Quotations about   thought

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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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I miss what I had in terms of the speed of memory access. If I needed a word or a fact it was already at my fingertips and now it’s like an arthritic and elderly gentleman has to sit up and go down many, many flights of stairs very slowly and go and rummage in dusty drawers. Eventually he will return four days later, normally at about 1:30 in the morning, and I will sit up and go, “Oh yes! ‘Crepuscular.’ That was the word I was looking for.”

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 11-Sep-17 | Last updated 11-Sep-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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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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Thought is sad without action, and action is sad without thought.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (2nd Ed.,1889)
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Quoted in Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius (1896),
Added on 14-Aug-17 | Last updated 14-Aug-17
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A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon (Apr 1946)
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Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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Clarity in language depends on clarity in thought.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
Interview with Brian Lamb, C-SPAN (10 May 1998)
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I’m thinking on the fly, here. (Although now that I’m in middle management I think I’m supposed to call it “refactoring the strategic value proposition in real time with agile implementation,” or, if I’m being honest, “making it up as I go along.”)

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
Added on 28-Mar-17 | Last updated 28-Mar-17
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No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 31 (1907)
Added on 1-Dec-16 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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Value of a Journal. A sentence now; a sentence last year; a sentence yesterday. Tomorrow a question comes that for the first time brings together these three and shows them to be the three fractions of Unit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Notebook Delta” (1837-1862)
Added on 26-Sep-16 | Last updated 26-Sep-16
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Sometimes I don’t know if my life is complicated, or if it’s that I just think too much about things.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Zoe’s Tale (2008)
Added on 20-Sep-16 | Last updated 20-Sep-16
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The profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader. The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letters and Social Aims, “Quotation and Originality” (1876)
Added on 18-Aug-16 | Last updated 18-Aug-16
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Observe the invincible tendency of the mind to unify. It is a law of our constitution that we should not contemplate things apart without the effort to arrange them in order with known facts and ascribe them to the same law.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1836)
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Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.

Adams - read think speak and write - wist_info quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” (1765)
Added on 10-Aug-16 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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You can’t help but try and follow an animal’s thought processes, and you can’t help, when faced with an animal like a three ton rhinoceros with nasal passages bigger than its brain, but fail.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Last Chance to See, ch. 3 (1990)
Added on 3-Aug-15 | Last updated 3-Aug-15
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We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
Men and Manners, “On Prejudice” (1852)
Added on 30-Apr-15 | Last updated 30-Apr-15
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It is infinitely difficult to know when and where one should stop, and for all but one in thousands the goal of their thinking is the point at which they have become tired of thinking.

[Es ist unendlich schwer, zu wissen, wenn und wo man bleiben soll, und Tausenden für einen ist das Ziel ihres Nachdenkens die Stelle, wo sie des Nachdenkens müde geworden.]

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramiturg, writer
Letter to Moses Mendelssohn (9 Jan 1771)
Added on 8-Apr-15 | Last updated 8-Apr-15
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The firefly only shines when on the wing.
So is it with the mind — when once we rest
We darken.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) English poet
Festus (1839)
Added on 30-Mar-15 | Last updated 30-Mar-15
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‘Tis the hardest thing in the world to be a good Thinker, without being a strong Self-Examiner.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 1, “Soliloquy: or Advice to an Author” (1711)
Added on 26-Dec-14 | Last updated 26-Dec-14
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Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Postscriptum de Ma Vie [Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography] (1907) [tr. O’Rourke]
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Added on 26-Nov-14 | Last updated 26-Nov-14
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Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
A Room of One’s Own, ch. 4 (1929)
Added on 28-Jul-14 | Last updated 28-Jul-14
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As soon as a true thought has entered our mind, it gives a light which makes us see a crowd of other objects which we have never perceived before.

[Aussitôt qu’une pensée vraie est entrée dans notre esprit, elle jette une lumière qui nous fait voir une foule d’autres objets que nous n’apercevions pas auparavant.]

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French writer, politican, diplomat
“Pensées, Réflexions et Maximes,” Complete Works of Chateaubriand [Oeuvres Illustrées de Chateaubriand], Vol. 3, sec. 7 (1852)
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Added on 8-Apr-14 | Last updated 8-Apr-14
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A person who does not read cannot think. He may have good mental processes, but he has nothing to think about. You can feel for people or natural phenomena and react to them, but they are not ideas. You cannot think about them.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
In “Author Rex Stout vs. the FBI,” Interview with Sandra Schmidt, Life (10 Dec 1965)
Added on 16-Jan-14 | Last updated 16-Jan-14
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Misery is almost always the result of thinking.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
Added on 9-Sep-13 | Last updated 13-May-16
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The question is: Bad as I am, have I the right to think? And I think I have for two reasons: First, I cannot help it. And secondly, I like it.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do To Be Saved?” Sec. 1 (1880)
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Added on 12-Oct-11 | Last updated 21-Aug-14
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The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye. We are active; and indeed we know, as something more than a symbolic accident in the evolution of man, that it is the hand that drives the subsequent evolution of the brain. We find tools today made by man before he became man. Benjamin Franklin in 1778 called man “a tool-making animal,” and that is right.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
The Ascent of Man, ch. 3 (1973)
Added on 8-Dec-10 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave, and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow-men.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
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Added on 12-Feb-08 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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Why should man be afraid to think, and why should he fear to express his thoughts? Is it possible that an infinite Deity is unwilling that a man should investigate the phenomena by which he is surrounded? Is it possible that a god delights in threatening and terrifying men? What glory, what honor and renown a god must win on such a field! The ocean raving at a drop; a star envious of a candle; the sun jealous of a fire-fly.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Heretics and Heresies” (1874)
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Added on 7-Feb-08 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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BRAIN, n. An apparatus with which we think we think.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) American writer and journalist
The Cynic’s Word Book (1906)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Feb-16
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In the practice of art, as well as in morals, it is necessary to keep a watchful and jealous eye over ourselves; idleness, assuming the specious disguise of industry, will lull to sleep all suspicion of our want of an active exertion of strength. A provision of endless apparatus, a bustle of infinite enquiry and research, or even the mere mechanical labour of copying, may be employed, to evade and shuffle off real labour, — the real labour of thinking.

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) British painter, critic
Speech to the Royal Academy, London (10 Dec 1784)
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Paraphrased over a long period of time (and still attributed to Reynolds) as: "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking."

The lecture was later described as the Twelfth Discourse in a 1797 collection of Reynolds' works.

Often attributed to Thomas Edison. More information here.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-May-14
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Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie is its pleasure.

[La pensée est le labeur de l’intelligence, la rêverie en est la volupté.]

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Les Misérables, Vol. 4 “St. Denis,” Book 2 “Eponine,” ch. 1 “The Field of the Lark” (1862) [tr. Wilbour]

Alt trans. [Denny (1980)]: "Thought is the work of the intellect, reveries its self-indulgence." Cited as Part IV, ch. 2 "Eponine."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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