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Anthony Campbell

A Sceptical Anthology

Some favourite sceptical quotations

Allen   Anon   Austen   Baldwin   Bierce   Borrow   Bradley   Broad   Butler   Campbell   Carroll   Dalai Lama   Darwin   Dawkins   Deacon   Dennett   Dickens   Dodds   Ehrenreich   Epicurus   Feynman   Fortey   Frayn   Gay   Goldstein   Greaves   Grimwood   Hawkes   Hobbes   Holmes   Hume   Huxley   Jefferson   Johnson   Jones   Kaminer   Laski   Lawrence   Lovelock   Lucas   MacNeice   Magee   McGinn   Mencken   Miller   Montaigne   Mornar   Murdoch   Oppenheimer   Osmond   Parfit   Putin   Ridley   Russell   Sagan   Sapolsky   Searle   Schopenhauer   Seneca   Shakespeare   Skinner   Smart   Sontag   Storr   Stove   Strawson   Sutherland   Swift  Valery   Voltaire   Warburton   Wegner   Woolf   Xenophanes

Woody Allen
More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.

There was a young man who said: "Damn!
At last I perceive what I am:
Just a creature that moves
In determinate grooves;
In fact, not a bus but a tram."

Parishioner: What do you think will happen to you when you die?
Vicar: I shall experience everlasting bliss in the arms of the Lord. But why are we talking about such a depressing subject?

Jane Austen
To be rational in anything is great praise. [Letter to her sister Cassandra]

James Baldwin
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. [The Fire Next Time]

Ambrose Bierce
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain. [The Devil's Dictionary]

George Borrow
Mr Petulengro: My opinion of death, brother, is [that] when a man dies, he is cast into the earth, and his wife and child sorrow over him. If he has neither wife nor child, then his father and mother, I suppose; and if he is quite alone in the world, why, then, he is cast into the earth, and that is an end of the matter. [The Romany Rye]

Francis H. Bradley
Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct; but to find these reasons is no less an instinct.

C.D. Broad
By a 'silly' theory I mean one which may be held at the time when one is talking or writing professionally, but which only an inmate of a lunatic asylum would think of carrying into daily life... It must not be supposed that the men who maintain these theories and beliefs are 'silly' people. Only very acute and learned men could have thought of anything so odd or defended anything so preposterous against the continual protests of common sense. [Mind and its Place in Nature]

A healthy appetite for righteousness, kept in due control by good manners, is an excellent thing; but to 'hunger and thirst' after it is often merely a symptom of spiritual diabetes.

Bishop Joseph Butler, 1692-1752
Why might not whole communities and public bodies be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals? Nothing but this principle, that they are liable to insanity, equal at least to private persons, can account for the major part of those transactions of which we read in history.

Hamish Campbell (my father)
Disasters do happen in life but hardly ever those that you were worried about.

Lewis Carroll
Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a thousand pounds a word! [Through the Looking Glass]

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the [White] Queen said, in a pitying tone."Try again: draw a long breath and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed."There's no use trying," she said:"one can't believe impossible things."
[Through the Looking Glass]

"I have said it three times," said the Bellman,
"And what I say three times is true." [The Hunting of the Snark]

Noel Coward [sung to a jaunty tune]
There are bad times just around the corner,
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky,
And it's no good whining
About a silver lining,
For we know from experience they won't roll by.

Quentin Crisp
I clearly see that my life was only an imprudent dash between the cradle and the tomb across open country and under fire. [The Naked Civil Servant]

Simon Critchley
Nothing is more inimical to most people who call themselves Christians than Christianity. This is because they are leading quietly desperate atheist lives bounded by a desire for longevity and a terror of annihilation. [The Book of Dead Philosophers]

The Dalai Lama
My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.

Charles Darwin
It is worth of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of thought.

Richard Dawkins
To describe religion as mind viruses is sometimes interpreted as contemptuous or even hostile. It is both. I am sometimes asked why I am so hostile to 'organized religion'. My first response is that I am not exactly friendly towards disorganized religion either. [The Infected Mind]

As a lover of truth, I am suspicious of strongly held beliefs that are unsupported by evidence: fairies, unicorns, werewolves, any of the infinite series of conceivable and unfalsifiable beliefs epitomized by Bertrand Russell's hypothetical teapot orbiting the sun. [The Infected Mind]

The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that makes life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite. [Unweaving the Rainbow]

My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer. [The Ancestor's Tale]

We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. [The Selfish Gene]

Terrence Deacon
Hundreds of millions of years of evolution have produced hundreds of thousands of species with brains, and tens of thousands with complex behavioural, perceptual, and learning abilities. Only one of these has ever wondered about its place in the world, because only one has evolved the ability to do so. [The Symbolic Species].

What great efforts we exert trying to forget our future fate by submerging the constant angst with innumerable distractions, or trying to convince ourselves that the end isn't really what it seems by weaving alternative interpretations of what will happen in"the undiscovered country" on the other side of death. [The Symbolic Species].

We struggle in vain to comprehend the implications of our own impending cessation of life. And we weave marvellously elaborate and beautifully obscure stories to fill our need to find purpose in the fabric of the universe. [The Symbolic Species].

Daniel Dennett
The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the overexamined life is nothing to write home about either.

There's a queasiness that people feel as they see the march of science into the brain and the mind, a fear that we'll be swallowed up and turned into robots.

Charles Dickens
"She's a rum 'un is Natur'." said Mr Squeers..."Natur' is more easier conceived than described." [Nicholas Nickleby]

Isaac d'Israeli
The reader desirous of being merry with Aquinas's angels may find them in Scriblerus... who enquires if angels pass from one extreme to another without going through the middle? And if angels know things more clearly in a morning? How many angels can dance on the point of a very fine needle without jostling one another? [Curiosities of Literature]

E.R. Dodds
[T]o me, as to so many of my generation, the age-old question 'Why are we here?' has ceased to be meaningful. It was meaningful once, when the earth was God's theatre and man the tragic hero of a unique and divinely conceived drama. But for a small animal bred we know not how on a third-rate planet in a fourth-rate galaxy even to ask such questions seems to me senseless; to offer confident answers, hybristic. [Missing Persons: An Autobiography].

At 17 I saw [the decline of religious belief] as a liberation. At 83 I am more often inclined to see it as an impoverishment, the inevitable drying-up of one of the deeper springs from which the human imagination has in time past been nourished. But whether humanity can in the end without self-destruction learn to accept its own isolation in a universe empty of detectable gods it is still far too soon to decide. [Missing Persons: An Autobiography].

Barbara Ehrenreich
What we call the Enlightenment and hold on to only by our fingernails, is the slow-dawning understanding that the world is unfolding according to its own inner algorithms of cause and effect, probability and chance, without any regard for human feelings. [How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World]

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence comes evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Richard Feynman
I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit, but if I can't figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't have to … I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.

It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil, which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

Here is one feature I notice that is generally missing in"cargo cult science." It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty, a kind of leaning over backwards.

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time, life and death, stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out.

I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you.

Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty; some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don't know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question—to doubt— to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained. ["The Value of Science," address to the National Academy of Sciences (Autumn 1955)]

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me. [The Pleasure of Finding Things Out]

Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation … Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty. People are terrified: how can you live and not know? It is not odd at all. You only think you know, as a matter of fact. And most of your actions are based on incomplete knowledge and you really don't know what it is all about, or what the purpose of the world is, or know a great deal of other things. It is possible to live and not know.

Richard Fortey
Mankind is no more than a parasitic tick gorging himself on temporary plenty while the seas are low and the climate comparatively clement. But the present arrangement will change, and with it our brief supremacy. [The Earth]

Anatole France
For my part, I have no excessive confidence in reason. I know how weak and tottering it is. But I remember Diderot's clever apologue:"I have," he said,"only a small flickering light to guide me in the darkness of a thick forest. Up comes a theologian and blows it out." Let us first of all follow reason, it is the surest guide.

Michael Frayn
The universe we live in is a coral reef, formed from the bones of countless decisions left behind after their authors' deaths. [The Human Touch]

Peter Gay
[David Hume] was willing to live with uncertainty, with no supernatural justifications, no complete explanations, no compromise of complete stability, with guides of merely probable validity; and what is more, he lived in his world without complaining, a cheerful Stoic. [The Enlightenment: An Interpretation]

Edward Gibbon
The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings. [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire]

Jonathan Glover
Some people treat their opinions as a religion. They have Beliefs rather than beliefs… The tendency of critical discussion is to encourage people to move from Belief to belief. [I: The Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity]

There is a great difference between many people making an imperceptible contribution and the same people each making no contribution... We wrongly suppose that what we do and say makes no difference to the growth of human consciousness, because we overlook the cumulative effects of individual contributions each below the threshold of visibility. [I: The Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity]

Rebecca Goldstein
Superstitions, as opposed to religion, offer us false cures for our finitude. They make us believe that we are more cosmically important than we are, that we have bestowed on us—whether Jew, Christian or Moslem—a privilged position in the narrative of the world's unfolding. And they make us believe that we can, if we have jumped through the right hoops, live on after our bodily death. [Betraying Spinoza]

All things being equal, it is better to believe truly than falsely. But the variety of superstitious false beliefs, denying the universal accessibility of truth—the same truth—to all who exercise their faculty of reason, is particularly pernicious. It has delivered unspeakable harm to our species. [Betraying Spinoza]

Mel Greaves
There is a sense in which all our ailments and particularly our 'modern' chronic disorders are reflections of design limitations, delayed trade-offs, and nature–nurture mismatches. They are part of the natural scheme of things even if we would like to believe that we have been sculpted to perfection. [Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy]

Ken Grimwood
We're here, and we don't know why. We can philosophize all we want, pursue the key to that secret along a thousand different paths, and we'll never be any closer to unlocking it. [Replay]

Nigel Hawkes
The lesson we should have learnt is that laying down dietary guidelines that are based on the evidence of the day is a task to be undertaken with humility. Almost every nutritional 'fact' is in reality an opinion, often based on poor quality evidence. ["Take dietary truths with a pinch of salt." BMJ 2014;348:1]

Thomas Hobbes
The universe, the whole mass of things that are, is corporeal, that is to say body, and hath the dimensions of magnitude, length, breadth and depth. Every part of the universe is 'body' and that which is not 'body' is no part of the universe, and because the universe is all, that which is no part of it is nothing and consequently nowhere.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr
To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.

David Hume
Everyone has observed how much more dogs are animated when they hunt in a pack, than when they pursue their game apart. We might, perhaps, be at a loss to explain this phenomenon, if we had not experience of a similar in ourselves.

The physical arguments from the analogy of nature are strong for the mortality of the soul; and are really the only philosophical arguments which ought to be admitted with regard to this question, or indeed any question of fact.

...the life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.

Reason is, and only ought to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. [A Treatise of Human Nature]

A true sceptic will be diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as of his philosophical convictions. [A Treatise of Human Nature]

Is there any reasonable ground to conclude that the inhabitants of other planets possess thought, intelligence, reason, or any thing similar to these faculties in men? When nature has so extremely diversified her manner of operation in this small globe, can we imagine that she incessantly copies herself throughout so immense a universe? And if thought, as we may well suppose, be confined merely to this narrow corner, and has even there so limited a sphere of action, with what propriety can we assign it for the original cause of all things? [Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion]

Thomas Henry Huxley
It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions. [The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species]

William James
It is perhaps surprising that men come to regard the happiness which a religious belief affords as a proof of its truth. If a creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it. Such a belief ought to be true; therefore it is true. [The Varieties of Religious Experience]

Thomas Jefferson
It is between fifty and sixty years that I read [the Book of Revelation], and I then considered it as the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherencies of our own nightly dreams.

I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. [Thomas Jefferson]

[T]he day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors. [Letter to John Adams, from Monticello, 11 April 1823]

Samuel Johnson
Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. [Quoted in James Boswell's Life of Johnson]

But hope not life from grief or danger free
Nor think the doom of man reversed for thee.

Clear your mind of cant, Sir!

Steve Jones
The reefs tell the story of how life began and record many of the catastrophes through which it has struggled. As human folly threatens their paradise with premature demise such places remind every one of us, pessimist or otherwise, that our own extinction is as certain as is theirs. Whether it will take place in the slow course of evolutionary time, or in the near future as our own imprudence causes Nature to take her revenge, neither Newton nor Darwin can say. [Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise]

Wendy Kaminer
Generally, the only proof offered for a fantastic belief is the passion it inspires. [Sleeping With Extraterrestrials]

Marghanita Laski
If I were to be asked … what next change in sensibility would most benefit us all, my answer would be to distrust all fallings in love. [Ecstasy]

To the believer faith is a virtue, to me a vice, and a vice because it nullifies what is to me the greatest human potential, the exercise of reason. [Ecstasy]

T.E. Lawrence
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. [Seven Pillars of Wisdom]

James Lovelock
We are no more qualified to be the stewards or developers of the Earth than are goats to be gardeners. [The Revenge of Gaia]

[On wind power] We are like passengers on a large aircraft crossing the Atlantic who suddenly realize just how much carbon dioxide their plane is adding to the already overburdened air. It would hardly help if they asked the captain to turn off the engines and let the plane travel like a glider by wind power alone. [The Revenge of Gaia]

To expect sustainable development or a trust in business as usual to be viable policies is like expecting a lung cancer victim to be cured by stopping smoking; both measures deny the existence of the Earth's disease, the fever brought on by a plague of people. [The Revenge of Gaia]

F.L. Lucas
Those who chase originality … are more likely to find they have caught instead her ugly sister, eccentricity... [Style]

Really dead metaphors, like really dead nettles, cannot sting; but often the metaphors are only half dead; and these need careful handling. [Style]

A clear word is like a finger-post pointing straight at its object; but our abstract terms are too often like signposts with many arms, some broken, some twisted, some half-effaced, pointing into a fog. [Style]

Louis MacNeice
It's no go the Yogi Man, it's no go Blavatsky.
All we need is a cheque book and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Bryan Magee
Although I am sure there is an immaterial self I am far from being sure that it has any existence except in relation to a body. My own particular self may have come into existence when or after my body did, and may cease to exist when my body dies. It may be something that has evolved over millions of years in undisentanglable relationship with brains, and may have no way of existing separately from my brain. [Confessions of a Philosopher]

Colin McGinn
Consciousness can reduce even the most fastidious thinker to blabbering incoherence. [New York Review of Books, 27 June 2002]

H.L. Mencken
Despite the common delusion to the contrary the philosophy of doubt is far more comforting than that of hope. The doubter escapes the worst penalty of the man of faith and hope; he is never disappointed, and hence never indignant.

The public demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties.

To sum up: 1. The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. 2. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzying ride on it. 3. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him a ride.

George Miller
Consciousness is a word worn smooth by a million tongues. [Psychology: The Science of Mental Life]

Michel de Montaigne
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.

Sara Mornar
Any belief system constructs its own reality.

Iris Murdoch
All that consoles is fake.

God does not and cannot exist. But what led us to conceive of him does exist and is constantly experienced and pictured. [Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals]

Stephen Oppenheimer
Taking the long view, the effects of global warming could be little more than a blip on the way to the next glacial maximum. [Out of Eden]

Rosalie Osmond
Yet the desire to believe in something beyond the physical exists. It spends itself in astrology, in rigid fundamentalism, in meditative exercise, in vague reference to the numinous, in a passionate desire for past certainties. [Imagining the Soul]

Donald Parfit
Belief in God, or in many gods, prevented the development of moral reasoning. Disbelief in God, openly admitted by a majority, is a very recent event, not yet completed. Because this event is so recent, Non-Religious Ethics is at a very early stage. [Reasons and Persons]

Vladimir Putin
We're all going to die out like dinosaurs.

I.A. Richards
To be forced by desire into any unwarrantable belief is a calamity.

Matt Ridley
Sitting in a black tie listening to La Traviata is merely a Western version of dancing round a camp fire with a bone through your nose.

Bertrand Russell
I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it, the other that you can boast about it.

I wish to propose a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. [On the Value of Scepticism]

It's good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do. [Quoted in Antony Flew's Thinking About Thinking]

Carl Sagan
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge—even to ourselves - that we've been so credulous. [The Fine Art of Baloney Detection]

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. [Billions and Billions]

[T]he tools of skepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society. They're hardly ever mentioned in the schools, even in the presentation of science, its most ardent practitioner, although skepticism repeatedly sprouts spontaneously out of the disappointments of everyday life. Our politics, economics, advertising, and religions (New Age and Old) are awash in credulity. Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power, a skeptic might suggest, have a vested interest in discouraging skepticism. [The Demon-Haunted World]

Robert Sapolsky
I might even continue to believe there is no god, even if it was proven that there is one.

John R. Searle
For us, if it should turn out that God exists, that would have to be a fact of nature like any other. To the four basic forces in the universe—gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces—we would add a fifth, the divine force. Or more likely, we would see the other forces as forms of the divine force. But it would still be all physics, albeit divine physics. If the supernatural existed, it too would have to be natural. [Mind, Language and Society]

Our problem is not that somehow or other we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather that in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remain convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith. We remain convinced that they must separate their minds into separate compartments to believe such things. [The Rediscovery of the Mind]

In general, I feel if you can't say it clearly you don't understand it yourself. [The Philosophers' Magazine, Autumn 1999]

Arthur Schopenhauer
Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills.

Everyone prefers belief to the exercise of judgement.

William Shakespeare
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
[Henry IV, Part I,III,1]

Gloucester: As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods;
They kill us for their sport.
[ King Lear IV,1)]

B.F. Skinner
The real question is not whether machines think, but whether men do.

J.J.C. Smart
In my experience arguing oneself out of one's religious beliefs can bring about peace of mind, since one does not need all the time to square one's religious beliefs with continuing developments in cosmology, biology and for that matter philosophy. [Atheism and Theism]

Lee Smolin
The world will always be here, and it will always be different, more varied, more interesting, more alive, but still always the world in all its complexity and incompleteness. There is nothing behind it, no absolute or platonic world to transcend to. All there is of Nature is what is around us. All there is of Being is relations among real, sensible things. All we have of natural law is a world that has made itself. All we may expect of human law is what we can negotiate among ourselves, and what we take as our responsibility. All we may gain of knowledge must be drawn from what we can see with our own eyes and what others tell us they have seen with their eyes. All we may expect of justice is compassion. All we may look up to as judges are each other. All that is possible of utopia is what we can make with our own hands. Pray let it be enough. [The Life of the Cosmos]

Susan Sontag
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place. [Illness as Metaphor]

Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about the physical terrain of a disease. [Illness as Metaphor]

Anthony Storr
Sceptics appear to be in a minority. The majority of mankind want or need some all-embracing belief system which purports to provide an answer to life's mysteries, and are not necessarily dismayed by the discovery that their belief system, which they proclaim as "the truth", is incompatible with the beliefs of other people. One man's faith is another man's delusion. [Feet of Clay]

Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it. No wonder we resent having our cherished illusions shattered, our traditional way of looking at things challenged. [The Dynamics of Creation]

If there is one lesson I have learned from writing this book, it is that one should never judge a person to be insane or even unreliable just because he holds bizarre beliefs. Most people in the world subscribe to belief systems for which there is no evidence and which do not stand up to critical evaluation. The diagnosis of insanity must include an assessment of the individual's social behaviour and relationships with other human beings. [Feet of Clay]

All authorities, whether political or spiritual, should be distrusted, and extremely authoritarian characters who divide the world into"us" and"them", who preach that there is only one way forward, or who believe that they are surrounded by enemies, are particularly to be avoided. It is not necessary to be dogmatic to be effective. The charisma of certainty is a snare which entraps the child who is latent in all of us. [Feet of Clay]

David Stove
There are scarcely any human beings who do not have some lunatic beliefs or other to which they attach great importance.

Philosophers' theories … are often so exceedingly strange that we are obliged to postulate some non-rational cause, in order to explain the philosophers' believing them.

Galen Strawson
People do not make themselves to be the way they are. And this gives rise to a vital sense in which they are not ultimately responsible for what they do. But they go on thinking of themselves as if they were thus responsible. [Freedom and Belief]

My faith, like that of many other materialists, consists in a bundle of connected and unverifiable beliefs. [Mental Reality]

Stuart Sutherland
Flee any psychologist who asks you to do a Rorschach test: he does not know his job. [Irrationality]

Ask yourself whether the benefits of jogging and low-fat yoghurt are really worth the misery. [Irrationality]

Jonathan Swift
The bulk of mankind is as well qualified for flying as thinking.

Paul Valery
That which has been believed by everyone, always and everywhere, has every chance of being false.

L'art d'ennuyer est de tout dire. (The way to become a bore is to say everything.)

William Warburton
Orthodoxy is my doxy, heterodoxy is another man's doxy.

Daniel Wegner
The experience of will marks our actions for us. It helps us to know the difference between a light we have turned on at the switch and a light that has flickered on without our influence... Will is a kind of authorship emotion. [The Illusion of Conscious Will]

Virginia Woolf
One can only believe entirely, perhaps, in what one cannot see.

Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed, Thracians red-haired and with blue eyes; so also they conceive the spirits of the gods to be like themselves.

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