Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Aphorisms from T. H. Huxley

T. H. Huxley, despite his occasional flaws, is probably my favorite nineteenth century freethinker-type. Henrietta Huxley's collection of Aphorisms and Reflections from the Works of T. H. Huxley (1907) is a great read. Here's a sample:

In science, as in art, and, as I believe, in every other sphere of human activity, there may be wisdom in a multitude of counsellors, but it is only in one or two of them.

Anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely get as far as fact; and anyone who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the "anticipation of Nature."

M. Comte's philosophy in practice, might be compendiously described as Catholicism minus Christianity.

We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it.

There is assuredly no more effectual method of clearing up one's own mind on any subject than by talking it over so to speak, with men of real power and grasp, who have considered it from a totally different point of view.

Of all the senseless babble I have ever had the occasion to read, the demonstrations of these philosophers who undertake to tell us all about the nature of God would be the worst, if they were not surpassed by the still greater absurdities of the philosophers who try to prove that there is no God.

Genius as an explosive power beats gunpowder hollow; and if knowledge, which should give that power guidance, is wanting, the chances are not small that the rocket will simply run amuck among friends and foes.

Surely there is a time to submit to guidance and a time to take one's own way at all hazards.

History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.

Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organised common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only so far as the guardsman's cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.

No slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed man.

The only medicine for suffering, crime, and all the woes of mankind, is wisdom.

A man's worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes.

All truth, in the long run, is only common sense clarified.

Patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.

My belief is, that no human being, and no society composed of human beings, ever did, or ever will, come to much, unless their conduct was governed and guided by the love of some ethical ideal.

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and, however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.

My experience of the world is that things left to themselves don't get right.

The only people, scientific or other, who never make mistakes are those who do nothing.

The most considerable difference I note among men is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses.

"Magna est veritas et prævalebit!" Truth is great, certainly, but, considering her greatness, it is curious what a long time she is apt to take about prevailing.

The great tragedy of Science–the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.

I am too much a believer in Butler and in the great principle of the "Analogy" that "there is no absurdity in theology so great that you cannot parallel it by a greater absurdity of Nature" (it is not commonly stated in this way), to have any difficulties about miracles. I have never had the least sympathy with the a priori reasons against orthodoxy, and I have by nature and disposition the greatest possible antipathy to all the atheistic and infidel school.

It is better for a man to go wrong in freedom than to go right in chains.

People may talk about intellectual teaching, but what we principally want is the moral teaching.

The more rapidly truth is spread among mankind the better it will be for them. Only let us be sure that it is truth.

Playing Providence is a game at which one is very apt to burn one's fingers.

It is one of the most saddening things in life that, try as we may, we can never be certain of making people happy, whereas we can almost always be certain of making them unhappy.

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