there's life in them there lies
I've just finished the previously-mentioned Lies we live by, by Eduardo Giannetti, one of the better books I've read in recent times, for its deliciously quotable quotes, for the lively style, and for its general perspective on ethics, politics and the relationship between them. For example, he clearly endorses the findings of Pinker in The Blank Slate, though neither Pinker nor the slate are mentioned. He puts it very succinctly near the end of his book:
The moral equipment of the human animal is what it is. To imagine that it might be radically improved or regenerated, whether by means of sermons, intensive training courses and inspired exhortations, or by political engineering and new modes of production, is to embrace fantasies that may provide short-lived consolation but have no validity. If well-intentioned speeches, leaps forward or violent breaks with the past could produce the doubtful miracle of a 'moral regeneration of man', then the promise of a 'new man'- whatever the 'new human nature' that we want to put into him - would have occurred innumerable times in the course of history.
Since I have to take this book back to the library, I'd like to squeeze out as many quotes from it as I can beforehand.
Francis Bacon: The faculty of wise interrogating is half knowledge.
Fernando Pessoa: Although I have been a voracious, avid reader, I don't remember any book I have read, to such a degree were my readings states of my own mind, dreams of mine, and, even more, the things which kindled my dreams.
Denis Diderot: It's at times when everything is false that people love what is true, it's when everything is corrupt that the theatre is at its most refined. A citizen who goes to the Comédie leaves all his vices at the door and picks them up
again as he goes out. Once inside, he's just, impartial, a good father, a good friend, a lover of virtue; and I've often seen, sitting next to me, rogues who get deeply indignant at actions they would certainly have committed if they'd been in the same position as that in which the poet placed the character they detested.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.
Friedrich Nietzsche: That which, from the earliest times to the present moment, men have found so hard to understand is their ignorance of themselves! Not only in regard to good and evil, but in regard to what is much more essential! The primeval delusion still lives on that one knows, and knows quite precisely in every case, how human action is brought about... Actions are never what they appear to us to be! We have expended so much labour on learning that external things are not as they appear to us to be - very well! the case is the same with the inner world!... So we are necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not comprehend ourselves, we have to misunderstand ourselves, for us the law ''Each is furthest from himself'' applies to all eternity - we are not 'men of knowledge' with respect to ourselves.
Charles Darwin: He who would understand the baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke. [to which Giannetti shrewdly adds True enough. The only trouble is finding out how to get rid of metaphysics in our attempts to understand the baboon'.]
The two Delphic inscriptions:
Nothing in excess.
Duc de la Rochefoucauld: We are so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end by disguising ourselves from ourselves.
I do believe you think what now you speak;
But what we do determine, oft we break.
Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth but poor validity,
Which now, the fruit unripe, sticks on the tree,
But fall unshaken when they mellow be .
Most necessary 'tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt.
What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose. [from Hamlet]
And finally that bobbydazzlingly discombobulating conundrum
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies [sonnet 138]