SOME USEFUL APHORISMS
BOTH PRACTICAL & THEORETICAL

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.

Mediśval 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.

Gracian

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

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

Very few people listen to argument.

G. K. Chesterton

Time makes more converts than reason.

Tom Paine

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)

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

Seneca

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

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

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

Sidney Smith

To understand everything makes one very tolerant.

Madame de StaŽl

Tolerance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbours of tolerance are weakness and apathy.

James Goldsmith

Tolerance in excess is as much a vice as any other virtue in excess.

Malcolm Muggeridge

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?

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

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

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

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 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

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.

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

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

Insanity in individuals is rare—but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Men will always be mad and those who think they can cure them are the maddest of all.

Voltaire

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

MoliŤre

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

A. E. Housman

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

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson

To be happy you must organize your time around the things that are true priorities in your life, and not allow the things that matter most to be at the mercy of those that matter least.

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 StaŽl

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

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

EugŤne 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.”

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

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

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

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.

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

Lucretius

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 tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.

Thomas Carlyle

One must choose in life between boredom and suffering.

Mme de StaŽl

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

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.

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable evil.

Thomas Paine

The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman, and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives.

C. S. Lewis

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

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.

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

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

It is vain to expect governments to act continuously on any other ground than national interest.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal.

Lord Palmerston

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.

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

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

During her trial Joan of Arc was asked a question designed to trap her: “Does God hate the English?” She eluded the trap with her answer: “Of the love or hatred God has for the English, I know nothing, but I do know that they will all be thrown out of France, except those who die there.”

It simply is not true that war never settles anything.

Felix Frankfurter

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.

Schopenhauer

Men must have a fairly elevated motive for getting themselves killed. To die to protect or enhance the wealth, power or privilege of someone else, the most common reason for conflict over the centuries, lacks beauty. Conscience is better served by myth.

John Kenneth Galbraith

We must suffer much, but we shall suffer for the great name of England and for all her high ideals, as our fathers did before us.

The Times (August 5, 1914)

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

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

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.

Pascal

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

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

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

Albert Einstein

He who wishes to learn must believe.

Aristotle

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

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.

Dale Carnegie

To wrestle with a bad feeling only pins our attention on it, and keeps it still fastened in the mind; whereas if we act as if from some better feeling, the old bad feeling soon folds its tent and silently steals away.

William James

Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.

R. I. Fitzhenry

It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.

Wallace Stevens

What on earth would a man do with himself, if something did not stand in his way.

H. G. Wells

Desire is the very essence of man.

Spinoza

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

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

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.

Aristotle

The first condition of right thought is right sensation.

T. S. Eliot

The mind is always the dupe of the heart.

La Rochefoucauld

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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