Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Samuel Butler

1835 – 1902 CE

Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist

Friend and student of Charles Darwin, serio-comic satirist, champion of small-is-beautiful everyday experience; Butler composed Handelian-style cantatas and piano pieces, painted works of art hung in London museums, and translated the Iliad and the Odyssey that he believed were written by a Trojan and by a Sicilian woman. In his book Erewhon, crime is considered a disease while disease and physical imperfections are considered crimes. Aldous Huxley thought Butler's ideas transformed Western culture's attitudes toward crime, technology, and 'progress'.

Eras

Sources

Erewhon

Unlisted Sources

Note-Books (1912)

Quotes by Samuel Butler (62 quotes)

“Until you think of things as they are, and not of the words that misrepresent them, you cannot think rightly. Words produce the appearance of hard and fast lines where there are none.”

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“Silence is not always tact and it is tact that is golden, not silence.”

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“We do not know what death is. If we know so little about life which we have experienced, how shall be know about death which we have not — and in the nature of things never can?”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Death and Dying

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“All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Progress Greed

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“I find the nicest and best people generally profess no religion at all, but are ready to like the best men of all religions.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Religion

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“Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Technology

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“To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Forget Memory

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“Argument is generally a waste of time and trouble. It is better to present one’s opinion and leave it to stick or no as it may happen. If sound, it will probably in the end stick, and the sticking is the main thing.”

from Note-Books (1912)

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“Truth consists not in never lying but in knowing when to lie and when not to do so... Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well... The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Truth Lies

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“An honest God's the noblest work of man.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: God

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“Though wisdom cannot be gotten for gold, still less can it be gotten without it... gold lies at the root of wisdom”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Money Wisdom

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“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”

Themes: Creativity

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“Life and death are balanced as it were on the edge of a razor.”

Themes: Middle Way

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“If I were to start as a God or a prophet I think I should take the line: 'Thou shalt not believe in me. Thou shalt not have me for a God. Thou shalt worship any damned thing thou likest except me.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Belief God

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“The devil tempted Christ; yes, but it was Christ who tempted the devil to tempt him”

from Note-Books (1912)

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“For property is robbery, but then, we are all robbers or would-be robbers together, and have found it essential to organize our thieving, as we have found it necessary to organize our lust and our revenge. Property, marriage, the law; as the bed to the river, so rule and convention to the instinct; and woe to him who tampers with the banks while the flood is flowing.”

from Erewhon

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“Christianity is a woman's religion, invented by women and womanish men for themselves. The Church's one foundation is not Christ, it is woman.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Christianity

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“As soon as any art is pursued with a view of money, then farewell—in 99% of cases—to all hope of genuine good work”

from Note-Books (1912)

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“If life is an illusion, then so is death—the greatest of all illusions. If life must not be taken too seriously—then neither must death.”

from Note-Books (1912)

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“We next to never know when we are well off—if we did, we should perhaps know better when we are ill off also... there are few of us who are not protected from the keenest pain by our inability to see what it is that we have done, what we are suffering, and what we truly are. Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.”

from Erewhon

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“illness of any sort was considered in Erewhon to be highly criminal and immoral; and that I was liable, even for catching cold, to be held up before the magistrates and imprisoned for a considerable period.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Health

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“Those men are best who are not remarkable either for vice or virtue... the most that can be truly said for virtue is that there is a considerable balance in its favor... but there is much pseudo-virtue going about, which is apt to let people in very badly before they find it out.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Virtue

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“For property is robbery, but then, we are all robbers or would-be robbers together, and have found it essential to organize our thieving, as we have found it necessary to organize our lust and our revenge. Property, marriage, the law; as the bed to the river, so rule and convention to the instinct; and woe to him who tampers with the banks while the flood is flowing.”

from Erewhon

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“they know that they will sooner gain their end by appealing to men's pockets, in which they have generally something of their own; than to their heads which contain for the most part little but borrowed or stolen property”

from Erewhon

Themes: Strategy

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“Erewhonians, therefore, hold that death, like life, is an affair of being more frightened than hurt.”

from Erewhon

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“It is here that almost all religions go wrong... forgetting that while to deny the existence of an unseen kingdom is bad, to pretend that we know more about it than its bare existence is no better.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Religion

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“perhaps the religious systems of all countries are now more or less an attempt to uphold the unfathomable and unconscious instinctive wisdom of millions of past generations, against the comparatively shallow, consciously reasoned, and ephemeral conclusions drawn from that of the last thirty or forty.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Wisdom

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“there is no unfairness in punishing people for their misfortunes or rewarding them for their sheer good luck; it is the normal condition of human life that this should be done, and no right-minded person will complain of being subjected to the common treatment.”

from Erewhon

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“all the noblest arts hold in perfection but for a very little moment. They soon reach a height from which they begin to decline... for an art is like a living organism—better dead than dying. There is no way of making an aged art young again; it must be born anew and grow up from infancy as a new thing, working out its own salvation from effort to effort in all fear and trembling.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Art Creativity

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“I have seen a radiance upon the face of those who were worshiping the divine either in art or nature—in picture or statue—in field or cloud or sea—in man, woman, or child—but mention the word divinity, and our sense of the divine is clouded.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Sacred World

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“['God' is] but the expression for man's highest conception of goodness, wisdom, and power; that in order to generate a more vivid conception of so great and glorious a thought, man has personified it and called it by a name... people should no more cease to love God on ceasing to believe in His objective personality than they cease to love justice on discovering that she was not really personal; they will never truly know Him until they see Him thus.”

from Erewhon

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“their only religion was that of self-respect and consideration for other people.”

from Erewhon

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“Human language is too gross a vehicle of thought—thought being incapable of absolute translation... as there can be no translation from one language into another which will not scant the meaning somewhat, or enlarge upon it, so there is no language which can render thought without a jarring and a harshness somewhere”

from Erewhon

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“If parents were merely to remember how they felt when they were young, and actually to behave towards their children as they would have had their own parents behave toward themselves... But this, which would appear to be so simple and obvious, seems also to be a thing which not one in a hundred thousand is able to put into practice.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Family

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“It astonished me to see what sacrifices the parents would make in order to render their children as nearly useless as possible... deliberately swindled in some of the most important branches of human inquiry, directed into false channels or left to drift”

from Erewhon

Themes: Education

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“Money is the symbol of duty, it is the sacrament of having done for mankind that which mankind wanted. Mankind may not be a very good judge, but there is no better.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Money

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“Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd... Reason betrays men into the drawing of hard and fast lines... there is hardly an error into which men may not easily be led if they base their conduct upon reason only... reason uncorrected by instinct is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Reason Fanaticism

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“To imagine a set of utterly strange and impossible contingencies and require the youths to give intelligent answers to the question that arise is reckoned the fittest conceivable way of preparing them for the actual conduct of their affairs in after life... to teach a boy merely the nature of the things which exist in the word around him would be giving him but a narrow and shallow conception of the universe”

from Erewhon

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“there is no genius who is not also a fool, and no fool who is not also a genius”

from Erewhon

Themes: Paradox

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“The development of journalism made it essential that by far the greater part of what is said or done in the world should be so ephemeral as to take itself away quickly; it could keep for 24 hours but not for a week. If that long, it would prevent people from going on to something else.”

from Erewhon

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“We cannot calculate on any corresponding advance in man's intellectual or physical powers which shall be a set-off against the far greater development which seems in store for machines... Are we not ourselves creating our successors for the supremacy of earth”

from Erewhon

Themes: Revolution

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“the future depends on the present, and the present depends upon the past, and the past is unalterable... the more the past and present are known, the more the future can be predicted... this is the foundation on which morality and science are built.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Science Time

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“A man is the resultant and exponent of all the forces that have been brought to bear upon him, whether before his birth or afterwards... as he is by nature, and as he has been acted on, and is now acted on from without, so will he do, as certainly and regularly as though he were a machine.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Karma

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“We see but a part and ascribe much both of man's character and actions to chance, or luck, or fortune; but these are only words whereby we escape the admission of our own ignorance”

from Erewhon

Themes: Ignorance

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“the mass of mankind will acquiesce in any arrangement which gives them better food and clothing at a cheaper rate”

from Erewhon

Themes: Consumerism

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“so engrained in the human heart is the desire to believe that some people really do know what they say they know, and can thus save them from the trouble of thinking for themselves, that in a short time would-be philosphers and faddists became more powerful than ever, and gradually led their countrymen to accept all those absurd views of life”

from Erewhon

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“when we reflect on the increasing number of those who are bound down to machines as slaves, and of those who devote their whole souls to the advancement of the mechanical kingdom, is it not plain that machines are gaining ground on us? This is the art of the machines—they serve that they may rule”

from Erewhon

Themes: Slavery

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“Strange fat for man! He must perish if he get that which he must perish if he strive not after. If he strive not after it, he is not better than the brutes, if he get it he is more miserable than the devils.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Paradox

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“It is a distinguishing peculiarity of the Erewhonians that when they profess themselves to be quite certain about any matter, and avow it as a base on which they are to build a system of practice, they seldom quite believe in it.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Belief

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“We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors and stumble on till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone.”

from Erewhon

Themes: Humility

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“[belief in] the immortality of the soul... was immoral... it would distract men's minds from the perfecting of this world's economy, and was an impatient cutting of the Gordian knot of life's problems”

from Erewhon

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“Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule.”

Themes: Music

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“Friendship is like money, easier made than kept.”

Themes: Friendship

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“Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.”

Themes: Know Yourself

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“You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it.”

Themes: Confidence

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“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.”

Themes: Failure

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“To live is like to love — all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.”

Themes: Love

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“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.”

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“Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”

Themes: Ordinary Mind

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“More unhappiness comes from this source [the family] than from any other—I mean from the attempt to prolong family connections unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so.”

from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Family

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“if you go into the world you will have free will; you will be obliged to have it; there is no escaping it; you will be fettered to it during your whole life, and put on every occasion do that which on the whole seems best to you at any given time, no matter whether you are right or wrong in choosing”

from Erewhon

Themes: Free Will

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“a hen is just an egg's way of making another egg”

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Quotes about Samuel Butler (4 quotes)

“A man may be a cheerful pessimist or a melancholy optimist. Perhaps Samuel Butler may serve as an example of the first; Plotinus is an admirable example of the second.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from History of Western Philosophy

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“One of the most lively of the dead... Butler was of the true Chaucerian lineage—a solitary voice crying—or rather gently and ironically murmuring–in the wilderness of Victorian zeal... he lives wherever men think about crime... happiness... the purpose and human significance of the machine... and the misplaced zeal for 'progress.'


Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

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“One of the most original and inquiring imaginations of his age—Victorian satirist, critic, and visual artist—Butler’s intellectually adventurous explorations along the cultural frontiers of his times appeared in volume after eccentric volume. Evolutionary free-thinker, he rejected natural selection and traditional natural theology alike in a series of evolutionary studies”

James Paradis 1942 CE –

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“If the founding Fathers could come back, they would be amazed at the degree to which we have reduced poverty, drudgery, illiteracy, and governmental tyranny. a large part of the utopias described by Thomas More, Samuel Butler, Edward Bellamy, and H. G. Wells has been materially realized, along with the universal education, adult suffrage, freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion which were among the hopes and dreams of 18th century philosophers.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves

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