French Jewish Philosopher, Theologian, Sociologist and Political Activist
"The same suffering is much harder to bear for a high motive than for a base one. The people who stood motionless, from one to eight in the morning, for the sake of having an egg, would have found it very difficult to do in order to save a human life."
"Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached."
"It is impossible to forgive whoever has done us harm if that harm has lowered us. We have to think that is has not lowered us but revealed our true level."
"If we find fullness of joy in the thought that God exists, we should find the same fullness in the knowledge that we ourselves do not exist for it is the same thought."
"To love our neighbors as ourselves does not mean that we should love all people equally, for I do not have an equal love for all the modes of existence of myself. Nor does it mean that we should never make them suffer, for I do not refuse to make myself suffer. But we should have with each person the relationship of one conception of the universe to another conception of the universe, and not to a part of it."
"We have to endure the discordance between imagination and fact. It is better to say, "I am suffering," than to say, "This landscape is ugly.""
"Workers need poetry more than bread. They need some light from eternity. Religion alone can be the source of such poetry."
"A work of art has an author and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is anonymous about it."
"A right is not effectual by itself, but only in relation to the obligation to which it corresponds... An obligation which goes unrecognized by anybody loses none of the full force of its existence. A right which goes unrecognized by anybody is not worth very much."
"Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong."
"Beauty captivates the flesh in order to obtain permission to pass right through to the soul... When the feeling for beauty happens to be associated with the sight of some human being, the transference of love is made possible, at any rate in an illusory manner. But it is all the beauty of the world, it is universal beauty, for which we yearn."
"The speech of created beings is with sounds. The word of God is silence. God’s secret world of love can be nothing else but silence."
"What did grieve me was the idea of being excluded from the transcendent kingdom to which only the truly great has access and wherein truth abides. I preferred to die rather than live with that truth… [the very moment of death] was the centre and object of life… the instant when, for an infinitesimal fraction of time, pure truth, naked, certain and eternal, enters the soul."
"A modern factory reaches perhaps almost the limit of horror. Everybody in it is constantly harassed and kept on edge by the interference of extraneous wills while the soul is left in cold and desolate misery. What man needs is silence and warmth; what he is given is an icy pandemonium."
"A man thinks he is dying for his country, said Anatole France, but he is dying for a few industrialists. But even that is saying too much. What one dies for is not even so substantial and tangible as an industrialist."
"A man whose mind feels that it is captive would prefer to blind himself to the fact. But if he hates falsehood, he will not do so; and in that case he will have to suffer a lot. He will beat his head against the wall until he faints. He will come to again and look with terror at the wall, until one day he begins afresh to beat his head against it; and once again he will faint. And so on endlessly and without hope. One day he will wake up on the other side of the wall."
"A doctrine serves no purpose in itself, but it is indispensable to have one if only to avoid being deceived by false doctrines."
"A beautiful woman looking at her image in the mirror may very well believe the image is herself. An ugly woman knows it is not."
"Action is the pointer which shows the balance. We must not touch the pointer but the weight."
"Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron, it stamps the soul to its very depths with the scorn, the disgust, and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt that crime logically should produce but actually does not."
"Algebra and money are essentially levelers; the first intellectually, the second effectively."
"All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass."
"Although people seem to be unaware of it today, the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies."
"A self-respecting nation is ready for anything, including war, except for a renunciation of its option to make war."
"Above all our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object that is to penetrate it."
"A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams."
"An imaginary perfection is automatically at the same level as I who imagine it — neither higher nor lower."
"Anyone whose attention and love are really directed towards the reality outside the world recognizes at the same time that he is bound, both in public and private life, by the single and permanent obligation to remedy, according to his responsibilities and to the extent of his power, all the privations of soul and body which are liable to destroy or damage the earthly life of any human being whatsoever. This obligation cannot legitimately be held to be limited by the insufficiency of power or the nature of the responsibilities until everything possible has been done to explain the necessity of the limitation to those who will suffer by it; the explanation must be completely truthful and must be such as to make it possible for them to acknowledge the necessity. No combination of circumstances ever cancels this obligation. If there are circumstances which seem to cancel it as regards a certain man or category of men, they impose it in fact all the more imperatively. The thought of this obligation is present to all men, but in very different forms and in very varying degrees of clarity. Some men are more and some are less inclined to accept — or to refuse — it as their rule of conduct."
"Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct... and to refrain from destruction."
"As for the spirit of poverty, I do not remember any moment when it was not in me, although only to that unhappily small extent compatible with my imperfection. I fell in love with Saint Francis of Assisi as soon as I came to know about him. I always believed and hoped that one day Fate would force upon me the condition of a vagabond and a beggar which he embraced freely. Actually I felt the same way about prison."
"As soon as men know that they can kill without fear of punishment or blame, they kill; or at least they encourage killers with approving smiles."
"At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being."
"Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object; it means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of."
"An atheist may be simply one whose faith and love are concentrated on the impersonal aspects of God."
"All wrong translations, all absurdities in geometry problems, all clumsiness of style, and all faulty connection of ideas in compositions and essays, all such things are due to the fact that thought has seized upon some idea too hastily, and being thus prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth."