Below are some of my favorite philosophical quotes. I continue to add to this list as I come across more gems.
Table of Contents:
- Philosophy & Its Methods
- Ethics, Action, Moral Psychology
- Mind & Knowledge
“My good friend, you are a citizen of Athens, a city which is very great and very famous for its wisdom and power — are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?”
– Plato, Apology (F.J. Church translation)
“And indeed nothing but the most determined scepticism, along with a great degree of indolence, can justify this aversion to metaphysics. For if truth be at all within the reach of human capacity, it is certain it must lie very deep and abstruse: and to hope we shall arrive at it without pains, while the greatest geniuses have failed with the utmost pains, must certainly be esteemed sufficiently vain and presumptuous. I pretend to no such advantage in the philosophy I am going to unfold, and would esteem it a strong presumption against it, were it so very easy and obvious.”
– David Hume, Treatise (1739-40) , Introduction.3
“Here then is the only expedient, from which we can hope for success in our philosophical researches, to leave the tedious lingering method, which we have hitherto followed, and instead of taking now and then a castle or village on the frontier, to march up directly to the capital or center of these sciences, to human nature itself; which being once masters of, we may every where else hope for an easy victory. From this station we may extend our conquests over all those sciences, which more intimately concern human life, and may afterwards proceed at leisure to discover more fully those, which are the objects of pure curiosity. (…) In pretending, therefore, to explain the principles of human nature, we in effect propose a compleat system of the sciences, built on a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which they can stand with any security.”
– David Hume, Treatise (1739-40), Introduction.6
“No doubt, intuitions deserve respect. …[but] I think that it is always up for grabs what an intuition is an intuition of. At a minimum, it is surely sometimes up for grabs….”
– Jerry Fodor (Concepts, 1998, pp. 86-7)
“Philosophy attempts, not to discover new truths about the world, but to gain a clear view of what we already know and believe about it. That depends upon attaining a more explicit grasp of the structure of our thoughts; and that in turn on discovering how to give a systematic account of the working of language, the medium in which we express our thoughts.”
– Michael Dummett (from Steve Pyke site)
“…it is absurd to try to confine our knowledge and belief to matters which are conclusively established by sound deductive arguments. The demand for certainty will inevitably be disappointed, leaving skepticism in command of almost every issue.”
– J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, p. 7
“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A main cause of philosophical disease—an unbalanced diet: one nourishes one’s thinking with only one kind of example.”
– Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #593
“I started philosophy looking for answers. But along the way I came to prize exploring the questions. Progress in philosophy consists, I think, in a clearer delineation of the conceptual options, not in reaching determinate conclusions.”
– Kwame Anthony Appiah (from Steve Pyke site)
“Philosophy is about possibilities: logical, metaphysical, human, social, and political possibilities. That’s why philosophy is so abstract: it keeps its distance from the world. That’s also why philosophy is a tool of criticism: it focuses our attention on ways the world might be. Philosophy’s focus on the possible is the source of its distinctive beauty, and also its special dangers.”
– Joshua Cohen (from Steve Pyke site)
“You ask a philosopher a question and after he or she has talked for a bit, you don’t understand your question any more.”
– Phillipa Foot (from Steve Pyke site)
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”
– John Cage
“…while there is such a thing as correctness in ethics, in interpretation, in mathematics, the way to understand that is not by trying to model it on the ways in which we get things right in physics….”
– Hilary Putnam, “Was Wittgenstein Really an Anti-Realist about Mathematics?” (2001), pp. 185-6.
“If I have exhausted the justification, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say, ‘This is simply what I do’.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #217.
“Wittgenstein’s reflections on rule-following attack a certain familiar picture of facts and truth, which I shall formulate like this. A genuine fact must be a matter of the way things are in themselves, utterly independent of us. So a genuinely true judgment must be, at least potentially, an exercise of pure thought; if human nature is necessarily implicated in the very formation of the judgment, that precludes our thinking of the corresponding fact as properly independent of us, and hence as a proper fact at all.”
– John McDowell, “Wittgenstein on Following a Rule” (1984), p. 351.
“The right response to the claim that all our assessments of truth are made from the standpoint of a ‘conceptual system’ that is inescapably our own is not to despair of our grip on reality but to say with Hilary Putnam, ‘Well? We should use someone else’s conceptual system?'”
– John McDowell, “Aesthetic Value, Objectivity, and the Fabric of the World” in Mind, Value, and Reality (1998), p. 128.
“One can defend common sense against the attacks of philosophers only by solving their puzzles, i.e., by curing them of the temptation to attack common sense….”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books (1958) p. 58.
“…if there is a widely shared concept of intentional action… a philosophical analysis of intentional action that is wholly unconstrained by that concept runs the risk of having nothing more than a philosophical fiction as its subject matter.”
– Alfred Mele, “Acting Intentionally: Probing Folk Notions,” (2001) p. 27.
“Some philosophers are drawn to the subject [of philosophy] via their interest in the nature and structure of the world external to us. Others are drawn to it by an interest in the capacities that make humans distinctive in the world. I am a philosopher of the latter sort. My work thus far has been clustered around the nexus of knowledge, communication, and human action.”
– Jason Stanley (from Steve Pyke’s site)
“Now I do not myself share that superstitious reverence for the beliefs of common sense which many contemporary philosophers profess. But I think that we must start from them, and that we ought to depart from them only when we find good reason to do so.”
– C. D. Broad (1950), “Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives” The Hibbert Journal 48: 105-14.
“We need to break down the walls between the social sciences. Everyone should learn multiple methods. And they should focus on problems and draw from whatever techniques and methods they need to solve that particular problem.”
– Joseph Henrich (2009), A Very Bad Wizard by Tamler Sommers, p. 122.
“I am sometimes asked–in a tone that suggests that the question is a major objection–why, if conceptual analysis is concerned to elucidate what governs our classificatory practice, don’t I advocate doing serious opinion polls on people’s responses to various cases? My answer is that I do–when it is necessary.”
– Frank Jackson, From Metaphysics to Ethics (1998), pp. 36-37.
“[This approach] displays the characteristic philosophical lust to vanquish the skeptic by arguing him out of his skepticism, without appeal to moral and political considerations or to the facts of everyday life. […] But more often than not, if you give the skeptic everything he wants, then he will be successful in repulsing your attacks and terrorizing your position.”
– Dale Jamieson, “Sober and Wilson on Psychological Altruism” (2002), p. 709.
“As so often happens in philosophy, clever people accept a false general principle on a priori grounds and then devote endless labour and ingenuity to explaining away plain facts which obviously conflict with it.”
– C. D. Broad, “Egoism as a Theory of Human Motives” (1950).
“[T]here is a methodological bias in favor of taking natural discourse literally, other things being equal. For example, unless there are clear reasons for construing discourse as ambiguous, elliptical, or involving special idioms, we should not so construe it.”
– Tyler Burge (1979) “Individualism and the Mental.”
“Being a philosophical naturalist does not mean that one thinks that science can provide all of the answers. That is scientism and that is wrong. I don’t think a billion buckets of science could speak to the problems raised by the Tea Party. Being a philosophical naturalist does not mean that one thinks that the only truths are those of science. I think the claim just made in the last sentence is true but I don’t think it is a claim of science. It means that you use science where you can and you respect and try to emulate its standards.”
– Michael Ruse (2011) “Evolutionary Ethics, Part II” Brainstorms at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Reason is universal because no attempted challenge to its results can avoid appealing to reason in the end—by claiming, for example, that what was presented as an argument is really a rationalization. This can undermine our confidence in the original method or practice only by giving us reasons to believe something else, so that finally we have to think about the arguments to make up our minds.”
– Thomas Nagel (1995) Other Minds, p. 213.
“When a man is proud because he can understand and explain the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself, ‘if Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this man would have had nothing to be proud of.'”
“If, like Hume, I had all manner of adornment in my power, I would still have reservations about using them. It is true that some readers will be scared off by dryness. But isn’t it necessary to scare off some if in their case the matter would end up in bad hands?”
– Immanuel Kant
“Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”
“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”
– Steve Jobs
“An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents…. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.”
– Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography, 1950, p. 97 [aka Planck’s Principle]
“…don’t lean too heavily on any one study, or one series of studies, in theory construction. All the more so, where there have been difficulties with replication.”
– John Doris, Talking to Ourselves (2015, OUP).
“…the usual manner of presenting philosophical work puzzles me. Works of philosophy are written as though their authors believe them to be the absolutely final word on their subject. But it’s not, surely, that each philosopher thinks that he finally, thank God, has found the truth and built an impregnable fortress around it. We are all actually much more modest than that. For good reason. Having thought long and hard about the view he proposes, a philosopher has a reasonably good idea about its weak points; the places where great intellectual weight is placed upon something perhaps too fragile to bear it, the places where the unraveling of the view might begin, the unprobed assumptions he feels uneasy about.”
– Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974, xii).
“…like the wind and rain, washing over the land year after year, a good argument can change the shape of things. – Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes (2013: 346).
“[W]hen we look beyond human affairs and the properties of the surrounding bodies: when we carry our speculations into the two eternities, before and after the present state of things; into the creation and formation of the universe; the existence and properties of spirits; the powers and operations of one universal Spirit existing without beginning and without end; omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, infinite, and incomprehensible: …we have here got quite beyond the reach of our faculties. […] We are like foreigners in a strange country, to whom every thing must seem suspicious, and who are in danger every moment of transgressing against the laws and customs of the people with whom they live and converse.”
– Philo, from David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), Part I
“Most people think great god will come from the sky, take away everything, and make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on Earth.”
– Bob Marley,”Get Up, Stand Up”
“A man who says ‘If God is dead, nothing matters,’ is a spoilt child who has never looked at his fellowman with compassion.”
– Kai Nielsen, Ethics Without God (1990)
‘We know we must die; we would rather not, but why must we suffer angst, engage in theatrics, and create myths for ourselves? Why not simply face it and get on with the living of our lives?’
– Kai Nielsen, Ethics Without God (1990)
“Hence our verdict on these reformulated versions of St. Anselm’s argument must be as follows. They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion.”
– Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (1974), p. 221
“The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.”
– Bertrand Russell, “Do We Survive Death?” in Why I am Not a Christian (1967), p. 92.
Homer: Hey, I got a question for you. (pulls out a piece of paper) “Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”
Ned: Well sir, of course, he could, but then again… wow, as melon-scratchers go that’s a honey-doodle.
Homer: Now you know what I’ve been going through.
– The Simpsons, “Weekend At Burnsies” (S13E16)
“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. … If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. … If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”
“The second commandment is “Thou shall not construct any graven images.” Is this really the pinnacle of what we can achieve morally? The second most important moral principle for all the generations of humanity?”
– Sam Harris
“Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would think—though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one—that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.”
– Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (2007)
“We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true–that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.”
– Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great (2007)
“Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything–anything–be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in.”
– Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2004), p. 36.
“Only a tiny fraction of corpses fossilize, and we are lucky to have as many intermediate fossils as we do. We could easily have had no fossils at all, and still the evidence for evolution from other sources, such as molecular genetics and geographical distribution, would be overwhelmingly strong. On the other hand, evolution makes the strong prediction that if a single fossil turned up in the wrong geological stratum, the theory would be blown out of the water.”
– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006), p. 127.
“Creating humans who could understand the contrast between good and evil without subjecting them to eons of horrible suffering would be an utterly inconsequential matter for an omnipotent being.”
– Matt McCormick
“One cannot take, “believing in X gives me hope, makes me moral, or gives me comfort,” to be a reason for believing X. It might make me moral if I believe that I will be shot the moment I do something immoral, but that doesn’t make it possible for me to believe it, or to take its effects on me as reasons for thinking it is true.”
– Matt McCormick
“I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly: and where it fails them, they cry out, It is a matter of faith, and above reason.”
– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Bk. 4, Ch. 18, Sec. 2.
“Nothing is more usual in philosophy, and even in common life, than to talk of the combat of passion and reason, to give the preference to reason, and assert that men are only so far virtuous as they conform themselves to its dictates. Every rational creature, it is said, is obliged to regulate his actions by reason; and if any other motive or principle challenge the direction of his conduct, he ought to oppose it, till it be entirely subdued, or at least brought to a conformity with that superior principle. On this method of thinking the greatest part of moral philosophy, antient and modern, seems to be founded; nor is there an ampler field, as well for metaphysical arguments, as popular declamations, than this supposed pre-eminence of reason above passion. The eternity, invariableness, and divine origin of the former [reason] have been displayed to the best advantage: The blindness, unconstancy, and deceitfulness of the latter [passion] have been as strongly insisted on. In order to shew the fallacy of all this philosophy, I shall endeavour to prove first, that reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will; and secondly, that it can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.”
– David Hume, Treatise (1739-40) 2.3.3 (“Of the Influencing Motives of the Will”)
“I conceive ethics as a branch of psychology.”
– Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (1970), p. 3.
A person is “equally real at all stages of his life; specifically, the fact that a particular stage is present cannot be regarded as conferring on it any special status.”
– Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (1970), p. 60.
“To look for a single general theory of how to decide the right thing to do is like looking for a single theory of how to decide what to believe.”
– Thomas Nagel, “The Fragmentation of Value,” in Mortal Questions (1979), p. 135.
“The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.”
– Plato, Euthyphro
“We laugh at him who steps out of his room at the moment when the sun steps out of its room, and then says: ‘I will that the sun shall rise’; and at him who cannot stop a wheel, and says: ‘I will that it shall roll’; and at him who is thrown down in wrestling, and says: ‘here I lie, but I will lie here!’ But, all laughter aside, are we ourselves ever acting any differently whenever we employ the expression ‘I will‘?
– Nietzsche, Daybreak, sec. 124.
“A theory of motivation is defective if it renders intelligible behaviour which is not intelligible.”
– Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism, p. 34.
“I do not see why the axiom of Prudence should not be questioned, when it conflicts with present inclination, on a ground similar to that on which Egoists refuse to admit the axiom of Rational Benevolence. If the Utilitarian has to answer the question, ‘Why should I sacrifice my own happiness for the greater happiness of another?’ it must surely be admissible to ask the Egoist ‘Why should I sacrifice a present pleasure for a greater one in the future? Why should I concern myself about my own future feelings any more than about the feelings of other persons?'”
– Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (1874), p. 418.
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.”
– Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I.i.1.1
“The most obvious objection to the selfish hypothesis [psychological egoism] is, that, as it is contrary to common feeling and our most unprejudiced notions, there is required the highest stretch of philosophy to establish so extraordinary a paradox. To the most careless observer there appear to be such dispositions as benevolence and generosity; such affections as love, friendship, compassion, gratitude. These sentiments have their causes, effects, objects, and operations, marked by common language and observation, and plainly distinguished from those of the selfish passions. And as this is the obvious appearance of things, it must be admitted, till some hypothesis be discovered, which by penetrating deeper into human nature, may prove the former affections to be nothing but modifications of the latter. All attempts of this kind have hitherto proved fruitless, and seem to have proceeded entirely from that love of simplicity which has been the source of much false reasoning in philosophy.”
– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Appendix 2, “Of Self-Love”.
“A person may be greedy, envious, cowardly, cold, ungenerous, unkind, vain, or conceited, but behave perfectly by a monumental act of the will.”
– Thomas Nagel, “Moral Luck,” in Mortal Questions (1979), p. 32.
“The inclusion of consequences in the conception of what we have done is an acknowledgement that we are parts of the world, but the paradoxical character of moral luck which emerges from this acknowledgement shows that we are unable to operate with such a view, for it leaves us with no one to be.”
– Thomas Nagel, “Moral Luck,” in Mortal Questions (1979), p. 38.
“Once we see an aspect of what we or someone else does as something that happens, we lose our grip on the idea that it has been done and that we can judge the doer and not just the happening.”
– Thomas Nagel, “Moral Luck,” in Mortal Questions (1979), p. 38.
“The external view [of agency] forces itself on us at the same time that we resist it. One way this occurs is through the gradual erosion of what we do by the subtraction of what happens.”
– Thomas Nagel, “Moral Luck,” in Mortal Questions (1979), p. 38.
“What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arms goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #621
“You know, Toad,” said Frog with his mouth full, “I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick.” . . .
“Frog,” said Toad, “let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
“We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another.
“Yes,” said Frog, reaching for a cookie, “we need will power.”
“What is will power?” asked Toad.
“Will power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do,” said Frog.
– From Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together (1971/79), 32-35. (Quoted in Kennett & Smith “Frog and Toad Lose Control” (1996).)
“The fears expressed by some moral philosophers that the advance of the natural sciences diminishes the field within which the moral virtues can be exercised rests on the assumption that there is some contradition in saying that one and the same occurance is governed both by mechanical laws and by moral principles, an assumption as baseless as the assumption that a golfer cannot at once conform to the laws of ballistics and obey the rules of golf and play with elegance and skill. Not only is there plenty of room for purpose where everything is governed by mechanical laws, but there would be no place for purpose if things were not so governed. Predictability is a necessary condition of planning.”
– Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949), Ch. 3 “The Will” pp. 80-1.
An “infantile card game”:
“…once the cards are dealt we turn them up in turn, and make two piles each, one red, one black; the winner has the biggest pile of red ones. So once the cards are dealt the game is determined, and from any position in it you can derive all others back to the deal and forward to win or draw.” […]
“…in relation to the solar system…, the laws are like the rules of an infantile card game…. But in relation to what happens on and inside a planet the laws are, rather, like the rules of chess; the play is seldom determined, though nobody breaks the rules.”
– Elizabeth Anscombe Causality and Determination (1971, Cambridge UP), p. 295 in the reprinted version in Loux’s Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings, 2nd ed. (2008).
“Right now, Moltor’s heating my skull up to a scorching 450 degrees. It’s like getting a scalp message from Lucifer. (…) You see, my brain’s sending a message to my arms right now to put my head out. But I’m choosing to ignore that. (…) Things get easier as your brain dies, Bob.”
– Space Ghost, SGC2C, “Chambraigne” [YouTube link]
“Those emotive theorists who said that the function of moral utterance was to evince emotion would… have been correct if they had substituted the indefinite for the definite article.”
– Alasdair MacIntyre, “What Morality Is Not” (ch. 12 of Against the Self-images of the Age), p. 101.
“When I am aware, not just that I have a certain desire or fear, say, but that I am tempted to do something on the basis of that desire or fear, then it becomes open to me to step back from that connection and evaluate it: to ask whether my desire or fear provides me with a good reason to perform the action in question. And this enables me to take responsibility for what I do. This form of self-consciousness, I think, is what makes human beings rational and moral animals, and this is the one big difference that I have in mind. The other animals lead lives that are governed, I believe, by their instincts, desires, emotions, and attachments. Because we have the capacity to evaluate the influence of our instincts, desires, emotions and attachments on our actions, we are not completely governed by them. We have the capacity to be governed instead by normative standards and values, by a conception of what we ought to do. We are moral animals.”
– Christine M. Korsgaard (2009), “Facing the Animal You See in the Mirror,” The Harvard Review of Philosophy.
Oscar: “That isn’t ethics. Ethics is a real discussion of competing conceptions of the good. This is just the corporate anti-shoplifting rules.”
Andy: “I’ll drop an ethics bomb on you. Would you steal bread to feed your family? …Boom!”
Andy: “Yeah, I took Intro to Philosophy… twice. No big deal.”
– From The Office, Season 5, “Business Ethics”
“People are evil; it’s true. But on the other side, they can be gentle too… if they decide.”
– “If” by The Flaming Lips
“[S]uppose the mind of [a] friend of humanity were clouded over with his own grief, extinguishing all sympathetic participation in the fate of others; he still has the resources to be beneficent to those suffering distress, but the distress of others does not touch him because he is sufficiently busy with his own; and now, where no inclination any longer stimulates him to it, he tears himself out of his deadly insensibility and does the action without any inclination, solely from duty.”
– Imannuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Sec. 1, Ak 4:398; Allen Wood trans., p. 14
“Those who have denied the reality of moral distinctions, may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants…. […] Let a man’s insensibility be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of Right and Wrong; and let his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must observe, that others are susceptible of like impressions. The only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason.”
– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), 1.2.
“Normativity, I believe, is very different from motivating force. Neither includes, or implies, the other. Other animals can be motivated by their desires and beliefs. Only we can understand and respond to reasons.”
– Derek Parfit, “Reasons and Motivation” (1997), p. 127.
“While reasons are provided by the facts,…rationality…depends instead on our beliefs. […] [I]f I believe falsely that my hotel is on fire, it may be rational for me to jump into the canal. But I have no reason to jump. I merely think I do. And, if some dangerous treatment would save your life, but you don’t know that fact, it would be irrational for you to take this treatment, but that is what you have most reason to do.”
– Derek Parfit, “Rationality and Reasons” (2001), p. 17.
“More generally Williams seems to alternate between an extreme contemptuousness toward most everyone—neither the theorists nor everyday intuitions offer good guidance; both are superficial and distorting—and an extreme confidence. Somehow, without theories to guide us, we will manage to confront the complexities of life. But the great theorists in ethics, Aristotle and Kant among them, typically begin from an assessment of human beings that is, I think, both more generous and more realistic. Most people have an ethical understanding that is in many respects sound, but they are also hasty, self-serving, prone to self-deceptive rationalization. An ethical theory, then, might help to fix in a clear way the best deliverances of reflective self-examination, so that in times of haste or temptation we might have a paradigm to consider, which would, if the theory was a good one, represent the best part of ourselves. Kant’s idea that we must always treat humanity as an end and never as a mere means might in this way help us criticize many inclinations we have, in both personal and political life.”
– Martha Nussbaum, “Tragedy and Justice: Bernard Williams Remembered” (2003)
“Characters in Hollywood movies encounter a lot of car chases. Characters in novels rarely wash their hands or do their laundry. And in the work of moral psychologists, people deliberate and reflect a lot. They deliberate, one sometimes feels, whenever they perform an action, and certainly whenever they act for good reasons.”
– Nomy Arpaly, Unprincipled Virtue (2003, p. 20)
“I’ve decided to do it, for the pure and simple reason that I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
– Charlie Crist on why he proposed to pardon Jim Morrison (quoted in the New York Times).
“It appears evident, therefore, that those actions only can truly be called virtuous, and deserving of moral approbation, which the agent believed to be right, and to which he was influenced, more or less, by that belief.”
– Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788), Essay 5, Ch. 4 (D. D. Raphael sec. 894, p. 283).
We “must acknowledge, that to act properly is much more valuable than to think justly or reason acutely.”
– Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788), Introduction.
“In every case, we ought to act that part towards another, which we would judge to be right in him to act toward us, if we were in his circumstances and he in ours; or more generally – What we approve in others, that we ought to practise in like circumstances, what we condemn in others we ought not to do.”
– Thomas Reid, Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1863), Essay V: Of Morals.
“Any first-order, substantive normative theory worth its salt will require attention to the mental states of agents in a variety of quite complex ways. But realism, being a view about the status of such normative theories, insists that the truth of any firstorder normative standard is not a function of what anyone happens to think of it.”
-Russ Shafer-Landau, Moral Realism: A Defence (2003, OUP), p. 15.
“Common sense doesn’t have the last word in ethics or anywhere else, but it has, as J. L. Austin said about ordinary language, the first word: it should be examined before it is discarded.”
– Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere (1986), p. 166.
“My selective memory of what drinking was like told me that standing at the bar in a pub, on a summer’s evening with a long, tall glass of lager and lime was heaven, and I chose not to remember the nights on which I had sat with a bottle of vodka, a gram of coke and a shotgun, contemplating suicide.”
– Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography (2007, p. 215); quoted in Baumeister & Tierny’s Willpower.
“The attitude of believing that you ought to do something simply is not the attitude of planning to do it. Gibbard says that thinking what you ought to do is thinking what to do. But it is not. Thinking what you ought to do is to ask yourself, ‘What ought I to do?’ whereas to think what to do is to ask, ‘What shall I do?’ These are different questions, and they may have different answers.”
– John Broome (2008), Commentary on Gibbard’s Reconciling Our Aims, pp. 105–6.
“Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality.… The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787 (“Letter to Peter Carr“); quoted in Paul Bloom’s Just Babies (2013).
“We are born of risen apes, not fallen angels.” – Robert Ardrey, African Genesis (1971).
“Suppose someone asserts of his lustful inclination that, when the desired object and the opportunity are present, it is quite irresistible to him; ask him whether, if a gallows were erected in front of the house where he finds this opportunity and he would be hanged on it immediately after gratifying his lust, he would not then control his inclination. One need not conjecture very long what he would reply. But ask him whether, if his prince demanded, on pain of the same immediate execution, that he give false testimony against an honorable man whom the prince would like to destroy under a plausible pretext, he would consider it possible to overcome his love of life, however great it may be. He would perhaps not venture to assert whether he would do it or not, but he must admit without hesitation that it would be possible for him. He judges, therefore, that he can do something because he is aware that he ought to do it and cognizes freedom within him, which, without the moral law, would have remained unknown to him.”
– Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 5:30.
“To get there from here, you have to go through me, baby.”
– Paraphrase of former Green Bay Packer, Ray Nitschke, by John Fischer (to provide a metaphor for why we’re responsible for our actions even if we couldn’t have done otherwise); “Frankfurt-Style Compatibilism” (2001).
“Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for cooperation with oneself.”
– Bertrand Russell
“To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that the didn’t stop to think whether they should.”
– Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)
“The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. “The Path of the Law” (1897).
Zigong asked, “Is there any single word that could guide one’s entire life?” The Master said, “Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”
– Analects of Confucius
“anger is often a reasonable response to an unreasonable world. We should be suspicious when the powerful tell the powerless not to be so angry, to calm down dear, to just be reasonable.”
– Amia Srinivasan, “In Defense of Anger” (2014)
“Now, the circumstances can clearly make a great deal of difference in estimating the justice or injustice of such procedures as these; and these circumstances may sometimes include expected consequences; for example, a man’s claim to a bit of property can become a nullity when its seizure and use can avert some obvious disaster…. Now this certainly does not mean that what would ordinarily be an act of injustice, but is not intrinsically unjust, can always be rendered just by a reasonable calculation of better consequences; far from it….”
– Elizabeth Anscome, “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958: 15).
“We evaluate each other constantly, we evaluate each others’ behavior, and we evaluate the motives and the consequences of their behavior.”
– Robert Zajonc, “Feeling and Thinking” (1980: 153).
“the social instincts—the prime principle of man’s moral constitution—with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habits, naturally lead to the golden rule, ‘As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise,’ and this lies at the foundation of morality.”
– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871, ch. 4).
“…one can hardly deny that mankind has a common store of thoughts which is transmitted from one generation to another.”
– Gottlob Frege, “On Sense and Reference” (1892)
“It is possible, of course, to operate with figures mechanically, just as it is possible to speak like a parrot: but that hardly deserves the names of thought. It only becomes possible at all after the mathematical notation has, as a result of genuine thought, been so developed that it does the thinking for us, so to speak.”
– Gottlob Frege, Foundations of Arithmetic (1884)
“Could one imagine a stone’s having consciousness? And if anyone can do so—why should that not merely prove that such image-mongery is of no interest to us?”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #390
“‘Imagine a person whose memory could not retain what the word ‘pain’ meant—so that he constantly called different things by that name—but nevertheless used the word in a way fitting in with the usual symptoms and presuppositions of pain’—in short he uses it as we all do. Here I should like to say: a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #271.
“You ask: What is it that philosophers have called qualitative states? I answer, only half in jest: As Louis Armstrong said when asked what jazz is, ‘If you got to ask, you ain’t never gonna get to know.'”
– Ned Block, “Troubles with Functionalism” (1980)
“We do not live in several different, or even two different, worlds, a mental world and a physical world, a scientific world and a world of common sense. Rather, there is just one world; it is the world we all live in, and we need to account for how we exist as part of it.
– John Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (2004), p. 304
“…one can never fully disentangle questions about the nature of representation from questions about the nature of what is represented. We can describe and think about the world only with the materials we find in it.”
– Robert Stalnaker (from Steve Pyke site)
“…monetary exchanges have interesting things in common; Gresham’s law, if true, says what one of these interesting things is. But what is interesting about monetary exchanges is surely not their commonalities under physical description. A natural kind like a monetary exchange could turn out to be co-extensive with a physical natural kind; but if it did, that would be an accident on a cosmic scale.”
– Jerry Fodor, “Special Sciences” (1974), pp. 103-4.
“…there are special sciences not because of the nature of our epistemic relation to the world, but because of the way the world is put together: not all natural kinds (not all the classes of things and events about which there are important, counterfactual supporting generalizations to make) are, or correspond to, physical natural kinds.”
– Jerry Fodor, “Special Sciences” (1974), p. 113
“The primitive sign of wanting is trying to get….”
– Elizabeth Anscombe, Intention (1957), p. 67-8.
“My body is trying to make me think I want to have a baby. But my body is not the boss of me—my brain is.”
– Liz Lemon (of 30 Rock)
“It seems to me that philosophers should be more relaxed about whether or not some form of materialism is true.”
– Tyler Burge, “Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice” (1993), in Foundations of Mind, p. 360.
“…if it isn’t literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying . . . If none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”
– Jerry Fodor, “Making Mind Matter More” (1989/1992), A Theory of Content and Other Essays, p. 156.
“Identity is utterly simple and unproblematic. Everything is identical to itself; nothing is ever identical to anything else except itself. There is never any problem about what makes something identical to itself; nothing can ever fail to be. And there is never any problem about what makes two things identical; two things never can be identical.”
– David Lewis (1986), On the Plurality of Worlds, pp. 192-3.
“There are lots of cases where we know more about how the world works than we do about how we know how it works. That’s no paradox. Understanding the structure of galaxies is one thing, understanding how we understand the structure of galaxies is quite another. There isn’t the slightest reason why the first should wait on the second and, in point of historical fact, it didn’t. This bears a lot of emphasis; it turns up in philosophy practically everywhere you look.”
– Jerry Fodor, “Who ate the salted peanuts?” (2006)
“No mentation without representation.”
– David Kaplan (UCLA), quoted in various places, including Burge’s “Five Theses on De Re States and Attitudes” (in The Philosophy of David Kaplan, 2009).
“A wise man… proportions his belief to the evidence.”
– David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748, “Of Miracles,” Part 1).
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Huxley
“Make the following experiment: say “It’s cold in here” and mean “It’s warm in here”. Can you do it?
– Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Remark #510
“Now if the sense of a name was something subjective, then the sense of the proposition in which the name occurs, and hence the thought, would also be something subjective, and the thought one man connects with this proposition would be different from the thought another man connects with it; a common store of thoughts, a common science would be impossible. It would be impossible for something one man said to contradict what another man said, because the two would not express the same thought at all, but each his own.”
– Gottlob Frege, “Letter to Jourdain” (1914)
Homer watching TV…
Chief: You’re off the case, McGarnagle!
McGarnagle: You’re off your case, chief.
Chief: What does that mean, exactly?
“It means he gets results, you stupid chief!”
– Homer J. Simpson, The Simpsons (S05E07)
“Now, when you say ‘Bob Costas,’ what do you mean by that?” [Bob: You know… uh… it’s something I haven’t given much thought to…] “Well, I have. It’s your name, Bob.”
– Space Ghost, SGC2C, “Chambraigne” [YouTube link]
“‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word–‘Everything’–and everyone will accept this answer as true.”
– Quine, “On What There Is”
“95% of success is just showing up.”
– Woody Allen?
“I remember that it [my first lesson in mathematics given to me by my brother] was a disappointment because he said ‘Now we start with axioms.’ And I said, ‘What are they?’ And he said ‘They’re things we’ve got to admit although you can’t prove them.’ So I said, ‘Why should I admit them if you can’t prove them?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you won’t, we can’t go on.’ And I wanted to see how it went on, and so I admitted them pro tem.”
– Bertrand Russell (in an interview with the BBC in 1959)
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
– William Strunk Jr., Elements of Style (Strunk & White)
“I’ve never much liked reading in general. I force myself to read.”
– Nathan Salmon, Yale Philosophy Review, Issue 4, 2008.
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Purpose of Education” (1947)
“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”
– attributed to Albert Einstein
“One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.”
– Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930), Ch. 9
“Go on, prove me wrong. Destroy the fabric of the universe. See if I care.”
– Terry Pratchett
“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”
– Terry Pratchett, Discworld
“The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.”
– Terry Pratchett, “Hogfather”, footnote
“I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.”
– Terry Pratchett
“…and as for your grandma, she shouldn’t have mouthed off like that.”
– Homer J. Simpson, The Simpsons, “Homer the Vigilante” (S05E11)
“Ooh, sounds delish! Let me just toss some jeans on and — wait a minute! Who is this?”
– Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons, “Marge on the Lam” (S05E06)
“I don’t need intelligent drugs, Thom, because I don’t know what they are. Okay, Thom? But I will put anything into my mouth that is given to me, whether it’s supposed to go there or not. Because… I’m different. Is that clear with everyone?”
– Space Ghost, SGC2C, “Knifin’ Around” [YouTube link]
“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.”
– Groucho Marx
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”
– Groucho Marx
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
– Groucho Marx
Space Ghost: You know, my feelings are so much deeper and more complex than Brak. I mean, I love more than beans; let’s just say that. I love… bicycles. And there’s… there’s way more that goes into that.
Kyle Gass: Well, is your bicycle special? I don’t understand.
SG: Well, yeah it’s special. My dad threw it at me every chance he got.
Jack Black: Oh.
SG: That’s why I started sleepin’ in the trees. He couldn’t throw it that high.
– SGC2C, “Sweet for Brak” [YouTube clip]
Space Ghost: Here’s what we do. We order one of those mind erasing kits.
Moltar: You already have one!
Space Ghost: If I already had one, don’t you think I’d remember?
Zorak: So go get it.
Space Ghost: Get what?
– SGC2C, “Snatch”
“We might not be the best people” – Jack
“But we’re not the worst!” – Liz
“Graduate students are the worst.” – Jack and Liz
(30 Rock; YouTube clip)
“Bart, don’t make fun of grad students; they just made a terrible life choice.” – Marge
(The Simpsons; YouTube clip)
“I’m not insightful enough to be a movie critic. But maybe I could be a food critic: ‘This muffin tastes bad.’ Or, an art critic: ‘This painting is bad.'” – Andy Bernard (The Office, Season 5, “Stress Relief”)
“I don’t believe in hypothetical situations, Mr. Donaghy. That’s like lying to your brain.”
– Kenneth Parcell (30 Rock, The “Oprah” Episode)