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Thomas Hobbes on Knowing Thyself

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[T]here is a saying much usurped of late, That Wisedome is acquired, not by reading of Books, but of Men. Consequently whereunto, those persons, that for the most part can give no other proof of being wise, take great delight to shew what they think they have read in men, by uncharitable censures of one another behind their backs. But there is another saying not of late understood, by which they might learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; and that is, Nosce teipsum, Read thy self: which was not meant, as it is now used, to countenance, either the barbarous state of men in power, towards their inferiors ; or to encourage men of low degree, to a sawcie behaviour towards their betters; But to teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts, and Passions of one man, to the thoughts, and Passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.

Oliver Cromwell on Possibly Being Wrong

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SIRS,
Your Answer to the Declaration of the Army we have seen. Some godly Ministers with us did, at Berwick, compose this Reply; which I thought fit to send you.

That you or we, in these great Transactions, answer the will and mind of God, it is only from His grace and mercy to us. And therefore, having said as in our Papers, we commit the issue thereof to Him who disposeth all things, assuring you that we have light and comfort increasing upon us, day by day; and are
persuaded that, before it be long, the Lord will manifest His good pleasure so that all shall see Him; and His People shall say, This is the Lord’s work, and it is marvelous in our eyes: this is the day that the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice therein. –

Only give me leave to say, in a word, ‘thus much:’ You take upon you to judge us in the things of our God, though you know us not, — though in the things we have said unto you, in that which is entitled the Army’s Declaration, we have spoken our hearts as in the sight of the Lord who hath tried us. And by your hard and subtle words you have begotten prejudice in those who do too much, in matters of conscience, — wherein every soul is to answer for itself to God, — depend upon you. So that some have already followed you, to the breathing-out of their souls: ‘and’ others continue still in the way wherein they are led by you,-we fear, to their own ruin. And no marvel if you deal thus with us, when indeed you can find in your hearts to conceal from your own people the Papers we have sent you; who might thereby see and understand the bowels of our affections to them, especially to such among them as fear the Lord. Send as many of your Papers as you please amongst ours; they have a free passage. I fear them not. What is of God in them, would it might be embraced and received!-

One of them lately sent, directed To the Under-officers and Soldiers in the English Army, hath begotten from them this enclosed Answer; which they desired me to send to you: not a crafty politic one, but a plain simple spiritual one; — what kind of one it is God knoweth, and God also will in due time make manifest. And do we multiply these things, as men; or do we them for the Lord Christ and His People’s sake?

Indeed we are not, through the grace of God, afraid of your numbers, nor confident in ourselves. We could, — I pray God you do not think we boast, — meet your Army, or what you have to bring against us. We have given, — humbly we speak it before our God, in whom all our hope is, — some proof that thoughts of that kind prevail not upon us. The Lord hath not hid His face from us since our approach so near unto you.

Your own guilt is too much for you to bear: bring not therefore upon yourselves the blood of innocent men, — deceived with pretences of King and Covenant; from whose eyes you hid a better knowledge! I am persuaded that divers of you, who lead the People, have laboured to build yourselves in these things; wherein you have censured others, and established yourselves “upon the Word of God.” Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say?

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. Precept may be upon precept, line may be upon line, and yet the Word of the Lord may be to some a Word of Judgment; that they may fall backward and be broken, and be snared and be taken!

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. Precept may be upon precept, line may be upon line, and yet the Word of the Lord may be to some a Word of Judgment; that they may fall backward and be broken, and be snared and be taken! There may be a spiritual fulness, which the World may call drunkenness; as in the second Chapter of the Acts. There may be, as well, a carnal confidence upon misunderstood and misapplied precepts, which may be called spiritual drunkenness. There may be a Covenant made with Death and Hell! I will not say yours was so. But judge if such things have a politic aim: To avoid the overflowing scourge; or, To accomplish worldly interests? And if therein we have confederated with wicked and carnal men, and have respect for them, or otherwise ‘have drawn them in to associate with us, Whether this be a Covenant of God, and spiritual? Bethink yourselves; we hope we do.

I pray you read the 28th of Isaiah, from the fifth to the fifteenth verse. And do not scorn to know that it is the Spirit that quickens and giveth life. The Lord give you and us understanding to do that which is well-pleasing in His sight. Committing you to the grace of God, I rest,

Your humble servant,
Oliver Cromwell


Isaiah 28:5-15

In that day the Lord Almighty
will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
for the remnant of his people.
6He will be a spirit of justice
to the one who sits in judgment,
a source of strength
to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
7And these also stagger from wine
and reel from beer:
Priests and prophets stagger from beer
and are befuddled with wine;
they reel from beer,
they stagger when seeing visions,
they stumble when rendering decisions.
8All the tables are covered with vomit
and there is not a spot without filth.
9“Who is it he is trying to teach?
To whom is he explaining his message?
To children weaned from their milk,
to those just taken from the breast?
10For it is:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there.”
11Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,
12to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
13So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.
14Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
15You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

Descartes on Stripping Away Opinions

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I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And although my own satisfaction with my work has led me to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means therefore recommend to every one else to make a similar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest even the present undertaking be more than they can safely venture to imitate. The single design to strip one’s self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. The majority of men is composed of two classes, for neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: in the first place, of those who with more than a due confidence in their own powers, are precipitate in their judgments and want the patience requisite for orderly and circumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this class once take the liberty to doubt of their accustomed opinions, and quit the beaten highway, they will never be able to thread the byeway that would lead them by a shorter course, and will lose themselves and continue to wander for life; in the second place, of those who, possessed of sufficient sense or modesty to determine that there are others who excel them in the power of discriminating between truth and error, and by whom they may be instructed, ought rather to content themselves with the opinions of such than trust for more correct to their own Reason.

Rene Descartes on Starting from Scratch

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It is now some years since I detected how many are the false beliefs that I had from my earliest youth admitted as true, and how doubtful was everything I had since constructed on this basis, and from that time I was convinced that I must once for all seriously undertake to rid myself of all the opinions which I formerly accepted, and commence to build anew from the foundation…

Of Fugitive and Cloistered Virtue

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I cast not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental whiteness. Which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain. Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.

A Noble and Puissant Nation

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Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point, the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of Learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity and ablest judgment have been persuaded that even the school of Pythagoras and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Csesar, preferred the natural wits of Britain before the labored studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language and our theologic arts.

Rene Descartes on Disagreement

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Philosophy has been cultivated for many centuries by the best minds that have ever lived, and nevertheless no single thing is to be found in it which is not a subject of dispute, and in consequence which is not dubious…

John Donne on Universal Affinity and the Human Story

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Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die. … All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated … As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. … No man is an island, entire of itself … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Original Text

No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

No Man Is an Island

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No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Olde English Version
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Meditation XVII – John Donne – “No Man Is An Island”

Go No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea.