Quotations about:
    truth


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To be enlightened: a big phrase! Certain men think themselves enlightened because they are decided: thus taking conviction for truth, and strong conception for intelligence. There are others who, because they know all the words, think they know all the truths.
 
[Être éclairé, c’est un grand mot! Il y a certains hommes qui se croient éclairés, parce qu’ils sont décidés, prenant ainsi la conviction pour la vérité, et la forte conception pour l’intelligence. Il en est d’autres qui, parce qu’ils savent tous les mots, croient savoir toutes les vérités.]

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist, philosopher, essayist, poet
Pensées [Thoughts], ch. 4 “De la Nature des Esprits [On the Nature of Minds],” ¶ 36 (1850 ed.) [tr. Calvert (1866), ch. 5]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Enlightenment -- a great word! Some men think themselves enlightened, because they are decided, taking conviction for truth, and strong conception for intelligence. Others, because they know all that can be said think that they know all truth.
[tr. Lyttelton (1899), ch. 3, ¶ 15]

Enlightenment is a fine word! Some men fancy themselves enlightened because they are decisive, thus taking conviction for truth, and force of conception for intelligence. Others think that because they have every word at their command, they have every truth also.
[tr. Collins (1928), ch. 4]

Because they know all the words, they think they know all the truths.
[tr. Auster (1983)], 1819 entry]

 
Added on 6-May-24 | Last updated 6-May-24
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People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward’s argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool’s paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Is There a God?” (1952)
    (Source)

Essay commissioned by Illustrated magazine in 1952, but never published there. First publication in Russell, Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68 (1997) [ed. Slater/Köllner].
 
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However that may be, it is always disastrous when governments set to work to uphold opinions for their utility rather than for their truth. As soon as this is done it becomes necessary to have a censorship to suppress adverse arguments, and it is thought wise to discourage thinking among the young for fear of encouraging “dangerous thoughts.” When such mal-practices are employed against religion as they are in Soviet Russia, the theologians can see that they are bad, but they are still bad when employed in defence of what the theologians think good. Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma. On all these grounds it cannot be maintained that theological beliefs should be upheld for their usefulness without regard to their truth.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Is There a God?” (1952)
    (Source)

Essay commissioned by Illustrated magazine in 1952, but never published there. First publication in Russell, Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68 (1997) [ed. Slater/Köllner].
 
Added on 24-Apr-24 | Last updated 24-Apr-24
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We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. For just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, now turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, but the sight must be fixed firmly on the object in view if one would make his vision of it clear, so too man’s mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.

basil the great
Basil of Caesarea (AD 330-378) Christian bishop, theologian, monasticist, Doctor of the Church [Saint Basil the Great, Ἅγιος Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας]
Letter to Gregory of Nazianzus (c. AD 358) [tr. Defarrari (1926)]
    (Source)
 
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Of course one does meet brilliant men, but they are isolated. The fashion nowadays is all for groups and societies of every sort. — It is always a sign of mediocrity in people when they herd together, whether their group loyalty is to Solovyev or to Kant or Marx. The truth is only sought by individuals, and they break with those who do not love it enough.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago [До́ктор Жива́го], Part 1, ch. 1 “The Five-O’Clock Express,” sec. 4 [Nikolai Nikolaievich] (1955) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), UK ed.]
    (Source)

Alternate translations:

Yes, there are gifted men, but the fashion nowadays is all for groups and societies of every sort. Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Solovyiëv or Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth, and they shun those whose sole concern is not the truth.
[tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), US ed.]

You come across talented people. But now various circles and associations are the fashion. Every herd is a refuge for giftlessness, whether it's a faith in Soloviev, or Kant, or Marx. Only the solitary seek the truth, and they break with all those who don't love it sufficiently.
[tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky (2010)]

 
Added on 23-Apr-24 | Last updated 23-Apr-24
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It is better to die well than to live ill. […] He who fears death loses the joy of life. Above all else truth triumphs. He conquers who dies because no adversity can hurt the one over whom iniquity holds not sway.

[Melius est bene mori, quam male vivere […] Qui mortem metuit, amittit gaudia vitae; super omnia vincit veritas, vincit, qui occiditur, quia nulla ei nocet adversitas, si nulla ei dominatur iniquitas.]

jan hus
Jan Hus (c. 1370-1415) Czech priest, theologian, philosopher, Church reformer [John Huss, etc.]
Letter to Christian of Prachaticz (>1413-04) [tr. Schaff (1915)]
    (Source)

Written while in exile from Prague. "Truth triumphs" was adopted as a motto by Hussite fighters, and is inscribed (in Czech, "Pravda vítězí") the banner of the President of the Czechia.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translation:

It is better to die well than to live badly. [...] He that fears death, loses the joys of life. Above all else, truth is conqueror. He conquers, who is slain: for no adversity hurts him if no iniquity hath dominion over him.
[tr. Pope (1904)]

The following translation is often mis-cited to Schaff; an examination of Schaff's book shows the above translation instead. I cannot find an original for this translation.

It is better to die well, than to live wrongly [...] Who is afraid of death loses the joy of life; truth prevails all, prevails who is killed, because no adversity can harm him, who is not dominated by injustice.

 
Added on 22-Apr-24 | Last updated 22-Apr-24
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In the end, what are man’s truths? His irrefutable errors.

[Was sind denn zuletzt die Wahrheiten des Menschen? — Es sind die unwiderlegbaren Irrthümer des Menschen.]

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], Book 3, § 265 (1882) [tr. Hill (2018)]
    (Source)

Also known as La Gaya Scienza, The Joyful Wisdom, or The Joyous Science.

(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

But what after all are man's truths? -- They are his irrefutable errors.
[tr. Common (1911)]

What are man's truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors.
[tr. Kaufmann (1974)]

What, then, are man's truths ultimately? -- They are the irrefutable errors of man.
[tr. Nauckhoff (2001)]

 
Added on 11-Apr-24 | Last updated 11-Apr-24
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Where this will end? In the Abyss, one may prophecy; whither all Delusions are, at all moments, traveling; where this Delusion has now arrived. For if there be a Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live for ever. The very Truth has to change its vesture, from time to time; and be born again. But all Lies have sentence of death written down against them, and Heaven’s Chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour.

Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
The French Revolution: A History, Part 1, Book 6, ch. 3 (1.6.3) (1837)
    (Source)

Carlyle is speaking of the delusion that the wealthy and land-owners of pre-Revolutionary France could forever oppress their tenants with taxes and rent without finally driving them to bloody revolution.

A core phrase here was latched onto by Martin Luther King, Jr., who incorporated it as standard fare in his speeches in the mid- and late 1960s.

We shall overcome, because Carlyle is right, "No lie can live forever."
[Examples: 1, 2, 3, 4]

 
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No desire is more natural than the desire for knowledge. We assay all the means that can lead us to it. When reason fails us we make use of experience. Experience is a weaker and less dignified means: but truth is so great a matter that we must not disdain any method that leads us to it.

[Il n’est desir plus naturel que le desir de cognoissance. Nous essayons tous les moyens qui nous y peuvent mener. Quand la raison nous faut, nous y employons l’experience. Qui est un moyen de beaucoup plus foible et plus vil. Mais la verité est chose si grande, que nous ne devons desdaigner aucune entremise qui nous y conduise.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
Essays, Book 3, ch. 13 “On Experience [De l’Experience]” (1588) (3.13) (1595) [tr. Screech (1987)]
    (Source)

Aristotle's Metaphysics opens with the phrase "All men by nature desire knowledge."

The 1595 edition included a quotation from Manilius inserted after the word "experience" (omitted here). It also added the second descriptor (after "weaker") of how experience compares to reason.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

There is no desire more naturall, then that of knowledge. We attempt all meanes that may bring us unto it. When reason failes us, we employ experience. Which is a meane by much more, weake and vile. But trueth is of so great consequence, that wee ought not disdaine any induction, that may bring us unto it.
[tr. Florio (1603)]

There is no Desire more natural than that of Knowledge: We try all Ways that can lead us to it; where Reason is wanting, we therein employ Experience which is a Means much more weak and cheap. But Truth is so great a thing, that we ought not to disdain any Mediation that will guide us to it.
[tr. Cotton (1686)]

There is no desire more natural than that of knowledge. We try all ways that can lead us to it; where reason is wanting, we therein employ experience which is a means much more weak and cheap; but truth is so great a thing, that we ought not to disdain any mediation that will guide us to it.
[tr. Cotton/Hazlitt (1877)]

There is no desire more natural than the desire for knowledge. We make trial of all means that can lead us to it. When reasoning fails us, we then make use of experience, which is a much feebler and lower means; but truth is so great a thing that we must not disdain any medium that leads us to it.
[tr. Ives (1925)]

There is no desire more natural than the desire for knowledge. We try all the ways that can lead us to it. When reason fails us, we use experience, which is a weaker and less dignified means. But truth is so great a thing that we must not disdain any medium that will lead us to it.
[tr. Frame (1943)]

 
Added on 23-Feb-24 | Last updated 14-Mar-24
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But we should not think that we ought not to learn literature because Mercury is said to be its inventor, nor that because the pagans dedicated temples to Justice and Virtue and adored in stones what should be performed in the heart, we should therefore avoid justice and virtue. Rather, every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s.

[Neque enim et litteras discere non debuimus quia earum repertorem dicunt esse Mercurium, aut quia iustitiae virtutique templa dedicarunt, et quae corde gestanda sunt in lapidibus adorare maluerunt, propterea nobis iustitia virtusque fugienda est. Immo vero quisquis bonus verusque Christianus est, Domini sui esse intellegat.]

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Christian church father, philosopher, saint [b. Aurelius Augustinus]
On Christian Doctrine [De Doctrina Christiana], Book 2, ch. 18 / § 28 (2.18.28) (AD 397) [tr. Robertson (1958)]
    (Source)

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For we ought not to refuse to learn letters because they say that Mercury discovered them; nor because they have dedicated temples to Justice and Virtue, and prefer to worship in the form of stones things that ought to have their place in the heart, ought we on that account to forsake justice and virtue. Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.
[tr. Shaw (1858)]

We were not wrong to learn the alphabet just because they say Mercury was its patron, nor should we avoid justice and virtue just because they dedicated temples to justice and virtue and preferred to honour these values not in their minds, but in the form of stones. A person who is a good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found.
[tr. Green (1995)]

 
Added on 19-Feb-24 | Last updated 19-Feb-24
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They taught me, not by precept, but by example, that nothing is more commendable, and more fair, than that a man should lay aside all else, and seek truth; not to preach what he might find; and surely not to try to make his views prevail; but, like Lessing, to find his satisfaction in the search itself.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“On Receiving an Honorary Degree,” speech, Harvard University (1939-06-22)
    (Source)

Collected in The Spirit of Liberty (1953).
 
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It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake. Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
    (Source)
 
Added on 23-Jan-24 | Last updated 23-Jan-24
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Yes, it is always the best policy to speak the truth — unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) English writer, humorist [Jerome Klapka Jerome]
Idler Magazine, “The Idler’s Club” column (1892-02)
    (Source)
 
Added on 22-Jan-24 | Last updated 22-Jan-24
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A bitter-tongued parent cannot teach respect for facts. Truth for its own sake can be a deadly weapon in family relations. Truth without compassion can destroy love. Some parents try too hard to prove exactly how, where and why they have been right. This approach will bring bitterness and disappointment. When attitudes are hostile, facts are unconvincing.

Haim Ginott
Haim Ginott (1922-1973) Israeli-American school teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist [b. Haim Ginzburg]
Between Parent and Teenager, ch. 2 “Rebellion and Response” (1969)
    (Source)

Sometimes mis-cited to the earlier Between Parent and Child (1965).
 
Added on 18-Jan-24 | Last updated 18-Jan-24
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My daddy always told me to just do the best you knew how and tell the truth. He said there was nothin to set a man’s mind at ease like wakin up in the morning and not havin to decide who you were.

Cormac McCarthy (1933-2023) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
No Country for Old Men (2007)
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The worst of superstitions is, to think
Your own to be the most endurable.
[…] Yours, the only one,
to which dim-sighted mankind may be trusted,
Till they can bear the brighter light of truth.

[Der Aberglauben schlimmster ist, den seinen
Für den erträglichern zu halten […] dem allein
Die blöde Menschheit zu vertrauen, bis
Sie hellern Wahrheitstag gewöhne.]

Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramaturg, writer
Nathan the Wise [Nathan der Weise], Act 4, sc. 4 [Templar] (1779) [tr. Reich (1860)]
    (Source)

Some of the translations leave out the second part.

(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

The worst of superstitions is to think
One's own most bearable.
[tr. Taylor (1790)]

That superstition is the worst of all
Which thinks itself the easiest to be borne --
[...] And to trust
To it alone a blind humanity
Till it is used to truth's more brilliant light.
[tr. Boylan (1878)]

The very worst
Of superstitions is, to hold one's own
The most endurable [...]
That only to entrust
Purblind humanity, till it learn to bear
The light of truth's clear day.
[tr. Corbett (1883)]

The worst of superstitions is, to think
One's own the most supportable. [...]
To it alone trust simple human-kind
Until to truth's bright rays it grows accustomed.
[tr. Jacks (1894)]

The worst of superstitions is to deem
Our special chains the most endurable --
[...] And to these alone
To trust purblind humanity until
Its eye can bear the brilliant noon of truth.
[tr. Maxwell (1917)]

The worst superstition is to consider one's own superstition the more tolerable one [...] to which alone to entrust weak-minded mankind until it will grow used to the brighter light of truth.
[tr. Reinhardt (1950)]

That superstition
Is worst which takes itself to be of all
The most endurable [...] and to which alone one may
Entrust dull-witted humankind, till it's
Accustomed to the brighter light of truth.
[tr. Morgan (1955)]

The most bigoted of superstitions is to hold one's own faith to be the only right one [...] which poor, blind men must trust until they see the light.
[tr. Ade (1972)]

 
Added on 19-Dec-23 | Last updated 27-Dec-23
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The question is then how can we decide what anybody in the ancient world said. We can’t. We wish we could. It would be nice if we could. You would like to think that because you can go to the store and buy an edition of Plato that you are actually reading Plato, but the problem is that we just do not have the kind of evidence that we need in order to establish what ancient authors actually wrote. In some cases, we have all these data, and sometimes we have just one manuscript. Sometimes we have a manuscript that was written two-thousand years later, and that’s it! So, as much as we would like to be able to say we know what ancient authors actually wrote, we often just do not know.

Bart Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman (b. 1955) American Biblical scholar, author
“The Textual Reliability of the New Testament: A Dialogue between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace,” Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum in Faith and Culture (2008-04-04/05)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Robert Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament (2011).
 
Added on 29-Nov-23 | Last updated 29-Nov-23
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For rigorous teachers seized my youth,
And purged its faith, and trimm’d its fire,
Show’d me the high white star of Truth,
There bade me gaze, and there aspire;
Even now their whispers pierce the gloom:
What doest thou in this living tomb?

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) English poet and critic
“Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” st. 12, Fraser’s Magazine (1855-04)
    (Source)

On his tour of a seventeenth-century monastery in Grenoble, in the French Alps, the headquarters of the Carthusian order of Catholic monks .
 
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But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes. History teems with instances of truth put down by persecution. If not suppressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
    (Source)
 
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It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.

[C’est la certitude qu’ils tiennent la vérité qui rend les hommes cruels.]

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
(Misquotation)

Widely attributed (in French and English) to Anatole France, but not found in his works, including the one location it is sometimes cited from, Les Dieux Ont Soif [The Gods Are Thirsty, The Gods Are Athirst, The Gods Will Have Blood] (1912), in either English translation or, more importantly, in the original French.

While thematically keeping in the novel's depiction of the French Revolution and the Terror, the closest match to the quote I can find is this portion of ch. 22, talking about the expediting of the trials of those charged with counter-revolutionary crimes, eliminating the need to prove a misdeed by simply inquiring as to the accused's beliefs.

Justice thus abbreviated satisfied them; the pace was quickened, and no obstacles were left to fret them. They limited themselves to an inquiry into the opinions of the accused, not conceiving it possible that anyone could think differently from themselves except in pure perversity. Believing themselves the exclusive possessors of truth, wisdom, the quintessence of good, they attributed to their opponents noting but error and evil. They felt themselves all-powerful; they envisaged God.
[tr. Allinson (1913), Jackson (1921)]

Justice, thus curtailed, satisfied them; the pace was quickened and no obstacles were left to confuse them. They confined themselves to inquiring into the opinions of the accused, not conceiving it possible that anyone, except from pure perversity, could think differently from themselves. Believing themselves to possess a monopoly of truth, wisdom and goodness, they attributed to their opponents all error, stupidity and evil. They felt themselves omnipotent: their eyes had seen God.
[tr. Davies (1979)]

La justice abrégée les contentait. Rien, dans sa marche accélérée, ne les troublait plus. Ils s’enquéraient seulement des opinions des accusés, ne concevant pas qu’on pût sans méchanceté penser autrement qu’eux. Comme ils croyaient posséder la vérité, la sagesse, le souverain bien, ils attribuaient à leurs adversaires l’erreur et le mal. Ils se sentaient forts : ils voyaient Dieu.
[Original]

 
Added on 9-Nov-23 | Last updated 9-Nov-23
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Hey all!! Just found out I’m woke … all this time I just thought I was good at history.

Jon Stewart (b. 1962) American satirist, comedian, and television host. [b. Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz]
Twitter (2022-03-30)
    (Source)
 
Added on 24-Oct-23 | Last updated 24-Oct-23
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Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning.
 
[Hingegen klebt die bloß erlernte Wahrheit uns nur an, wie ein angeseßtes Glied, ein falscher Zahn, eine wächserne Nase, oder höchstens wie eine rhinoplastische aus fremdem Fleische. Die durch eigenes Denken erworbene Wahrheit aber gleicht dem natürlichen Gliede: fie allein gehört uns wirklich an. Darauf beruht der Unterschied zwischen dem Denker und dem bloßen Gelehrten.]

Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 2, ch. 22 “On Thinking for Oneself [Selbstdenken],” § 260 (1851) [tr. Saunders (1890)]
    (Source)

Source (German). Alternate translations:

Truth that has been merely learned adheres to us like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose, or at best like one made out of another's flesh; truth which is acquired by thinking for oneself is like a natural member: it alone really belongs to us. Here we touch upon the difference between the thinking man and the mere man of learning.
[tr. Dircks (1897)]

Truth that has merely been learnt adheres to us only as an artificial limb, a false tooth, a was nose does, or at most like transplanted skin; but a truth won by thinking for ourself is like a natural limb: it alone really belongs to us. This is what determines the difference between a thinker and a mere scholar.
[tr. Hollingdale (1970)]

... other hand, the truth acquired through our own thinking is like the natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. On this rests the distinction between the thinker and the mere scholar.
[tr. Payne (1974)]

 
Added on 24-Oct-23 | Last updated 24-Oct-23
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The prosperous fortunes, and the haughty wealth
Of an unrighteous man, we never ought
To deem establish’d on a solid base,
Or that the children of th’ unjust can prosper:
For Time, who from no Father springs, applies
His levell’d line, and shews man’s foul misdeeds.
 
[οὐδέποτ᾽ εὐτυχίαν κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ὑπέρφρονά τ᾽ ὄλβον
βέβαιον εἰκάσαι χρεών,
οὐδ᾽ ἀδίκων γενεάν” ὁ γὰρ οὐδενὸς ἐχφὺς
χρόνος δικαίους ἐπάγων κανόνας
δείκνυσιν ἀνθρώπων καχότητας ἐμοί.]

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Bellerophon [Βελλεροφῶν], frag. 303 (c. 430 BC) [tr. Wodhull (1809)]
    (Source)

Nauck (TGF) frag. 305, Barnes frag. 33, Musgrave frag. 6.

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Think not that the prosperity and riches of the wicked can endure, nor yet the generation of the bad; for Time, sprung from eternity, having a just rule in his hand, shows the wickedness of men.
[Source (1878)]

One ought never to imagine the success of a bad man, and his proud wealth, as secure, nor the lineage of unjust men; for time, which was born from nothing, adduces standards which are just and shows the wickedness of men in spite of all.
[tr. Collard, Hargreaves, Cropp (1995)]

It must not be believed
that the wicked thrive securely
though puffed-up-proud in their prosperity
nor the long line of injustices go on and on
uninterrupted -- Self-generating Time
(slowly -- slowly) lays
the yardstick of justice --
into the open (at least) brings
all iniquities of men.
For all that. For all that.
[tr. Stevens (2012)]
 
Added on 17-Oct-23 | Last updated 17-Oct-23
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Real education precisely consists in the fact that we see beyond the symbols and the mere machinery of the age in which we find ourselves: education precisely consists in the realization of a permanent simplicity that abides behind all civilizations, the life that is more than meat, the body that is more than raiment. The only object of education is to make us ignore mere schemes of education. Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
“Our Note Book,” The Illustrated London News (1905-12-02)
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A play is fiction — and fiction is fact distilled into truth.

Edward Albee
Edward Albee (1928-2016) American playwright
In Elenore Lester, “Albee: I’m Still in Process,” New York Times (1966-09-18)
    (Source)

When asked whether his plays were autobiographical.
 
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My dear brothers, when you hear the progress of enlightenment extolled, never forget that the devil’s cleverest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist!

[Mes chers frères, n’oubliez jamais, quand vous entendrez vanter le progrès des lumières, que la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!]

Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet, essayist, art critic
Le Spleen de Paris (Petits Poèmes en Prose), No. 29 “The Generous Gambler [Le Joueur généreux]” (1869) [tr. Kaplan (1989)]
    (Source)

A warning by a Parisian preacher, as reported by the Devil himself. Used in movie The Usual Suspects (1995) as "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

My dear brethren, never forget, when you hear the progress of wisdom vaunted, that the cleverest ruse of the Devil is to persuade you he does not exist!
[tr. Shipley (<1919) "The Generous Player"]

My dear brethren, never forget, when you hear boasts about the progress of enlightenment, that the finest ruse of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!
[tr. Hamburger (1946) "The Generous Gamester"]

My dear brothers, never forget when you hear people boast of our progress in enlightenment, that one of the devil's best ruses is to persuade you that he does not exist!
[tr. Varèse (1970)]

The Devil's subtlest ruse is to convince us that he doesn't exist.
[tr. McGowan (1993)]

Dear brethren, never forget that the finest of all the devil's tricks is to persuade you that he doesn't exist.
[tr. Lerner (2003)]

My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!
[Source]

 
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It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge. Mal-information is more hopeless than non-information; for error is always more busy than ignorance. Ignorance is a blank sheet, on which we may write; but error is a scribbled one, on which we must first erase. Ignorance is contented to stand still with her back to the truth; but error is more presumptuous, and proceeds in the same direction. Ignorance has no light, but error follows a false one. The consequence is, that error, when she retraces her footsteps, has further to go, before she can arrive at the truth, than ignorance.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer, aphorist
Lacon: Or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, § 1 (1820)
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I think [the effects of religion] have been bad because it was held important that people should believe something for which there did not exist good evidence and that falsified everybody’s thinking, falsified systems of education, and set up also, what I think a complete moral heresy: namely, that it is right to believe certain things, and wrong to believe certain others, apart from the question of whether the things in question are true or false.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Interview by Woodrow Wyatt, BBC TV (1959)
    (Source)

Collected in Bertrand Russell's BBC Interviews (1959) [UK] and Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (1960) [US]. Reprinted (abridged) in The Humanist (1982-11/12), and in Russell Society News, #37 (1983-02).
 
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Without the Way, there is no going;
Without the Truth, there is no knowing;
Without the Life, there is no living.

[Sine via non itur;
sine veritate non cognoscitur;
sine vita non vivitur.]

Thomas von Kempen
Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German-Dutch priest, author
The Imitation of Christ [De Imitatione Christi], Book 3, ch. 56, v. 1 (3.56.1) (c. 1418-27) [ed. Parker (1841)]
    (Source)

The voice of Christ commenting on His own words in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

These precise words are most common translation over the years, also rendered (with varying punctuation and capitalization) by Bagster (1860), Anon. (1901), Croft/Bolton (1940), Daplyn (1952), and Creasy (1989).

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Without a way no man may go, and without the truth no man may know, and without life no man may live.
[tr. Whitford/Raynal (1530/1871)]

Without a way, no man can go; without the truth, no man can know; and without life no man can live
[tr. Whitford/Gardiner (1530/1955)]

Without the way there is no going aright, without truth there is no knowing aright, without life there is no living at all.
[tr. Page (1639), 3.56.3]

Without the Way can be no Walking; without the Truth no knowledge; without the Life no Living.
[tr. Stanhope (1696; 1706 ed.), ch. 61]

Without the way which I have opened, thou canst not return to paradise ; without the truth which I communicate, thou canst not know the way; and without the life which I quicken, thou canst not obey the truth.
[tr. Payne (1803), ch. 44]

Without the way, there is no journeying; without truth, there is no knowledge; without life, there is no living.
[tr. Dibdin (1851), 3.51.1]

Without the way thou canst not go, without the truth thou canst not know, without the life thou canst not live.
[tr. Benham (1874)]

Without the Way, there is no progress; without the Truth, there is no knowledge; without the Life, there is no living.
[tr. Sherley-Price (1952)]

Without a way, a road, there can be no going along it; without truth, no object of knowledge; without life, no living.
[tr. Knox-Oakley (1959)]

Without the way, there is no travelling, without the truth, no knowing, without the life, no living.
[tr. Knott (1962)]

Without the Way there is no journey. Without the Truth there is no knowledge. Without Life there is no living.
[tr. Rooney (1979)]

 
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If we can advance any propositions that are both true and new, these are indisputably our own, by right of discovery; and if we can repeat what is old more briefly and brightly than others, this also becomes our own, by right of conquest.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer, aphorist
Lacon: Or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, Preface (1820)
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History unravels gently, like an old sweater. It has been patched and darned many times, reknitted to suit different people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for the dusters of propaganda, yet it always — eventually — manages to spring back into its old familiar shape. History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Were a historian like Tacitus to write a history of the best of our kings, giving an exact account of all the tyrannical acts and abuses of authority, the majority of which lie buried in the profoundest obscurity, there would be few reigns which would not inspire us with the same horror as that of Tiberius.

[Si un historien, tel que Tacite, eût écrit l’histoire de nos meilleurs rois, en faisant un relevé exact de tous les actes tyranniques, de tous les abus d’autorité, dont la plupart sont ensevelis dans l’obscurité la plus profonde, il y a peu de règnes qui ne nous inspirassent la même horreur que celui de Tibère.]

Nicolas Chamfort
Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
Products of Perfected Civilization [Produits de la Civilisation Perfectionée], Part 1 “Maxims and Thoughts [Maximes et Pensées],” ch. 8, ¶ 482 (1795) [tr. Hutchinson (1902)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

If such an historian as Tacitus had written the chronicle of our nobler kings, making an exact statement of all those tyrannical actions and abuses of authority which are now for the most part buried in deep darkness, few of their reigns would inspire less horror than that of Tiberius.
[tr. Mathers (1926)]

If a historian such as Tacitus had written the histories of our best kings, with precise accounts of their tyrannical actions, and all their abuses of authority, most of which have been buried in the deepest obscurity, there are few reigns that would not arouse in us the same horror as that of Tiberius.
[tr. Merwin (1969)]

If a chronicler such as Tacitus had written the history of our best kings, preparing an exact amount of all tyrannical acts, of all the abuses of authority, of which the majority are concealed by fathomless obscurity, there would be few reigns which would [not?] inspire us with the same horror as that of Tiberius.
[tr. Pearson (1973)]

 
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Other people’s truth may comfort us, but only your own persuades us.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 4 (1966)
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The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasant to believe.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
A Little Book in C Major, ch. 2, § 31 (1916)
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On the subject of Biblical texts and examples to why you can’t do certain things with your body that you wish to, I find that absolutely absurd. I’ve always been extremely uncomfortable with the idea in any society that belief is based on revealed truth, that’s to say on a text like a Bible or a Qur’an, or whatever it is. It seems to me that the greatness of our culture, for all its incredible faults, is that we have grown up on the Greek ideal of discovering the truth, discovering by looking around us, by empirical experiment, by the combination of the experience of generations of ancestors who have contributed to our sum knowledge of the way the world works, and so on. And to have that snatched away and to be told what to think by a book, however great it may be in places, this is a book that says you can sell your daughter into slavery, it’s a book that bans menstruating women from within miles of temples. The fact that it also says that for one man to lie with another man is an abomination, is no more made relevant or important than the fact that you can’t eat shellfish.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry (b. 1957) British actor, writer, comedian
An Evening with Callow & Fry, Norwich (2003-12)
    (Source)
 
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He who stifles free discussion, secretly doubts whether what he professes to believe is really true.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
Speech, Daniel O’Connell celebration, Boston (1870-08-06)
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Heretical views arise when the truth is uncertain, and it is only when the truth is uncertain that censorship is invoked.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Value of Free Thought” (1944)
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We may fondly imagine that we are impartial seekers after truth, but with a few exceptions, to which I know that I do not belong, we are influenced, and sometimes strongly, by our personal bias; and we give our best thoughts to those ideas which we have to defend.

Nevertheless, we should of course all do our best to avoid controversy, in the sense that we should take every possible care to verify our facts and substantiate our conclusions before we publish our results.

August Krogh
August Krogh (1874-1949) Danish zoophysiologist, academic
“The Progress of Physiology,” Speech, International Congress of Physiological Sciences, Harvard University (1929-08-19)
    (Source)

Reprinted in Science (1929-08-30). Quoted in Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen, August and Marie Krogh: Lives in Science, ch. 9 (1995).
 
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What could I do! Facts are such horrid things!

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English author
Lady Susan, Letter 32 “Mrs. Johnson to Lady Susan” (1794, pub 1871)
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Since I do not admit that a person without bias exists, I think the best that can be done with a large-scale history is to admit one’s bias and for dissatisfied readers to look for other writers to express an opposite bias. Which bias is nearer to the truth must be left to posterity.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Autobiography, ch. 13 (1968)
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It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry (b. 1957) British actor, writer, comedian
Moab Is My Washpot, “Joining In,” ch. 4 (1997)
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Pleasures may be based on illusion; happiness must be based on truth.

[Le plaisir peut s’appuyer sur l’illusion; mais le bonheur repose sur la vérité.]

Nicolas Chamfort
Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
Products of Perfected Civilization [Produits de la Civilisation Perfectionée], Part 1 Maxims and Thoughts [Maximes et Pensées], ch. 2 (1795) [tr. Parmée (2003), # 123]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Pleasure may rest upon illusion, but felicity must repose upon truth.
[tr. Mathers (1926), # 153]

Pleasure may be be based on illusion, but happiness rests on truth.
[tr. Merwin (1969)]

Variants:
  • "Pleasure can be supported by an illusion; but happiness rests upon truth."
  • "Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can come only of reality."
 
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Self-respect cannot be hunted. It cannot be purchased. It is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations. It comes to us when we are alone, in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it; knowing the beautiful, we have served it; knowing the truth, we have spoken it.

Whitney Griswold
Whitney Griswold (1906–1963) American historian, educator [Alfred Whitney Griswold]
“Society’s Need for Man,” Baccalaureate Address, Yale University (1957-06-09)
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The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Monstrous Regiment (2003)
    (Source)
 
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The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Hogfather (1996)
    (Source)
 
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“All stories are true,” Skarpi said. “But this one really happened, if that’s what you mean.” He took another slow drink, then smiled again, his bright eyes dancing. “More or less. You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way. Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere.”

Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss (b. 1973) American author
The Name of the Wind, ch. 26 “Lanre Turned” (2007)
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A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
Quoted in Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (1958)
    (Source)

This is usually presented as a direct quotation, but is perhaps a paraphrase. The full passage from Malcolm:

It is worth noting that Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious).
 
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Violent zeal for truth has a hundred to one odds to be either petulancy, ambition, or pride.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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When you’re surrounded by people who share the same set of assumptions as you, you start to think that’s reality.

Emil Levine
Emily Levine (1944-2019) American humorist, writer, actress, speaker
“A Theory of Everything,” TED Talk, Monterey, California (Feb 2002)
    (Source)
 
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Oh child, words well spoken might be false,
and with the beauty of words, might conquer truth;
yet this is not the surest test, that is character
and right; he who conquers with his fluency,
he is clever, but I hold facts mightier than words, always.

[ὦ παῖ, γένοιντ᾽ἂν εὖ λελεγµένοι λόγοι
ψευδεῖς, ἐπῶν δὲ κάλλεσιν νικῷεν ἂν
τἀληθές· ἀλλ᾽οὐ τοῦτο τἀκριβέστατον,
ἀλλ᾽ἡ φύσις καὶ τοὐρθόν· ὃς δ᾽εὐγλωσσίᾳ
νικᾷ, σοφὸς µέν, ἀλλ᾽ἐγὼ τὰ πράγµατα
κρείσσω νοµίζω τῶν λόγων ἀεί ποτε.]

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Antiope [Αντιοπη], frag. 206 (Kannicht) [Antiope/ΑΝΤΙΟΠΗ?] (c. 410 BC) [tr. Will (2015)]
    (Source)

(Source (Greek)). TGF frag. 205.
 
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I was stunned to realize that it was possible to make up things that had never happened but which felt as if they’d happened. The church had tried to convince me that there was only truth and falsehood and nothing in between, but the nuns and priests were wrong; the story in front of me was false, but in the reading of it my heart accepted it as true. I turned over the book to reveal the writer’s name. I hadn’t previously paid much attention to the names on book covers, but by god somebody sat down and wrote that story. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could do that? I thought. And with an electric thrill I felt a key turn deep inside me.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Becoming Superman (2019)
 
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The truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you. An American presidential candidate who tells the American public the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about American history has a 100 percent guarantee of losing the elections. The same goes for candidates in all other countries. How many Israelis, Italians or Indians can stomach the unblemished truth about their nations? An uncompromising adherence to the truth is an admirable spiritual practice, but it is not a winning political strategy.

Yuval Noah Harari
Yuval Noah Harari (b. 1976) Israeli public intellectual, historian, academic, writer [יובל נח הררי]
“Why Fiction Trumps Truth,” New York Times (24 May 2019)
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That is why I think we are unfinished, and in our quest for Truth discover sooner or later that the greatest Truth can never be revealed to us through our intellect. We cannot pierce the silence that screens us from a mysterious conception, and are not content to believe that “now we see through a glass darkly: but then face to face.” There is nothing more perplexing in life than to know at what point you should surrender your intellect to your faith.

Margot Asquith
Margot Asquith (1864-1945) British socialite, author, wit [Emma Margaret Asquith, Countess Oxford and Asquith; Margot Oxford; née Tennant]
More or Less about Myself, ch. 11 (1934)
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Whether the particular revelation which you suppose to have been made to yourself were real or imaginary, your reason alone is the competent judge. For, dispute as long as we will on religious tenets, our reason at last must ultimately decide, as it is the only oracle which God has given us to determine between what really comes from him, & the phantasms of a disordered or deluded imagination.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Miles King (26 Sep 1814)
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If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.

[So sind ihm zwei Eigenschaften unentbehrlich: einmal ein Verstand, der auch in dieser gesteigerten Dunkelheit nicht ohne einige Spuren des inneren Lichts ist, die ihn zur Wahrheit führen, und dann Mut, diesem schwachen Lichte zu folgen.]

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) Prussian soldier, historian, military theorist
On War [Vom Kriege], Book 1, ch. 3 “On Military Genius [Der Kriegerische Genius]” (1.3) (1832) [tr. Howard & Paret (1976)]
    (Source)

(Source (German)). Alternate translations:

Now, if it is to get safely through this perpetual conflict with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: in the first place an understanding which, even in the midst of this intense obscurity, is not without some traces of inner light, which lead to the truth, and then the courage to follow this faint light.
[tr. Graham (1873)]

Now if it is to get safely through this continual conflict with the unexpected, two qualities are indispensable: in the first place, an intellect which even in the midst of this intensified obscurity is not without some traces of inner light which lead to the truth, and next, courage to follow this faint light.
[tr. Jolles (1943)]

 
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