T.S. Eliot

 The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts. 

from “The Perfect Critic” an essay in the book The Sacred Wood (1921)


Self-observation. –– Man is very well defended against himself, against being reconnoitered and besieged by himself, he is usually able to perceive of himself only his outer walls. The actual fortress is inaccessible, even invisible to him, unless his friends and enemies play the traitor and conduct him in by a secret path.

from Human, All Too Human, vol. 1, aphorism 491

Ludwig Wittgenstein

There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations.  we must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems.  These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them.  The problems are solved, not by reporting new experience, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.

from Philosophical Investigations I:109

Socrates on those who keep company with philosophy in a worthy way

They have seen sufficiently the madness of the many, and that no one who minds the business of the cities does virtually anything sound, and that there is no ally with whom one could go to the aid of justice and be preserved. Rather–just like a human being who has fallen in with wild beasts and is neither willing to join them in doing injustice nor sufficient as one man to resist all the savage animals–one would perish before he has been of any use to  city or friends and be of no profit  to himself or others.  Taking all this into the calculation, he keeps quiet and minds his own business–as a man in a storm, when dust and rain are blown about by the wind, stands aside under a little wall.  Seeing others filled full of lawlessness, he is content if somehow he himself can live his life here pure of injustice and unholy deeds, and take his leave from it graciously and cheerfully with fair hope.


Republic 496c-e

Georges Bataille

Inner experience is led by discursive reason. Reason alone has the power to undo its work, to hurl down what it has built up.  Madness has no effect, allowing debris to subsist, disturbing along with reason the faculty for communicating (perhaps, above all, its is rupture of inner communication). Natural exaltation or intoxication have a certain ‘flash in the pan’ quality.  Without the support of reason, we don’t reach ‘dark incandescence’.

from Inner Experience. SUNY, 1988. page 46f.


Everywhere we encounter nothing but faulty minds, who have practically no ability to discern the truth. They view everything from the wrong angle; they are satisfied by the worst reasons and want to satisfy others with them. They let themselves be carried away by the slightest appearances; they are always in excess and extremes; they have no grasp for holding firmly to the truth they know because they are attached to them more by chance than solid enlightenment. Or else they insist on nonsense with such obstinacy that they hear nothing that could set them straight. They decide boldly about what they do not know, what they do not understand, and what perhaps no one has ever understood.
Port-Royal Logic, 1662

Henry Kissinger

The deepest cause of the inhumanity of our time is probably the pedantic application of administrative norms. Its symbol may well be the ‘commissar,’ the ideal type of bureaucrat, who condemns thousands without love and without hatred simply in pursuance of an abstract duty. But we would do ourselves an injustice if we ignored that the commissar is not just a Soviet but a universal phenomenon–the Soviet system simply encouraged it in its most extreme form.  He is the administrator whose world is defined by regulations in whose making he had no part, and whose substance does not concern him, to whom reality is exhausted by the organization in which he finds himself.  Our challenge is to rescue the individual from this process; to escape from the stultifying quality of an atmosphere in which all sense of reverence for the unique is lost in the quest for reducing everything to manipulable quantities.  The way we face this challenge will be the ultimate test of our long-proclaimed belief in the dignity of the individual.

From and article entitled “The Policymaker and the Intellectual” published in The Reporter (1959).

Simone Weil

Attention is an effort, the greatest of all efforts perhaps, but it is a negative effort. Of itself, it does not involve tiredness. When we become tired, attention is scarcely possible any more, unless we have already had a good deal of practice. It is better to stop working altogether, to seek some relaxation, and then a little later to return to the task; we have to press on and loosen up alternately, just as we breathe in and out.

Twenty minutes of concentrated, untired attention is infinitely better than three hours of the kind of frowning application which leads us to say with a sense of duty done: “I have worked well!”

But, in spite of all appearances, it is also far more difficult. There is something in our soul which has a far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh. That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves. If we concentrate with this intention, a quarter of an hour of attention is better than a great many good works.

Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Our thought should be in relation to all particular and already formulated thoughts as a man on a mountain who, as he looks forward, sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains. Above all our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it.


From “On the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God”.

Edgar Lee Masters

Ernest Hyde


My mind was a mirror:

It saw what it saw, it knew what it knew.

In youth my mind was just a mirror

In a rapidly flying car,

Which catches and loses bits of the landscape.

Then in time

Great scratches were made on the mirror,

Letting the outside world come in,

And letting my inner self look out.

For this is the birth of the soul in sorrow,

A birth with gains and losses.

The mind sees the world as a thing apart,

And the soul makes the world at one with itself.

A mirror scratched reflects no image–

And this is the silence of wisdom.


I found this in Spoon River Anthology #111.