with trivial things),
  • surprising truths, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar.
In short, there are countless ways in which, sometimes imperceptibly, a person’s likings colour and infect his intellect.
[tr. Bennett (2017)]

 
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The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Spurious)
    (Source)

The earliest identifiable citation appears as an epigraph to Leo Tolstoy, Bethink Yourselves!, ch. 8 (1904), in Recollections & Essays [tr. Aylmer Maud (1937)]. A cleaner copy can be found at the Nonresistance.org site. The classic (and presumably abridged) version of Bethink Yourselves!, as translated by Chertkov (1904), does not include any of the copious epigraphs, including this one.

Regardless, this phrase is not clearly found in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, though other parts of the lengthy epigraph appear to be. If ordered by position, this would presumably fall somewhere from 10.6 to 10.8 (i.e., the preceding and following sentences are more clearly identifiable), but the language of this sentence does not seem to line up.
 
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The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 3, #9 [tr. Collier (1701)]
    (Source)

Alternate translations:

  • "Use thine opinative faculty with all honour and respect, for in her indeed is all: that thy opinion do not beget in thy understanding anything contrary to either nature, or the proper constitution of a rational creature." [tr. Casaubon (1634), #10]
  • "Reverence the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it entirely depends whether there shall exist in thy ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of the rational animal." [tr. Long (1862)]
  • "Hold in honor your opinionative faculty, for this alone is able to prevent any opinion from originating in your guiding principle that is contrary to Nature or the proper constitution of a rational creature." [tr. Zimmern (1887)]
  • "Reverence your faculty of judgement. On this it entirely rests that your governing self no longer has a judgement disobedient to Nature and to the estate of a reasonable being." [tr. Farquharson (1944)]
 
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One man’s perfectly rational and objective decision making may be another man’s utter insanity.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Ron Ward
 
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