Joseph Priestley


English Theologian, Philosopher, Teacher

Author Quotes

As the greatest things often take their rise from the smallest beginnings, so the worst things sometimes proceed from good intentions.

It may, perhaps, be true, though we cannot distinctly see it to be so, that as all finite things require a cause, infinites admit of none. It is evident, that nothing can begin to be without a cause; but it by no means follows from thence, that that must have had a cause which had no beginning. But whatever there may be in this conjecture, we are constrained, in pursuing the train of causes and effects, to stop at last at something uncaused.
That any being should be self created is evidently absurd, because that would suppose that he had a being before he had, or that he existed, and did not exist at the same time. For want of clearer knowledge of this subject, we are obliged to content ourselves with terms that convey only negative ideas, and to say that God is a being untreated or uncaused; and this is all that we mean when we sometimes say that he is self existent.

The mind of man will never be able to contemplate the being, perfections, and providence of God without meeting with inexplicable difficulties. We may find sufficient reason for acquiescing in the darkness which involves these great subjects, but we must never expect to see them set in a perfectly clear light. But notwithstanding this, we may know enough of the divine being, and of his moral government, to make us much better and happier beings than we could be without such knowledge; and even the consideration of the insuperable difficulties referred to above is not without its use, as it tends to impress the mind with sentiments of reverence, humility, and submission.

Religious rights, and religious liberty, are things of inestimable value. For these have many of our ancestors suffered and died; and shall we, in the sunshine of prosperity, desert that glorious cause, from which no storms of adversity or persecution could make them swerve? Let us consider if as a duty of the first rank with respect to moral obligation, to transmit to our posterity, and provide, as far as we can, for transmitting, unimpaired, to the latest generations, that generous zeal for religion and liberty, which makes the memory of our forefathers so truly illustrious.

The mind of man can never be wholly barren. Through our whole lives we are subject to successive impressions; for, either new ideas are continually flowing in, or traces of the old ones are marked deeper. If, therefore, you be not acquiring good principles be assured that you are acquiring bad ones; if you be not forming virtuous habits you are, how insensibly soever to yourselves, forming vicious ones.

It is the earnest wish of my heart, that your minds may be well established in the sound principles of religious knowledge, because I am fully persuaded, that nothing else can be a sufficient foundation of a virtuous and truly respectable conduct in life, or of good hope in death. A mind destitute of knowledge (and, comparatively speaking, no kind of knowledge, besides that of religion, deserves the name) is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the ranker weeds it will produce, If nothing good be sown in it, it will be dccupied by plants that are useless or noxious.

Great conquerors, we read, have been both animated, and also, in a great measure, formed by reading the exploits of former conquerors. Why may not the same effect be expected from the history of philosophy to philosophers? May not even more be expected in this case? The wars of many of those conquerors, who received this advantage from history, had no proper connection with former wars: they were only analogous to them. Whereas the whole business of philosophy, diversified as it is, is but one; it being one and the same great scheme, that all philosophers, of all ages and nations, have been conducting, from the beginning of the world; so that the work being the same, the. labours of one are not only analogous to those of of another, but in an immediate manner subservient to them; and one philosopher succeeds another in the same field; as one Roman proconsul succeeded another in carrying on the same war, and pursuing the same conquests, in the same country. In this case, an intimate knowledge of what has been done before us cannot but greatly facilitate our future progress, if it be not absolutely necessary to it.

It is known to all persons who are conversant in experimental philosophy, that there are many little attentions and precautions necessary to be observed in the conducting of experiments, which cannot well be described in words, but which it is needless to describe, since practice will necessarily suggest them; though, like all other arts in which the hands and fingers are made use of, it is only much practice that can enable a person to go through complex experiments, of this or any kind, with ease and readiness.

To me there is in happiness an element of self-forgetfulness. You lose yourself in something outside yourself when you are happy just as when you are desperately miserable you are intensely conscious of yourself, are a solid little lump of ego weighing a ton.

How glorious, then, is the prospect, the reverse of all the past, which is now opening upon us, and upon the world. Government, we may now expect to see, not only in theory and in books but in actual practice, calculated for the general good, and taking no more upon it than the general good requires, leaving all men the enjoyment of as many of their natural rights as possible, and no more interfering with matters of religion, with men's notions concerning God, and a future state, than with philosophy, or medicine.

The good and happiness of the members, that is of the majority of the members, of any state, is the great standard by which everything relating to that state must finally be determined.

The scheme of philosophical necessity has been shewn to imply a chain of causes and effects, established by infinite wisdom, and terminating in the greatest good of the whole universe; evils of all kinds natural and moral being admitted, as far as they contribute to that end, or may be in the nature of things inseparable from it.

Many a man is praised for his reserve and so-called shyness when he is simply too proud to risk making a fool of himself.

In completing one discovery we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others.

To show a child what once delighted you, to find the child's delight added to your own - this is happiness.

We pay when old for the excesses of youth.

The greater part of critics are parasites, who, if nothing had been written, would find nothing to write.

To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.

When I was young there was no respect for the young, and now that I am old there is no respect for the old. I missed out coming and going.

Living in an age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch.

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.

What I have known with respect to myself, has tended much to lessen both my admiration, and my contempt, of others.

The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.

Every man, when he comes to be sensible of his natural rights, and to feel his own importance, will consider himself as fully equal to any other person whatever.

As we read the school reports on our children, we realize a sense of relief that can rise to delight that thank Heaven nobody is reporting in this fashion on us.

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English Theologian, Philosopher, Teacher