SIDE-RAIL QUOTES: AdamsChamberlainRushdie
JamesRobinsonRumiOn DeweyMerton


karen armstrong — fundamentalisms

“Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state. Christian fundamentalists reject the discoveries of biology and physics about the origins of life and insist that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound in every detail.

“At a time when many are throwing off the shackles of the past, Jewish fundamentalists observe their revealed Law more stringently than ever before, and Muslim women, repudiating the freedoms of Western women, shroud themselves in veils and chadors. Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists both interpret the Arab-Israeli conflict, which began as defiantly secularist, in an exclusively religious way. Fundamentalism, moreover, is not confined to the great monotheisms. There are Buddhist, Hindu and even Confucian fundamentalisms, which also cast aside many of the painfully acquired insights of liberal culture, which fight and kill in the name of religion and strive to bring the sacred into the realm of politics and national struggle.”

isaiah berlin — no simple inspection

“There is no Archimedean point outside ourselves where we can stand in order to take up our critical viewpoint, in order to observe and analyze all that we think or believe by simply inspecting it, all that we can be said to take for granted because we behave as though we accepted it — the supposition is a self-evident absurdity.”


“According to the romantics — and this is one of their principal contributions to understanding in general — what I mean by depth, although they do not discuss it under that name, is inexhaustibility . . . No matter how long I speak, new chasms open. No matter what I say I always have to leave three dots at the end. Whatever description I give always opens the doors to something further, something even darker, perhaps, but certainly something which is in principle incapable of being reduced to precise, clear, verifiable, objective prose.”


“In a short essay called ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ Kant lays it down that enlightenment is simply the ability of men to determine their own lives, the liberation of themselves from the leading-strings of others, the fact that men become mature and determine what to do, whether it be evil or whether it be good, without leaning excessively upon authority, upon governesses of one kind or another, upon tradition, upon any kind of established values on which the weight of moral responsibility is then squarely laid. A man responsible for his own acts.”

john caputo — “more radical hermeneutics”

The claim that circulates throughout this book, which is more a confession than a claim, is that we are not (as far as we know) born into this world hard-wired to Being itself, or Truth itself, or the Good itself, that we are not vessels of a Divine or World-Historical Super-Force that has chosen us as its earthly instruments, and that, when we open our mouths, it is we who speak, not something Bigger and Better than we. We have not been given privileged access to The Secret, to some big, capitalized, know-it-all Secret, not as far as we know. And if we have been, it has been kept secret from me.

• The absolute secret is to be differentiated from the conditional, relative, garden-variety secrets that we all keep from one another and sometimes even from ourselves, and that could, in principle, and under specified conditions, be revealed.

• For me, hermeneutics simply means the necessity of interpretation. Accordingly, hermeneutics properly hounded and harassed by deconstruction, a more radical hermeneutics, means that the necessity of interpretation is driven by the absolute secret. It is this absolute secret that no one knows, and that it is not a matter of knowing, that impassions hermeneutics and drives it on. It is the absolute and unconditional secret, this structural blindness, that radicalizes hermeneutics.

• We are driven by the passion of non-knowing. Our readings and interpretations, our re-readings and conflicting interpretations, are like so many fingers clinging tenaciously to the edge of a cliff. Instead of arresting the play of meaning, a more radical or originary experience of hermeneutics faces up to the inescapable play in interpretation.

ralph waldo emerson

He called himself, “An endless seeker with no past at my back.” In regards his rejection of traditional ideas, he said simply, “I must unfold my own thought.”

“There are two objects between which the mind vibrates like a pendulum; one, the desire for Truth; the other, the desire for Repose. He in whom the love of Repose predominates, will accept the first creed he meets … he gets rest and reputation; but he shuts the door on truth. He in whom the love of Truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings and afloat.”

“The true path to spiritual reality lay in and through the structure of the human mind. … The character of each man shall form his Imagination. The Beings of the Imagination shall become objects of unshaken faith, that is, to his mind, Realities.”

“The craving for a strong faith is no proof of a strong faith, but quite the contrary. If one has such a faith, then one can afford the beautiful luxury of skepticism; one is sure enough, firm enough, has ties enough for that.”


“Those men of facts who cannot answer by a superior wisdom these facts or questions of time, serve them. Facts encumber them, tyrannize over them, and make the men of routine, the men of sense, in whom literal obedience to facts has extinguished every spark of that light by which man is truly man ... ”

mmmdry bones

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition? Why should we grope among the dry bones of the past?”

robert green ingersoll — the great agnostic

“When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave.

“There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination's wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts and gods.

“For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master's frown or threat — no following another's steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.”

henry miller — the discrepancy

It should be borne in mind, of course, that there is an inevitable discrepancy between the truth of the matter and what one thinks, even about himself.

I talk now about Reality, but I know there is no getting at it. I eschew all clear cut interpretations: with increasing simplification the mystery heightens. What I know tends to become more and more unstable.

My charts and plans are the slenderest sort of guides.

One can only go forward by going backward and then sideways and then up and then down.

Good and bad dropped out of my vocabulary.

Understanding is not a piercing of the mystery, but an acceptance of it, a living blissfully with it, in it, through it and by it.

I had to learn to think, feel and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world.

I find there is plenty of room in the world for everybody.

michel de montaigne — “what do i know?”

He wore a self-designed medal inscribed with his motto, “What Do I Know?” And he said: “There is a plague on man: the opinion that he knows something.” And he said that in his writing, “I am free to give myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and to my predominant quality, which is ignorance.” And added: “These are my humors and opinions; I offer them as what I believe, not what is to be believed.”

iris murdoch — telling your day

Philosophy is a matter of getting hold of a problem and holding on to it and being prepared to go on repeating oneself as one tries different formulations and solutions. This patient, relentless ability to stay with a problem is a mark of a philosopher, whereas a certain desire for novelty usually marks the artist.

When we return home to "tell our day," we are artfully shaping material into story form. … So in a way we all exist in a literary atmosphere, we live and breathe literature, we are all literary artists, we are constantly employing language to make interesting forms of experience, which perhaps originally seemed dull or incoherent. How far reshaping involves offences against truth is a problem any artist must face. A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.

Any artist must be at least half in love with his unconscious mind, which after all provides his motive force and does a great deal of his work. The philosopher must resist the comfort-seeking artist in himself. He must always be undoing his own work in the interests of truth so as to go on gripping his problem. This tends to be incompatible with literary art. Philosophy is repetitive; it comes back over the same ground, and it is continually breaking the forms which it has made.

richard rorty — literary culture

“The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning, to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.”

“Kierkegaard rightly said that philosophy began to set up itself as a rival to religion when Socrates suggested that our self-knowledge was a knowledge of God — that we had no need of help from a non-human person because the truth was already within us. But literature began to set up itself as a rival to philosophy when people like Cervantes and Shakespeare began to suspect that human beings were, and ought to be, so diverse that there is no point in pretending that they all carry a single truth deep in their bosoms. ... Initiatives like Cervantes's and Shakespeare's helped create a sort of intellectual — one who does not take the availability of redemptive truth for granted and is not much interested in whether God or Truth exists. ... This change helped create today's high culture, one to which religion and philosophy have become marginal.”

“For members of the literary culture, redemption is to be achieved by getting in touch with the present limits of human imagination ... a 'literary intellectual' thinks that a life that is not lived close to the present limits of the human imagination is not worth living.”

leo tolstoy — freethinkers

“I divide men into two lots. They are freethinkers, or they are not freethinkers. Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking; where it is absent, discussion is apt to become worse than useless. A man may be a Catholic, a Frenchman, or a capitalist, and yet be a freethinker; but if he puts his Catholicism, his patriotism, or his interest above his reason, and will not give the latter free play where those subjects are touched, he is not a freethinker. His mind is in bondage.”

ludwig wittgenstein — we’re taught judgments

"I know" seems to describe a state of affairs, which guarantees what is known, guarantees it as a fact. • "I know" is usually understood to mean, "I can't be wrong," that I have "the proper grounds for my statement." • But from the utterance, "I know," it does not follow that he knows it. • It needs to be shown that no mistake is possible. • One can say, "He believes it, but it isn't so," but not, "He knows it, but it isn't so." Does this stem from the difference between the mental states of belief and knowledge? • What is the difference between a mistake and a mental disturbance?

The truth of certain empirical propositions belongs to our frame of reference. • Does one have the right ground for his convictions? • I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false. • The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of the rules of a game.

My convictions form a system, a structure. • Even my doubts form a system. • I have not arrived at my conviction by following a particular line of thought. • All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system.

We do not learn the practice of making empirical judgments by learning rules: we are taught judgments and their connection with other judgments. A totality of judgments is made plausible to us. • It is not single axioms that strike me as obvious; it is a system in which consequences and premises give one another mutual support.

The child learns to believe a host of things. It learns to act accordingly to these beliefs. Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things stand unshakably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing, it is rather held fast by what lies around it. • What we believe depends on what we learn. • The child learns by believing the adult; doubt comes after belief. • The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.


Some authors rate only a spot on the Quote Bank; others have entire pages dedicated to them.

John Caputo
Jennifer Hecht
Milan Kundera
Karl Popper
Richard Rorty


“The habit of doubt; of distrusting his own judgment and of totally rejecting the judgment of the world; the tendency to regard every question as open ... all these are well-known qualities of New England character.”

Henry Adams

'“What Freud wants to say psychologically is that there is a pattern of energy in us that wants to get free ... that this force will hitch a lift with any idea, socially appropriate or inappropriate ... to realize its intention. Proust said something very similar in ‘In Search of Lost Time’ ... that in order to know where the hidden intensity comes from that often spoils our lives, we work back from the way we consciously perceive reality.”

Lesley Chamberlain

“The row over ‘The Satanic Verses’ was at bottom an argument over who should have control over the grand narrative, the Story of Islam, and that the power must belong equally to everyone. That even if my novel were incompetent, its attempt to retell the story would still be important. That if I’ve failed, others must succeed, because those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”

Salman Rushdie


“Shall we espouse and endorse it? Or shall we treat it as a weakness of our nature from which we must free ourselves, if we can? I sincerely believe that the latter course is the only one we can follow as reflective men. Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found? I live by the practical faith that we must go on experiencing and thinking over our experience, for only thus can our opinions grow more true; but to hold to any of them — I absolutely do not care which — as if it never could be reinterpretable or corrigible, I believe to be a tremendously mistaken attitude.”

William James

“I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it. I miss civilization, and I want it back.”

Marilynne Robinson


Christian or Jew or
Muslim. Not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

Not any religion
Or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not
out of the
ocean or up

From the ground, not
natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all.

I do not exist.

Am not an entity in this world or the next, did not descend from

Adam and Eve
or any Origin story.

My place is the placeless, a trace of the traceless.

Neither body or soul,
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one and that one
call to and know.

First, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing



The concern of the philosopher, wrote John Dewey "is not with morals but with metaphysics, with, that is to say, the nature of the existential world in which we live."

Dewey grasped the precarious and unstable nature of things that could make human beings tremble with insecurity, and he remained convinced that the meaning of existence is itself a meaningless issue. But rather than deplore the precarious character of existence, Dewey celebrates its benefits. Out of the interaction of the organism with a troublesome environment arises our intellectual growth, our capacity to think, analyze, plan and control the processes of nature.

To Dewey, our sense of confusion and estrangement simply reflected the price of consciousness. He rejoiced in affirming the incompleteness of experience and the vagaries of nature. Life confronts us as a struggle between what is precarious and what is stable in existence, and the mind is called into being to minimize the contingent and develop the constant elements. Thus, the greater the uncertainties of the environment, the greater the challenge to our reflective intelligence.

Dewey repudiated all philosophical systems (both secular and religious) that would provide final truths in the false hope of liberating humans from their existential condition within nature. Such spiritual liberation would mean death to the life of the mind. It would be conceivably "better," Dewey conceded, if we could accept experience as "given" and feel ourselves at one with a "closed" and "finished" universe, which was the great claim of many schools of thought. "But," he added, "in that case the flickering candles of consciousness would go out."

People are constantly trying to use you to help them create the particular illusions by which they live.

This is particularly true of the collective illusions which sometimes are accepted as ideologies. You must renounce and sacrifice the approval that is only a bribe enlisting your support of a collective illusion.

You must not allow yourself to be represented as someone in whom a few of the favorite daydreams of the public have come true.

You must be willing, if necessary, to become a disturbing and therefore an undesired person, one who is not wanted because he upsets the general dream.

Thomas Merton


“Great doubt: great awakening. Little doubt: little awakening.
No doubt: no awakening.”

©jonfobes 2005