In all communication there has to be a shared body of knowledge that is taken for granted. We have to agree on what you don’t have to define.

David Cayley

No useful discussion is possible unless both parties to the discussion start from the same premise.

Mediæval Maxim

Few maxims are true in every respect.

Marquis de Vauvenargues

Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.

Ezra Pound

In all pointed sentences some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness.

Samuel Johnson

There is an accuracy that defeats itself by the overemphasis of details. I often say that one must permit oneself, and quite advisedly and deliberately, a certain margin of misstatement.

Benjamin N. Cardozo

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.

Bertrand Russell

Very few sentences can withstand analytical criticism because language is not a logical system.

[It sometimes seems better when reading paired aphorisms—aloud for best results and paraphrasing them according to literary taste or conversational style, and perhaps adding a bit of commentary as one sees fit—if you start with the second aphorism rather than the first. (The order shown below is from my website where I tended to order them with the generalization or the precept coming first.) For instance, with the pair below start with “Certain good qualities. . .” —perhaps keeping Donald Trump in mind:]

The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.

Solomon ibn Gabirol

Certain good qualities are like the senses: people entirely lacking in them can neither perceive nor comprehend them.

La Rochefoucauld

Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.

Sydney Smith

Many people like their beliefs, opinions and prejudices more than they like reason.

Nobody will admit without a struggle that he is prejudiced against anything. Such an admission is distressing to one’s vanity. One likes to believe that one’s views on all subjects are the product of calm, dispassionate reasoning on the available evidence.

Arnold Lunn

What probably distorts everything in life is that one is convinced that one is speaking the truth because one says what one thinks.

Sacha Guitry

Everyone is guilty of enjoying the comfort of opinion without submitting himself to the discomfort of thought.

If we could add up all the minutes we have dedicated to a critical examination of one of our most deeply held beliefs, we would probably be shocked at the ridiculously small sum.

Ernest Dimnet

Even in my innermost thoughts, I am far from thinking that those who believe differently than I have poorer judgment or from forgetting in how fragile and contingent a manner a man’s opinions are formed.

Jean Rostand

We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem that is threatened.

James Harvey Robinson

There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Our minds are lazier than our bodies.

La Rochefoucauld

Objectivity means that we can separate facts from our thoughts and feelings about those facts.

It is important to concede everything which should be conceded because it is not only bad policy but intellectually dishonest to defend the indefensible.

Arnold Lunn

Most people do not care to be taught what they do not already know; it makes them feel ignorant.

Mary McCarthy

The strongest human instinct is to impart information, the second strongest is to resist it.

Kenneth Grahame

It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.

John Henry Newman

It is impossible to make any intellectual headway against the steady resistance of a strong negative conviction.

The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes.

Stanley Kubrick

The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that, when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are no longer strong.

Winston Churchill

A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.


Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy.


A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.


There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.

Erich Fromm

God is tolerant, man is not tolerant; Omniscience pardons, frailty is inexorable.

Sidney Smith

To understand everything makes one very tolerant.

Madame de Staël

The man who says “Believe as I do or God will damn you,” will soon be saying, “Believe as I do or I will kill you.”


Intolerance, judiciously applied, is a virtue.

Charles Davenport

Political correctness. . .engenders a coercive culture of ritualized insincere approval. . . the majority can feel that it is being compelled to accord moral approval to practices that, at best, it only tolerates.

Michael Ignatieff

Is it essentially intolerant to demand that people should renounce their whole world view in the interests of tolerance?

The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.

Solomon ibn Gabirol

Certain good qualities are like the senses: people entirely lacking in them can neither perceive nor comprehend them.

La Rochefoucauld

Courtesy is to virtue as words are to thought.

Joseph Joubert

No man can put more virtue into his words than he practises in his life.

Hugh Kingsmill

Blaming or scapegoating someone always implies the claim that we would have done better in their shoes. It’s a way of protesting our innocence and brightening our self-esteem.

David Cayley

Nobody can doubt that nine-tenths of the harm in the world is done simply by talking.

G. K. Chesterton

One is apt to think of moral failure as due to weakness of character: more often it is due to an inadequate ideal.

Richard Livingstone

None of us know what exactly is the sexual code we believe in, approving of many things on paper which we violently object to when they are practised by those we care about.

Beatrice Webb

It is absurd to blame any class or any sex, as a whole. Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control.

Virginia Woolf

As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.

Samuel Johnson

People react to fear, not love; they don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.

Richard Nixon

There is not a more mean, stupid, dastardly, pitiless, selfish, spiteful, envious, ungrateful animal than the public.

William Hazlitt

The love of justice is, in most men, nothing more than the fear of suffering injustice.

La Rochefoucauld

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.

George Bernard Shaw

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

Thomas Jefferson

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

Lord Acton

A good test of character is how one reacts to the weaknesses of other people.

It’s a sign of maturity not to be scandalized.

Flannery O’Connor

It is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to think otherwise than in the fashion of their own period.

George Bernard Shaw

Observe how the greatest minds yield in some degree to the superstitions of their age.

Henry David Thoreau

In the Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas poses the question of whether heretics can be endured, tolerated. And his answer is that heretics can not be tolerated. If it was just to condemn counterfeiters to death, then surely it was necessary to put to death those who had committed the far worse crime of counterfeiting the faith.

Observe how the greatest minds yield in some degree to the superstitions of their age.

Henry David Thoreau

No one is more liable to make mistakes than the man who acts only on reflection.

Marquis de Vauvenargues

It is sometimes better not to think at all than to think intensely and think wrong.

George Bernard Shaw

For every person who wants to teach there are approximately thirty who don’t want to learn—much.

W. C. Sellar

It is futile and vastly expensive to try to teach people things they are not motivated to learn.

Aristotle said that the purpose of education is to make the pupil like what he ought and dislike what he ought.

It is a fact of experience and common-sense that education has to be governed by some set of human values, however sharply we may disagree about the content of these.

Christopher Derrick

Compulsory education has a hidden agenda to turn the citizenry into a pliable, unthinking mass. That’s why the schools so often seem to inhibit their students intellectually.

University presidents are a nervous breed who praise independence of thought on all occasions of public ceremony; and worry deeply about its consequences in private.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The two predominant activities of liberal education are reading and conversation.

Reading after a certain time diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

Albert Einstein

Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.

John Ruskin

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Robert Frost

The need to be right—the sign of a vulgar mind.

Albert Camus

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The chief use to which we put our love of truth is in persuading ourselves that what we love is true.

Pierre Nicole

The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.


The chief use to which we put our love of truth is in persuading ourselves that what we love is true.

Pierre Nicole

Sometimes the surest way to upset people is to tell them the truth.

Margaret Wente

Sometimes the surest way to upset people is to tell them the truth.

Margaret Wente

I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth—even if it costs him his job.

Samuel Goldwyn

What ardently we wish, we soon believe.

Edward Young

People believe lies, not because they are plausibly presented, but because they want to believe them. So, their credulity is unshakeable.

Malcolm Muggeridge

People believe lies, not because they are plausibly presented, but because they want to believe them. So, their credulity is unshakeable.

Malcolm Muggeridge

It’s not a controversial proposition that people tend to believe what they want, and that the strength of their conviction is usually proportional to their self-interest.

We demand strict proof for opinions we dislike, but are satisfied with mere hints for what we’re inclined to accept.

John Henry Newman

It’s not a controversial proposition that people tend to believe what they want, and that the strength of their conviction is usually proportional to their self-interest.

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth—that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

H. L. Mencken

It is folly to expect people to do all that you would reasonably expect them to do.

Archbishop Whately

There is nothing purely rational which is strong enough to bind the heart of man.

Karl Stern

A man convinced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.

Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence.

G. K. Chesterton

It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.

John Henry Newman

Of all follies there is none greater than wanting to put the world to rights.


The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.

A. E. Housman

As the years passed, I ceased to make my personal tastes the criterion for my views of the social order. I discovered that the politically-minded may be divided into those who accept the facts of human nature and those who plan their programmes on the naive assumption that man is what they wish man to be. It is, perhaps, regrettable that man is a hierarchical animal, with an invincible tendency to create distinctions, but the realist starts from facts, and does not plan for the future on the assumption that a classeless society is realisable in this geological period.

Arnold Lunn

People without human passions, loyalties and appetites could undoubtedly handle the world’s problems with laughable ease: a restatement of the view held by Aristotle (and your grandfather) that human nature is our chief problem.

Wilfrid Sheed

The youth of twenty who does not think the world can be improved is a cad; the man of forty who still thinks it can is a fool.

Hesketh Pearson

Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.

George Orwell

Beyond a certain level of intensity, medicine engenders helplessness and disease.

Ivan Illich

Nothing is more fatal to health than an over care of it.

Benjamin Franklin

It is quite clear that the body must be recognized and the soul kept in its place, since a little refreshing food and drink can do so much to make a man.

Hilaire Belloc

Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.

Oscar Wilde

The major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.

A. N. Whitehead

Change is inevitable, progress is problematic.

Bertrand Russell

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.

Ronald Reagan

Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.

John F. Kennedy

Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.

Harry S. Truman

Politicians neither love nor hate. Interest, not sentiment, directs them.

Lord Chesterfield

POLITICS: a struggle of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Ambrose Bierce

Our effective choice is never between good government and bad government, but between bearable government and unbearable government.

Government comprises a large part of the organized injustice in any society, ancient or modern.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

H. L. Mencken

Law and order is one of the steps taken to maintain injustice.

Edward Bond

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Martin Luther King

There is no doubt that people with money tend not to get charged, not to get investigated, not to get tried, and not to get convicted. All along the line, the discretions get exercised in their favour.

Clayton Ruby

You get only the amount of justice you can afford, no more, no less.

Wilfrid Sheed

To be angry is to be wrong.

Hugh Kingsmill

It’s not anger that’s wrong, it’s being angry at the wrong thing that’s wrong. It’s not hatred that’s wrong, it’s hating the wrong thing that’s wrong.

Men love with their eyes, but women love with their ears.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

You see an awful lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy.

Erica Jong

Women like to be courted.

Milton Wright

Gallantry to women—the sure road to their favour—is nothing but the appearance of extreme devotion to all their wants and wishes, a delight in their satisfaction, and a confidence in yourself, as being able to contribute towards it.

William Hazlitt

The sum of the matter is that unless Woman repudiates her Womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself.

George Bernard Shaw

The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘Woman’s Rights’ with all its attendant horrors on which her poor, feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.

Queen Victoria

Stupidity is a force of real power in human affairs.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.

Sloan Wilson

Equality is essential to conversation.

G. K. Chesterton

Every man has a right to be wrong in his opinions. But no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.

Bernard Baruch

It doesn’t pay to tell someone they are wrong.

Dale Carnegie

When you object to someone’s attitude or opinion on moral grounds, it invariably causes bad feeling.

Friendship can exist in the absence of agreement, but not in the absence of sympathy.

I declare friendship to be the most precious thing in life. But it’s like a plant that withers if it is not heedfully fostered and tended. It’s only by constant thought, by visits, by little services, and by abundant sympathy at all times that friends can be kept.

Sidney Cockerell

When a subject is highly controversial one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.

Virginia Woolf

The simple realization that there are other points of view is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing what they are is a big step. The final achievement is understanding why they are held.

The simple realization that there are other points of view is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing what they are is a big step. The final achievement is understanding why they are held.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition. It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

G. K. Chesterton

Very few people listen to argument.

G. K. Chesterton

Many people like their beliefs, opinions and prejudices more than they like argument.

Very few people listen to argument.

G. K. Chesterton

Time makes more converts than reason.

Tom Paine

Perhaps no sin so easily besets us as a sense of self-satisfied superiority to others.

Sir William Osler

Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting.

Sydney J. Harris

We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

La Rochefoucauld

The degree to which a person is loved and accepted is in exact proportion to his or her ability to give enjoyment to others—family sometimes excepted.

The art of pleasing consists in being pleased.

William Hazlitt

The most important trait in determining a person’s attractiveness is the degree of their negativity: the more negative, the less attractive.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced—even a proverb [e.g. Life is short] is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.

John Keats

A man must have grown old and lived long in order to see how short life is.

Arthur Schopenhauer

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

Mark Twain

What a man knows at fifty which he didn’t know at twenty is, for the most part, incommunicable.

Adlai Stevenson

We are not won by arguments that we can analyse but by tone and temper, by the manner which is the man himself.

Samuel Butler

Men become susceptible to ideas, not by discussion and argument, but by seeing them personified and by loving the person who so embodies them.

Lewis Mumford

You cannot win a man from his belief, political or religious, unless you can see why it attracts him and can almost imagine holding it yourself.

Frank Sheed

The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that “the truth” has already been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is secretly aware of “the truth” and merely resists it out of selfish motives.

George Orwell (from The Prevention of Literature, 1946)

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.

Bertrand Russell

Every man who attacks my belief diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy, and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy.

Samuel Johnson

People only see what they are prepared to see.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

A man has his beliefs: his arguments are only his excuses for them . . . we only see what we look at: our attention to our temperamental convictions produces complete oversight as to all the facts that tell against us.

George Bernard Shaw

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

John Stuart Mill

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.

Dale Carnegie

War is not the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you.

G. K. Chesterton

In a world that possesses no force superior to that of arms, a body of armed men that attacks an enemy’s territory can do pretty much what it wants—rob and kill anybody it meets, destroy crops, burn the houses—unless the enemy produces a similar body of armed men.

Gwynne Dyer

To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

George Washington

At bottom, every state regards another as a gang of robbers who will fall upon it as soon as there is an opportunity.


War is the province of uncertainty; three-fourths of the things on which action in war is based lie hidden in the fog of greater or less uncertainty.

Karl von Clausewitz

Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.


Direct and simple language always has some force behind it.

Northrop Frye

Broadly speaking, the short words are best, and the old words best of all.

Winston Churchill

Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make clearer.

Joseph Joubert

Ideas do not exist until they have been incorporated into words. The operation of thinking is the practice of articulating ideas until they are in the right words.

Northrop Frye

Language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience. If you begin by flouting it, it has a way of avenging itself later on.

C. S. Lewis

In natural, historical human speech there is something which we cannot manipulate at will as we can things and tools which we have made—something which we have no right to deal with arbitrarily.

Josef Pieper

The only true way to make the mass of mankind see the beauty of justice is by showing to them in pretty plain terms the consequences of injustice.

Sydney Smith

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The well-to-do do not want the poor to suffer. They wish them to be as happy as is consistent with the continued prosperity of the well-to-do.

Hugh Kingsmill

People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Injustice is relatively easy to bear: what stings is justice.

H. L. Mencken

It’s hard to forgive someone you’ve wronged.

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Charles Kingsley

I have known some quite good people who were unhappy, but never an interested person who was unhappy.

A. C. Benson

Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized.

G. K. Chesterton

Play writing gave [George Bernard Shaw] ‘moments of inexplicable happiness’ and when he tried to explain it to himself he was taken ‘out of the realm of logic into that of magic and miracle.’

Michael Holroyd (biographer)

Allow children to be happy in their own way, for what better way will they ever find?

Samuel Johnson

Mankind are always happy for having been happy; so that if you make them happy now, you make them happy twenty years hence by the memory of it.

Sydney Smith

Those who are now pursuing pleasure are not only fleeing from boredom, but are acutely suffering from it.

G. K. Chesterton

Instant gratification is bad psychology. Pleasure must be earned because part of its very intensity comes from resistance or self-control. To gratify every impulse at once destroys this intensity, as the breaking of a dam reduces all water to the same level.

A certain amount of excitement is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings; too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.

Bertrand Russell

One must choose in life between boredom and suffering.

Mme de Staël

This is the greatest paradox: the emotions cannot be trusted, yet it is they that tell us the greatest truths.

Don Herold

All the settlement and sane government of life consists in coming to the conclusion that some instincts, impulses or inspirations have authority, and others do not.

G. K. Chesterton

Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.

G. K. Chesterton

The practically real world for each of us, the effective world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call pathological ensues.

William James

Most emotion originates on the level of sense experience.

I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

To put it in a rather crass way, falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.

M. Scott Peck

Eros may unite the most unsuitable partners; many unhappy, and predictably unhappy, marriages were love-matches.

C. S. Lewis

The passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example of the importance of the inner element in experience. If it comes, it comes; if it does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mount Blanc from a corpse-like grey to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world to a new tune for the lover and gives a new direction to his life.

William James

I have every reason to love you. What I lack is the unreason.

Robert Mallet

When a thing bores you do not do it. Do not pursue a fruitless perfection.

Eugène Delacroix

A former female associate of a prestigious Manhattan law-firm had this to say about her work: “At best it’s tedious, and at worst the tedium will kill you. It deadened my senses. I’d go out at lunch and find myself envying people who scooped ice cream for a living. At least they could daydream all day.”

The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.

Arthur Schopenhauer

I think that the word bored does not get the attention it deserves. We speak of all sorts of terrible things that happen to people, but we rarely speak about one of the most terrible things of all: that is, being bored, being bored alone and, worse than that, being bored together.

Erich Fromm

Underlying my poor tolerance for boredom lies an even deeper gift or curse: a thirst for meaning. As far back as I can remember, any activity that seemed meaningless to me bored me figuratively—and sometimes even literally—to tears.

M. Scott Peck

Boredom was and is a word I never understood. So much to see, do and learn.

Ted Schmidt

Nothing is worse for your health than boredom.

Mignon McLaughlin

People who bore one another should meet seldom, people who interest one another, often.

C. S. Lewis

We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those who find us boring.

de La Rochefoucauld

Boredom, after all, is a form of criticism.

Wendell Phillips

I think that where it is possible to do work that is satisfactory to a man’s constructive impulses without entirely starving, he will be well advised from the point of view of his own happiness if he chooses it in preference to work much more highly paid but not seeming to him worth doing on its own account.

Bertrand Russell

I would rather be a failure at something that I loved than a success at something that I hated.

George Burns

Find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life.


Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.

J. M. Barrie

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.

All’s Well That Ends Well (1st Lord)

What a queer thing life is! So unlike anything else, if you see what I mean.

P. G. Wodehouse (Bertie Wooster)

In his early 70s Bertrand Russell remarked, ‘The world takes a lot of getting used to, and I have only lately begun to feel more or less at home in it.’

The slow compromise, or even surrender, of our fondest hopes is a regular feature of normal human life.

Lester L. Havens

One need only remind oneself of all that we expect from life to see how very strange it is, and to arrive at the conclusion that man has found his way into it by mistake and does not really belong there.

Italo Svevo

Had God designed the world, it would not be
A world so frail and faulty as we see.


I defy anyone to imagine an environment more exquisitely designed to provide us with opportunities for spiritual growth than this life of ours.

M. Scott Peck

Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.

William James

Golden lads and girls all must,
As Chimney sweepers, come to dust.

Cymbeline (Guiderius)

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Thomas Gray

If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.

La Bruyère

I am a temporary enclosure for a temporary purpose; that served, my skull and teeth, my idiosyncrasy and desire, will disperse, I believe, like the timbers of a booth after the fair.

H. G. Wells

As for future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague possibilities.

Charles Darwin

“We are all,” said Victor Hugo, “under sentence of death, but with a kind of indefinite reprieve.” We murmur, “How true,” but in normal times we remain unconvinced, and continue to plan our life on the assumption that we shall live for ever.

Arnold Lunn

Jung said the psyche doesn’t pay any attention to whether you’re going to die or not. It goes on as if you were going to live forever.

Common sense is a form of insight, but it’s not infallible.

We seldom attribute common sense except to those who agree with us.

La Rochefoucauld

Desire is the very essence of man.


The search for an outside meaning that can compel an inner response must always be disappointed: all ‘meaning’ must be at bottom related to our primary desires, and when they are extinct no miracle can restore to the world the value which they reflected upon it.

Bertrand Russell

Hope in every sphere of life is a privilege that attaches to action. No action, no hope.

Peter Levi

Hope is the basic ingredient of all vitality.

Erik Erikson

The first condition of right thought is right sensation.

T. S. Eliot

The mind is always the dupe of the heart.

La Rochefoucauld

If a creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it. Such a belief ought to be true, he reasons, therefore it is true.

William James

A belief is not necessarily false because it happens to be consoling.

I have learned that arguments, no matter how watertight, often fall on deaf ears. I am myself the author of arguments that I consider rigourous and unanswerable but that are often not so much rebutted or even dismissed as simply ignored.

Daniel Dennett (from Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995)

Religious (or simple) fundamentalism is the inability to see that words can’t do what we thought they could do, namely, establish truth with authority and without ambiguity. Philosophical (or sophisticated) fundamentalism is the inability to see that arguments can’t do what we thought they could do, namely, establish truth authoritatively and unambiguously.

The analogy is a particularly tricky form of rhetoric when it becomes the basis of an argument rather than merely a figure of speech.

Northrop Frye

A drop of water is not immortal; it can be resolved into oxygen and hydrogen. If, therefore, a drop of water were to maintain that it had a quality of aqueousness which would survive its dissolution we should be inclined to be sceptical.

Bertrand Russell (arguing against immortality)

Arguments that don’t satisfy us emotionally usually don’t satisfy us intellectually. Everyone weighs certain kinds of evidence differently depending on what they want or don’t want to believe.

The closest we can get to impartiality is admitting we are partial.

G. K. Chesterton

Perfection in making is an art, perfection in acting is a virtue.


The perfection of man consists not in being perfect but in trying to be; and that trying implies, of course, continual failures.

Michael Mason

A person who believes in unalterable natural law can’t believe in any miracle in any age. A person who believes in a will behind law can believe in any miracle in any age.

G. K. Chesterton

The interference of the human will with the course of Nature is not an exception to law: and by the same rule interference by the divine will would not be an exception either.

John Stuart Mill

The case for any world view cannot be based on a mathematical certainty—as in the proposition, ‘Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one other.’

Arnold Lunn

The attempt to establish the truth of any particular philosophy through purely intellectual processes is absolutely hopeless—and for purely intellectual reasons.

Every philosophical position has its own difficulties. The question one must decide is not whether the answers to the difficulties of some particular philosophy are completely satisfying, but whether they are more satisfying than the answers to the difficulties inherent in alternative philosophies.

Arnold Lunn

We must abandon the search for an argument so powerful and so incontrovertible that it will destroy the philosophical opposition once and for all.

Philosophical argument, strictly speaking, consists mainly of an endeavour to cause the hearer to perceive what has been perceived by the speaker. The argument, in short, is not of the nature of proof, but of exhortation: Look, can’t you see what I see!

Bertrand Russell

Metaphysics is the only thoroughly emotional thing.

G. K. Chesterton

It is as easy for me to believe that the universe made itself as to believe that a maker of the universe made Himself—in fact, much easier, since the universe visibly exists.

George Bernard Shaw

Metaphysical arguments for the existence of God have all been shown to be invalid by competent philosophers.

J. F. Brown (psychologist)

Throughout the long tradition of European thought it has been said, not by everyone but by most people, or at any rate by most of those who have proved that they have a right to be heard, that Nature, though it is a thing that really exists, is not a thing that exists in itself or in its own right, but a thing which depends for its existence upon something else.

R. G. Collingwood

All science requires faith in the inner harmony of the world.

Albert Einstein

He who wishes to learn must believe.


To many working scientists, science seems very obviously to suggest an ultimate explanation, namely a materialist one; but a materialist view of total reality is a metaphysical, not a scientific, theory.

Bryan Magee

What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to govern? Is the ultimate unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Although science may solve the problem of how the universe began, it cannot answer the question: Why does the universe bother to exist?

Stephen Hawking

Faith is intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.

Walter Kaufmann

A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be a fool.

G. K. Chesterton

I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.

Immanuel Kant

The best years of my life were given to the Principia Mathematica, in the hope of finding somewhere some certain knowledge. The whole of this effort, in spite of three big volumes, ended inwardly in doubt and bewilderment.

Bertrand Russell

Not everything can be justified on the basis of reasoned argument. Some things have to be justified on the basis of instinct or intuition, which, in turn, depend on faith or that closely related thing, common sense.

Without faith—or something very like it—logic can’t get any traction.

Religion by its very nature is unpopular, unpopular with the ego.

Fulton Sheen

Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening.

1 Samuel 3:10

RELIGION: Insurance in this world against fire in the next.

Men despise religion; they hate it, and fear it is true.


God is a spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. [28:35 minutes into The Gospel of John, John 4:24]

Jesus of Nazareth

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.

Albert Einstein

Probably the two most famous philosophers of the twentieth century in the English speaking world were Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In 1911 the 39 year old Russell tried to get the 22 year old Wittgenstein to consider the proposition: There is no hippopotamus in this room at present. When Wittgenstein refused to believe this Russell looked under all the desks without finding one. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein remained unconvinced.

Philosophy is the search for truth in the reasonable expectation of finding some.

Hilaire Belloc

Scepticism can quickly reach a point where it becomes meaningless to talk of the alternatives of reason and faith. Reason itself becomes a matter of faith. It becomes an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.

The hope of understanding the world is itself one of those daydreams which science tends to dissipate. There is little but prejudice and habit to be said for the view that there is a world at all.

Bertrand Russell

Accept my premises and I will lead you infallibly to my conclusions.

Your conclusions can be completely wrong even though your logic is completely right.

Logic can only work on premises supplied independently of logic; any proof must start with some premise which is unproved.

Alan Wood

You can never prove your first statement or it would not be your first.

G. K. Chesterton

You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

G. K. Chesterton

Logic is always an ‘if. . . then. . .’ process which proceeds from the known to the unknown. But if nothing is known at the beginning of the process, then nothing can ever be known. You can’t use logic to generate knowledge from a state of total ignorance.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein

Mystery can be a positive experience and not just a negative state of ignorance or incomprehension.

The hardest thing to understand is how we can understand anything at all.

Albert Einstein

Sometimes it proves the highest understanding not to understand.


The chief difficulty in regard to knowledge does not arise over derivative knowledge, but over intuitive knowledge. So long as we are dealing with derivative knowledge, we have the test of intuitive knowledge to fall back upon. But in regard to intuitive beliefs, it is by no means easy to discover any criterion by which to distinguish some as true and others as erroneous. In this question it is scarcely possible to reach any very precise result: all our knowledge of truths is infected with some degree of doubt, and a theory which ignored this fact would be plainly wrong.

Bertrand Russell (from The Problems of Philosophy, 1912)

All knowledge must be built up upon our instinctive [i.e. intuitive] beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left.

Bertrand Russell

All knowledge must be built up upon our instinctive [or intuitive] beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left.

Bertrand Russell

Everything that logic can tell us about the world is ultimately founded on something other than logic, and that something, call it instinct or intuition or insight, can only be accepted as a matter of faith or common sense.

The word “prove” has two distinct meanings, one strict and one colloquial, that have very little to do with one another. The strict meaning of “prove,” as understood by logicians and mathematicians, is to reason syllogistically such that the conclusion states explicitly what is already contained—but implicit—in the premises. The ordinary wide meaning of “prove”—as in the courtroom phrase “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt”—is to ascertain knowledge with a high degree of probability through evidence and reason.

Reason, in the fullest sense of the word, is about making rational inferences from “reasonable” premises. But most of the rational inferences we make in philosophy and science, as well as in practical life, are non-demonstrative. In other words, most of the inferences employed by reason are not, strictly speaking, logical (or deductive or demonstrative or necessary) inferences.

There is no such thing as a condition of complete freedom, unless we can speak of a condition of nonentity. What we call freedom is always and of necessity simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another.

G. K. Chesterton

Any conception of reality which a sane mind can admit must favour some of its wishes and frustrate others.

C. S. Lewis

The cardinal doctrine or dogma of Western intellectual culture is that God has not revealed himself and that therefore no revealed religion is true.

A dislike of defined dogmas really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.

G. K. Chesterton

The world of values is a real world. Otherwise we’re in the position of admitting that we believe and take very seriously all sorts of thing that are unreal, such as that stealing is wrong, heroism is admirable, torture is horrible, sunsets are beautiful, Shakespeare is a good playwright, etc., etc.

The world of thought and of spiritual values, on the threshold of which man has the consciousness of standing, is a real world, an order no less great than the material order, and it is only in this world that we shall find a solution to the otherwise hopeless conflict between man’s spiritual aspirations and the limitations of his material existence.

Christopher Dawson

Secular Liberalism was born on the shores of Lake Geneva in the salons of Madame Necker and Madame de Staël. Its basic doctrine was defined in the proposition: “It is contrary to the natural, innate and inalienable right and liberty and dignity of man to subject himself to an authority the root, rule and measure and sanction of which is not in himself.”

Liberal humanists were rationalists in their criticism of dogmatic religion, but their own ideology is based on a non-rational dogmatism, an intuitive experience which is half mystical and half emotional.

Christopher Dawson

Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.

William F. Buckley

The trouble with you liberals is you get uneasy when people don’t agree with you.

H. L. Mencken

Love is a matter of feeling, not of will or volition. Hence there is no such thing as a duty to love.

Immanuel Kant

Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional.

M. Scott Peck

I was taught when I was young that if people would only love one another, all would be well with the world. This seemed simple and very nice; but I found when I tried to put it in practice not only that other people were seldom lovable, but that I was not very lovable myself . . . you will find yourself making friends with people whose opinions are the very opposite to your own, whilst you cannot bear the sight of others who share all your beliefs. You may love your dog and find your nearest relatives detestable. So don’t waste your time arguing whether you ought to love all you neighbours. You can’t help yourself; and neither can they.

George Bernard Shaw (from a broadcast to sixth forms in 1937)

It is obviously impossible to love all men in any strict and true sense. What is meant by loving all men, is to feel well disposed towards all men, to be ready to assist them, and to act towards those who come in our way as if we loved them.

J. H. Newman

Love does not mean to be moved by another, to feel something towards another, to let oneself go, to admire another or desire another, to want to possess another. Love is essentially the gift of oneself to another and to others.

Fr. Michel Quoist

All God wants is gratitude and self-surrender. He needs nothing from us except our love.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

It is a great mistake to suppose that love unites and unifies men. Love diversifies them, because love is directed towards individuality. The thing that really unites men and makes them like to each other is hatred.

G. K. Chesterton

Movements born in hatred very quickly take on the characteristics of the thing they oppose.

J. S. Habgood

The emergence of life from lifeless matter necessarily involves the kind of process which may roughly be described as a miracle. The reader can choose between a grotesquely improbable miracle, and a rational miracle. He can believe, if he wishes, that the complicated structure of a cell, with the power to reproduce itself, floated off the primeval seas as the result of pure chance, or alternatively that this cell was created by a supernatural act of God.

Arnold Lunn (from Now I See, 1933)

The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going.

Francis Crick

Just walking along the road we lived in when I was a child I would find myself wondering, with a poignancy I find it difficult now to convey, who I was and how I came to be in that place.

Malcolm Muggeridge

One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.

G. K. Chesterton

The only alternative to social suicide is the restoration of the family. Sooner or later the state will realise that it can neither take the place of the family nor do without it.

Christopher Dawson

In the early days of the Communist regime in Russia ‘free love’ was preached. The resulting insecurity was so catastrophic that it threatened the stability of the State, and it wasn’t long before all the laws and regulations surrounding marriage were back in place.

I think that capitalism, wisely managed, can probably be made more efficient for attaining economic ends than any alternative system yet in sight, but that in itself is in many ways extremely objectionable.

Maynard Keynes

Normally speaking, it may be said that the forces of a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer and thus increase the gap between them.

Jawaharlal Nehru

By and large the United States is run by the corporations and they hire lawyers from Whittier and actors from Warner Brothers to impersonate presidents, but the actual governing of the United States is done in the board rooms of America.

Gore Vidal

Perhaps the simultaneously most profound and silliest words ever written were: “We hold these truths to be self-evident...

M. Scott Peck

Literature is preoccupied with the significance of life while journalism is preoccupied with the phenomena.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Literature is news that stays news.

Ezra Pound

To interest is the first duty of art; no other excellences will even begin to compensate for failure in this, and very serious faults will be covered by this, as by charity.

C. S. Lewis

It is taken as basic by all the culture of our age that whenever artists and audience lose touch, the fault must be wholly on the side of the audience. (I have never come across the great work in which this important doctrine is proved.)

C. S. Lewis

The public does not like bad literature. The public likes a certain kind of literature and likes that kind of literature even when it is bad better than another kind of literature even when it is good.

G. K. Chesterton

The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good—in spite of all the people who say he is very good.

Robert Graves

My view of literature is that a man appreciates what he can, and should keep his appreciation supple by not conceiving fanatical hates and loves, and also by not straining it where it doesn’t arise naturally. Writers who don’t appeal to me I don’t bother about but I don’t mind my friends liking them.

Hugh Kingsmill

Intolerance respecting other people’s religion is toleration itself in comparison with intolerance respecting other people’s art [or taste].

Wallace Stevens

There now appeared on the ravaged scene an Angel of Deliverance, the noblest patriot of France, the most splendid of her heroes, the most beloved of her saints, the most inspiring of all her memories, the peasant Maid, the ever-shining, every glorious Joan of Arc.

Winston Churchill

No habit is so important to acquire as [the ability] to delight in fine characters and noble actions.


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