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Experimental Quotations

A little thought in life is like salt upon rice.

"The Undertakers", in Kipling's The Jungle Books

What do I know? What should I do? How shall I live?

Immanuel Kant

If we can find those measures, whereby a rational creature... may and ought to govern his opinions and actions, we need not be troubled that some other things escape our knowledge.

John Locke

Having reason makes one able to give reasons.

Jonathan Francis Bennett, Rationality: An Essay Towards an Analysis

Philosophy is an activity that uses reasoning and rigorous argument to promote human flourishing.


Man is a rational animal -- so at least I have been told.  Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favour of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries 
spread over three continents.

Bertrand Russell,"An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish", 1943

Every thinker, when he begins to think, puts some part of the world in danger.

John Dewey

...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Hamlet, in Act II, Scene 2 of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

It is the moment of profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties.

Vaclav Havel

One probably never discards prejudices without falling into a new prejudice.

Friedrich Nietsche

Cogito, ergo maereo (I think, therefore I am depressed.)


It’s impossible for me to say one word about all that music has meant to me in my life. How, then, can I hope to be understood?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The great thing in all education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.

William James, Talks to Teachers

So far as the mere imparting of information is concerned, no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth cen-tury.

Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education

Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.

Maya Angelou

Fear is the possibility that I might fall; anxiety is that there is nothing to stop me from jumping.

Soren Kierkegaard

Fear accompanies only the possibility of death. Calm ushers its certainty.

Scott McEwen

The quarks and the stars were here when you came, and they will be here when you go.

Richard E. Taylor, Physics Nobel 1990

The greatest obstacle in science is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

James le Fanou

The trouble with intuition is, that to make it sound reasonable, you have to overstate it.

John Griffiths

What you can imagine depends on what you know.

Daniel Dennett

Opposing one species of superstition to another, set them quarreling while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape into
the calm though obscure regions of philosophy.

David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God.  But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right?  Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.

Quoted by Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

What kind of a mindset is this where people are willing to die for something they cannot see, feel, hear, or smell?

G. Hagberg (partially)

Always run after someone who seeks the truth, and always run away from someone who says he found it.

M. Andre Gide

It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.

Joseph Joubert

If you fill my head with absolute judgment, there is no room for curiosity.

Marina Theodosiu-Hall

Only what is human can be truly foreign
The rest is mixed vegetation,
Subversive moles and wind.

Wislava Szymborska


The cultural role of philosophy is not to deliver truth but to build the spirit of truth and this means: 
-never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, 
-never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, 
-always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense, 
-always to suspect that there might be “another side” in what we take for granted, and 
-never to allow us to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it.

Lezek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy.

John W. Gardner

Genuine knowledge is egalitarian in that it allows no privileged source, testers, messengers of Truth.

Ernest Gellner

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

Bertrand Russell

You should never express more clearly than you can think.

Niels Bohr

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

"Desiderata", a poem by Max Ehrmann

After all, I have not wasted my time, I too have fidgeted like anyone else in this aberrant universe.

E. M. Cioran

Everything has to be polluted with our tears.

Pablo Neruda

The squeaking of the pump sounds as necessary as the music of the spheres.

Henry David Thoreau

I could not have gone through the awful and wretched mess of life, without having left a stain upon the silence.

Samuel Beckett

Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe, or we're not.  
Both are equally frightening.

Arthur C. Clarke

In nature, something can come from nothing only if nothing is something.

Herb Van Fleet

The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.

Vaclav Havel

Man is an evolutionary accident
who was born to make money.


There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen


Without virtue, God is a mere name.

Plotinus, Enneads

It will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.

The Unnamable, a novel by Samuel Beckett


What if the world isn't scattered around us like a jigsaw puzzle -- what if it's like a soup with all kinds of things floating around in it, and from time to time some of them get stuck together by chance to make some kind of whole? What if everything that exists is fragmentary, incomplete, aborted, events with ends but no begin-
nings, events that have only middles, things that have only fronts or rears but not both...?

The Investigation, a novel by Stanislaw Lem

Nothing is more important for teaching us to understand the concepts we have than constructing fictitious ones.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?

George Carlin

It is very unhappy but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


In Bad Faith, I am pretending to be two different people: I am myself, but I am also another person. Neither is responsible for how I seem to have acted.

Jean-Paul Sartre, as paraphrased by George Meyerson


In theory I reject this money. It is only in practice that I accept it.

Peggy Hill, in the TV show "King of the Hill"


I want the same thing everyone else wants: preferential treatment.

Homer Simpson, in the TV show "The Simpsons"


It's raining, but I don't believe it.

Conflict example by G. E. Moore


A physicist visits a colleague and notices a horseshoe hanging on the wall above the entrance. "Do you really believe that a horseshoe brings luck?" he asks. "No," replies the colleague, "but I've been told that it works even if you don't believe in it."

Niels Bohr

I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it.

Bertrand Russell

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard Phillips Feynmann


Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.

Michel de Montaigne

Do I have free will? Oh yes, I use it all the time.  What choice do I have?

Attributed to Lynn Dewees

Most of us go through life without knowing what it is we want of it.

A Coffin for Dimitrios, a novel by Eric Ambler


My greatest regret in life is not being someone else.

Woody Allen


...all experimental reasonings are founded on the supposition, that similar causes prove similar effects, and similar effects similar causes... But observe, I entreat you, with what extreme caution all just reasoners proceed in the transferring of 
experiments to similar cases.

Philo, in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

...the beautiful many-voiced fugue of the human mind.

Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach:An Eternal Golden Braid

Always strive to do your best -- but never on odd Tuesdays.

Richard Rorty

In a fight between you and the world -- back the world.

Franz Kafka


Chance is the most reasonable divinity of all.

Albert Camus


Measurement is the making of distinctions, and the finer the distinctions, the finer the measurement.

Enrico Fermi

- You're just like Don Quixote. You think everything is something else.
- Well, he had a point... If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, we'd all be still in the tall grass with the apes.

They Might Be Giants, a play by James Goldman

We look at the world - once - in childhood 
The rest is... memory.

Louise Gluck

Aristotle was famous for knowing everything.
He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood
and is not involved in the process of thinking,
This is true only of certain persons.

Will Cuppy


Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.  Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a predicate.



There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.

William James


Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses.

H. L. Mencken


To ridicule philosophy is really to philosophize

Pascal, Pensees (1670), no. 430


A philosopher is a blind man
in a dark room
looking for a black cat
that isn't there.


The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

Harlan Ellison, after Frank Zappa


A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.

Lezek Kolakowski, Metaphysical Horror

Nothing is more profound than what appears on the surface.

G. W. F. Hegel

I actually have grown into the person I wanted to be.

Cary Grant

That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete, and great.

My Ántonia, a novel by Willa Cather

A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.

Greek proverb

We might neglect our future selves because of some failure of belief or imagination.

Derek Parfit

Useful outcomes are best identified after the making of discoveries, rather than before.

John C. Polanyi

Everyone knows the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless.

Chuang Tzu

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered.
Religion is answers that may never be questioned.

Anonymous testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.

David Hume

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Carl Sagan

But consistency or cohesion are not proofs or guarantees of truth; they are merely indicators of truth.  No condition that could be temporary, including even such candidates as simplicity, conservatism, formal proof, intuitive clarity, collective authority, risk-taking predictive power, or empirical fit, guarantees that a statement is true. 

F. Gooding

In all the edifice of thought, I have found no category on which I can rest my head!

E. M. Cioran

The lore of our fathers is a fabric of sentences. In our hands it develops and changes, through more or less arbitrary and deliberate revisions and additions of our own, more or less directly occasioned by the continuing stimulation of our 
sense organs. It is a pale gray lore, black with fact and white with convention. But I have found no substantial reasons for concluding that there are any quite black threads in it, or any white ones.

Willard Van Orman Quine, ''Carnap on Logical Truth''

I will now let my claims for decent life stand as I have made them. To sum them up in brief, they are: first, a healthy body; second, an active mind in sympathy with the past, the present and the future; thirdly, occupation fit enough for a healthy body 
and an active mind; and fourthly, a beautiful world to live in.

William Morris, Signs of Change

How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?

F. A. Hayek

Accuracy is not the same thing as precision. Put one way, accuracy is how close to right a value is, while precision is how many decimal places it has. Put another, if the local time is 12:02 PM, and someone tells you "It's about Noon," that statement has good accuracy but poor precision.  If they tell you "It's 7:53:02" then they are providing great precision but poor accuracy.

Joseph T. Major


Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing.

George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty

...there remained awake only Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon, who were drinking out of a large goblet which they passed around, and Socrates was discoursing to them. Aristodemus did not hear the beginning of the discourse, and he was only half awake, but the chief thing which he remembered was Socrates insisting to the other two that the genius of comedy was the same as that of tragedy, and that the writer of tragedy ought to be a writer of comedy also.

Plato, The Symposium


Just to paint a representation or design is not hard, but to express a thought in painting is. Thought is fluid. What you put on canvas is concrete, andit tends to direct the thought. The more you put on canvas, the more you lose control of the thought.

Edward Hopper


...Total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field... But the total field is so underdetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of any single contrary experience.

Willard Van Orman Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism"

... I have kept to three fundamental principles: 
- always to separate sharply the psychological from the logical, 
the subjective from the objective; 
- never to ask for the meaning of a word in isolation, but only in the 
context of a proposition;
- never to lose sight of the distinction between concept and object.

... If the second principle is not observed, one is almost forced to 
take as the meanings of words mental pictures or acts of the individual
mind, and so to offend against the first principle as well.

Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic


Anatomy classes dispel any notion that God works with a cookie cutter. The idea they do create is that the mechanisms of life are both subtler and more determined to proceed than most people can imagine.

Hard Landing, a novel by Algis Budrys


Like the enigma of time for Augustine, the enigma of the continuum arises because language misleads us into applying to it a picture that doesn't fit.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Grammar


The accepted paradigm was, and still is, to find a good method for doing the job, and then work on it until you've removed the last bug! Sounds sensible, doesn't it? But eventually we had to conclude that it's a basically wrong idea. After all, even if you did manage to completely debug a program for some particular application, eventually someone would want to use it for some other purpose, in a new 
environment — and then new bugs would surely appear.

What, after all, does it mean for anything to work perfectly?  The very idea makes sense only in a rigid, unchanging, completely closed world, like the kinds that theorists make for themselves.

Marvin Minsky


There is a problem for every solution.



If I dared to be a metaphysician, I think I would create a system in which there were nothing but obligations.

Hilary Putnam


... Reason has only insight into that which it produces after a plan of its own.

Immanuel Kant

He looks at the brain as having a language in which the activities of the different parts of the brain have somehow to be interlocked and made to match so that we devise a plan, a procedure, as a grand overall way of life -- what in the humanities we would call a system of values.

Jacob Bronowski on John Von Neumann


In man, Nature has constructed a being with a capacity for making promises.

Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

James Thurber


Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

Alfred North Whitehead

For a large class of cases - though not for all - in which we employ the word "meaning", it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations


I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into 
which it is woven, the "language game".

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

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