Friday, April 16, 2010

My favorite quotes by other people on this blog

It's been a year since I did the first quotes post, so here's an update. For the sake of readability, I've removed all formatting (italics, etc.) and alterations (ellipses and brackets). If you happen to need a more exact quote, just click the link on the person's name and look for the quote in the original post.


"If there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that does not matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair." -- Thomas Nagel

"Don't confuse simple, reasonable honesty with radical silliness. There is no reason to try to articulate blurry feelings or over-explain every detail. The point is to be honest instead of internalizing, not to try to extract juicy confessionals out of everyday life." -- Summer Anne Burton

"My friends tell me that I have a tendency to point out problems without offering solutions, but they never tell me what I should do about it." -- Daniel Gilbert


"One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to 'do what you love.' If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you'd do even if you didn't get paid, you'll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money. -- Penelope Trunk

"Very few men can be genuinely happy in a life involving continual self-assertion against the skepticism of the mass of mankind, unless they can shut themselves up in a coterie and forget the cold outer world. The man of science has no need of a coterie, since he is thought well of by everybody except his colleagues. The artist, on the contrary, is in the painful situation of having to choose between being despised and being despicable." -- Bertrand Russell

"I labored long and hard to try to tell these college students -- some kid would get shot down by the police in New York City, or chased to his death on a highway by a racist mob in Howard Beach. And they would say, 'We're a racist America!' They'd be at Vassar College talking about a 'racist America.' And I would say, 'You're at Vassar College! The world is your oyster! There's nothing you can't do! Learn Chinese, you idiot!'" -- Glenn Loury


"We have grown terribly -- if somewhat hypocritically -- weary of larger truths. The smarter and more intellectual we count ourselves, the more adamantly we insist that there is no such thing as truth, no such thing as general human experience, that everything is plural and relative and therefore undiscussable. Today’s essayists need to be emboldened, and to embolden one another, to move away from timid autobiographical anecdote and to embrace -- as their predecessors did -- big theories, useful verities, daring pronouncements. We must rehabilitate the notion of truth -- however provisional it might be." -- Cristina Nehring

"Is Mount Everest more 'real' than New York? I mean, isn't New York 'real'? I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean, isn't there just as much reality to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest? You see, I think that not only is there nothing more real about Mount Everest, I think there's nothing that different." -- Wallace Shawn

"If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible." -- Paul Graham


"It is an odd fact of evolution that we are the only species on Earth capable of creating science and philosophy. There easily could have been another species with some scientific talent, say that of the average human ten-year-old, but not as much as adult humans have; or one that is better than us at physics but worse at biology; or one that is better than us at everything. If there were such creatures all around us, I think we would be more willing to concede that human scientific intelligence might be limited in certain respects." -- Colin McGinn

“Instead of explaining why this recession (or depression) is just like the others, we should attend to what is new and especially problematic about the current downturn and why it may not respond to policies modeled on avoiding the errors of the past. To speak of a crisis of financial epistemology may sound abstract, but it has had very concrete and disastrous consequences.” -- Jeffrey Z. Muller

"Scientific psychology becomes unscientific because it is dealing with mind, and mind does not lend itself to experimental precision." Norman N. Holland

"And this is the point in which I think I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men -- that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know." -- Socrates


"On the one hand, we are told that our overconsumption is polluting and cluttering up the earth with garbage, using up resources and showing insensitivity to all the needy people in the world. On the other hand, we are told that until we start buying more goods and services, the economy will be in the dumps and we will leave many of our fellow citizens jobless, homeless and hungry. Something is wrong with that picture." -- Ina Aronow

"You might declare that global warming and energy insecurity, not to mention urban sprawl and pollution, have intensified the sin of indulging one's motoring desires. And I would not argue with that point. You're right. I am a bad man. But over the long term, if you want to develop a new transportation and energy policy, you'd probably want to err on the side of assuming that people won't change much. And it is human nature to like to be empowered." -- Joel Achenbach

"Can environmentalism be bad for the environment?" -- Edward L. Glaeser


"It is this claim to a monopoly of meaning, rather than any special scientific doctrine, that makes science and religion look like competitors today. Scientism emerged not as the conclusion of scientific argument but as a chosen element in a worldview -- a vision that attracted people by its contrast with what went before -- which is, of course, how people very often do make such decisions, even ones that they afterwards call scientific." -- Mary Midgley

"If a psychological Maxwell devises a general theory of mind, he may make it possible for a psychological Einstein to follow with a theory that the mental and the physical are really the same. But this could happen only at the end of a process which began with the recognition that the mental is something completely different from the physical world as we have come to know it through a certain highly successful form of detached objective understanding. Only if the uniqueness of the mental is recognized will concepts and theories be devised especially for the purpose of understanding it." -- Thomas Nagel


"The science of happiness barely grasps the things that the average sage of antiquity took as fundamental. The fundamental error of the science - and the reason why so many of its recommendations sound trivial or just confused - is the assumption that happiness is the same as positive emotion. Researchers are continuously drawn back to this idea since it makes happiness measurable." -- Mark Vernon

"We're all puppets, and our best hope for even partial liberation is to try to decipher the logic of the puppeteer. Just because natural selection created us doesn't mean we have to slavishly follow its peculiar agenda. (If anything, we might be tempted to spite it for all the ridiculous baggage it's saddled us with.)" -- Robert Wright


"Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution -- all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light." -- Steven Pinker

"What if everyone followed this Larger Meaning Doctrine? Something happens to an individual, and he could drop it or apologize or look into the particular details of the case, but instead he insists that his experience should represent some big problem in the world that people ought to be concerned about, that his case should be the jumping off point for something much more general, so that his problem isn't wasted but yields Larger Meaning for us all. Imagine how annoying that would be! And now think about how you'd react if these Larger Meaning adherents also topped off their demands by declaring 'this is not about me.'" -- Ann Althouse


"This whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer to that would be, 'Yes.' And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be, 'No.' Therein lies the difficulty. Simple-minded souls will never be satisfied with the answer to the second of these questions." -- Aaron Copland


"I am now part of the conspiracy to intentionally make simple ideas obscure and complex." -- David R. Hakes

"Complexity and obscurity have professional value -- they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades. They exclude the outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class. The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery." -- John Kenneth Galbraith

"Continuous eloquence wearies. Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated." - Blaise Pascal


"People who have a lot of ideas need a blog, not a book. A blog is more immediate, so you’ll get better feedback. And getting feedback as you go is much more intellectually rigorous than printing a final compendium of your ideas and getting feedback from the public only when it's too late to change anything." -- Penelope Trunk

"Book publishers mostly rely on their authors to ensure accuracy; dedicated fact-checking departments now rarely exist except at some magazines. The New Yorker’s checkers are justly renowned for their tenacious scepticism, but even they err sometimes. One reader was annoyed to find himself described as dead, and requested a correction in the next issue. Unfortunately, by the time the correction appeared, he really had died, thus compounding the error. This tale illustrates not only the drawbacks of printed media, but also the role that readers can play in overcoming them -- even if things did not quite work out in this instance." — Anthony Gottlieb

"It was deeply disturbing, but not terribly surprising, to learn that under the guidance of a stern man in a lab coat, ordinary people would torture innocent victims in the infamous Milgram experiment carried out at Yale University. Cronkite was a white man in a tie, with a calm, reassuring voice, and he could have talked us into almost anything, if he wanted to. But his legacy is a paradox: We trusted him to teach us to trust less. The nostalgia for Cronkite is nostalgia not for a lost golden age, but for a brief time when three large media corporations held a monopoly on the airwaves, when trust could be sorted out easily and quickly with the shorthand of race, class and education." -- Philip Kennicott


“Something that’s unsustainable, like a dysfunctional relationship, can go on longer than you expect, and then end faster and messier than you think.” -- Peter Orszag

"The confidentiality of the judicial process would not matter greatly to an understanding and evaluation of the legal system if the consequences of judicial behavior could be readily determined. If you can determine the ripeness of a cantaloupe by squeezing or smelling it, you don't have to worry about the produce clerk's mental processes." -- Richard Posner

"I am mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who – in discussing our national security – said, 'Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.' Over the past several years, we have lost that balance, and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. We simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars." -- President Obama

"The aughts were ruined by not letting good crises go to waste." -- Will Wilkinson


"No matter how bad things get for boys/men, well, they're men, so they can look after themselves. Women, on the other hand, need a Presidential Council to make sure they're doing all right, even if by many metrics they are outperforming men." -- Sofa King

"[quoting this New York Times article:] 'Women's desire is dominated by yearnings of self-love, by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need.' A lot of feminist writing would say that the culture has oppressed women by presenting them as the object of male desire. What if that originates in the woman? Well, that would shake the foundations of feminism!" -- Ann Althouse

"From the moment of conception on, men are less likely to survive than women. It's not just that men take on greater risks and pursue more hazardous vocations than women. There are poorly understood -- and underappreciated -- vulnerabilities inherent in men's genetic and hormonal makeup." -- Marianne J. Legato

"It’s too bad that one side of teaching our children about sex and relationships means reminding them that there are bad people in the world; stay away from them, stay safe, speak up if someone hurts you or pushes you. But everyone needs that information, and that promise of adult support. We have to get that message across without defining some of our children as obvious perpetrators and others as obvious victims, because that insults everyone." -- Perri Klass


"I think the institution would be strengthened by the inclusion of more couples who are genuinely committed to each other. But even if you believe marriage would be changed for the worse by same sex unions, I'm not sure it's a compelling argument for their exclusion. We don't forbid divorce, a more proven and prevalent threat to the health of our society." -- Steve Schmidt


"Every religion I know of has changed its views with respect to concrete controversies over long periods of time. People's views about the morality of homosexuality are likely to undergo some change, even though they're making judgments based on their religious beliefs. Because in fact, religion is an extremely durable, and yet flexible, way of trying to apprehend what's good and what's bad in the world. In fact, its durability comes from its flexibility. Now, speaking from inside a religion, it's hard to talk that way." -- Jack Balkin

- "Is life in general more rewarding if you are spiritual, and a real believer? Does someone who truly believes that God is watching my every step, God is taking care of me, whatever happens to me is somehow approved by or helped by God, does that person live a richer, fuller life than someone who thinks: we're on our own here?"
- "It depends on your specific conception of God, because belief can equally well leave you with this constant sense that you're coming up short and you're being judged and you're not doing quite the perfect thing. You know, I was brought up very religiously, and I never totally lost that sense, you know, that I'm screwing up." -- Joel Achenbach and Robert Wright

"How can it be Heaven if our families aren't there?" -- Greta Christina


"I'm not a vegetarian. Now, don't get me wrong — I like animals. And I don't think it's just fine to industrialize their production and to churn them out like they were wrenches. But there's no way to treat animals well when you're killing 10 billion of them a year. Kindness might just be a bit of a red herring. Let's get the numbers of animals we're killing for eating down, and then we'll worry about being nice to the ones that are left." — Mark Bittman

"Yes, dogs are intelligent, feeling beings, but so are pigs, cows and chickens. Properly cooked, dog meat is as healthy and nutritious as any other meat. It is also said to be delicious. In fact, since many people now advocate eating locally produced food and stray dogs are killed in their thousands in most big cities every year, dogs are the ideal local meat." -- Peter Singer

"If you eat meat, something like that is going on in the background for you too." -- Ann Althouse


"Whether, in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model, is a very difficult question. I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place." -- President Barack Obama

"We're traveling down the route of Europe. And many Americans just hate that idea. If you're in any group of conservatives, and you say, 'Oh, that will take us down the route of Europe,' they will say, 'Oh no, we don't want to do that! That's awful!' Nobody ever explains what's so terrible about Europe." -- Bruce Bartlett


"Good and evil, right and wrong, were invented for the ordinary, average man -- the inferior man, because he needs them." -- John Dall

"We are vulnerable, but we don't want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we'll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don't want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters." -- Ed Hickling

"Those subject to capital punishment are real human beings, with their own backgrounds and narratives. By contrast, those whose lives are or might be saved by virtue of capital punishment are mere 'statistical people.' They are both nameless and faceless, and their deaths are far less likely to be considered in moral deliberations." -- Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule

"Each act of cruelty is eternally a part of the universe; nothing that happens later can make that act good rather than bad, or can confer perfection on the whole of which it is a part." -- Bertrand Russell

"If their characters find they are superior to many people, well, maybe they are." -- Roger Ebert


"Those that treated political, social or historical levels of explanation as fundamental now seemed to me to be treating externals and surfaces as if they were foundations, and to be superficial and point-missing. Marxism had a complete explanation of the arts in terms of political power, economic interests and social classes, and this seemed to me a grotesque attempt to explain the greater in terms of the less." -- Bryan Magee

"The devaluing of the visual goes along with the theory that there is no such thing as quality, i.e., good versus bad [art], a theory that inevitably comes to parody itself as a prejudice against the beautiful." -- Richard Lawrence Cohen

"'He was in pain all the time,' recalled his father. 'He cried. I bought him a toy piano.' The keyboard looked like a mouth to Michel, and he thought it was laughing at him, so he smashed it with a toy hammer, and his father got him an old full-size upright abandoned by British soldiers at a military base. -- David Hadju, quoting Tony Petrucciani


"So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now." -- Roger Ebert

"And if I told myself that I would have something interesting to blog about, that I had something to look forward to, and that I still had something to write, then there was absolutely no reason to die." -- Zachary Paul Sire


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Of course New York is as real as Mt. Everest, but what about Oconomowoc?

In any event, thanks for a set of remarks to steer a worldline. Although there's one I'd like to put through some revision.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I'm open to revising it if you want to reword your quote! That's part of what makes a blog better than a book: the power to revise after publication.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

It has to do with the context of the original quote and how it makes less sense (to me) out of context. The "i.e...." part reads confusingly to me now. But no matter.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I fixed it.