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Virtues and Values

Alfred North Whitehead on Half-Truths

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His thinking is a prism. It must be seen not from side alone but from all sides, then from underneath and overhead. So seen, as one moves around it, the prism is full of changing lights and colours. To have seen it from one side only is not to have seen it. … There are no whole truths. All truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

C.S. Lewis on Loving Books

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One other thing that Arthur taught me was to love the bodies of books. I had always respected them. My brother and I might cut up a stepladder without scruple; to have thumb-marked or dog’s-eared a book would have filled us with shame. But Arthur did not merely respect, he was enamored; and soon, I too. The set up of the page, the feel and smell of the paper, the differing sounds that different papers make as you turn the leaves, became sensuous delights. This revealed to me a flaw in Kirk. How often have I shuddered when he took a new classical text of mine in his gardener’s hands, bent back the boards till they
creaked, and left his sign on every page.

C. S. Lewis on Entering Eternal Life

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It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

William Faulkner on Writing and Hope

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Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ¶ He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. ¶ Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Albert Camus (as Tarrou) on Living for the Moment

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[A]ll stream out into the open, drug themselves with talking, start arguing or love-making, and the last glow of sunset the town, freighted with lovers two by two and loud with voices, drifts like a helpless ship into the throbbing darkness. In vain a zealous evangelist with a felt hat and flowing tie threads his way through the crowd, crying without cease: “God is great and good. Come unto Him.” On the contrary, they all make haste toward some trivial objective that seems of more immediate interest than God. In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground, But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thought to pleasure. And all the hideous fears that stamp their faces in the daytime are transformed in the fiery, dusty nightfall into a sort of hectic exaltation, an unkempt freedom fevering their blood.

C.S. Lewis on Condescension

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Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend — man can sympathize with a horse but a horse cannot sympathize with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell.

C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell

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The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

The Marx Brothers on Partisanship

Go I don't care what you have to say,
it makes no difference anyway:
Whatever it is,
I'm against it.
No matter who proposed or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
but let's get one thing understood:
Whatever it is,
I'm against it.
And even if you change it or condense it,
I'm against it....

Albert Einstein on the Purpose of Being Here

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How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daly life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

Mohandas Gandhi on Confession

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A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure.

Betrand Russell on Our Fellow Travelers

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The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instill faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need — of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy as ourselves.

Mohandas Gandhi on Seven Blunders That Lead To Violence

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Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.

Miguel de Unamuno on Vanity and Immortality

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A rabid mania for originality is rife in the modern intellectual world and characterizes all individual effort. We would rather err with genius than hit the mark with the crowd… This violent struggle for the perpetuation of our name extends backwards into the past, just as it aspires to conquer the future; we contend with the dead because we, the living, are obscured beneath their shadow. We are jealous of the geniuses of former times, whose names, standing out like the landmarks of history, rescue the ages from oblivion. The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each. The great names of the past rob us of our place in it; the space which they fill in the popular memory they usurp from us who aspire to occupy it. And so we rise up in revolt against them, and hence the bitterness with which all those who seek after fame in the world of letters judge those who have already attained it and are in enjoyment of it.

Miguel de Unamuno on Nietzsche and Immortality

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There you have that “thief of energies,” as he [Nietzsche] so obtusely called Christ who sought to wed nihilism with the struggle for existence, and he talks to you about courage. His heart craved the eternal All while his head convinced him of nothingness, and, desperate and mad to defend himself from himself, he cursed that which he most loved. Because he could not be Christ, he blasphemed against Christ. Bursting with his own self, he wished himself unending and dreamed his theory of eternal recurrence, a sorry counterfeit of immortality, and, full of pity for himself, he abominated all pity. And there are some who say that his is the philosophy of strong men! No, it is not. My health and my strength urge me to perpetuate myself. His is the doctrine of weaklings who aspire to be strong, but not of the strong who are strong. Only the feeble resign themselves to final death and substitute some other desire for the longing for personal immortality. In the strong the zeal for perpetuity overrides the doubt of realizing it, and their superabundance of life overflows upon the other side of death.

Emma Goldman on Love and Marriage

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The institution of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute dependent. It incapacitates her for life’s struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human character. Love, the strongest and deepest element in all lives, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?

G.K. Chesterton on Common Ground with His Reader

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The thing I do not propose to prove, the thing I propose to take as common ground between myself and any average reader, is this desirability of an active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of a poetical curiosity, a life such as western man at any rate always seems to have desired. If a man says that extinction is better than existence or blank existence better than variety and adventure, then he is not one of the ordinary people to whom I am talking. If a man prefers nothing I can give him nothing. But nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.

Thomas Paine on Counterfeit Tolerance

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Toleration is not the opposite of Intoleration, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of with-holding Liberty of Conscience, and the other of granting it.

The Greatest Thing in the World

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In this timeless speech, Henry Drummond argues that the greatest thing, the summum bonum, is love. But this love is not here just a cliché, the love of pop songs and romantic comedies. As Drummond puts it: “Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity — these make up the supreme gift… You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity.” I have always appreciated this fact, that the biblical portrait of love is not merely a beautiful but empty concept, but rather a love with form and flesh. Drummond enumerates and expounds on the nature of biblical love, contrasting it with other goods, analyzing its aspects, and defending its primacy of place. ~ Afterall

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche on Love and Christian Virtues

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Love is the state in which man sees things most widely different from what they are. The force of illusion reaches its zenith here, as likewise the sweetening and transfiguring power. When a man is in love he endures more than at other times; he submits to everything. The thing was to discover a religion in which it was possible to love: by this means the worst in life is overcome — it is no longer even seen. So much for three Christian virtues Faith, Hope, and Charity: I call them the three Christian precautionary measures.

Vincent van Gogh on Love and Women

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I cannot live without love, without a woman. I would not value life at all if there were not something infinite, something deep, something real. Every woman at every age can, if she loves and is a good woman, gives a man, not the infinity of a moment, but a moment of infinity.

Vincent van Gogh on Love and God

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You must not be astonished when, even at the risk of your taking me for a fanatic, I tell you that in order to love, I think it absolutely necessary to believe in God (that does not mean that you should believe all the sermons of the clergymen) — far from it. To me, to believe in God is to feel that there is a God, not dead or stuffed, but alive, urging us toward aimer encore [steadfast love] with irresistible force.

Vincent van Gogh on Love

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I think that everything which is really good and beautiful — of inner moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works — comes from God, and that which is bad and wrong in men and in their works is not of God, and God does not approve of it. But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things. Love a friend, a wife, something — whatever you like — you will be on the way to knowing more about Him.

Vincent van Gogh on Marrying To Protect

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Last winter I met a pregnant woman [Sien], deserted by the man whose child she carried. A pregnant woman who had to walk the streets in winter, had to earn her bread, you understand how. I took this woman for a model, and have worked with her all winter. I could not pay her the full wages of a model, but that did not prevent my paying her rent, and thank God, so far I have been able to protect her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her. It seems to me that every man worth a straw would have done the same in such a case. What I did was so simple and natural that I thought I could keep it to myself. Posing was very difficult for her, but she has learned; I have made progress in my drawing because I had a good model. The woman is now attached to me like a tame dove. For my part, I can only marry once, and how can I do better than marry her? It is the only way to help her; otherwise misery would force her back into her old ways which end in a precipice.

Vincent Van Gogh on Unrequited Love

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To express my feelings for her [Kee], I said, “She, and no other.” And her “no, never, never” (niet, nooit, nimmer) was not strong enough to make me give her up. I still had hope, and my love remained alive, notwithstanding this refusal, which I thought was like a piece of ice that would melt. But I could find no rest. The strain became unbearable because she was alwys silent and I never received a word in answer. Then I went to Amsterdam. There [her parents] told me, “When you are in the house, Kee leaves it. She answers, ‘Certainly not him’ to your, ‘she, and no other'”. Your persistence is disgusting. I put my hand in the flame of the lamp and said, “Let me see her for as long as I can keep my hand in the flame”… no wonder that Teersteg perhaps noticed my hand afterward. But I think they blew out the lamp and said, “You will not see her.” Well, it was too much for me, especially when they spoke of my wanting to coerce her, and I felt that the crushing things they said to me were unanswerable, and that my “she, and no other” had been killed.