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Race and Racism

Reason, Rationality, and Logic






Race and Racism


It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian.
     James Baldwin


No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
     Frederick Douglas, Civil Rights Mass Meeting, 
     Washington, D.C. (speech, 1883)


Community of race is an illusion. Yet belief in race is a growing psychological force, and we must reckon with it. People like to feel that they are all of a piece, and one of the ways of inducing that feeling is to tell them that they come of pure stock. That explains the ease with which the dictators are putting their pseudo-science across. No doubt they are not cynical about it, and take themselves in by what they say. But they have very cleverly hit on a weak spot in the human equipment — the desire to feel a hundred per cent., no matter what the percentage is in.
     E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
     "Racial Exercise" (1939)


I love football ... Football's a fair sport for my people. Only sport in the world a Negro can chase a white man and 40,000 people stand up and cheer him.
     Dick Gregory


I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law.
     Martin Luther King, Jr.


I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
     Abraham Lincoln, Address to an Indiana Regiment (March 17, 1865)


I'm not a racist myself, I always thought 'why hate somebody based solely on the color of their skin when you just take the time to get to know them, there's so many more valid reasons to loathe an individual?'
     Dennis Miller, "Citizen Arcane" (HBO, March 2, 1996)


ODO / Pabst: Sorry Benny, I wish things were different, but they're not.
SISKO / Benny Russell: Wishing never changed a damn thing.
     "Far Beyond the Stars"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


ODO / Pabst: Your hero's a Negro captain, the head of a space station, for Christ's sake.
SISKO / Benny Russell: What's wrong with that?
ODO / Pabst: People won't accept it; it's not believable.
QUARK / Rossoff: And men from Mars are?
     "Far Beyond the Stars"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


The guide I have spoken of is the only one we have had yet who knew anything. He was born in South Carolina, of slave parents. They came to Venice while he was an infant. He has grown up here. He is well educated. He reads, writes, and speaks English, Italian, Spanish, and French, with perfect facility; is a worshipper of art and thoroughly conversant with it; knows the history of Venice by heart and never tires of talking of her illustrious career. He dresses better than any of us, I think, and is daintily polite. Negroes are deemed as good as white people, in Venice, and so this man feels no desire to go back to his native land. His judgment is correct.
     Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)



Reason, Rationality, and Logic


     "What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? 'Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'" [said Kate]
     "I reject that entirely," said Dirk sharply. "The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks."
     Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988)


Now logic is a wonderful thing but it has, as the process of evolution discovered, certain drawbacks. Anything that thinks logically can be fooled by something else that thinks at least as logically as it does.
     Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless (1992)


... we are entitled to make almost any reasonable assumption, but should resist making conclusions until evidence requires that we do so.
     Steve Allen


Do we simply shrug and say that the fringers will always be with us and we might just as well ignore them and simply go about our business? No, of course not. There is always the new generation coming up. Every child ... is a possible new field in which rationality can be made to grow. We must therefore present the view of reason, not out of hope of reconstructing the deserts of ruined minds that have been rusted shut, which is all but impossible — but to educate and train new and fertile minds.
     Isaac Asimov, "The Perennial Fringe" (Skeptical Inquirer, Spring 1986)


He is a true fugitive who flies from reason.
     Marcus Aurelius


The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate. . . . And such is the way of all superstitions, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, although this happened much oftener, neglect and pass them by.
     Francis Bacon


Just as with individuals, so too with societies: they have an almost unlimited capacity for rationalization, finding purported reasons — in science, in religion, or in whatever else might seem to carry the highest authority — to justify what they want to do for actually quite different motives. It is the exception rather than the rule in human affairs when people are actually guided in their actions by true understanding or knowledge.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method (1992)


Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion — thus:
     Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
     Minor Premise: One man can dig a post-hole in sixty seconds; therefore-
     Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a post-hole in one second.
     This may be called the syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Rational, adj. Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Syllogism, n. A logical formula consisting of a major and a minor assumption and an inconsequent. (See LOGIC.)
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Your reasoning is excellent — it's only your basic assumptions that are wrong.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


The least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable.
     Paul Broca


Logic is like the sword: those who appeal to it shall perish by it.
     Samuel Butler


'I know what you're thinking about,' said Tweedledum: 'but it isn't so, nohow.'
     'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'
     Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass (1872)


In addition to other forms of nonsense, Aristotle is credited with promoting the syllogism, if not actually inventing it. That's the line of reasoning that goes like this:

     Socrates is rational. Socrates is a man. Therefore man is rational.

Even at the time, everybody knew perfectly well that Socrates was not rational.
     Will Cuppy


I know the weakness of human reason . . . but it is all we have, and the only safety of man is to cultivate it and extend his knowledge so that he will be sure to understand life and as many of the mysteries of the universe as he can possibly solve.
     Clarence Darrow


"From a drop of water," said the writer [Sherlock Holmes], "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it."
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"I should have more faith," he said; "I ought to know by this time that when a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions, it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"I have already explained to you that what is out of the common is usually a guide rather than a hindrance. In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forward, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)


"Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"No, no: I never guess. It is a shocking habit — destructive to the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four (1890)


"I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     "A Scandal in Bohemia"


"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) 
     "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"


"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" [said Inspector Gregory]
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "Silver Blaze"


Like all Holmes's reasoning the thing seemed simplicity itself when it was once explained.
     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
     "The Stock-Broker's Clerk"


"One should always look for a possible alternative, and provide against it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of Black Peter"


"It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     "The Adventure of the Second Stain"


"... if page 534 finds us only in the second chapter, the length of the first one must have been really intolerable."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear (1915)


"We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, His Last Bow (1917)
     "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"


"That process," said I, "starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support."
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 
     The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
     "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"


He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.
     William Drummond, Academical Questions


Logic, like whiskey, loses its beneficial effects when taken in too large a quantity.
     Lord Dunsany


"First let us find the rule, then we will try to explain the exceptions."
     Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980)


Irrationality must come close to being the largest single vested interest in the world. It has a dozen service stations in every town. ... In fact, everyone in our society not directly engaged in the production and distribution of necessities, transportation, artistic creation, elementary teaching, or the maintenance of public order, to some extent, and more or less consciously, preys upon ignorance and delusion.
     Bergen Evans, The Natural History of Nonsense (1945, 1958)


They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped. If you do not hear reason she will rap you on the knuckles.
     Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac


When thinking, we tend to cling tenaciously to our schemata and even twist new information to conform to them. Many years ago, two physicists associated with the Aspen Center for Physics were climbing in the Maroon Bells Wilderness near Aspen, Colorado. While descending, they lost their bearings and came down on the south side of the mountains, instead of the north side near Aspen. They looked below them and saw what they identified as Crater Lake, which they would have spotted from the trail leading home. One of them remarked, however, that there was a dock on the lake, which Crater Lake does not possess. The other physicist replied, "They must have built it since we left this morning." . . . It took them a couple of days to get home.
     Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar: 
     Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (1994)


I personally have always been astonished by the tendency of so many academic psychologists, economists, and even anthropologists to treat human beings as entirely rational or nearly so. My own experience, whether engaging in introspection or observing others, has always been that rationality is only one of many factors governing human behavior and by no means always the dominant factor. Assuming that humans are rational often makes it easier to construct a theory of how they act, but such a theory is often not very realistic.
     Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar: 
     Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (1994)


The best men have their blind spots, and sometimes they feel almost crushed at how little respect logic can show them.
     Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862)


Logical consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, "Animal Automatism" (1874)


Reason and free inquiry are the only effective agents against error. ... They are the natural enemies of error and error only.
     Thomas Jefferson


Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
     Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785)


The Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in, and to make it an article of necessary faith. Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them.
     Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785)


We are all Republicans-we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
     Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1801)


Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence.
     Joseph Wood Krutch


The only hope I can see for the future depends on a wiser and braver use of the reason, not a panic flight from it.
     F. L. Lucas, The Search for Good Sense


When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!
     John Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions
     and the Madness of Crowds


I am a rationalist — something of a period piece nowadays, I admit — but I am usually reluctant to declare myself to be so because of the widespread misunderstanding or neglect of the distinction that must always be drawn in philosophic discussion between the sufficient and the necessary. I do not believe — indeed, I deem it a comic blunder to believe — that the exercise of reason is sufficient to explain our condition and where necessary to remedy it, but I do believe that the exercise of reason is at all times unconditionally necessary and that we disregard it at our peril. I and my kind believe that the world can be made a better place to live in — believe, indeed, that it has already been made so by an endeavour in which, in spite of shortcomings which I do not conceal, natural science has played an important part, of which my fellow scientists and I are immensely proud.
     Peter Medawar "The Question of the Existence of God"
     (from The Limits of Science, 1984)


One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
     H. L. Mencken, The American Mercury. p. 75


And what it [my doubt] is grounded on is an unshakable belief that no man's opinion is worth a hoot, however well supported and maintained, so long as he is not absolutely free, if the spirit moves him, to support and maintain the exactly contrary opinion. In brief, human reason is a weak and paltry thing so long as it is not wholly free reason.
     H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: A Selection (1958)
     "The Dismal Science"


There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it. . . . To prove a point one may seek out a foolish Communist, 13th century Liberal, Scientologist, High Frontier advocate, Mensa member, science fiction fan, Jim Bakker acolyte, Christian, or fanatical devotee of Special Interest Lib; but that doesn't really reflect on the cause itself. Ad hominem argument saves time, but it's still a fallacy.
     Larry Niven, N-Space (1990)
     "Niven's Laws"


The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.
     Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1793)


A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.
     Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)


The finest of all human achievements — and the most difficult — is merely being reasonable.
     Jane Bryant Quinn


Most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.
     James Harvey Robinson, The Mind in the Making


A man is not rational who uses his reason through chance; he must be familiar with it, grasp it clearly, know what it is.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, 
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
     Bertrand Russell


All movements go too far, and this is certainly true of the movement toward subjectivity, which began with Luther and Descartes as an assertion of the individual and has culminated by an inherent logic in his complete subjection.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "On Being Modern-Minded"


Thomas Aquinas states parenthetically, as something entirely obvious, that men are more rational than women. For my part, I see no evidence of this. Some few individuals have some slight glimmerings of rationality in some directions, but so far as my observations go, such glimmerings are no commoner among men than among women.
     Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
     "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind" (1946)


Humans are good, she knew, at discerning subtle patterns that are really there, but equally so at imagining them when they are altogether absent.
     Carl Sagan, Contact (1985)


Nothing has an uglier look to us than reason, when it is not on our side.
     George Savile (Lord Halifax)


Have you heard the business executive's paradox? It was invented by the literary agent Lisa Collier of Collier Associates. The president of a firm offered a reward of $100 to any employee who could provide a suggestion that would save the company money. One employee suggested, "Eliminate the reward!"
     Raymond Smullyan, 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies (1983)


Even in this corner of the Galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four.
     Spock, "The Conscience of the King"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"It is more rational to sacrifice one life than six, Doctor."
"I'm not talking about rationality."
"You might be wise to start."
     Spock and McCoy, "The Galileo Seven"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


Mr. Scott, there are always alternatives.
     Spock, "The Galileo Seven"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"Spock, remind me to tell you that I'm sick and tired of your logic."
"That is a most illogical attitude."
     McCoy and Spock, "The Galileo Seven"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


SCOTTY: Mr. Spock, you said a while ago that there were always alternatives.
SPOCK: Did I? I may have been mistaken.
McCOY: Well, at least I lived long enough to hear that.
     "The Galileo Seven"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"I examined the problem from all angles and it was plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that, under the circumstances, the only possible action would have to be one of desperation. Logical decision, logically arrived at.
"You mean you reasoned that it was time for an emotional outburst.
"Well, I wouldn't put it in exactly those terms, but those are essentially the facts.
"You're not going to admit, that for the first time in your life, you committed a purely human, emotional act?
"No, sir."
"Mr. Spock, you're a stubborn man."
"Yes, sir."
     Spock and Kirk, "The Galileo Seven"
     STAR TREK: The Original Series


Non sequitir. Your facts are uncoordinated.
     Nomad, "The Changeling"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


Your logic was impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger.
     Spock, "The Changeling"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"My congratulations, Captain. A dazzling display of logic."
"You didn't think I had it in me, did you, Spock?"
"No sir."
     Spock and Kirk, "The Changeling"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


Our logic is to be illogical. That is our advantage.
     James T. Kirk, "I, Mudd"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do.
     Sarek, on why he married Amanda , "Journey To Babel"
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series


"In any case, were I to invoke logic, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
"Or the one."
"You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been, and always shall be yours."
     Spock and Kirk, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned.
     Sarek, STAR TREK III The Search for Spock


"Spock, does the good of the many outweigh the good of the one?"
"I would accept that as an axiom."
"Then you stand here alive because of a mistake made by your flawed, feeling human friends. They have sacrificed their futures because they believed that the good of the one — you — was more important."
"Humans make illogical decisions."
"They do indeed."
     Amanda and Spock, STAR TREK IV The Voyage Home


Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.
     Spock, STAR TREK VI The Undiscovered Country


An ancestor of mine maintained that, if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
     Spock, STAR TREK VI The Undiscovered Country


"Would you choose one life over one thousand, sir?"
"I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that."
      Data and Picard, "Justice"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


"All these feelings that get in the way of human judgment — that confuse the hell out of us, that make us second-guess ourselves — well we need them. We need them to help us fill in the missing pieces because we almost never have all the facts."
"So a person fills in the missing pieces of the puzzle with his own personality, resulting in a conclusion based as much on instinct and intuition as on fact."
     LaForge and Data, "The Defector"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


I believe you are reasoning my analogy — classifying objects and phenomena according to superficial observation rather than empirical evidence. Wood, for example, does not contain fire simply because it is combustible, nor does it contain rock simply because it is heavy. Wood, like any complex organic form, is composed of thousands of different chemical compounds, none of which is "fire."
     Data, "Thine Own Self"
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation


Doctor, most people, in my experience, wouldn't know reason if it walked up and shook their hand.
     Odo, "Emissary"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


Everyone has their reasons; that's what so frightening. People can find a way to justify any action, no matter how evil.
     Kira, "By Inferno's Light (Part 2 of 2)"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


"You can use logic to justify almost anything. That's its power — and its flaw. From now on, bring your logic to me. Don't act on it behind my back."
"You have my word. My logic was not in error. But I was."
     Janeway and Tuvok, "Prime Factor"
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


When every logical course of action is exhausted, the only option that remains is inaction.
     Tuvok, "Twisted"
     STAR TREK:  Voyager


Logic is in the eye of the logician.
     Gloria Steinem


If rationality were the criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one gigantic field of soya beans!
     Tom Stoppard, Jumpers (1972)


Though an arrow is always approaching its target, it never quite gets there, and Saint Sebastian died of fright.
     Tom Stoppard, Jumpers (1972)


Logical thinking empowers the mind in a way that no other kind of thinking can. It frees the highly educated from the habit of presuming every claim to be true until proven false. It enables average Americans to stand up against the forces of political correctness, see through the chicanery, and make independent decisions for themselves. And it is the bulwark against intellectual servitude for the underprivleged.
     Marilyn vos Savant, The Power of Logical Thinking (1997)


... it pays to look closely at the assumptions that go into any calculation. The bald statement that "science says X" (or its modern form, "the computer says X") must always be questioned. ... [A]n elegant (and correct) calculation based on faulty premises will give just as wrong an answer as a simple mistake in addition.
     James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God: In Search 
     of the Principle of Universality


Once your faith persuades you to believe what your intelligence declares absurd, beware, lest you likewise sacrifice your reason in the conduct of your life.


Some problems are just too complicated for rational logical solutions. They admit of insights, not answers.
     Jerome Bert Wiesner, in D. Lang, Profiles: A Scientist's 
     Advice II, New Yorker (26 Jan, 1963)


I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.
     Oscar Wilde





A man is the sum of his ancestors; to reform him you must begin with a dead ape and work downward through a million graves.
     Ambrose Bierce


My time is far too valuable for me to spend any of it trying to improve myself.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess which will itself need reforming.
     Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817)


The only way to reform some people is to chloroform them.
     Thomas C. Haliburton


Remorse — Regret that one waited so long to do it.
     H. L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
     "Sententiæ — The Mind of Man"


The sinning is the best part of repentance.
     Arabian Proverb


There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.
     Hindustani Proverb


Confessed faults are half mended.
     Scottish Proverb


The church is near, but the way is icy, The tavern is far, but I will walk carefully.
     Ukranian Proverb


Our contrition is less a regret for ills we have caused than a fear of ills we may encounter.
     François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, 
     The Maxims (translated by Louis Kronenberger, 1936)


Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
     Leo Tolstoy


Every time I reform in one direction, I go overboard in another.
     Mark Twain, quoted in Sacramento Union (1866)


When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
     Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
     " Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"


I used to take pledges — and soon violate them. My will was not strong, and I could not help it. And then, to be tied in any way naturally irks an otherwise free person and makes him chafe in his bonds and want to get his liberty. But when I finally ceased from taking definite pledges, and merely resolved that I would kill an injurious desire, but leave myself free to resume the desire and the habit whenever I should choose to do so, I had no more trouble.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


[Mark Twain was once confined to his bed with lumbago. A doctor recommended that he cut down his intake of smoking, coffee, tea, alcohol, and some foods. Twain responded that he couldn't do it:] "I lack the will-power. I can cut them off entirely, but I can't merely moderate them." He said that that would answer, and said he would come around in twenty-four hours and begin work again. .. I cut off all those things for two days and nights; in fact, I cut off all kinds of food, too, and all drinks except water, and at the end of the forty-eight hours the lumbago was discouraged and left me. I was a well man; so I gave thanks and took to those delicacies again.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


It seemed a valuable medical course, and I recommended it to a lady. ... I said I knew I could put her upon her feet in a week. ... So I said she must stop swearing and drinking, and smoking and eating for four days, and then she would be all right again. And it would have happened just so, I know it; but she said she could not stop swearing, and smoking, and drinking, because she had never done those things. So there it was. She had neglected her habits, and hadn't any. ... She was a sinking vessel, with no freight in her to throw overboard and lighten ship withal.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


When I was a youth I used to take all kinds of pledges, and do my best to keep them, but I never could, because I didn't strike at the root of the habit — the desire; I generally broke down within the month. Once I tried limiting a habit. That worked tolerably well for a while. I pledged myself to smoke but one cigar a day. I kept the cigar waiting until bedtime, then I had a luxurious time with it. But desire persecuted me every day and all day long; so, within the week I found myself hunting for larger cigars than I had been used to smoke; then larger ones still, and still larger ones. Within the fortnight I was getting cigars made for me — on a yet larger pattern. They still grew and grew in size. Within the month my cigar had grown to such proportions that I could have used it as a crutch. It now seemed to me that a one-cigar limit was no real protection to a person, so I knocked my pledge on the head and resumed my liberty.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


Forget and forgive. This is not difficult, when properly understood. It means that you are to forget inconvenient duties, and forgive yourself for forgetting. In time, by rigid practice and stern determination, it comes easy.
     Mark Twain, More Tramps Abroad (1897)
     [British edition of Following the Equator]
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


"You are far from being a bad man ... Go, and reform — or, mark my words some day, for your sins, you will die and go to hell or Hadleyburg — TRY AND MAKE IT THE FORMER."
     The real test-phrase in Mark Twain, 
     "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" (1899)


"Reform! Drop this mean and sordid and selfish devotion to the saving of your shabby little souls, and hunt up something to do that's got some dignity to it! Risk your souls! risk them in good causes; then if you lose them, why should you care? Reform!"
     The Doctor in Mark Twain, "Was It Heaven? Or Hell?" (1902)


Repentance ain't confined to doing wrong, sometimes you catch it just as sharp for doing right.
     Mark Twain, "The Refuge of the Derelicts" (1905)


In my early manhood, and in middle life, I used to vex myself with reforms, every now and then. And I never had occasion to regret these divergencies, for, whether the resulting deprivations were long or short, the rewarding pleasure which I got out of the vice when I returned to it always paid me for all that it cost.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine (ed.), 
     Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924)


Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


Do your duty today and repent tomorrow.
     Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark (Merle Johnson, ed., 1927)


Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.
     Oscar Wilde


There is a fatality about all good resolutions. They are invariably made too soon.
     Oscar Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" (1894)





When in-laws are outlawed, only outlaws will have in-laws.
     Ashleigh Brilliant


The term dystunctional as applied to families is negative; it presumes the existence of the word "functional" in this context. The word exists, but there has never been a family to which it could be applied. Dysfunction is the norm in human families, and disobedience, active or contemplated, is its glue.
     Tony Hendra, The Book of Bad Virtues: A Treasury of Immorality (1994)


blood will tell but often
it tells too much
     Don Marquis, archy and mehitabel (1927)


All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
     Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1875-1877)


We are so lonely because we don't have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more. ... So I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday (1981)
     Graduation speech at Fredonia College, 
     Fredonia, New York (May 20, 1978)


Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
     Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)



(The One True Religion and the Others)


As the poet said, "Only God can make a tree" — probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.
     Woody Allen


I don't believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing along a change of underwear.
     Woody Allen


If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think he's evil. But the worst thing that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.
     Woody Allen


If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.
     Woody Allen


Bacchus, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Impiety, n. Your irreverence toward my deity.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


Scriptures, n. The sacred book of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
     Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


An honest God's the noblest work of man.
     Samuel Butler


Imagine meeting your maker and finding out its Frito-Lay.
     George Carlin, Brain Droppings (1997)


If you really want to put a faith healer to the test, tell him you want a smaller shoe size.
     George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty (2001)


The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.
     Nicolas Chamfort


The New Age has offered little progress in this regard, because it has made spiritual life seem generally synonymous with the forfeiture of brain cells.
    Sam Harris, The End of Faith:  Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004)


Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation?
     Joseph Heller


A Miracle: An event described by those to whom it was told by men who did not see it.
     Elbert Hubbard


Theology is an attempt to explain a subject by men who do not understand it. The intent is not to tell the truth but to satisfy the questioner.
     Elbert Hubbard, The Philistine (1915)


Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.
     L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology (1949)


Difference of opinion is advantageous is religion. The several sects perform the office of a censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support rogeury and error all over the earth.
     Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1785)


You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
     Anne Lamott


It goes with the passionate intensity and deep conviction of the truth of a religious belief, and of course of the importance of the superstitious observance that go with it, that we should want others to share it — and the only certain way to cause a religious belief to be held by everyone is to liquidate nonbelievers. The price in blood and tears that mankind generally has had to pay for the comfort and spiritual refreshment that religion has brought to a few has been too great to justify our entrusting moral accountancy to religious belief.
     Peter Medawar, The Limits of Science (1984)


I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan; — but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all — Presbyterians and Pagans alike — for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
     Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


Imagine the Creator as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable.
     H. L. Mencken


The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him a ride.
     H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Third Series (1917)


We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
     H. L. Mencken, Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956)


Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat.
     John Morley, Voltaire (1872)


I can't understand it. So many people fall back on faith to cope with the deeper mysteries of life. I make the waiter show me the pot before I believe it's decaf.
     Murphy to Jim in Murphy Brown, "Reaper Madness"


Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
     Blaise Pascal


If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have nothing in it mysterious or supernatural. If we violate the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.
     Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670)


Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.
     Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad (1991)


He [Leonard of Quirm] has never, in his entire life, harmed a living creature. He has dissected a few, but only after they were dead*, and had marveled at how well they’d been put together considering it had been done by unskilled labor. [*Because he was an early form of free-thinking scientist, and did not believe that human beings had been created by some sort of divine being. Dissecting people when they were still alive tended to be a priestly occupation; they thought mankind had been created by some sort of divine being and wanted to have a closer look at His handiwork.]
     Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms (1993)


This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, “We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts . . .”
    Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (1996)


Night poured over the desert.  It came suddenly, in purple.  In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated.  When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.
    Terry Pratchett, Jingo (1997)


The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.
     Bertrand Russell


No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.
     George Bernard Shaw


There are scores of thousands of human insects who are ready at a moment's notice to reveal the will of God on every possible subject.
     George Bernard Shaw


I'm a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge, not hide it from them.
     Keiko O'Brien, "In the Hands of the Prophets"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


... it seems to me you have a choice. You can make your own decisions, or you can let these prophecies make them for you.
     Jadzia Dax to Captain Sisko, "Destiny"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


WEYOUN: All this talk of gods strikes me as nothing more than superstitious nonsense.
DAMAR: You believe that the Founders are gods, don't you?
WEYOUN: (sharply) That's different.
DAMAR: (chuckling amusedly) In what way?
WEYOUN: (not amusedly at all) The Founders are gods.
     "Tears of the Prophets"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


"Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you believe the Founders are gods is because that's what the want you to believe? That they built it into your genetic code?"
"Of course they did. That's what gods do. After all, why be a god if there's no one to worship you?"
     Odo and Weyoun, "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River"
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine


The world is proof that God is a committee.
     Bob Stokes


We have just religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
     Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects (1711)


The true religion, properly administered, as the good Mother Church used to administer it, is very, very soothing. It is wonderfully persuasive, also. There is a great difference between feeding parties to wild beasts and stirring up their finer feelings in a Inquisition. One is the system of degraded barbarians, the other of enlightened, civilized people. It is a great pity the playful Inquisition is no more.
     Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)


[The Mormon Bible] is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.
     Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)


How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island [Hawaii] and never knew there was a hell!
     Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)


Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1879


The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.
     Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (1880)


They was all Moslems, Tom said, and when I asked him what a Moslem was, he said it was a person that wasn't a Presbyterian. So there is plenty of them in Missouri, though I didn't know it before.
     Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)


It is said that the ways of God are not like ours. Let us not contest this point.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1896


India has 2,000,000 gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)


There are those who scoff at the school-boy, calling him frivolous and shallow. Yet it was the school-boy who said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
     Mark Twain, Following the Equator (1897)
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


Punjabi proverb. The altar-cloth of one eon is the doormat of the next.
     Mark Twain, More Tramps Abroad (1897)
          [British edition of Following the Equator]
     "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar"


Do I seem to be preaching? It is out of my line: I only do it because the rest of the clergy seem to be on vacation.
     Mark Twain, "About Play-Acting" (1898)


I would not interfere with any one's religion, either to strengthen it or weaken it. I am not able to believe one's religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life — hence it is a valuable possession to him.
     Mark Twain, "Three Statements of the Eighties" (1880-1885?)



If man had created man he would be ashamed of his performance.
     Mark Twain, Notebook, 1903


Thus we have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries; it is only when we set out to discover the secret of God that our difficulties disappear.
     Mark Twain, "As Concerns Interpreting the Deity" (1905)


"Man ... is kind enough when he is not excited by religion."
     Mark Twain, "A Horse's Tale" (1906)


If you know a man's nationality you can come within a split hair of guessing the complexion of his religion ... And when you know the man's religious complexion, you know what sort of religious books he reads when he wants some more light, and what sort of books he avoids, lest by accident he get more light than he wants.
     Mark Twain, "What Is Man?" (1906)


Many of these people have the reasoning faculty, but no one uses it in religious matters.
     Mark Twain, "Letters from the Earth" (1909)


Etiquette for the Afterlife

     Mark Twain, "Etiquette for the Afterlife" (1910)


Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


I have no feeling of animosity toward people who do not believe as I do; I merely do not respect 'em. In some serious matters (relig.) I would have them burnt.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: 'Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is.' Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.
     Mark Twain, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)


[Publisher B. H. Ticknor sent regrets that he could not attend a proposed meeting, concluding: "God be with you, for I cannot."] Twain returned the sheet, at the foot of which he had inscribed the words: Dear Ticknor: He didn't come. It has been a great disappointment to the whole family. Hereafter, appoint a party we can depend on.
     Mark Twain, Caroline Ticknor, Glimpses of Authors (1922)


A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows.
     Mark Twain, attributed; in Alex Ayres (ed.),
     The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
     Mark Twain, attributed; in Alex Ayres (ed.),
     The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain (1987)


Since the whole affair had become one of religion, the vanquished were of course exterminated.


I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability.
     Oscar Wilde


The learned have their superstitions, prominent among them a belief that superstition is evaporating.
     Garry Wills, Under God: Religion and American Politics (1990)


The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.
     Frank Zappa





Tip: It's illegal and immoral to slay your enemies, but if you eat nutritious food and outlive them, you can still dance on their graves. There's nothing illegal or immoral about dancing.
     Scott Adams, "Dilbert Newsletter 30.0" (May 11, 2000)


Living well is the best revenge.
     George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs


'Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.'
     Captain Ahab in Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


'He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations.'
     Captain Ahab in Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.
     Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


'What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?'
     Captain Ahab in Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851)


'Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!'
     Captain Ahab's last words in Herman Melville, 
     Moby-Dick, or, The Whale


Do you know of the Klingon proverb that tells that revenge is a dish best served cold? It is very cold in space.
     Khan, STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


To the last, I will grapple with thee. ... Now! Now, you can't get away. From hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.
     Khan, quoting Captain Ahab in STAR TREK II The Wrath of Khan


I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!
     Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)
     Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf,
     The Wizard of Oz (movie, 1939)