Richard Whately


English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian

Author Quotes

The unwise and incautious are always prone to rush from an error on one side into an opposite error. And a reaction accordingly took place, from the abuse of reasoning, to the undue neglect of it, and from the fault of not sufficiently observing facts, to that of trusting to a mere accumulation of ill-arranged knowledge. It is as if men had formerly spent vain labour in threshing over and over again the same straw and winnowing the same chaff, and then their successors had resolved to discard these processes altogether, and to bring home and use wheat and weeds, straw, chaff, and grain, just as they grew, and without any preparation at all.

To believe in Christianity, without knowing why we believe it, is not Christian faith, but blind credulity.

The word fable is, at present, generally limited to those fictions in which the resemblance to the matter in question is not direct, but analogical; the other class being called novels, tales, etc.

Too religious, in the proper sense of the word, we cannot be. We cannot have the religious sentiments and principles too strong, or too deeply fixed, if only they have a right object. We cannot love God too warmly?or honour him too highly?or strive to serve Him too earnestly?or trust Him too implicitly; because our duty is to love Him ?with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength.?

The word knowledge strictly employed implies three things, viz., truth, proof, and conviction.

We cannot be too much on our guard against reactions, lest we rush from one fault into another contrary fault.

The word synonyme is, in fact, a misnomer,? Literally, it implies an exact coincidence of meaning in two or more words, in which case there would be no room for discussion; but it is generally applied to words which would be more correctly termed pseudo-synonymes, i.e. words having a shade of difference, yet with a sufficient resemblance of meaning to make them liable to be confounded together: and it is in the number and variety of these that (as the Abb‚ Girard well remarks) the richness of a language consists.

We find?in the case of political affairs?that the most servile submission to privileged classes, and the grossest abuses of power by these, have been the precursors of the wildest ebullitions of popular fury,?of the overthrow indiscriminately of ancient institutions, good and bad,?and of the most turbulent democracy; generally proportioned in its extravagance and violence to the degree of previous oppression and previous degradation. And again we find that whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionably great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism; like shipwrecked mariners clinging to a bare and rugged rock as a refuge from the waves.

There are many (otherwise) sensible people who seek to cure a young person of that very common complaint [shyness] by exhorting him not to be shy,?telling him what an awkward appearance it has,?and that it prevents his doing himself justice, etc. All which is manifestly pouring oil on the fire to quench it. For the very cause of shyness is an over-anxiety as to what people are thinking of you; a morbid attention to your own appearance. The course, therefore, that ought to be pursued is exactly the reverse. The sufferer should be exhorted to think as little as possible about himself, and the opinion formed of him,?to be assured that most of the company do not trouble their heads about him,?and to harden him against any impertinent criticisms that he supposed to be going on,?taking care only to do what is right, leaving others to think and say what they will.

We should not confound together physical delicacy of nerves, and extreme tenderness of heart and benevolence and gentleness of character. It is also important to guard against mistaking for good nature what is properly good humour,?a cheerful flow of spirits, and easy temper not readily annoyed, which is compatible with great selfishness.

There are persons whom to attempt to convince by even the strongest reasons, and most cogent arguments, is like King Lear putting a letter before a man without eyes, and saying, ?Mark but the penning of it!? to which he answers, ?Were all the letters suns, I could not see one.? But it may be well worth while sometimes to write to such a person much that is not likely to influence him at all, if you have an opportunity of showing it to others, as a proof that he ought to have been convinced by it.

What used to mislead men, and still misleads not a few, as to the costliness of war, and the check it gives to national prosperity, is, that they see the expenditure go to our own fellow-subjects. We pay a great deal, it is true, out of the public purse, to soldiers; but then it is our soldiers, the Queen?s subjects, that get it. Powder, and guns, and ships of war, cost a great deal; but this cost is again to the manufacturers of powder and guns, &c. And thus people brought themselves to fancy that the country altogether did not sustain any loss at all?. The fallacy consists in not perceiving that though the labour of the gunpowder-makers, soldiers, &c., is not unproductive to them, inasmuch as they are paid for it, it is unproductive to us, as it leaves no valuable results. If gunpowder is employed in blasting rocks, so as to open a rich vein of ore or coal, or to make a useful road, the manufacturer gets his payment for it just the same as if it had been made into fire-works; but then, the mine, or the road, will remain as an article of wealth to him who has so employed it. After having paid for the powder he will still be richer than he was before; whereas if he had employed it for fireworks he would have been so much the poorer, since it would have left no results.

There are two kinds of orators, the distinction between whom might be thus illustrated. When the moon shines brightly we are apt to say, ?How beautiful is this moonlight!? but in the daytime, ?How beautiful are the trees, the fields, the mountains!??and, in short, all the objects that are illuminated; we never speak of the sun that makes them so. Just in the same way, the really greatest orator shines like the sun, making you think much of the things he is speaking of; the second-best shines like the moon, making you think much of him and his eloquence.

When any person of really eminent virtue becomes the object of envy, the clamour and abuse by which he is assailed is but the sign and accompaniment of his success in doing service to the Public. And if he is a truly wise man, he will take no more notice of it than the moon does of the howling of the dogs. Her only answer to them is ?to shine on.?

There is a distinction ? between the love of admiration and the love of commendation, that is worth remarking. The tendency of the love of commendation is to make a man exert himself; of the love of admiration, to make him puff himself. The love of admiration leads to fraud, much more than the love of commendation, but, on the other hand, the latter is much more likely to spoil our good actions by the substitution of an inferior motive. And if we would guard against this, we must set ourselves resolutely to act as if we cared neither for praise nor censure,?for neither the bitter nor the sweet; and in time the man gets hardened. And this will always be the case, more or less, through God?s help, if we will but persevere, and persevere from a right motive.

When Bacon speaks of time as an innovator, he might have remarked, by the way?what of course he well knew?that though this is an allowable and convenient form of expression, it is not literally correct. Bishop Copleston, in the remark already referred to in the notes on ?Delays,? terms the regarding time as an agent one of the commonest errors; for ?in reality time does nothing and is nothing. We use it,? he goes on to say, ?as a compendious expression for all those causes which act slowly and imperceptibly. But, unless some positive cause is in action, no change takes place in the lapse of one thousand years; as, for instance, in a drop of water enclosed in a cavity of silex. The most intelligent writers are not free from this illusion.?

There is a heresy of indifference to revealed religion which is the most deadly of all heresies.

When complaints are made?often not altogether without reason?of the prevailing ignorance of facts on such or such subjects, it will often be found that the parties censured, though possessing less knowledge than is desirable, yet possess more than they know what to do with. Their deficiency in arranging and applying their knowledge, in combining facts, and correctly deducing, and rightly employing, general principles, will be perhaps greater than their ignorance of facts.

There is a strange difference in the ages at which different persons acquire such maturity as they are capable of, and at which some of those who have greatly distinguished themselves have done, and been, something remarkable. Some of them have left the world at an earlier age than that at which others have begun their career of eminence. It was remarked to the late Dr. Arnold by a friend, as a matter of curiosity, that several men who have filled a considerable page in history have lived but forty-seven years (Philip of Macedon, Joseph Addison, Sir William Jones, Nelson, Pitt), and he was told in a jocular way to beware of the forty-seventh year. He was at that time in robust health; but he died at forty-seven! Alexander died at thirty-two; Sir Stamford Raffles at forty-five. Sir Isaac Newton did indeed live to a great age; but it is said that all his discoveries were made before he was forty; so that he might have died at that age and been as celebrated as he is. On the other hand, Herschel is said to have taken to astronomy at forty-seven. Swedenborg, if he had died at sixty, would have been remembered by those that did remember him merely as a sensible worthy man, and a very considerable mathematician. The strange fancies which took possession of him, and which survive in the sect he founded, all came on after that age.

When first we practise to deceive.?

There is no more striking instance of the silent and imperceptible changes brought about by what is called ?Time,? than that of a language becoming dead. To point out the precise period at which Greek or Latin ceased to be a living language would be as impossible as to say when a man becomes old. And much confusion of thought and many important practical results arise from not attending to this.

Whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionality great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism.

There is perhaps no one quality that can produce a greater amount of mischief than may be done by thoughtless good-nature. For instance, if any one, out of tenderness of heart and reluctance to punish or to discard the criminal and worthless, lets loose on society, or advances to important offices, mischievous characters, he will have conferred a doubtful benefit on a few, and done incalculable hurt to thousands. So, also, to take one of the commonest and most obvious cases, that of charity to the poor,?a man of great wealth, by freely relieving all idle vagabonds, might go far towards ruining the industry, and the morality, and the prosperity, of a whole nation.

While the children of the higher classes always call their parents ?papa? and ?mamma,? the children of the peasantry usually call them ?father? and ?mother.?

The object that strikes the eye is to all of these persons the same; the difference of the impressions produced on the mind of each is referable to the differences in their minds.

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English Anglican Archbishop of Dublin , Philosopher, Logician, Economist and Theologian