Life has neither material nor idealistic secrecy or mystery about it. Life is equal to itself only, hence perceiving its meaning is out of the question... The exaggeration of our mental abilities has given rise to what we perceive as “the problem” of discerning life’s purpose... If it is beyond our powers to disembowel love and beauty - we can only ravish them - it means that they are given to us not for cognition but for reflection. Similarly, the freedom of choice granted to man, a freedom denied the rest of the living species, is man’s task, a duty to exercise and fulfill, not merely an opportune option.
To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in battle.
The freer a man’s judgment is in relation to a definite question, the greater is the necessity with which the content of this judgment will be determined; while the uncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among many different and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely by this that it is not free, that it is controlled by the very object it should itself control. Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, an control founded on knowledge of natural necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product of historical development.
The essential problem of freedom, it seems to me, is the problem of the relation of choice and unimpeded effective action to each other... There is an intrinsic connection between choice as freedom and power of action as freedom. A choice which intelligently manifests individuality enlarges the range of action, and this enlargement in turn confers upon our desires greater insight and foresight, and makes choice more intelligent.
Of all ennobling sentiments, patriotism may be the most easily manipulated. On the one hand, it gives powerful expression to what is best in a nation’s character: a commitment to principle, a willingness to sacrifice, a devotion to the community by the choice of the individual. But among its toxic fruits are intolerance, belligerence and blind obedience, perhaps because it blooms most luxuriantly during times of war.
So far as man stands for anything, and is productive or originative at all, his entire vital function may be said to have to deal with maybes. Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or textbook, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true.
In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering... A great many people think they are thinking when they are rearranging their prejudices... the difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of cause.
What is it that determines the Will in regard to our Actions?... we shall find, that we being capable but of one determination of the will to one action at once, the present uneasiness, that we are under, does naturally determine the will, in order to that happiness which we all aim at in all our actions: For as much as whilst we are under any uneasiness, we cannot apprehend ourselves happy, or in the way to it... And therefore that, which of course determines the choice of our will to the next action, will always be the removing of pain, as long as we have any left, as the first and necessary step towards happiness.
There is not a vice which more effectually contracts and deadens the feelings, which more completely makes a man’s affections center in himself, and excludes all others from partaking in them, than the desire of accumulating possessions. When the desire has once gotten hold of the heart, it shuts out all other considerations, but such as may promote its views. In its zeal for the attainment of its end, it is not delicate in the choice of means. As it closes the heart, so also it clouds the understanding. It cannot discern between right and wrong; it takes evil for good, and good for evil; it calls darkness light, and light darkness. Beware, then, of the beginning of covetousness, for you know not where it will end.
It is not the victory that makes the joy of noble hearts, but the combat.
The man who strives to educate himself - and no one else can educate him - must win a certain victory over his own nature. He must learn to smile at his dear idols, analyze his every prejudice, scrap if necessary his fondest and most consoling belief, question his presuppositions, and take his chances with the truth.