Quotations about   truth

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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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Added on 27-May-19 | Last updated 27-May-19
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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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Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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Never apologize for showing feeling, my friend. Remember that when you do so, you apologize for truth.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
Contarini Fleming, ch. 13 (1832)
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Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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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)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Remark to Jost Winteler (8 Jul 1901), in Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 1 (1987) [tr. Beck]
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Added on 6-Nov-18 | Last updated 6-Nov-18
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Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They grow older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“Maya Angelou, The Art of Fiction No. 119,” Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review (Fall 1990)
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Angelou used the core section (credit cards, parking spaces) a number of times in different interviews.
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’’re telling the truth about the human being — what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.

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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Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road.

[Aequum est quidquid omnes colunt, unum putari. Eadem spectamus astra, commune coelum est, idem nos munus involvit. Quid interest qua quisque prudentia verum requirat? Uno itinere no potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.]

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345-402) Roman statesman, orator, man of letters
“The Memorial of Symmachus, Prefect of the City” [tr. Romestin, Romestin, Duckworth (1896)]
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Petition on behalf of non-Christian Senators to Emperor Valentinian to restore the Altar of Victory to the Roman Senate.

Alt. trans.: "We gaze up at the same stars; the sky covers us all; the same universe encompasses us. Does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the Truth? The heart of so great a mystery cannot be reached by following one road only."
Added on 1-Aug-18 | Last updated 1-Aug-18
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Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny, ch. 10 (2017)
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Added on 7-Jun-18 | Last updated 7-Jun-18
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Every man has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbors. This right flows from the very nature of man. First, all men are fallible: no man can be justified in setting up his judgment as a standard for others. We have no infallible judge of controversies; each man in his own apprehension is right in his decisions; and we can find no satisfactory mode of adjusting their jarring pretensions. If every one be desirous of imposing his sense upon others, it will at last come to be a controversy, not of reason, but of force.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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The one condition coupled with the gift of truth is its use.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Method of Nature,” speech, Waterville College, Maine (11 Aug 1841)
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Added on 12-Dec-17 | Last updated 12-Dec-17
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The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1947) American anthropologist
An Anthropologist at Work, Journal Entry, 7 Jan 1913 (1959)
Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 2-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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Added on 16-Aug-17 | Last updated 16-Aug-17
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Though I’ve never understood how God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion by faith — it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 13 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "original uncut" edition (1960, published 1991), this is given as: "I've never been able to understand 'faith' myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones -- by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one."
Added on 7-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 6, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
Added on 17-May-17 | Last updated 17-May-17
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Ryunac, notwithstanding the bow, appeared unhappy with the answer. “You perceive,” he said, “that this answer is not likely to make me love you.”

“Well, but it is the truth, and I have been told that the truth has always some value.”

“Indeed it has value. So much so, that it should not be squandered uselessly; especially when doing so can be dangerous.”

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Paths of the Dead (2002)
Added on 3-Mar-17 | Last updated 3-Mar-17
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Nobody ever knows the whole truth. That’s why promises mean something. Otherwise they’d be too easy, don’t you see? We look toward the unknown future and promise to be faithful no matter what comes.

Claudia Gray (contemp.) American writer [pseud. of Amy Vincent]
Lost Stars (2015)
Added on 27-Feb-17 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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For Fiction is Truth’s elder sister. Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was till somebody had told a story.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English writer
A Book of Words, ch. 24 “Fiction” (1928)
Added on 23-Feb-17 | Last updated 23-Feb-17
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The truth is always in the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because as a rule the minority is made up of those who actually have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed of that crowd which has no opinion — and which therefore the next moment (when it becomes clear that the minority is the stronger) adopts the latter’s opinion, which now is in the majority, i.e., becomes rubbish by having the whole retinue and numerousness on its side, while the truth is again in a new minority.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journal (1850)
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Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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If you would understand your own age, read the works of fiction produced in it. People in disguise speak freely.

Arthur Helps (1813-1875) English writer and bureaucrat
Thoughts in the Cloister and the Cloud(1835)
Added on 15-Dec-16 | Last updated 15-Dec-16
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In effect what Luther said in 1517 was that we may appeal to a demonstrable work of God, the Bible, to override any established authority. The Scientific Revolution begins when Nicolaus Copernicus implied the bolder proposition that there is another work of God to which we may appeal even beyond this: the great work of nature. No absolute statement is allowed to be out of reach of the test, that its consequence must conform to the facts of nature.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 2 “The Habit of Truth”, §11 (1956)
Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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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)
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To anger a conservative, lie to him. To anger a liberal, tell him the truth.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Roosevelt but unsourced; first appears in the 2000s. See here for more discussion.
Added on 22-Nov-16 | Last updated 12-Mar-19
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We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, “Let’s Pretend” (1952)
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Added on 21-Nov-16 | Last updated 21-Nov-16
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Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.

Henry Adams (1838-1918) American journalist, historian, academic, novelist
The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 22 (1907)
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God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Intellect,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.

Herbert Agar (1897-1980) American journalist and historian
A Time for Greatness, ch. 7 (1942)

Cf. John 8:32.
Added on 13-Oct-16 | Last updated 13-Oct-16
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Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

Verne - facts so romantic - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
The Fur Country (1873)
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Our loyalty is due entirely to the United States. It is due to the President only and exactly to the degree in which he efficiently serves the United States. It is our duty to support him when he serves the United States well. It is our duty to oppose him when he serves it badly. This is true about Mr. Wilson now and it has been true about all our Presidents in the past. It is our duty at all times to tell the truth about the President and about every one else, save in the cases where to tell the truth at the moment would benefit the public enemy.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Kansas City Star (7 May 1918)

Reprinted in "Lincoln and Free Speech," The Great Adventure (1926).
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The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
(Attributed)
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Was I to believe him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where did truth stop? Where did error begin?

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 7 “A Woman’s Courage” (1864) [tr. Malleson]
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Science doesn’t purvey absolute truth. Science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature. It’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match. And this works, not just for the ordinary aspects of science, but for all of life. I should think people would want to know that what they know is truly what the universe is like, or at least as close as they can get to it.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Interview, Bill Moyers’ World Of Ideas (21 Oct 1988)
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Added on 14-Jun-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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Hearts full of youth!
Hearts full of truth!
Six parts gin to
One part vermouth!

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
“Bright College Days,” An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer (1959)
Added on 26-May-16 | Last updated 26-May-16
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Wherever the truth is injured, defend it.

Emerson - truth is injured - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1834)
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He who, when called upon to speak a disagreeable truth, tells it boldly and has done, is both bolder and milder than he who nibbles in a low voice, and never ceases nibbling.

Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) Swiss poet, theologian, physiognomist.
Aphorisms on Man, 2nd ed. (1789)
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The methods now being used to merchandise the political candidate as though he were a deodorant positively guarantee the electorate against ever hearing the truth about anything.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Brave New World Revisited (1958)
Added on 25-Mar-16 | Last updated 18-Mar-16
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You may get a large amount of truth into a brief space.

Beecher - into a brief space - wist_info quote

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
(Attributed)
Added on 11-Mar-16 | Last updated 11-Mar-16
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Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.

[La science, mon garçon, est faite d’erreurs, mais d’erreurs qu’il est bon de commettre, car elles mènent peu à peu à la vérité.]

Verne - science and error - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 31 (1864) [tr. Malleson (1877)]
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Alt. trans.: "Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 10-Mar-16
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But the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have. It doesn’t work that way.

Clinton - ideology - wist_info quote

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (b. 1946) American politician, US President (1993-2001)
Interview, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (20 Sep 2012)
Added on 17-Feb-16 | Last updated 17-Feb-16
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No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has “The Truth”. To be an atheist is almost as arrogant as to be a fundamentalist. But then again, I can get pretty arrogant.

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
Interview (June 1996)

When asked if he considered himself atheist or an agnostic.
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“They’re brothers,” said Zach, and you had to admire him, if only for his persistence. But it didn’t matter, because in an interview a lie can almost be as good as the truth. That’s because all good lies contain as much truth as the liar thinks they can get away with. This truth accumulates, and because it’s easier to remember the truth than something you’ve made up, it remains consistent where the lies do not. All you have to do is keep asking variations on the same questions, until you can sort one from the other. That’s why helping the police with their inquiries can take you all day — if you’re lucky.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Whispers Under Ground (2012)
Added on 30-Dec-15 | Last updated 30-Dec-15
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It seems to me that life’s circumstances, being ephemeral, teach us less about durable truths than the fictions based on those truths; and that the best lessons of delicacy and self-respect are to be found in novels where the feelings are so naturally portrayed that you fancy you are witnessing real life as you read.

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Delphine, Preface (1802)
Added on 22-Dec-15 | Last updated 22-Dec-15
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We come to know best what men are, in their worse jeopardies.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) English poet, dramatist, historian
To Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton (1605)
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There can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Plague, ch. 2 (1947) [tr. Gilbert (1948)]
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Now I understand one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your life aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

Daniel F. Keyes (1927-2014) American author
Flowers for Algernon (novel) (1966)
Added on 2-Nov-15 | Last updated 2-Nov-15
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Adventure is something you seek for pleasure, or even for profit, like a gold rush or invading a country; for the illusion of being more alive than ordinarily, the thing you will to occur; but experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you.
Porter - experience - wist_info

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) American journalist, essayist, author, political activist [b. Callie Russell Porter]
“St. Augustine and the Bullfight” (1955)
Added on 23-Oct-15 | Last updated 3-Jun-16
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Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
A Grief Observed (1961)
Added on 30-Sep-15 | Last updated 30-Sep-15
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The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Way of All Flesh, ch. 39 (1903)
Added on 23-Sep-15 | Last updated 23-Sep-15
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I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 19 [ed. Festing-Jones] (1907)
Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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“I suppose there are two views about everything,” said Mark.

“Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
That Hideous Strength (1945)
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I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of the monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech, Moorfields, England (22 May 1846)
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Added on 18-Aug-15 | Last updated 18-Aug-15
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Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 15, epigraph, “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar” (1897)
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Sometimes paraphrased, "Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." More on this quotation and its variants here.
Added on 17-Jul-15 | Last updated 20-Jan-19
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There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Guardian (28 Jul 1989)
Added on 24-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“In Front of Your Nose” Tribune (22 Mar 1946)
Added on 12-Jun-15 | Last updated 12-Jun-15
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