The Golden Nuggets of Philosophy


Sophia Stone, a philosopher at Lynn University and the creator of Wisdom’s Edge Foundation, which “promotes critical thinking through philosophical inquiry, ​guided by a democratic process in communities that do not have access to the university,” could use your assistance.

She is attempting to amass a collection of brief, significant, or profound philosophical lines or sayings for use in a philosophy outreach project. The quotes might be well-known, but needn’t be. They just need to be short and good: the “golden nuggets” of philosophy.

They may need to be extracted from their context a bit to be sufficiently brief. Professor Stone says:

It needs to be one line. The full quote for the “one liner” given below is from the Grube translation in Cooper (1997) at 38a3-7: “On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.”
Preferred version: “…the unexamined life is not worth living”.

More details about the nature of the project will be revealed later. For now, I can just say that it sounds like it is part of a fun way to get a little philosophy out to a lot of people.

Thanks for your help.


Related: “Philosophy’s Most Beautiful Sentence of Paragraph

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WiseGuy
WiseGuy
7 months ago

“Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell belongs in one.” Hillary PutnamReport

Alan Taylor-Bennett
Alan Taylor-Bennett
7 months ago

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’Report

thomsona
thomsona
7 months ago

Well, Nietzsche had a good one. Always timely.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster”Report

LockeandKey
LockeandKey
7 months ago

I’d like to submit this one liner – in the sense that it is a single sentence – which the very opening sentence from Locke’s Second Treatise of Government:

“It having been shewn in the foregoing discourse,
1. That Adam had not, either by natural right of fatherhood, or by positive donation from God, any such authority over his children, or dominion over the world, as is pretended:
2. That if he had, his heirs, yet, had no right to it:
3. That if his heirs had, there being no law of nature nor positive law of God that determines which is the right heir in all cases that may arise, the right of succession, and consequently of bearing rule, could not have been certainly determined:
4. That if even that had been determined, yet the knowledge of which is the eldest line of Adam’s posterity, being so long since utterly lost, that in the races of mankind and families of the world, there remains not to one above another, the least pretence to be the eldest house, and to have the right of inheritance:
All these premises having, as I think, been clearly made out, it is impossible that the rulers now on earth should make any benefit, or derive any the least shadow of authority from that, which is held to be the fountain of all power, Adam’s private dominion and paternal jurisdiction; so that he that will not give just occasion to think that all government in the world is the product only of force and violence, and that men live together by no other rules but that of beasts, where the strongest carries it, and so lay a foundation for perpetual disorder and mischief, tumult, sedition and rebellion, (things that the followers of that hypothesis so loudly cry out against) must of necessity find out another rise of government, another original of political power, and another way of designing and knowing the persons that have it, than what Sir Robert Filmer hath taught us.”Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

The life of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

One the one hand:
Pushpin is as good as poetry. (Bentham)
On the other:
Better Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. (Mill)Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

Another two hands. On the one hand:
Taxation is theft. (Nozick, and all the other libertarians)
One the other:
Property is theft. (Proudhon)Report

Glenn Rawson
Glenn Rawson
7 months ago

A few off the top of my head from ancient Greek philosophers:
All things are full of gods. — attributed to Thales
Nature loves to hide. — Heraclitus B123DK
The same is for thinking and for being. — Parmenides B3DK
The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates in Plato’s Apology
Learning is recollection. — Socrates in Plato’s Meno
Philosophy begins in wonder. — Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus (155); cp Aristotle’s Metaphysics 982b
All people by nature desire to know. — the opening line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

Reason is a slave to the passions.Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.Report

John Burciaga
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

Hobbes.Report

Alastair Norcross
Reply to  John Burciaga
7 months ago

No, Wittgenstein. The earlier one about life being solitary, poor, etc. is Hobbes.Report

John Burciaga
Reply to  Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

Yes, my reply was out of place…I knew it was Hobbes…but thanks for keeping me honest…Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
7 months ago

“Everything is what it is, and not another thing” Joseph Butler

“Everything is what it is, and not another thing, unless it is another thing, and even then it is what it is” William FrankenaReport

Tim O'Keefe
7 months ago

“By convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: in reality atoms and void.” -Democritus

“Hell exists here on earth – in the lives of fools.” Lucretius

“Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.” -EpicurusReport

John Collins
John Collins
7 months ago

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are. -Anais NinReport

Krista T.
Krista T.
7 months ago

My favorite from Jean Hampton: “Philosophy belongs to no particular elite, but rather to all human beings.”Report

Alastair Norcross
7 months ago

The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk?, but Can they suffer? (Bentham)
Hell is other people. (Sartre)
They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. (Beckett)Report

Necip Fikri Alican
Necip Fikri Alican
7 months ago

You cannot step into the same river twice (for it will not be the same river and you will not be the same person).
— Heraclitus

You cannot even do it once (for it is never the same river and you are never the same person).
— Cratylus
Report

Necip Fikri Alican
Necip Fikri Alican
7 months ago

If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its per­manent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been for­tunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of hap­piness.

— John Stuart Mill
Utilitarianism (1861)Report

Necip Fikri Alican
Necip Fikri Alican
7 months ago

So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.

— Immanuel Kant
Grundlegung (Ak 4:429)Report

BL
BL
7 months ago

“For the beginning is thought to be more than half of the whole, and many of the questions we ask are cleared up by it.” –Aristotle, last sentence of Chapter 7 of Book I of Nicomachean Ethics.

“Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” –Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, Q. 2, a. 3

“There is nothing originally more desirable about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles.” –Mill, Chapter 4 of Utilitarianism

“Being able to remain on that dizzying crest — that is integrity and the rest is subterfuge.” –Camus, The Myth of SisyphusReport

Numen76
Numen76
7 months ago

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor FranklReport

Shelby stewart
Shelby stewart
7 months ago

What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries-Robert A. Heinlein “Starship Troopers” 1959Report

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
7 months ago

I question the efficacy of one-line philosophical claims as an effective outreach to non-academic philosophers of any age. Even children can engage with developed, multi-sentenced, philosophical arguments and thought experiments. (Matthew Lipman, et al.) Would help to know target audience and expected outcomes and metrics.

Perhaps most any one-sentence claim followed by a number of “why?” questions might quickly engage philosophical inquiry. Most parents are familiar with this. Worked 5 decades ago, when I was 10 years old in a pioneering P4C after school program..

Nonetheless, I offer:

“Questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.”

Patrick McGoohan, “Arrival”, first episode of *The Prisoner* (1967).Report

Nicholas D. Smith
7 months ago

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will RogersReport

Nicholas D. Smith
7 months ago

Education isn’t what some people declare it to be, namely putting knowledge into souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes.–Plato, Republic 518bReport

Nicholas D. Smith
7 months ago

Apollodorus said, “But Socrates, the hardest thing for me to bear is to see you die unjustly.” Socrates stroked the young man’s head and said, “Dear Apollodorus, would you prefer to see me die justly?”–Xenophon, Apology 28.Report

Nicholas D. Smith
7 months ago

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” — Will RogersReport

Numen76
Numen76
7 months ago

While not 1 line as requested, I’ll still put this here as it’s only 1 sentence:
“That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below
to do the miracles of one only thing.” ( The first aphorism of the Emerald Tablet said to be attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Translated by Issac Newton.)

Note: Western esotericists will often shorten the aphorism to ‘As above, so below’….
Those of a more Gnostic inclination will say, ‘As above so below, as within so without.’

Report

Louis F. Cooper
7 months ago

“…the man who meditates is a depraved animal.”
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

“…a knowledge of death and its terrors is one of man’s first acquisitions upon leaving the animal condition.”
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

“From each according to his [sic] ability, to each according to his needs.”
Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

“Everyone sees how you appear, few touch what you are….”
a looser trans.: “Everyone can see what you appear to be, whereas few have direct experience of what you really are….”
Machiavelli, The PrinceReport

AD
AD
7 months ago

“we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’.”

-Alvin PlantingaReport

Gridalur pranav
Gridalur pranav
7 months ago

MAN IS Free -jean paul sartreReport

Piyush Agarwal
Piyush Agarwal
7 months ago

Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.

You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
Jean Jacques RousseauReport

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
7 months ago

“Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat.”– “Cowboy” Jack ClementReport

Daniel Kodsi
Daniel Kodsi
7 months ago

A few from Timothy Williamson:
‘Thought engages with conditions whose esse is distinct from their percipi as soon as it engages with any conditions at all; even perception does.’
‘[S]ceptical arguments may go wrong by assuming too much knowledge; by sacrificing something in self-knowledge to the sceptic, we stand to gain far more in knowledge of the world.’
‘Belief does not aim merely at truth; it aims at knowledge.’Report

Daniel Kodsi
Daniel Kodsi
Reply to  Daniel Kodsi
7 months ago

And a couple by Bernard Williams, who wrote in much longer sentences:
‘Scepticism about the freedom of morality from luck cannot leave the concept of morality where it was, any more than it can remain undisturbed by scepticism about the very closely related image we have of there being a moral order, within which our actions have a significance which may not be accorded to them by mere social recognition.’
‘Beyond all this, morality makes people think that, without its very special obligation, there is only inclination; without its utter voluntariness, there is only force; without its ultimately pure justice, there is no justice. Its philosophical errors are only the most abstract expressions of a deeply rooted and still powerful misconception of life.’Report

Alan White
Alan White
7 months ago

Whitehead, the subject of my MA and PhD theses, is a fountain of insightful quotables:

The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.”
It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.
The chief danger to philosophy is narrowness in the selection of evidence.
The chief error in philosophy is overstatement.
Intolerance is the besetting sin of moral fervor.
Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science.
I have always noticed that deeply and truly religious persons are fond of a joke, and I am suspicious of those who aren’t.
Error is the price we pay for progress.
There remains the final reflection, how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.
The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.

But:

It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profundity, he is talking nonsense.

And of course:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.Report

Keith
7 months ago

“Not by wrath does one kill, but by laughter.”Report

Daniel Weltman
7 months ago

“I prefer being refuted to refuting someone else, because it is better for me to be delivered from evil than to deliver another.” – Socrates, in Plato’s GorgiasReport

The Objective Objectivist
The Objective Objectivist
7 months ago

So many from John Stuart Mill. I submit these.
“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”
Or
“One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests.”
Or
“No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.”
Or
“The most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power.”

Any of these are great. They’re obviously longer than the one liners. Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
7 months ago

Stranger: When a person supposes that he knows, and does not know, this appears to be the great source of all the errors of the intellect.
Theaetetus: True
Stranger: And this, if I am not mistaken, is the kind of ignorance which specially earns the title of stupidity.

Plato, Sophist, tr. Benjamin JowettReport

Kimovich
Kimovich
7 months ago

After observing the sickening world politics, I have to offer a whole paragraph from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

“He dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices.”
Report

Lisa
Lisa
7 months ago

I act, therefore I am.
Eulalie in Education of Ladies, Francois Poulain de la Barre

One is not born, but one becomes a woman
Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex

Ain’t I a woman?
Sojourner Truth, Seneca Falls addressReport

Larry
Larry
7 months ago

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” ~Mark TwainReport

John
John
7 months ago

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.” — Blaise PascalReport

Daniel Grosz
Daniel Grosz
7 months ago

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything
upon insufficient evidence.” ~W. K. Clifford
Report

Ian Cruise
7 months ago

“A man of sense and merit is pleas’d with himself, independent of all foreign considerations: But a fool must always find some person, that is more foolish, in order to keep himself in good humour with his own parts and understanding.” – Hume, Treatise 3.3.2.7Report

James Lees
James Lees
7 months ago

Neither a leader nor a follower be.
(Me)Report

Clayton
7 months ago

“The only possible reason that can justify any action is that by it the greatest possible amount of what is good absolutely should be realised” G.E. Moore

“The egg came before the chicken” Roy Sorensen ((a) it’s a title and (b) might be good for people to know the answer and to stop comparing philosophy’s difficult questions to the ones we can easily settle with a bit of high school biology)

Report

John
John
Reply to  Clayton
7 months ago

But was it a chicken egg?Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  John
7 months ago

Or: was it laid by proto-chicken mutatis mutandis?Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
7 months ago

If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Report

Paul Hamilton
Paul Hamilton
7 months ago

“Some things are in our control and others not.”
“[…] if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.”
-Epictetus

“Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”
-Ecclesiastes

“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim”
“[…] we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but my fellow-sufferer, […] it puts others in the right light; and it reminds us of that which is after all the most necessary thing in life–the tolerance, patience, regard, and love of neighbor, of which everyone stands in need, and which, therefore, every man owes to his fellow.”
-Schopenhauer

“[A meaningful life] is one in which an individual acts morally while achieving happiness.”
-Vitrano Report

Devin
Devin
7 months ago

“Cut the pie any way you like, meanings just ain’t in the head!” ~Hilary PutnamReport

Eugenio E. Zaldivar
Eugenio E. Zaldivar
7 months ago

“The thoughtless gesture, the ungenerous tone, the social slight—all have moral significance. While this may appear philosophically strange, it is less clear that it is experientially so.” – Amy Olberding from “Etiquette: A Confucian Contribution to Moral Philosophy” Report

Eugenio E. Zaldivar
Eugenio E. Zaldivar
7 months ago

“Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world” Paulo Freire “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”Report