Quotations

Many of the following quotations speak to me; some are merely interesting in the sense that so-and-so said such-and-such; others are just for fun; others I am quoting because they raise an interesting issue or because they are an example of a theory or kind of thinking I find problematic. (More quotes being added to this page often.)


“The theory that truth is manifest – that it is there for everyone to see, if only he wants to see it – this theory is the basis of almost every kind of fanaticism. For only the most depraved wickedness can refuse to see the manifest truth; for only those who have reason to fear truth conspire to suppress it.”

Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, Introduction, p. 8


“…the simple truth is that truth is often hard to come by, and …once found it may easily be lost again.”

Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, Introduction, p. 8


“[O]ne had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect [upon me] that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year. […] It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail.”

Albert Einstein, quoted in Paul Arthur Schilpp, 1959, Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, p. 17


“Behind the ideas of orthodoxy and of heresy the pettiest of vices lie hidden; those vices to which the intellectuals are particularly prone: arrogance, smugness verging on dogmatism, intellectual vanity.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 14: Toleration and intellectual responsibility, I, p. 427


In his 1990 book, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: on universities and the wealth of nations, published by Open Court, W. W. Bartley, III gives a list of things Karl Popper “taught us in his formal lectures and in his writings” then writes:

“In his seminars he taught us:

• To do your work, you must have a scientific or intellectual problem, not a topic.

• Do not try to be path-breaking or original. Find a problem that excites you. Work on it and take what you get.

• You must want to communicate to your reader; you must be clear, never use big words or anything needlessly complicated. (‘Write it for Tirzah,’ he would say – referring to Agassi’s eight-year-old daughter.) Do not use logical symbols or mathematical formulae, for instance, if you can possibly avoid it. Know logic, but do not parade it.

• It is immoral to be pretentious, or to try to impress the reader or listener with your knowledge. For you are ignorant. Although we may differ in the little things we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

• Do not be attached to your ideas. You must expose yourself, put yourself at risk. Do not be cautious in your ideas. Ideas are not scarce: there are more where they came from. Let your ideas come forth: any idea is better than no idea. But once the idea is stated, you must try not to defend it, not to believe it, but to criticise it and to learn from discovering its defects. Ideas are only conjectures. What is important is not the defence of any particular conjecture but the growth of knowledge.

• So be scrupulous in admitting your mistakes: you cannot learn from them if you never admit that you make them.”

W. W. Bartley, III, 1990, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On universities and the wealth of nations, Chapter 9: The Popperian philosophy and the difficult man who started it all, pp. 158-159


“I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some – even in these modern days – who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster.”

Winston Churchill, 1899, The River War, p. 162


“In what manner would reason, independently of the received modes and practices of the world, teach us to communicate knowledge? Liberty is one of the most desirable of all sublunary advantages. I would willingly therefore communicate knowledge, without infringing, or with as little possible violence to, the volition and individual judgement of the person to be instructed.”

William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX: Of the communication of knowledge, pp. 67-68


“If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such. If you cannot demonstrate its excellence, it may well be suspected that you are no proper judge of it. Why should not I be admitted to decide, upon that which is to be acquired by my labour?”

William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX: Of the communication of knowledge, p. 69


“According to the received modes of education, the master goes first and the pupil follows. According to the method here recommended, it is probable that the pupil should go first, and the master follow.”

William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX: Of the communication of knowledge, p. 70


“This plan is calculated entirely to change the face of education. The whole formidable apparatus which has hitherto attended it, is swept away. Strictly speaking, no such characters are left on the scene as either preceptor or pupil. The boy, like the man, studies, because he desires it. He proceeds upon a plan of his own invention, or which, by adopting, he has made his own. Every thing bespeaks independence and equality. The man, as well as the boy, would be glad in cases of difficulty to consult a person more informed than himself. That the boy is accustomed almost always to consult the man, and not the man the boy, is to be regarded rather as an accident, than anything essential. Much even of this would be removed, if we remembered that the most inferior judge may often, by the varieties of his apprehension, give valuable information to the most enlightened. The boy however should be consulted by the man unaffectedly, not according to any preconcerted scheme, or for the purpose of persuading him that he is what he is not.”

William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX: Of the communication of knowledge, pp. 71-72


“There is reverence that we owe to every thing in human shape. I do not say that a child is the image of God. But I do affirm that he is an individual being, with powers of reasoning, with sensations of pleasure and pain, and with principles of morality; and that in this description is contained abundant cause for the exercise of reverence and forbearance. By the system of nature he is placed by himself; he has claim upon his little sphere of empire and discretion; and he is entitled to his appropriate portion of independence. Violate not thy own image in the person of thy offspring. That image is sacred. He that does violence to it is the genuine blasphemer. The most fundamental of all principles of morality is the consideration and deference that man owes to man; nor is the helplessness of childhood by any means unentitled to the benefit of this principle.”

William Godwin, 1797, The Enquirer, Part I, Essay X: Of domestic or family life, pp. 78-79


“The theory I have in mind is one which does not proceed, as it were, from a doctrine of the intrinsic goodness or righteousness of a majority rule, but rather from the baseness of tyranny; or more precisely, it rests upon the decision, or upon the adoption of the proposal, to avoid and to resist tyranny.

For we may distinguish two main types of government. The first type consists of governments of which we can get rid without bloodshed – for example, by way of general elections; that is to say, the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled, and the social traditions ensure that these institutions will not easily be destroyed by those who are in power. The second type consists of governments which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of a successful revolution – that is to say, in most cases, not at all. I suggest the term ‘democracy’ as a shorthand label for a government of the first type, and the term ‘tyranny’ or ‘dictatorship’ for the second.”

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, [both volumes in one Apple Book], Volume I: The Spell of Plato, Chapter 7: The Principle of Leadership, II, pp. 294-295


“[T]he experiences we have as children, mostly in our families of origin, have a profound impact on the rest of our lives. In response to difficult experiences, we create strategies or behavioral patterns to help us deal with what we experience as threats to our emotional, and sometimes even physical, survival. What we first use for our survival, we later use as a generalized and familiar way of engaging in life. These formulas or strategies are usually very intelligent and appropriate at the time they are created and are of very real benefit to us. As a result, they tend to become habitual and to then persist long after they are needed. Because they are responses to disturbing and even dangerous realities, they’re usually associated with quite a bit of anxiety. We avoid feeling this anxiety by pushing these strategies out of our awareness. They then continue to operate without our conscious participation, potentially for the rest of our lives, unless brought into awareness and challenged once we are adults.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Chapter 1: The developmental view, p. 15


“For me, something shifted a number of years ago. […] Before this shift, my baseline—what I returned to, spontaneously, off and on, every moment—was feeling, to some extent, like a problematic person. I was always trying to improve, trying to wake up, trying to feel completely at peace. From that ground of dissatisfaction, moments of clarity, peace, and freedom would arise. But those moments were temporary, and I would always return to a more fundamental sense of problem.

Then this shift happened.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Introduction, pp. 18-19


“In the environment of freedom, it turns out that there’s no problem with being fully human.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Introduction, p. 20


“Are we ready to stop pretending to not be fully present and engaged at every moment? To stop waiting for some future enlightenment, or for our past wounds to heal, before we’re fully committed to, and available to, life?”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Introduction, p. 21


“[F]reedom lies in how we relate to our experience – whatever that experience is.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Introduction, p. 22


“…it is of the utmost importance to give up cocksureness, and become open to criticism.”

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume II: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, p. 387


“The idea of painless, nonthreatening coercion is an illusion. Fear is the inseparable companion of coercion, and its inescapable consequence. If you think it your duty to make children do what you want, whether they will or not, then it follows inexorably that you must make them afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t do what you want. You can do this in the old-fashioned way, openly and avowedly, with the threat of harsh words, infringement of liberty, or physical punishment. Or you can do it in the modern way, subtly, smoothly, quietly, by withholding the acceptance and approval which you and others have trained the children to depend on; or by making them feel that some retribution awaits them in the future, too vague to imagine but too implacable to escape.”

John Holt, How Children Fail, Revised Edition, 1964, 1982, currently in print and published by Penguin, pp. 294-295


“I find that when people open to the possibility that they are being aggressive toward themselves, it invites curiosity and, perhaps down the road, maybe even a little more gentleness.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Chapter 1: The developmental view, p. 61


“Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, by trying to ‘educate’ us, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience has no value.”

John Holt, 1976, Instead of Education Chapter 1: Doing, Not ‘Education’, p. 4


“How I hated this school, and what a life of anxiety I lived there for more than two years. I made very little progress at my lessons, and none at all at games. I counted the days and the hours to the end of every term, when I should return home from this hateful servitude and range my soldiers in line of battle on the nursery floor. The greatest pleasure I had in those days was reading. When I was nine and a half my father gave me Treasure Island, and I remember the delight with which I devoured it. My teachers saw me at once backward and precocious, reading books beyond my years and yet at the bottom of the Form. They were offended. They had large resources of compulsion at their disposal, but I was stubborn. Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn. In all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.”

Winston Churchill, 1930, My Early Life: A roving commission, pp. 12-13


“I shall feel that I have got to be back at a certain time and it would hang like a dark shadow over my pleasure.”

Winston Churchill, in a July 1897 letter to his mother, arguing against even one hour of tutoring a day in his summer holidays, quoted in Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert, 1991, Chapter 1: Childhood. For the full letter, and other letters expressing similar requests, see Winston Churchill’s letters, quoted in Randolph S. Churchill, 1966, Winston S. Churchill: Youth, 1874-1900, Chapter 4: Brighton


“People who have chosen to regard themselves as victims cannot allow themselves to enjoy life, because enjoying life would challenge their perception of themselves as victims.”

Dennis Prager. Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual, Chapter 17: Seeing yourself as a victim, p. 138


“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

William Pitt The Younger, 1783, in a speech in the House of Commons, London, England, 18th November 1783, quoted in Hansard, col. 1209


“[T]he human situation with respect to knowledge is far from desperate. On the contrary, it is exhilarating: here we are, with the immensely difficult task before us of getting to know the beautiful world we live in, and ourselves; and fallible though we are we nevertheless find that our powers of understanding, surprisingly, are almost adequate for the task – more so than we ever dreamt in our wildest dreams. We really do learn from our mistakes, by trial and error. And at the same time we learn how little we know – as when, in climbing a mountain; every step upwards opens some new vista into the unknown, and new worlds unfold themselves of whose existence we knew nothing when we began our climb.

Thus we can learn, we can grow in knowledge, even if we can never know – that is, know for certain. Since we can learn, there is no reason for despair of reason; and since we can never know, there are no grounds here for smugness, or for conceit over the growth of our knowledge.”

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, [both volumes in one Apple Book], Volume II: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, 1961 Addendum, 11: Social and political problems, pp. 1054-1055


“…we are all equal in our infinite ignorance.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 2: On knowledge and ignorance, XI, p. 40


“[M]y answer to the traditional question of epistemology, ‘How do you know that? What is the source or the basis of your assertion? Upon what observations is it founded?’ is: ‘Of course I am not saying that I know anything: my assertion was only meant as a conjecture, a hypothesis. Nor should we worry about the source, or the sources, from which my conjecture may have sprung: there are many possible sources, and I am by no means aware of them all. In any case, origin and pedigree have very little to do with truth. But if you are interested in the problem that I tried to solve by my tentative conjecture, then you can help me. Try to criticize it as severely and as objectively as you can! And if you can devise an experiment which you think might refute my assertion, then I am prepared to do everything in my power to help you to refute it.’”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 2: On knowledge and ignorance, XI, pp. 123-124


“I believe it is the duty of every intellectual to be aware of the privileged position he is in. He has a duty to write as simply and clearly as he can, and in as civilized a manner as he can; and never to forget either the great problems that beset mankind and demand new and bold but patient thought, or the Socratic modesty of the man who knows how little he knows.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 13: How I see philosophy, XI, p. 418


“No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed.”

Magna Carta, 1215


“I sometimes wonder how it was that the mischief done was not more clearly perceptible, and that the young men and women grew up as sensible and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless received damage, from which they suffered to their life’s end; but many seemed little or none the worse, and some almost the better. The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious heed to it.”

Samuel Butler, 1872, Erewhon, p. 135


“To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.”

Blaise Pascal, 1670, Pensées, 4


“Dumby: Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
Cecil Graham: One shouldn’t commit any.
Dumby: Life would be very dull without them.”

Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act III


“Love is granting another the space to be the way they are and the way they aren’t so they can change if they want to and they don’t have to.”

Werner Erhard


“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes.”

Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The unknown ideal, Chapter 1: What is capitalism?


“The idea that ‘the public interest’ supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.”

Ayn Rand, 1962, The Objectivist – Volumes 1-4, p. 38


“On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD…”

William Lloyd Garrison, 1831, The Liberator


“School is an institution built on the axiom that learning is the result of teaching. And institutional wisdom continues to accept this axiom, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Ivan Illich, 1970, Deschooling Society, p. 42


“Thus life proceeds, like scientific discovery, from old problems to the discovery of new and undreamt-of problems.”

Karl Popper, 1972, Objective Knowledge, p. 146


“We are fallible, and prone to error; but we can learn from our mistakes.”

Karl Popper, 1972, Objective Knowledge, p. 265


“The inductivist or Lamarkian approach operates with the idea of instruction from without, or from the environment. But the critical or Darwinian approach only allows instruction from within – from within the structure itself.

In fact, I contend that there is no such thing as instruction from without the structure, or the passive reception of a flow of information which impresses itself on our sense organs. All observations are theory-impregnated. There is no pure, disinterested, theory-free observation.

[…]

We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment. We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error. As Ernst Gombrich says, ‘making comes before matching’: the active production of a new trial structure comes before its exposure to eliminating tests.”

Karl R. Popper, The Myth of the Framework, pp. 8-9


“If two parties disagree, this may mean that one is wrong, or the other, or both: this is the view of the criticist. It does not mean, as the relativist will have it, that both may be equally right. …As two wrongs don’t make a right, two wrong parties to a dispute do not make two right parties.”

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2, p. 387


“If I thought of a future, I dreamt of one day founding a school in which young people could learn without boredom, and would be stimulated to pose problems and discuss them; a school in which no unwanted answers to unasked questions would have to be listened to; in which one did not study for the sake of passing examinations.”

Karl R. Popper, Unended Quest


“All Truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident.”

Arthur Schopenhauer


“Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.”

Mark Twain, 1883, Sketches, A Curious Dream, p. 291


“And it struck her, this was tragedy – not palls, dust, and the shroud; but children coerced, their spirits subdued.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


“’Always regard every man as an end in himself, and never use him merely as a means to your ends.’ The spirit of Kant’s ethics may well be summed up in these words: dare to be free; and respect the freedom of others.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 9: Emanuel Kant: The philosopher of the Enlightenment, p. 306


“Only intellectual rogues are immodest.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 8: On culture clash, pp. 273-277


“[F]reedom is no mere ideology but a way of life which makes life better and more worth living.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 8: On culture clash, pp. 273-282


“If only we would stop setting man against man – often with the best intentions – much would be gained.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 14: Toleration and intellectual responsibility, I, p. 425


“Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.”

A. N. Whitehead, 1938, Modes of Thought


“It is customary, but I think it is a mistake, to speak of happy childhood. Children are often overanxious and acutely sensitive. Man ought to be man and master of his fate; but children are at the mercy of those around them.”

LordAvebury, 1887


“We are born princes, and the civilizing process makes us into frogs.”

Eric Berne


“A Frog Farmer[:] A woman who brings out the worst in men – thus turning Princes into Frogs instead of vice versa.”

Alison A. Armstrong, The Queen’s Code, V. Pumpkin Hours to Desserts


“The effects of infantile instruction are, like syphilis, never completely cured.”

Robert Briffault, 1931


“[W]ithout the making of theories I am convinced there would be no observation.”

Charles Darwin, 1860, quoted in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Volume II, C. Darwin to C. Lyell, June 1st, 1860, p. 108


“To avoid misunderstandings I wish to make it quite clear that I use the terms ‘liberal’, ‘liberalism’, etc., always in a sense in which they are still generally used in England (though perhaps not in America): by a liberal I do not mean a sympathizer with any one political party but simply a man who values individual freedom and who is alive to the dangers inherent in all forms of power and authority.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 11: Public opinion and liberal principles, note 1, p. 366


“We are democrats, not because the majority is always right, but because democratic traditions are the least evil ones of which we know. If the majority (or ‘public opinion’) decides in favour of tyranny, a democrat need not therefore suppose that some fatal inconsistency in his views has been revealed. He will realize, rather, that the democratic tradition in his country was not strong enough.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 11: Public opinion and liberal principles, III. Liberal Principles: A Group of Theses, p. 356


“Institutions alone are never sufficient if not tempered by traditions. Institutions are always ambivalent in the sense that, in the absence of a strong tradition, they also may serve the opposite purpose to the one intended.”

Karl R. Popper, 1984, In Search of a Better World, Chapter 11: Public opinion and liberal principles, III. Liberal Principles: A Group of Theses, pp. 356-357


“There are many people living in a modern society who have no, or extremely few, intimate personal contacts, who live in anonymity and isolation, and consequently in unhappiness. For although society has become abstract, the biological make-up of man has not changed much; men have social needs which they cannot satisfy in an abstract society.”

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, [both volumes in one Apple Book], Volume I: The Spell of Plato, Chapter 10: The Open Society and its Enemies, I, p. 390


“When we disown parts of who we are, we end up feeling divided against ourselves. We feel there’s a part of us that is problematic and even dangerous; shameful or embarrassing; unworthy of love from others. […] We subconsciously feel that there’s a problem with who we are and that we must never go there; we must never have a relationship with that part of ourselves.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Chapter 1: The developmental view, p. 48


Imagine being a little child standing out in the world and feeling threatened. You might put up a wall for protection or even hide in a little box. That would help, but it would also keep you from feeling connected with the environment. In the same way, when we put up a psychological barrier, we end up feeling disconnected from ourselves and from life. Being alienated and disconnected from life doesn’t feel good, and so we suffer. What we don’t understand is that we’re the ones choosing – with very good reason – to put up the wall. It’s not happening to us; we’re doing it ourselves. The very success of our effort to protect ourselves leads inevitably to an experience of feeling divided against ourselves and separate from the world. We feel alienated from life.”

Bruce Tift, Already Free, Chapter 1: The developmental view, pp. 48-49


“It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.”

Benjamin Disraeli, 1839, in a speech in the House of Commons, quoted in Hansard, 20th June 1839, Volume 48, Col 580


“[N]o path leads from experiment to the birth of a theory.”

Albert Einstein, quoted in The Sunday Times 18th July, 1976


“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”

Aldous Huxley, 1932, Texts and Pretexts


Sarah Fitz-Claridge, ‘Quotations’, https://www.fitz-claridge.com/quotations/