Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quotations from critical thinkers

Whoso neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead to the future.
Euripides 485 - 406 BC

These really deep truisms like Aesop’s Morals, and fairy tales and nursery rhymes are so ingrained that they are not so much information themselves but actually systems of thought. Once you’ve proven 1 + 1 = 2, you can apply it in thousands of situations. It becomes a mental short cut.

This only is denied to God: the power to change the past.
Agathon 448 - 400 BC

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
Socrates 469 - 400 BC

Life is short, art is long, timing is exact, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.
Hippocrates 460 - 400 BC

The life that is unexamined is not worth living.
Plato 428 - 348 BC

There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.
Cicero 106 - 43 BC

I have to paraphrase Cicero here. Last Sunday in the Washington Post Fashion section there were some "haute couture" examples that beg the statement: "There is no dress so ridiculous that some designer won't show it, and some woman won't buy it." A few years back I predicted that a misshapen asymetrical hunchback prosthesis will be proposed as high fashion; sure enough, that exact thing turned up in Paris. At least it didn't become a mainstream fad.

I had to jump 250 years and insert Cicero here because Plato also said:

Seeing that the human race falls into the same classification as the feathered creatures, we must divide the biped class into featherless and feathered. (Hold this thought, it will become important later). Bartlett also quoted a rambling discourse on memory using an analogy of waxen impressions... It’s not very succinct but I think the discussion of memory (and by implication, our collective memory: History) is central to any consideration of “quotes”. Quotes may also be viewed as a distillation of the “AH HA!” moment. That “I SEE!” feeling we get on occasion. So someone else said it first, but when we hear it, it seems like we’re remembering it because it seems so true, obvious, profound, so right. Does anybody collect quotes that they hate? Try to think of one. I’d have to search my brain for something a bigot might say to come up with one.... Maybe Pat Robertson’s statement about equal rights for women:

Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

Other than that, I don’t believe that he thinks it’s so bad... I have the feeling that it’s the capitalism part that bothers him the most. Like the Church of the middle ages, he’s been implying for years on TV that he has the power to sell you an indulgence. Or another stinker, the paragon of democratic logic and virtue that said:

America: love it or leave it. (This is actually a misquote; the real thing suggests the very opposite.)

I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the Law.
Aristotle 384 - 322 BC

And we could add “fear of Religion”, but of course, the religion of his day didn’t have that Judeo-Christian Heaven and Hell and sin and punishment in the afterlife dogma we have today. I also have these from Aristotle:

One swallow does not a summer make.
Man is by nature a political animal.
Well begun is half done.

More statements that have become clichés. That’s not too surprising. I am, after all, trying to remember things well said. If they’ve been said well enough, lots of people will have remembered them and they’ll have become clichés. The other thing about Aristotle is that he was the first systematic compiler of knowledge and facts. Apparently, prior to Alexander’s death, Aristotle had all the research grant money he could use. H. G. Wells says that at one time he had a thousand field representatives spread out over the known world collecting information. So, it’s likely that many of the things Aristotle said were recycled from others. This is not to belittle him in any way. After all, the about face he made from Plato’s armchair dreams of constructed utopias (not to mention feathered bipeds) to studying the real world as it existed, is an immense revolution. And the epithet “compiler” is inadequate. He organized. And with his mastery of logic, his organization of anything was instructive of the subject matter and the most useful system of thought at the same time. Mental onmonopoa again. We need only look at what passes for debate these days to see how much our modern hoipoloi don’t know about rational discriminating thought. Most of our arguments aren’t about apples versus oranges, they’re about apples versus orange trees, or orange groves, or the state of Florida. If man is a political animal, why have the demagogues seized the platform? Because the listeners can’t think straight. More later.

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