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What Do We Agree On?

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

People who haven’t received much emotionally usually can’t give much emotionally.

A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world: everyone you meet is your mirror.

Ken Keyes

The irrational is not necessarily unreasonable.

G. K. Chesterton

In the human psyche things rarely achieve the simplicity of rational categories.

Ignace Lepp

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

Not every word can be defined.

As nothing can be proved but by supposing something intuitively known, and evident without proof, so nothing can be defined but by the use of words too plain to admit a definition.

Samuel Johnson

Just because we can’t define something as a truth doesn’t mean we can’t feel it as a fact.

G. K. Chesterton

Nobody can define blue, or explain how blue differs from yellow. But, unless we were born blind, that doesn’t mean that we are unacquainted with blue, or unacquainted with the difference between blue and yellow.

All explanations come to an end somewhere.

Thomas Nagel

It is not every question that deserves an answer.

Publilius Syrus

Any premises that are capable of being put into words are also capable of being verbally questioned. Any argument whatsoever can thus be made into an infinite regress.

Christopher Derrick

Rival philosophers can undermine one another’s arguments indefinitely. Hence the importance of the medieval maxim: No useful discussion is possible unless both parties to the discussion start from the same premise.

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.

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.

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

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.

What is reasonable for people to do in the face of new evidence depends on what they previously had good reason to believe.

Anthony Flew

PARAPHRASE: What is reasonable for people to regard as evidence depends on what they previously thought they had good reason to believe.

Most of what we take for granted is exceedingly difficult to validate, and much of it impossible.

Bryan Magee

It is impossible to accept or reject a world view on the basis of purely rational arguments.

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

You can always use logic to get round common sense.

Increasing the speed limit on our highways is not necessarily going to make our roads unsafe.

Al Palladini (Minister of Transport under

Ontario Premier Mike Harris and former car salesman)

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.

If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. There are some premises that can’t be reached as conclusions.

C. S. Lewis

No argument can establish the truth of its premises, since if it tried to do so it would be circular; and therefore no argument can establish the truth of its conclusions.

Bryan Magee

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.

It is not certain that everything is uncertain.


It is brilliantly silly to ask whether anything can be known for certain—for the simple reason that no amount of argument can ever get you an inch closer to an answer. All that argument can do is to go on repeating the question forever. On the other hand, any conceivable answer to the question implies that at least one thing is known for certain.

We can be certain without being logically certain. As well as logical certainty there is the certainty of experience.

We can be certain that we exist, that we’re alive, that we’re awake, that we’re sane, even though we can’t demonstrate our certainty. After all, it would be insincere to pretend that we’re not absolutely certain that some people try to evade income tax, or that politicians don’t always keep their promises.

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

All of us must hold metaphysical beliefs about the world, whether we like it or not. An example of a metaphysical belief would be the belief that the laws of nature really are laws, and not just weird repetitions.   NEW LINK (May 30/24)

I do not for my part know what is meant by the word “metaphysics.” The only definition I have found that fits all cases is: ‘a philosophical opinion not held by the present author.’

Bertrand Russell

All intelligent ideas are narrow in the sense that they cannot be broader than themselves.

G. K. Chesterton

An atheist can’t believe that god exists and continue to be an atheist, just as a Christian can’t believe that atheism is true and continue to be a Christian. There’s no such thing as unbounded intellectual freedom.

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