Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random Quotations

Below is a list of quotations I've compiled over the last couple of weeks. The only constraints are that I think all are of high quality, and also that I don't remember seeing any of them before two weeks ago.

What makes a good quotation? I think the only thing that all these have in common is a complete lack of unnecessary gestures. There are no wasted words, also no wasted ideas: no qualifications, no explanations, and no explicit argumentation or evidence.

This may explain why of all the authors below, selected at random, few are professors, and only two are philosophers. People who like to spell everything out are not quotable. (I can't think of any quotable statements by John Rawls. In fact, the very idea is comical, is it not?)

It also implies that quotable passages are in effect aphorisms. If other literary forms are islands and continents, aphorisms are mountain-peaks.

I don't think there is anything else the items below have in common. Some are clear, others are vague. Some are truisms, others are paradoxes (the opposite of a truism). Some are like a soothing lotion, others prick like a cactus-spine.

Anyway, here is the list:

"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. "
Lord Byron

"They never fail who die in a great cause."
Lord Byron

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Mohandas Gandhi

"Tigers are more beautiful than sheep, but we prefer them behind bars."
Bertrand Russell, on the Romanitic admiration for wildness.

"Those who offer false consolation are false friends."
Christoper Hitchens (This one is quoted from memory and so is probably not accurate.)

"Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others."
Edward Abbey

“I know that I am prejudiced on this matter, but I would be ashamed of myself if I were not.”
Mark Twain

"If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia."
Thomas Szasz

"Since everything ends badly for us in the inevitable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time; and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is no third rule."
Brendan Gill

"¿Y por quĂ© no te callas?"
King Juan Carlos' actual words to Hugo Chavez. ¡Que viva el Rey!

"A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas. "
H. L. Mencken

"A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married. "
H. L. Mencken

"Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. "
H. L. Mencken

"It is a sin to think evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake."
H. L. Mencken

... Uh-oh. If I allow H. L. Mencken quotes, the whole list will be his his stuff. I hereby ban them....

"There is but one way left to save a classic; to give up revering him and use him for our own salvation."
Jose Ortega y Gasset

"Poetry is adolescence fermented, and thus preserved."
Jose Ortega y Gasset

...Okay, Ortega will also take over the list if I let him in. I quess I'd better end it anyway...

Darn! The two-weeks rule I laid down at the beginning prohibited me from giving one of my favorite quotes, but what the heck here it is anyway:

"Those who fight for the future, live in it today."
Ayn Rand


Anonymous said...

"The hardest thing to understand in life is the income tax."...Albert Einstein

Roderick T. Long said...

I can't think of any quotable statements by John Rawls. In fact, the very idea is comical, is it not?

There I have to disagree. Rawls is a bit like Aristotle and Kant, in that his prose consists of vast seas of careful logic-chopping interrupted by occasional islands of strikingly quotable phrases. I think you're forgetting the islands; here are some of them, all from A Theory of Justice (the first two quotations arguably contradict each other, but my focus for the moment is on style, not substance):

Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.

Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out.

The perspective of eternity is not a perspective from a certain place beyond the world, nor the point of view of a transcendent being; rather it is a certain form of thought and feeling that rational persons can adopt within the world. ... Purity of heart, if one could attain it, would be to see clearly and to act with grace and self-command from this point of view.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests. The only thing that permits us to acquiesce in an erroneous theory is the lack of a better one; analogously, an injustice is tolerable only when it is necessary to avoid an even greater injustice. Being first virtues of human activities, truth and justice are uncompromising.

Lester Hunt said...


Well, I have to admit that in the verbiage you were so good as to transcribe I did find two quotable portions. They are these:

Utilitarianism does not take seriously the distinction between persons.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.

Both are sort of bland, but they do have the characteristics I mention in the post, as distinguishing a quotable comment. In fact, now that you have pointed them out, I probably have quoted both of them a number of times over the years! So -- point well taken!

Lester Hunt said...


It's not just the tax, its the "grade" you get if you do it wrong!