Aphorisms

Welcome to David Brodeur's "aphorism page" — a world of ideas and comments, presented by selectively quoting the words of others.

I warn you, this can be a dangerous place.  Be prepared!


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

— Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Speech, 1994 (quoting Marianne Williamson)


Of one who is the greatest figure in the world's literature since Greek days Keats remarked that he had as much pleasure in conceiving the evil as he had in conceiving the good. Let your reviewer, sir, consider the bearings of Keats's fine criticism, for it is under these conditions that every artist works. One stands remote from one's subject-matter. One creates it, and one contemplates it. The further away the subject-matter is, the more freely can the artist work. Your reviewer suggests that I do not make it sufficiently clear whether I prefer virtue to wickedness or wickedness to virtue. An artist, sir, has no ethical sympathies at all. Virtue and wickedness are to him simply what the colours on his palette are to the painter. They are no more, and they are no less. He sees that by their means a certain artistic effect can be produced, and he produces it. Iago may be morally horrible and Imogen stainlessly pure. Shakespeare, as Keats said, had as much delight in creating the one as he had in creating the other.

— Oscar Wilde, in an 1890 letter to the editor of The Scots Review, regarding an unfavorable review of The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Men always want to be a woman's first love. That is their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things. What we like is to be a man's last romance.

— Oscar Wilde, from A Woman of No Importance.


Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

— Oscar Wilde, from An Ideal Husband.


Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.

Those who see any difference between body and soul have neither.

Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.

Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right or wrong in conduct shows an arrested intellectual development.

— Oscar Wilde, from Chameleon, I


God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?

 — Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra


When the rights of one person are reduced, the rights of all people are threatened.

— John F. Kennedy


The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.


Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

— Justice Louis D. Brandeis, dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 479 (1928)


The makers of the Constitution conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive right and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the [Constitution].

—Justice Louis D. Brandeis, dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928)


Liberty in the constitutional sense must mean more than freedom from unlawful governmental restraint; it must include privacy as well, if it is to be a repository of freedom. The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of freedom.

—Justice William O. Douglas, dissenting, Public Utilities Commission v. Pollack, 343 U.S. 451, 467 (1952)


Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

— Mark Twain


Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

— Thomas Jefferson, First inaugural address, 1801


I am only too well aware of the human weakness and failure which exist, the doubts of the efficacy of nonviolence, and the open advocacy of violence by some. But I am still convinced that nonviolence is still the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel lecture, 1964


Everything has mind in the lead, has mind in the forefront, is made by mind.  If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, misery will follow, as the wheel of a cart follows the foot of an ox.

Everything has mind in the lead, has mind in the forefront, is made by mind.  If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness will follow, like a shadow that never leaves.

— Dhammapada


A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance", 1841


Most of the greatest evils that man has afflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.

— Bertrand Russel, "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind", 1950


Explanations exist: they have existed for all times, for there is always an easy solution to every problem — neat, plausible and wrong.

Often quoted as something like, "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat — and wrong."

— H. L. Mencken, "The Divine Afflatus" in New York Evening Mail (16 November 1917); later published in Prejudices: Second Series (1920) and A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)


When people think they are free, they are deceived.  They hold to this opinion only because they are conscious of their actions but remain ignorant of what actually causes these actions..

— Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, Part 2


Satyagraha [the struggle for truth] is not physical force.  A satyagrahi does not inflict pain on the adversary.  A satyagrahi does not seek the adversary's destruction.  A satyagrahi never resorts to weapons.  In the use of satyagraha, there is no ill will whatsoever.  Satygraha is pure soul-force.  Truth is the very substance of the soul.  That is why the force is called Satygraha.

— M. K. Gandhi, Selected Works, Vol. 13, September 2, 1917

Satyagraha is gentle, it never wounds.  It must not be the result of anger or malice.  It is never fussy, never impatient, never vociferous.  It is the direct opposite of compulsion.  It was conceived as a complete substitute for violence.

— Vol. 6, April 15, 1938

My study and experience of nonviolence have proved to me that it is the greatest force in the world.  It is the surest method of discovering the truth and it is the quickest because there is no other.

— Vol. 25, November 14, 1924


What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922


It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

— Upton Sinclair


The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”

- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


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Last modified: 05-Dec-2011

David Brodeur | Atlanta, Georgia, USA | www.davidbrodeur.com |