The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Quotation Library
The Sterile Profession of Letters Giacomo Leopardi (1845)
No profession is so sterile as that of letters. But the world puts such a high value on deceit that with its help even letters becomes fruitful. Fraudulence is as it were the soul of social life. Given its effects on the human mind, no art or human faculty is really perfect without it. If you were to study the histories of two people--the one honest in all things, the other deceitful-you would always find the latter more fortunate than the former. The Honest man is in fact almost entirely barren of good fortune. Artifice lacking truth is valuable and effective, but truth lacking artifice is impotent. I don't think this is due to the wicked inclinations of our species, but rather because in everything he does man needs some illusion and glamour, since truth is always too flawed and impoverished. Illusion pleases and inspires him. He lives for the promise of something more, and better, than what the world can actually give. Even Nature is deceitful toward man: it makes life congenial and tolerable only through imagination and artifice.
Vice Rechristened Virtue Lev Shestov (1916)
When a man finds in himself a certain defect, of which he can by no means rid himself, there remains but to accept the so-called failing as a natural quality. The more grave and important the defect, the more urgent is the need to ennoble it. From the sublime to the ridiculous is only one step, and an ineradicable vice in strong men is always rechristened a virtue.
Metaphysical Horror Leszek Kolakowski (1988)
For well over a hundred years, a large protion of academic philosophy has been devoted to explaining that philosophy is either impossible or useless or both.  Thereby philosophy proves that it can safely and happily survive its own death by keeping itself busy proving that it has actually died.
Heretics G. K. Chesterton (1905)
But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere contemned; the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day. Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much of a restraint. We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: "The golden rule is that there is no golden rule." We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man's opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters--except everything.
Modernity on Endless Trial Leszek Kolakowski (1990)
The point is that in the normal sense of "rationality" there are no more rational grounds for respecting human life and human personal rights than there are, say, for forbidding the consumption of shrimp among Jews, of meat on Friday among Christians, and of wine among Muslims.  They are all "irrational" taboos.  And a totalitarian system which treats people as interchangable parts in the state machinery, to be used, discarded, or destroyed according to the state's needs, is in a sense a triumph of rationality.  Still, it is compelled, in order to survive, reluctantly to restore some of those irrational values and thus to deny its rationality, thereby proving that perfect rationality is a self-defeating goal.

Nature and Destiny of Man Reinhold Niebuhr (1941)
If man takes his uniqueness for granted he is immediately involved in questions and contradictions on the problem of his virtue. If he believes himself to be essentially good and attributes the admitted evils of human history to specific social and historical causes he involves himself in begging the question; for all these specific historical causes of evil are revealed, upon close analysis, to be no more than particular consequences and historical configurations of evil tendencies in man himself. They cannot be understood at all if a capacity for, and inclination toward, evil in man himself is not presupposed. If, on the other hand, man comes to pessimistic conclusions about himself, his capacity for such judgments would seem to negate the content of the judgments. How can man be "essentially" evil if he knows himself to be so? What is the character of the ultimate subject, the quintessential "I," which passes such devastating judgments upon itself as object?

Between Past and Future Hannah Arendt (1968)
The modern concept of process pervading history and nature alike seperates the modern age from the past more profoundly that any other single idea. To our modern way of thinking nothing is meaningful in and by itself, not even history or nature taken each as a whole, and certainly not particular occurances in the physical order or specific historical events. There is a fateful enormity to this state of affairs. Invisible processes have engulfed every tangible thing, every individual entity that is visible to us, degrading them into functions of an overall process. The enormity of this change is likely to escape us if we allow ourselves to be misled by such generalities as the disenchantment of the world or the alienation of man, generalities that often involve a romanticised notion of the past. What the concept of process implies is that the concrete and the general, the single thing or event and the universal meaning have parted company. The process, which alone makes meaningful whatever it happens to carry along, has thus acquired a monopoly of universality and significance.

Poetry and Marriage Wendell Berry (1982)
The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. We can join one another ONLY by joining the unknown. We must not be misled by the procedures of experimental thought: in life, in the world, we are never given two known results to choose between, but only one result that we choose without knowing what it is.

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