Quotations about   utility

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Misfortune shows those who are not friends really but only because of some casual utility.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Eudemian Ethics, Book 7, sec. 1238a, l. 20 [tr. Rackham]
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Alt. trans.: "Misfortune shows those who are not really friends, but friends only for some accidental utility." [tr. Solomon]
Added on 4-Dec-20 | Last updated 4-Dec-20
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In mathematics, you don’t understand things, you just get used to them.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath [János "Johann" Lajos Neumann]
(Attributed)

The primary source for this comes from Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979), in a footnote on p. 208, related to von Neumann's time working on the H-bomb.

Dr. Felix Smith, Head of Molecular Physics, Stanford Research Institute, once related to me the true story of a physicist friend who worked at Los Alamos after World War II. Seeking help on a difficult problem, he went to the great Hungarian mathematician, John von Neumann, who was at Los Alamos as a consultant.

"Simple," said von Neumann. "The can be solved by using the method of characteristics."

After the explanation, the physicist said, "I'm afraid I don't understand the method of characteristics."

"Young man," said von Neumann, "in mathematics you don't understand things, you just get used to them."


David Wells offers a variant in The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Mathematics (1997):

Van Neumann had just about ended his lecture when a student stood up and in a vaguely abashed tone said he hadn't understood the final argument. Von Neumann answered: "Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.

Variant: "Don't worry, young man: in mathematics, none of us really understands any idea -- we just get used to them."
Added on 17-Nov-20 | Last updated 17-Nov-20
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To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress,” Lecture (4 Dec 1877)
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Morris' first public lecture. Later published as "The Lesser Arts" in Hopes and Fears for Art (1882).
Added on 26-Feb-20 | Last updated 26-Feb-20
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Our golden rule: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“The Beauty of Life,” lecture, Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design (19 Feb 1880)
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Added on 29-Jan-20 | Last updated 29-Jan-20
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We give the highest and the most peculiar praise to the precepts of Machiavelli, when we say that they may frequently be of real use in regulating conduct — not so much because they are more just, or more profound, than those which might be culled from other authors as because they can be more readily applied to the problems of real life.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Machiavelli,” Edinburgh Review (Mar 1827)
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Review of Œvres complètes de Machiavel, J. V. Perier ed. (1825). Quotations of Machiavelli can be found here.
Added on 23-Jan-20 | Last updated 23-Jan-20
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If the books which you read are your own, mark with a pen or pencil the most considerable things in them which you desire to remember. Then you may read that book the second time over with half the trouble, by your eye running over the paragraphs which your pencil has noted. It is but a very weak objection against this practice to say, I shall spoil my book; for I persuade myself that you did not buy it as a bookseller, to sell again for gain, but as a scholar, to improve your mind by it; and if the mind be improved, your advantage is abundant, through your book yields less money to your executors.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) English theologian and hymnodist
Logic on the Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry after Truth (1724)
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Added on 9-Aug-18 | Last updated 9-Aug-18
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HAL9000: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” (1981)
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Added on 8-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Feb-16
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Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress, Vol. 3 “Reason in Religion, ch. 7 (1905-06)
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Added on 25-Jun-10 | Last updated 16-Mar-20
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A belief is not true because it is useful.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Entry, Journal (15 Nov 1876)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-Jun-20
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Seek not proud riches, but such as thou mayest get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Riches,” Essays, No. 34 (1625)
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Also attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-May-16
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