Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes


"When Americans are morally divided, it is appropriate that our laws reflect that fact... Our popular institutions, the legislative and executive branches, were structured to provide safety to achieve compromise when we are divided, to slow change, to dilute absolutisms... They are designed, in short, to do the very things that abstract generalizations about moral principles and the just society tend to bring into contempt." - Robert Bork, fully Robert Heron Bork

"We may, if we like, by our reasonings unwind things to that black and jointless continuity of space and moving clouds of swarming atoms which science calls the only real world. But all the while the world we feel and live in will be that which our ancestors and we, by slowly cumulative strokes of choice, have extricated out of this, like sculptors, by simply rejecting certain portion of the given stuff. Other sculptors, other statues from the same stone! Other minds, other worlds from the same monotonous and inexpressive chaos! My world is but one in a million alike embedded, alike real to those who may abstract them." - William James

"To attack vices in the abstract, without touching persons, may be safe fighting indeed, but it is fighting with shadows." -

"But it is the knowledge of necessary and eternal truths that distinguishes us from the mere animals and gives us Reason and the sciences, raising us to the knowledge of ourselves and of God. And it is this in us that is called the rational soul or mind. It is also through the knowledge of necessary truths, and through their abstract expression, that we rise to acts of reflection, which make us think of what is called I, and observe that this or that is within us: and thus, thinking of ourselves, we think of being, of substance, of the simple and the compound, of the immaterial, and of God Himself, conceiving that what is limited in us is in Him without limits." -

"What is then liberty? To be born is at once to be born in the world and to the world. The world is already constituted, but never completely. Under the first rapport, we are solicited, under the second we are open to an infinity of possibilities. But this analysis is still abstract, because we exist under these two relations at once. There is therefore never determinism and never absolute choice; I am never a thing and never naked consciousness." - Maurice Merleau-Ponty

"There are other similarities between poetry and children's speech. Poets tend to look for significant evocative detail --something straight out of life -- to carry their meaning, and to avoid the vaguely general or abstract terms. With young children it is not a matter of choice. Their ideas must take a concrete form of expression because they have not mastered the art of masking and handling (Sign-mind) abstraction. A five year old boy in an infants' class once said, "Oh, yes, I know Geography. Its polar bears at the top and penguins at the bottom."" -

"Know what your sin is and confess it; but do not imagine that you have approved yourself a penitent by confessing sin in the abstract." - Theodore Cuyler, fully Theodore Ledyard Cuyler

"Old ideas give way slowly; for they are more than abstract logical forms and categories. They are habits, predispositions, deeply ingrained attitudes of aversion and preference." - John Dewey

"Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic." - Fyodor Dostoevsky, fully Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky or Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski

"It should be the work of a genuine and noble patriotism to raise the life of the nation to the level of its privileges; to harmonize its general practice with its abstract principles; to reduce to actual facts the ideals of its institutions; to elevate instruction into knowledge; to deepen knowledge into wisdom; to render knowledge and wisdom complete in righteousness; and to make the love of country perfect in the love of man." - Henry Giles

"Beauty too often sacrifices to fashion. The spirit of fashion is not the beautiful, but the willful; not the graceful, but the fantastic; not the superior in the abstract, but the superior in the worst of all concretes - the vulgar. The high point of taste and elegance is to be sought for, not in the most fashionable circles, but in the best-bred, and such as can dispense with the eternal necessity of never being twice the same." - James Henry Leigh Hunt

"There is plenty of courage among us for the abstract but not for the concrete." -

"Not only the individual experience slowly acquired, but the accumulated experience of the race, organized in language, condensed in instruments and axioms, and in what may be called the inherited intuitions - these form the multiple unity which is expressed in the abstract term “experience.”" - George Henry Lewes

"This divination of the spiritual in the things of sense, and which expresses itself I the things of sense, is precisely what we call Poetry. Metaphysics too pursues a spiritual prey, but in a very different formal object. Whereas metaphysics stands in the line of knowledge and of the contemplation of truth, poetry stands in the line of making and of the delight procured by beauty. The difference is an all-important one, and one that it would be harmful to disregard. Metaphysics snatches at the spiritual in an idea, by the most abstract intellection; poetry reaches it in the flesh, by the very point of the sense sharpened through intelligence... Metaphysics gives chase to essences and definitions, poetry to any flash of existence glittering by the way, and any reflection of an invisible order. Metaphysics isolates mystery in order to know it; poetry, thanks to the balances it constructs, handles and utilizes mystery as an unknown force." - Jacques Maritain

"Every abstract thinker tears love and time asunder." - Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

"Abstract truth is the eye of reason." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"Things are distinct not in their essence but in their appearance; in other words, in their relation to one to whom they appear. This is art, the truth of which is not in substance or logic, but in expression. Abstract truth may belong to science and metaphysics, but the world of reality belongs to art." -

"A "fraternity" is the antithesis of fraternity. The first... is predicated on the idea of exclusion; the second (that is, the abstract thing) is based on a feeling of total equality." - E. B. White, fully Elwyn Brooks White

"Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict." - Saul Alinsky, fully Saul David Alinsky

"To be free from everything is to be - nothing. Only nothing is quite free, and freedom is abstract nothingness." - Francis Herbert Bradley

"Poetry creates an abstract world using concrete materials – just like life itself." - Asaf Halet Çelebi

"The fact of our being able to form abstract or universal ideas is, in itself, a proof of the immateriality, or, as it is technically called, the spirituality of the soul, a proof that the soul is, in its essence, independent of matter." - Richard Downey

"A soldier is a man whose business it is to kill those who never offended him, and who are the innocent martyrs of other men’s iniquities. Whatever may become of the abstract question of the justifiableness of war, it seems impossible that the soldier should not be a depraved and unnatural thing." - William Godwin

"Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality. Faith is a force in man, lying deeper than the stratum of reason and its nature cannot be defined in abstract, static terms. To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

"God is not an abstract reality, an absolute Alone, at the far end of Bethel-ladders and Babel-towers. He is central in the stream of Life and Love and Truth and Beauty. The reason we can hope to find God is that He is here, engaged all the time in finding us." -

"The present is always unique, never a mere exemplification of general formulas. It carries an irreducible preciousness, a freight of meaning greater than the general essence which later on knowledge can abstract from it." - Fritz A. Rothschild

"The knowledge that mankind needs is not the way or principle which has an absolute existence, but the particular truths for here and now and for particular individuals. Absolute truth is imaginary, abstract, vague, without evidence, and cannot be demonstrated." - Hu Shih, born Hu Hung-hsing

"To speak of the love for humanity is meaningless. There is no such thing as humanity. What we call humanity has a name, was born, lives on a street, gets hungry, needs all the particular things we need. As an abstract, it has no reality whatsoever." -

"Computational irreducibility tends to make infinite questions undecidable. The presence of universality implies that there must at some level be computational irreducibility… This means that today’s mathematics will be viewed as small and surprisingly uncharacteristic sample of what is possible. If a system is computationally irreducible this means that there is in effect a tangible separation between the underlying rules for the system and its overall behavior associated with the irreducible amount of computational work needed to go from one to the other. And it is this separation that the basic origin of the apparent freedom we see in all sorts of system lie – whether those systems are abstract cellular automata or actual living brains." - Stephen Wolfram

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking." - Albert Einstein

"In a state of war each sincere citizen feels responsibility to society in the abstract, and none to the people he kills." - Alex Comfort, fully Alexander Comfort

"A philosopher of imposing stature doesn’t think in a vacuum. Even his most abstract ideas are, to some extent, conditioned by what is or what is not known in the time when he lives." - Alfred North Whitehead

"Once you permit those who are convinced of their own superior rightness to censor and silence and suppress those who hold contrary opinions, just at that moment the citadel has been surrendered. For the American citadel is a man. Not man in general. Not man in the abstract. Not the majority of men. But man. That man. His worth. His uniqueness." - Archibald MacLeish

"Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena grow more and more able to formulate, as the foundation of their theories, principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development: while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of the facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations." - Aristotle NULL

"Music... stand quite alone. It is cut off from all the other arts... It does not express a particular and definite joy, sorrow, anguish, horror, delight, or mood of peace, but joy, sorrow, anguish, horror, delight, peace of mind themselves, in the abstract, in their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their customary motives. Yet it enables us to grasp and share them fully in this quintessence." - Arthur Schopenhauer

""The world is my idea" - this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract thought." - Arthur Schopenhauer

"Money is human happiness in the abstract: he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete, devotes his heart entirely to money." - Arthur Schopenhauer

"Our principle, that the abstract is the unreal, moves us steadily upward. It forces us first to rejection of bare primary qualities, and it compels us in the end to credit Nature with our higher emotions. That process can cease only where Nature is quite absorbed into spirit, and at ever stage of the process we find increase in reality." - Bernard Bosanquet

"In every step of the inquiry we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable disproportion between the size of the object and the capacity of the human mind. We may strive to abstract the notions of time, of space, and of matter, which so closely adhere to all the perceptions of our experimental knowledge. But as soon as we presume to reason of infinite substance, of spiritual generation, as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity, and inevitable contradiction." - Edward Gibbon

"Seek not proud wealth; but such as thou mayest get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contently, yet have not any abstract or friarly contempt of it." - Francis Bacon

"Life as a sum of ends has a right against abstract right. If for example it is only by stealing bread that the wolf can be kept from the door, the action is of course an encroachment on someone’s property, but it would be wrong to treat this action as an ordinary theft. To refuse to allow a man in jeopardy of his life to take such steps for self-preservation would be to stigmatize him as without rights, and since he would be deprived of his life, his freedom would be annulled altogether. Many diverse details have a bearing on the preservation of life, and when we have our eyes on the future we have to engage ourselves in these details. But the only thing that is necessary is to live now, the future is not absolute but ever exposed to accident. Hence it is only the necessity of the immediate present which can justify a wrong action, because not to do the action would in turn be to cause not to do the action would in turn be to commit an offense, indeed the most wrong of all offenses, namely the complete destruction of the embodiment of freedom." - Georg Hegel, fully Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

"When we speak of conscience, it may easily be thought that in virtue of its form, which is abstract inwardness, conscience is at this point without more ado true conscience. But true conscience determines itself to will what is absolutely good and obligatory and is this self-determination." - Georg Hegel, fully Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

"Time therefore being nothing, abstracted from the succession of ideas in our minds, it follows that the duration of any finite spirit must be estimated by the number of ideas or actions succeeding each other in that same spirit or mind. Hence, it is a plain consequence that the soul always thinks; and in truth whoever shall go about to divide his thoughts, or abstract the existence of a spirit from its cogitation, will, I believe, find it no easy task." - George Berkeley, also Bishop Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne

"Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation says ‘I’. And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. In actual fact, there is no foundation whatever for this assumption. Man’s every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept." - George Gurdjieff, fully George Ivanovich Gurdjieff

"[Education of the individual shall] progress from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract, from the empirical to the rational… shall be as much as possible a process of self-evolution, and… shall be pleasurable." - Herbert Spencer

"A man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory [Allegory: a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another, a symbolic narrative]." - John Keats

"How many people become abstract as a way of appearing profound!" - Joseph Joubert

"How ignorant are those who see, without question, the abstract existence of some of their senses, but insist upon doubting until that existence reveals itself to all their senses. Is not faith the sense of the heart as truly as sight is the sense of the eye?... How strange is the one who dreams in truth of a beautiful reality, and then, when he endeavours to fashion it into form but cannot succeed, doubts the dream and blasphemes the reality and distrusts the beauty!" - Kahlil Gibran

"Don’t talk to me of goodness, of abstract justice, of natural law. Necessity is the highest law." -