Quotes that offer insight?
September 26, 2007 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What single quote is the best introduction (or accurately encapsulates) a philosophy, belief or conviction that you hold? Or alternately, a quote that describes something in a way that gives you a deeper understanding of a particular perspective that you may or may not endorse.

I'm looking for a type of quote that articulates a view something, or lends insight. Perhaps it informs us of a familiar belief in a way we hadn't thought of before.
posted by quadog to Religion & Philosophy (95 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
A witty saying proves nothing.
-- Voltaire
posted by demiurge at 10:49 AM on September 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work.
-- Laozi, Tao Te Ching
posted by atomly at 10:54 AM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Man can very much do what he wants, but can not will what he wants.
posted by one_bean at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I want to rock and roll all night
and party ev-ery day
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2007


(Einstein paraphrasing Kierkegard?)
posted by one_bean at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2007


De omnibus dubitandum (Doubt everything)
- Rene Descartes

That was also Marx's favorite quote.

Also:

We look up at the same stars, the same sky is above us all, the same universe encompasses us. What difference does it make which system each of us uses to find the truth? It is not by just one route that man can arrive at so great a mystery.
-- Symmachus, Dispatches to the Emperor
posted by nasreddin at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Shakespeare, Hamlet.
posted by elendil71 at 11:04 AM on September 26, 2007


This may sound banal, but ....

"choose your battles"

has seemed full of wisdom many times in both my personal and professional life.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:05 AM on September 26, 2007


"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
- Robert A. Heinlein, "Time Enough for Love"
posted by SpecialK at 11:05 AM on September 26, 2007 [9 favorites]


Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another. [Madonna]
posted by infinityjinx at 11:09 AM on September 26, 2007


"I did it for the lulz."
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
posted by teleri025 at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2007


"Faith Manages" Ambassador Delenn

"We are all the sum of our tears; Too little and the ground is not fertile and nothing can grow there; too much, the best of us is washed away. " Citizen G'Kar

Hey it's a better universe than this one right now.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:14 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is only the shaping of an animal into a human being by a process of socialization, followed (with luck) by the self-individualization and self-creation of that human being through his or her later revolt against that very process.
--Richard Rorty
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 11:15 AM on September 26, 2007


From R. Crumb:

Flaky Floont to Mr. Natural, "Mr. Natural, what does it all mean?"

Mr. Natural to Flaky Floont, "Don't mean shit".
posted by Xurando at 11:16 AM on September 26, 2007


We are nought but wolves at heart,
And no science and no art
Will ever overcome
Our underlying predatory part.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]




"Don't listen to me! Think for yourself!" ParadoxicalSOB

Although I think I like SpecialK's better. Heinlein for the win.
posted by eralclare at 11:18 AM on September 26, 2007


Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

-- Calvin Coolidge
posted by fire&wings at 11:18 AM on September 26, 2007 [16 favorites]


"Don't think, FEEL. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory." - Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

Even though no one else has expounded, I will because I think why its of interest to me isn't immediately apparent. This quote very neatly encompasses a lot of what Bruce Lee had to say in regards to the uselessness of martial arts generally practiced, and on a broader scale the limits of conscious understanding of some aspects of life. I guess the best way to explain it is sometimes we know things without knowing how we know it, and we can't explain it, but we feel that we understand it completely. Words would just get in the way; it can't be reduced to them. Even though I place great value in intellectual pursuits, sometimes there are ways of knowing that exist outside of them and should not be discounted.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:18 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


David Bowie. "All the painters, all the anything else - it's where all the nutcases go when they haven't been locked up. They go into the arts."
posted by cmyk at 11:23 AM on September 26, 2007


From Sam Walter Foss, The House by the Side of the Road:

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by;
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban;
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2007


"Sometimes things just don't make sense, and that's just the way it is. Live with it. More tea?"

-Richard Feynman
posted by vacapinta at 11:25 AM on September 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Usually mis-attributed to Voltaire, but written in that form by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.
posted by cabingirl at 11:26 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


An it harm none, do what thou wilt.
Yeah, that, a thousand times over.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:33 AM on September 26, 2007


Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui.
(He must increase, I must decrease.)
- John 3:30
posted by jquinby at 11:33 AM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


"We believes in nothing"

-the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski
posted by poppo at 11:34 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
-Matthew 6:26-28, The Bible


Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
-Lyrics by Ray Evans
posted by clh at 11:37 AM on September 26, 2007


Omnia mutantur; nihil interit. - Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost. - Ovid
posted by greytape at 11:38 AM on September 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.

-Dalai Lama
posted by triggerfinger at 11:39 AM on September 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


"I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations - one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it - you will regret both. " - Kierkegaard
posted by forallmankind at 11:40 AM on September 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


"There ought to be a law against anybody going to Europe until they've seen the things we have in this country."
-- Will Rogers

"Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Though the wording seems disputed, according to the Goog
-- Winston Churchill
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:43 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"It's a Wonderful World", as revealed by Louis Armstrong.
posted by bonehead at 11:45 AM on September 26, 2007


Life is yours and yours alone.
posted by letahl at 11:48 AM on September 26, 2007


This, too, shall pass.
posted by ThFullEffect at 11:49 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


From Vanilla Sky:

“the sweet is never as sweet without the sour”

I also love Robert Earl Keen’s:

“The road goes on forever and the party never ends”
posted by doorsfan at 11:50 AM on September 26, 2007


"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." - Auguste Rodin
posted by lucia__is__dada at 11:53 AM on September 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


The perfect is the enemy of the good.
posted by jbickers at 11:53 AM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The job of the newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
posted by GaelFC at 11:56 AM on September 26, 2007


Living well is the best revenge. - George Herbert
posted by cda at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


But high and mighty words and ways
Are flogged to humbleness, 'till age,
Beaten to its knees at last is wise.

-Sophocles, Antigone

Also,

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

-Mark Twain
posted by oflinkey at 12:14 PM on September 26, 2007


DON'T PANIC
posted by fidelity at 12:16 PM on September 26, 2007


"They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do just as well … you just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference."

- Bill Hicks
posted by ekstasis23 at 12:19 PM on September 26, 2007


"Learn to say 'Fuck You' to the world once in a while. You have every right to just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose-sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding grinding away at yourself and just DO.

Don't worry about cool. Make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world."

--Sol Lewitt
posted by tigerbelly at 12:23 PM on September 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Shit happens
posted by A189Nut at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2007


"I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time - namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." - Joseph Campbell
posted by knave at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Moderation in all things, including moderation.

And I know this isn't really the place to debate these, but I can't help but say that I vehemently, 1000% disagree with Heinlein's quote about specialization. Without specialization, we'd all still be hunter-gatherers. "Conn a ship?" We wouldn't have ships if it weren't for specialization.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:30 PM on September 26, 2007


"If you get hung up on everybody else's hang-ups, then the whole world's going to be nothing more than one huge gallows." - Richard Brautigan
posted by brautigan at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2007


Life sucks, and then you die.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Most of these don't really seem to be an introduction to a philosophy. So as not to derail, here's mine:

Mathematics is the art of saying the right words in the correct order.

- Vladimir Drinfeld
posted by number9dream at 12:56 PM on September 26, 2007


"We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life." - from Advices & Queries.
posted by scruss at 1:00 PM on September 26, 2007


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:34 PM on September 26, 2007


St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden when he was aksed what he would do if he were suddenly informed that he would die that at sunset that day. "I should finish hoeing my garden" he replied.
posted by milestogo at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Vonnegut, from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "Pretend to be good always, and even God will be fooled."
posted by equalpants at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Do or do not. There is no try.
posted by nax at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"There are few sorrows, however poignant, in which a good income is of no avail."
posted by trinity8-director at 1:43 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


From Socrates:

The unexamined life is not worth living.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


"There is no galactic immortality. Everything we are and have done, the whole Milky Way with its billions of stars, is eventually destined to be swallowed up in a black hole. Neither ourselves nor our works will survive the end of the universe, if dark energy eventually blows it apart, no matter what we do. All we own is the present, so it behooves each of us to live each moment impeccably, guided by whatever lights we choose. Speaking only for myself, while we are around we might as well embrace the light and the unknown, the violence and vastness that terrify us." -- Dennis Overbye for the NYTimes
posted by np312 at 2:13 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.

and

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool; ignore him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student; teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.
posted by toxic at 2:14 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I can't pick one, sorry:

"The chief cause of failure is giving up what you want most in life for what you want at the moment"

"People need loving the most when they deserve it the least."

"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."

"When you meet someone wise, think about becoming his equal. When you see someone inferior, reflect on yourself."
posted by vocpanda at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
posted by Jaie at 2:38 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


"...An act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that's the end of it. When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown, the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls the universe is changed. On every act the balance of the whole depends." - Ursula Le Guin
posted by cocoagirl at 2:38 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


"We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." - Charles Bukowski
posted by AceRock at 2:53 PM on September 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


"It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:03 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Suffering is infused in all life; craving is the root of suffering; craving can be extinguished.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:13 PM on September 26, 2007


Pain or damage don't end the world, or despair, or fuckin' beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man, and give some back.
-- Al Swearengen
We all got it coming, kid.
-- Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven
To alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.
-- Homer Simpson
posted by kirkaracha at 4:14 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
-Kurt Vonnegut
posted by Daily Alice at 4:52 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


It is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.

That's from Admiral Grace Hopper. A great old lady; they don't make 'em like that any more. (Among other distinctions, she's the first woman in history to become an Admiral in the US Navy.) She's also credited with this:

"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants."

J. Brotherton
posted by twirlypen at 5:27 PM on September 26, 2007


"To search for perfection is all very well
But to look for Heaven is to live here in Hell"

from a Sting song "Consider Me Gone"

... and (good, I think, whatever you believe) ...

"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Matthew 16:26
posted by southof40 at 6:02 PM on September 26, 2007


“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Steven R. Covey
posted by rcavett at 6:05 PM on September 26, 2007


"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." - Pete Townshend

"I said never, but I'm doin' it again." - Tom Waits

"80% of success is just showing up." - Woody Allen

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- 'God damn it, you've got to be kind." - Kurt Vonnegut
posted by Arch_Stanton at 6:33 PM on September 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


-Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

-A person will never understand something his/her salary depends on him/her not understanding.

-Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends!

-Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting.
posted by Rykey at 6:41 PM on September 26, 2007


-When someone insists it's the principle of the thing, not the money involved... it's always the money.
posted by Rykey at 6:43 PM on September 26, 2007


"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
posted by zeph at 8:45 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


300. In one word, be a Saint.

So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities. She it is that makes a man prudent, discreet, sagacious, cautious, wise, courageous, thoughtful, trustworthy, happy, honoured, truthful, and a universal Hero. Three HHH's make a man happy--Health, Holiness, and a Headpiece.

Virtue is the sun of the microcosm, and has for hemisphere a good conscience. She is so beautiful that she finds favour with both God and man. Nothing is lovable but virtue, nothing detestable but vice. Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest. A man's capacity and greatness are to be measured by his virtue and not by his fortune. She alone is all-sufficient. She makes men lovable in life, memorable after death.

Baltasar Gracián
Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia
posted by bigmusic at 9:44 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


My religious feelings summed up in a (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker -- Militant agnostic: I don't know and you don't either.
posted by wintersweet at 9:59 PM on September 26, 2007


"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you"
-Jean Paul Sartre
posted by paddingtonb at 10:09 PM on September 26, 2007


One more (if poem snippets are cheating, flag away, but this fits the rest of the criteria in terms of it being a quote that introduces a belief or philosophy):

It lies not in our power to love or hate
For will in us is overruled by fate
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin
We wish that one should lose, the other win
And especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect
The reason no man knows, let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes
Where both deliberate, the love is slight
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

Christopher Marlowe (Hero and Leander)
posted by paddingtonb at 10:22 PM on September 26, 2007


Be excellent to each other.
and
Party on, Dude!
posted by exceptinsects at 10:58 PM on September 26, 2007


Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:34 AM on September 27, 2007


If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. - Clyde Staples Lewis
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:09 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

-Henry David Thoreau
posted by quadog at 10:03 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


The following quote (inspired by Matthew 5:45, "for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.") sums up pretty nicely my political philosophy:

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.
--Charles Synge Christopher Bowen
posted by ND¢ at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2007


Every life-changing event has two possible outcomes: a funny story or a lousy obit; strive for the former over the latter.
-a friend who shall here remain nameless.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:58 PM on September 27, 2007


"What is best in life?"

"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
posted by Demogorgon at 4:21 PM on September 27, 2007


For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.
-- Camus

There's grandeur in this view of life
-- Charles Darwin
posted by jvers at 10:09 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time.
posted by toxic at 10:21 AM on September 28, 2007


Everything happens in a completely idiotic way. - Tristan Tzara
posted by PHINC at 7:29 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea. - Isak Dinesen
posted by vignettist at 9:10 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Know thyself.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:44 PM on September 30, 2007


Jelly, in a vise.

I've always thought this quote/metaphor was rather interesting. It can be applied to many things and situations, and takes on different meanings accordingly, which makes it very, well, jellylike. It can be positive or negative. The jelly can be a good thing or a bad thing, as can the vise. Is the phrase referring to doing something futile, such as trying to contain something flexible using something rigid? Or maybe it's a suggestion to be more flexible when faced with constraints? Or it could be that the jelly is something undefined and slippery, whereas the vice has good form and function? Maybe it refers to two things that are equally flawed not complementing each other? The interpretations are endless, and trying to pin one down sort of makes the quote an epitome of itself.

You asked for a quote that shares a perspective or lends insight, possibly for a belief or philosophy. The quote "Jelly, in a vise" opened my eyes to the power of language. That four simple words can have such a range of interpretations and meanings boggles my mind. It's a wonder that we humans can communicate and understand each other at all!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:59 PM on September 30, 2007


"Behold, thusly was the law formulated: Imposition of Order = ESCALATION of DISORDER!"
-Principia Discordia
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2007


Life is. I am. Anything might happen. And I believe I may invest my life with meaning. The uncertainty is a blessing in disguise. If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease.
Robert Fulghum
1937-, American Writer
Maybe (Maybe Not): Second Thoughts from a Secret Life , 1993
posted by milestogo at 6:12 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


'You see, you wouldn't ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate it's tenacity. We would all love it's will to reach the sun. Well, we are the roses - this is the concrete - and these are my damaged petals. Don't ask me why, thank God n!gga, ask me how! Hahahaha..'- Tupac
posted by Student of Man at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2007


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