Heavy-Duty Philosophy Quotes

Who thinks philosophy should be easy to understand? How intelligible is true reality? The following randomly selected quotes demonstrate how complicated philosophical language can be. Language is deeply woven into the thought that reflects on reality, which leads to intricate sentence-structures, and sometimes even to the creation of new terminology. Here is a selection of quotes that reflect the struggle of philosophers to express themselves:

  1. Martin Heidegger: “Tell me how you read and I’ll tell you who you are…..Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy.”
  2. Heidegger: The existential and ontological constitution of the totality of Dasein is grounded in temporality. Accordingly, a primordial mode of temporalizing of ecstatic temporality itself must make the ecstatic project of being in general possible. How is this mode of temporalizing of temporality to be interpreted? Is there a way leading from primordial time to the meaning of being? Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?  — Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, p.437 (German edition)
  3. Theodor Adorno: Is the man who deals with the absolute not necessarily claiming to be the thinking organ with the capacity to do so, and thus the absolute himself?
  4. Blaise Pascal, Pensée #326: If he exalts himself, I humble him; if he humbles himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, until he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster.  
  5. Assmann, J. (2005). Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt: “Human beings are the animals that have to live with the knowledge of their death, and culture is the world they create so they can live with that knowledge.” 
  6. Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914-1916: Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic. Ethics and Aesthetics are one.
  7. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship (II, 3): “If the citizens themselves devote their life to matters of trade, the way will be opened to many vices. Since the foremost tendency of tradesmen is to make money greed is awakened in the hearts of the citizens through the pursuit of trade. The result is that everything in the city will become venal; good faith will be destroyed and the way opened to all kinds of trickery; each one will work only for his own profit, despising the public good; the cultivation of virtue will fail since honor, virtue’s reward, will be bestowed upon the rich. Thus, in such a city, civic life will necessarily be corrupted.” 
  8. Ashim Shanker, Only the Deplorable: It seemed a ruse that fear of death should be the sole motivation for living and, yet, to quell this fear made the prospect of living itself seem all the more absurd; to extend this further, the notion of living one’s life for the purposes of pondering the absurdity of living was an even greater absurdity in and of itself, which thus, by reductio ad absurdum, rendered the fear of death a necessary function of life and any lack thereof, a trifling matter rooted in self-inflicted incoherence.”
  9. Arthur Schopenhauer: The World as Will and Idea): Animals learn death first at the moment of death;…Man approaches death with the knowledge it is closer every hour, and this creates a feeling of uncertainty over his life, even for him who forgets in the business of life that annihilation is awaiting him. It is for this reason chiefly that we have philosophy and religion. 
  10. Leibniz: “In whatever manner God created the world, it would always have been regular and in a certain general order. God, however, has chosen the most perfect, that is to say, the one which is at the same time the simplest in hypothesis and the richest in phenomena.” 
  11. Roger Penrose, (from The Road to Reality): “… no one, not even Benoit Mandelbrot himself […] had any real preconception of the set’s extraordinary richness. The Mandelbrot set was certainly no invention of any human mind. The set is just objectively there in the mathematics itself. If it has meaning to assign an actual existence to the Mandelbrot set, then that existence is not within our mind, for no one can fully comprehend the set’s endless variety and unlimited complication.”
  12. Georg Cantor: The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though in its highest form it has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds. 
  13. Augustine, Confessions: “He was not utterly unskilled in handling his own lack of training, and he refused to be rashly drawn into a controversy about those matters from which there would be no exit nor an easy way of retreat. This was an additional ground for my pleasure. For the controlled modesty of a mind that admits limitations is more beautiful than the things I was anxious to know about.” .
  14. Augustine, Confessions: “After saying all that, what have we said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What does anyone who speaks of you really say? Yet woe betide those who fail to speak, while the chatterboxes go on saying nothing.” 
  15. Augustine, City of God, XIX.13: ‘The peace of all things lies in the tranquility of order, and order is the disposition of equal and unequal things in such a way as to give to each its proper place” 
  16. Søren Kierkegaard: “The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but that the relation relates itself to its own self.” 
  17. Emmanuel Levinas: Infinity overflows the thought that thinks it. 
  18. Jacques Lacan: Desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. 
  19. Jacques Lacan: We in fact address … those we do not know, true Others, true subjects. They are on the other side of the wall of language, there where in principle I never reach them. Fundamentally, it is them I’m aiming at every time I utter true speech,…I always aim at the true subject, and I have to be content with shadows. The subject is separated from the Others, the true ones, by the wall of language.  —-  Jacques Lacan, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis.
  20.  Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992): The deep dissatisfaction we find in every psychology—including the one we have founded thanks to psychoanalysis—derives from the fact that it is nothing more than a mask, and sometimes even an alibi, of the effort to focus on the problem of our own action—something that is the essence and very foundation of all ethical reflection.
  21. Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit, On Sense-Certainty, Paragraph 95 -96:  Sense-certainty itself has thus to be asked: What is the This? If we take it in the two-fold form of its existence, as the Now and as the Here, the dialectic it has in it will take a form as intelligible as the This itself. To the question, What is the Now? we reply, for example, the Now is night-time. To test the truth of this certainty of sense, a simple experiment is all we need: write that truth down. A truth cannot lose anything by being written down, and just as little by our preserving and keeping it. If we look again at the truth we have written down, look at it nowat this noon-time, we shall have to say it has turned stale and become out of date. The Now that is night is kept fixed, i.e. it is treated as what it is given out to be, as something which is; but it proves to be rather a something which is not. The Now itself no doubt maintains itself, but as what is not night; similarly, in its relation to the day which the Now is at present, it maintains itself as something that is also not day, or as altogether something negative. This self -maintaining Now is therefore not something immediate but something mediated; for, qua something that remains and preserves itself, it is determined through and by means of the fact that something else, namely day and night, is not. Thereby it is just as much as ever it was before, Now, and in being this simple fact, it is indifferent to what is still associated with it; just as little as night or day is its being, it is just as truly also day and night; it is not in the least affected by this otherness through which it is what it is. A simple entity of this sort, which is by and through negation, which is neither this nor that, which is a not-this, and with equal indifference this as well as that – a thing of this kind we call a Universal. The Universal is therefore in point of fact the truth of sense-certainty, the true content of sense-experience.
  22. Here is Jung’s reply to Hegel (1947):  “A philosophy like Hegel’s is a self-revelation of psychic background and, philosophically, a presumption. Psychologically, it amounts to an invasion by the unconscious. The peculiar high-flown language Hegel uses bears out this view: it is reminiscent of the megalomaniac language of schizophrenics, who use terrific spellbinding words to reduce the transcendent to subjective form, to give banalities the charm of novelty, or pass off commonplaces as searches wisdom. So bombastic a terminology is a symptom of weakness, ineptitude, and lack of substance. But that does not prevent the latest German philosopher from using the same crackpot power-words and pretending that it is not unintentional psychology.
  23. Hagakure: Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, ‘Form is emptiness.’ That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase, ‘Emptiness is form.” One should not think that these are two separate things. 
  24. “The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sōla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.” Murasaki Shikibu: (early eleventh century) Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike Clan)

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