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11 Most Important Philosophical Quotations

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posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 12:38 PM
1. “The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates (470-399 BCE)

Socrates’ belief that we must reflect upon the life we live was partly inspired by the famous phrase inscribed at the shrine of the oracle at Delphi, “Know thyself.” The key to finding value in the prophecies of the oracle was self-knowledge, not a decoder ring.

Socrates felt so passionately about the value of self-examination that he closely examined not only his own beliefs and values but those of others as well. More precisely, through his relentless questioning, he forced people to examine their own beliefs. He saw the citizens of his beloved Athens sleepwalking through life, living only for money, power, and fame, so he became famous trying to help them.

2. “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” – William of Ockham (1285 – 1349?)

Commonly known as Ockham’s razor, the idea here is that in judging among competing philosophical or scientific theories, all other things being equal, we should prefer the simplest theory. Scientists currently speak of four forces in the universe: gravity, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. Ockham would certainly nod approvingly at the ongoing attempt to formulate a grand unified theory, a single force that encompasses all four.

The ultimate irony of Ockham’s razor may be that some have used it to prove God is unnecessary to the explanation of the universe, an idea Ockham the Franciscan priest would reject.

3. “The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” – Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

Referring to the original state of nature, a hypothetical past before civilization, Hobbes saw no reason to be nostalgic.

Whereas Rousseau said, “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains,” Hobbes believed we find ourselves living a savage, impossible life without education and the protection of the state. Human nature is bad: we’ll prey on one another in the most vicious ways. No doubt the state imposes on our liberty in an overwhelming way. Yet Hobbes’ claim was that these very chains were absolutely crucial in protecting us from one another.

4. “I think therefore I am” – René Descartes (1596 – 1650)

Descartes began his philosophy by doubting everything in order to figure out what he could know with absolute certainty. Although he could be wrong about what he was thinking, that he was thinking was undeniable. Upon the recognition that “I think,” Descartes concluded that “I am.”

On the heels of believing in himself, Descartes asked, What am I? His answer: a thinking thing (res cogitans) as opposed to a physical thing extended in three-dimensional space (res extensa). So, based on this line, Descartes knew he existed, though he wasn’t sure if he had a body. It’s a philosophical cliff-hanger; you’ll have to read Meditations to find out how it ends.

5. “To be is to be perceived (Esse est percipi).” Or, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” – Bishop George Berkeley (1685 – 1753)

As an idealist, Berkeley believed that nothing is real but minds and their ideas. Ideas do not exist independently of minds. Through a complicated and flawed line of reasoning he concluded that “to be is to be perceived.” Something exists only if someone has the idea of it.

Though he never put the question in the exact words of the famous quotation, Berkeley would say that if a tree fell in the forest and there was no one (not even a squirrel) there to hear it, not only would it not make a sound, but there would be no tree.

The good news is, according to Berkeley, that the mind of God always perceives everything. So the tree will always make a sound, and there’s no need to worry about blipping out of existence if you fall asleep in a room by yourself.

6. “We live in the best of all possible worlds.” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716)

Voltaire’s famous novel Candide satirizes this optimistic view. And looking around you right now you may wonder how anyone could actually believe it. But Leibniz believed that before creation God contemplated every possible way the universe could be and chose to create the one in which we live because it’s the best.

The principle of sufficient reason holds that for everything, there must be sufficient reason why it exists. And according to Leibniz the only sufficient reason for the world we live in is that God created it as the best possible universe. God could have created a universe in which no one ever did wrong, in which there was no human evil, but that would require humans to be deprived of the gift of free wills and thus would not be the best possible world.

7. “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831)

Similar to “vision is 20/20 in hindsight,” Hegel’s poetic insight says that philosophers are impotent. Only after the end of an age can philosophers realize what it was about. And by then it’s too late to change things. It wasn’t until the time of Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) that the true nature of the Enlightenment was understood, and Kant did nothing to change the Enlightenment; he just consciously perpetuated it.

Marx (1818 – 1883) found Hegel’s apt description to be indicative of the problem with philosophy and responded, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world differently, what matters is to change it.”


posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 12:41 PM
8. “Who is also aware of the tremendous risk involved in faith – when he nevertheless makes the leap of faith – this [is] subjectivity … at its height.” – Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

In a memorable scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy deduced that the final step across his treacherous path was a leap of faith. And so it is in Kierkegaard’s theory of stages of life.

The final stage, the religious stage, requires passionate, subjective belief rather than objective proof, in the paradoxical and the absurd. So, what’s the absurd? That which Christianity asks us to accept as true, that God became man born of a virgin, suffered, died and was resurrected.

Abraham was the ultimate “knight of faith” according to Kierkegaard. Without doubt there is no faith, and so in a state of “fear and trembling” Abraham was willing to break the universal moral law against murder by agreeing to kill his own son, Isaac. God rewarded Abraham’s faith by providing a ram in place of Isaac for the sacrifice. Faith has its rewards, but it isn’t rational. It’s beyond reason. As Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reason which reason does not know.”

9. “God is dead.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Well, you might not hear this one in a graduation speech, but you’ll probably hear it in college. Actually, Nietzsche never issued this famous proclamation in his own voice but rather put the words in the mouth of a character he called the madman and later in the mouth of another character, Zarathustra.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche endorsed the words. “God is dead” is often mistaken as a statement of atheism. It is not, though Nietzsche himself was an atheist. “Dead” is metaphorical in this context, meaning belief in the God of Christianity is worn out, past its prime, and on the decline. God is lost as the center of life and the source of values. Nietzsche’s madman noted that himself came too soon. No doubt Nietzsche, too, thought he was ahead of his time in heralding this news.

10. “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)

Camus’ solution to the philosophical problem was to recognize and embrace life’s absurdity. Suicide, though, remains an option if the absurdity becomes too much. Indeed Camus’ own death in a car crash was ambiguous. Was it an accident or suicide?

For Camus, the absurd hero is Sisyphus, a man from Greek mythology who is condemned by the gods for eternity to roll up a stone up a hill only to have it fall back again as it reaches the top. For Camus, Sisyphus typified all human beings: we must find a meaning in a world that is unresponsive or even hostile to us. Sisyphus, Camus believed, affirms life, choosing to go back down the hill and push the rock again each time. Camus wrote: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s
heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

11. “One cannot step twice in the same river.” – Heraclitus (ca. 540 – ca. 480 BCE)

Heraclitus definitely isn’t alone here. His message was that reality is constantly changing it’s an ongoing process rather than a fixed and stable product. Buddhism shares a similar metaphysical view with the idea of annica, the claim that all reality is fleeting and impermanent.

In modern times Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) described time as a process that is experienced. An hour waiting in line is different from an hour at play. Today contemporary physics lends credence to process philosophy with the realization that even apparently stable objects, like marble statues, are actually buzzing bunches of electrons and other subatomic particles deep down.

So what do you guys/gals think?

Any favourites?
Are there any glaring omissions?

One thing that is prevelant is how many of these are in relation to religion/God.

Then again philosophy is the study of some of the most important aspects of life.

Existence, knowledge, truth, beauty, law, justice, validity, mind, and language.

Personally i think Douglas Adams was correct when he wrote in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-

“The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything……42.”

posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 01:54 PM
nice post!

as for #11 i would state: one can not step once in the same river. the river changes as you are stepping in it...

but you would allready know about that one, wouldn't you?

damn, do i love philosophy!

posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 02:04 PM

I love this stuff.

i remember taking this in philosophy... each one i remembered, each one made me think of what is.

great minds of past generations.

posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 02:19 PM
just for fun: if you fall and nobody is around, does it still hurt?

second line...

posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 02:21 PM
Those are all great quotes. A couple of them I hadn't seen before, since I don't read a lot of philosophy. Still, I enjoy it when I do, and there are some awesome ones here.

posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 02:24 PM
reply to post by DragonsDemesne

but are they still awesome when you leave this thread?


posted on Sep, 5 2009 @ 02:43 PM
Great post. Hegel and Socrates are my favs.

More of this should be taught in school. I dont recall any of it from school, had to wade through it all myself.

posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 04:31 AM
reply to post by Skyfloating

I was given the chance to learn philosophy and psychology in school and i took up the opportunity.

Unfortunately i was a complete scallywag back then and wasn't interested in what i was being taught, in general. I regret it so much now!

So now, like you, it has become a hobby (dare i say obsession?), and i teach myself. Its very rewarding really.

We are all students, and our great teacher, is life.

I remember one teacher i had used to start every lesson, it was a science lesson, with a philosophical musing. He said it was because it got everyone thinking and focused. Then he would continue with the usual lesson. It used to work a treat.

posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 07:25 AM

Originally posted by LiveForever8
reply to post by Skyfloating

We are all students, and our great teacher, is life.

was it Lao Tzu that said "Time is the greatest master, unfortunately it kills all students." ?

great thread btw.

[edit on 6/9/2009 by gravykraken]

[edit on 6/9/2009 by gravykraken]

posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 07:48 AM
reply to post by gravykraken

I think it was Louis-Hector Berlioz who said that actually.

Although Lao Tzu may have said something similar.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” is one of my favourites of his.


posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 08:13 AM
reply to post by LiveForever8


Excellent selection, summary/analysis - REALLY good writing. Thanks! ...Always need a refresher. And the occasional reminder.

My current fave - "Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff."

...I particularly like the foundational ideas of the eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, Sufism - that is, the notion that one can simultaneously be aware, engaged and effective without being defined emotionally and overwhelmed, even by the most 'negative' realities. Or, put another way, one cannot be aware or effectively engaged if one is emotional (and thereby, subject to being overwhelmed and subsequently, neutralized in the larger world).

The conundrum is the knowledge that passion is a primary motivating force both for learning and action. So...

...Can one be objectively passionate? Or is the state of passion always subject to manipulation?

...Anyone got any good quotes that might answer these questions?


posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 08:49 AM
reply to post by soficrow

“Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping... waiting... and though unwanted... unbidden... it will stir... open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us... guides us... passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love... the clarity of hatred... and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we'd know some kind of peace... but we would be hollow... Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we'd be truly dead.”

I think it is possible, in retrospect.

But passion is all about being 'in the moment', and remaining objective whilst 'in the moment' is near impossible.
Its such a raw, base emotion that it is nearly beyond our control at times.

Im sure you have done things 'in the heat of the moment' that you regret doing. Or even something that you are glad you did, something you would never have done otherwise.

Its not usually until you reflect on these actions that you can give an objective opinion.

Like has already been said, time is a great teacher, and in time we come to analyse our choices in the hope of harnessing our passions.


posted on Sep, 6 2009 @ 09:17 AM
Introducing Plotinus

This guy is not that well known, but he's my favourite.

Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity or distinction; likewise it is beyond all categories of being and non-being. The concept of "being" is derived by us from the objects of human experience called the dyad, and is an attribute of such objects, but the infinite, transcendent One is beyond all such objects, and therefore is beyond the concepts that we derive from them. The One "cannot be any existing thing", and cannot be merely the sum of all such things (compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence), but "is prior to all existents". Thus, no attributes can be assigned to the One. We can only identify it with the Good and the principle of Beauty. [I.6.9]

posted on Sep, 7 2009 @ 03:38 PM
This is honestly, one of the best threads I have ever seen. Definately booked marked and subscribed. Perfection my friend, utter perfection. I am still surprised you have not recieved more Flag and Stars. This is the perfect combination of Sources, Philosophical Understanding and Logic/Reason.

Bloody Brilliant


posted on Sep, 7 2009 @ 04:05 PM
I love this thread, philosophy just makes you think deeper than you usually do and can be very rewarding. One of my favorites is obviously my signature but also one is:

"It's easy to curb the freedoms of others when you see no immediate impact on your own." -Malcolm Forbes

Which to me speaks volumes about some of the things our government is doing today. But very true nonetheless.

posted on Sep, 7 2009 @ 04:23 PM
Here's my absolute favourite, from Boethius' Consternation of Philosophy;

"It's my belief that history is a wheel. "Inconsistency is my very essence" -says the wheel- "Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away".

and, whilst we're at it, the passage of poetry that i always use to justify to myself a reckless night out drinking on a week-night;

"Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

Be fair or foul, or rain or shine
the joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself, upon the past has power,
but what has been, has been, and I have had my hour."

from John Dryden's translation of the Odes of Horace (good to know my English degree did have some lasting effect!)

[edit on 7-9-2009 by CRB86]

posted on Sep, 7 2009 @ 09:34 PM
What an absolutely wonderful idea for a thread. What a relief, also, from the chaos of others.
Thank you so much. I wish we could have more threads like this one.
Intelligent, thought provoking, and benign.

posted on Sep, 8 2009 @ 12:24 AM
Nice thread, S&F!

Very good background and explanation for the selected quotes. It's nice not to see another gimicky or doom and gloom thread, I could just read this and reflect.

Although, there is a few quotes that I quite like;

"The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself."

"Do you not know, my son, with what little
understanding the world is ruled?"
Pope Julius III

"An expert is one who knows more
and more about less and less."
Nicholas Murray Butler

I find it interesting and enlightening to simply consider everything around us... what is reality?

Hope you liked the quotes.
Once again, great job LiveForever.

posted on Sep, 16 2009 @ 11:22 PM
I think the greatest quote in that must be Nietzsche he is a genius and has been the influence for many of the modern movements, however i think you should include for Nietzsche "Christianity is leading mankind into a slave morality, concerned not with this life but the next." he is in my opinion the greatest philosopher to have graced the Earth with his precence and he is correct if we do rid ourselves of morality then we would move society forward, if it were not fgor our herd mentality then we could rid humanity of decadence and mediocrity and just leave with some food for thought Hitler was not wrong with what he wanted to do but he went about it the wrong way.
I know this will cause some good discussions

sorry if it offends but it is a personal opinion i am not condoling his actions which were wholly wrong and the genocide of the jews was a bit stupid but peopple need space to thrive and that is what he wished for the ayrean population and they would have thrived and pushed humanity forward but it would never work we still need serfs underneath to take the commitments of the Ubermensch so they could find truth their own mind you.
Try moving in to the extra-moral stage of life and feel the burden of the angst of existencialism for a while and see what you discover about yourself.
Peace and honour.

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