There is nothing like a good quote to soothe our crushing existential dread. As humankind has barreled through endless space strapped to the third planet for millennia, we’ve accumulated knowledge of our condition — the condition of existing.
As you contemplate life as we know it, we encourage you to lean on the hard-won wisdom of those who came before us. Here are 50 quotes and the five philosophers behind them to help to get your existential shit together, even in the bleakest of times.
Editor’s Note: The following quotes have been published as written. Some of these philosophers are old as fuck, so the language may be outdated or incorrect.
12 November 1666 – 11 May 1731
12 November 1666 – 11 May 1731
Mary Astell is widely known as a pioneering feminist but was a philosophy mommy in her own right. Her philosophical musings were centered around intellectual equality between men and women, and she thought marriage was a stupid fucking institution, the primary focus of which was to subjugate women. While she set out to make the case that a woman doesn’t need a man to live a fulfilling life, her reflections on self, happiness, and the mind apply to all, genitalia aside.
The Span of Life is too short to be trifled away in unconcerning and unprofitable Matters.
We all agree that its fit to be as Happy as we can, and we need no Instructor to teach us this Knowledge, 'tis born with us, and is inseparable from our Being, but we very much need to be Inform'd what is the true Way to Happiness.
If absolute sovereignty be not necessary in a State, how comes it to be so in a family?
Every one knows, that the mind will not be kept from contemplating what it loves in the midst of crowds and business.
Hence come those frequent absences, so observable in conversation; for whilst the body is confined to present company, the mind is flown to that which it delights in.
Whilst our Hearts are violently set upon any thing, there is no convincing us that we shall ever be of another Mind.
We ought as much as we can to endeavour the Perfecting of our Beings, and that we be as happy as possibly we may.
He who will be just, must be forc'd to acknowledge, that neither Sex are always in the right.
Every Body has so good an Opinion of their own Understanding as to think their own way the best.
Tis very great pity that they who are so apt to over-rate themselves in smaller matters, shou'd, where it most concerns them to know, and stand upon their Value, be so insensible of their own worth.
To all the rest of his Absurdities, (for vice is always unreasonable,) he adds one more, who expects that Vertue from another which he won't practise himself.
A philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer living in ancient Alexandria, Hypatia had a big, fat brain that led her to become one of the greatest thinkers in history (i.e., absolute badass). She lectured on the writers of philosophy bros, Plato and Aristotle, and while Hypatia was pagan, she taught both Christians and so-called heathens alike. During one of her lectures, a young pupil made advances on her, which she kindly rebutted. When he continued, she pulled out her bloody period rags and shouted,"This is what you really love, my young man, but you do not love beauty for its own sake.” (We’ve all been there, am I right, ladies?) Hypatia was eventually murdered by a mob of crazed Christians, her brutal death shocking the empire and solidifying opposition to Christianity among intellectuals of the time. Her writings often touch on the innate intelligence of the human mind and the intellectual corruption and confusion created by organized religion.
Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel, the more truth we can comprehend.
Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them.
Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
True Knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.
The true measure of intelligence is the ability to adapt.
In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth - often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.
The truth does not change because it is or is not believed by most people.
Understanding the things that surround us is the best preparation to understand the things that lie beyond.
Governing by chaining the mind out of fear or fear of punishment in another world is just as basic as using force.
Ah, another lady of philosophy with a great big brain betwixt her ears. Margaret Cavendish was a prolific writer who published under her own name when most women authors were forced to use a male pen name (her royal ties may have made publishing under her real name a shitload less risky, but still. We appreciate it.). She published more than a dozen original works, which she had her image carved into to affirm that the works were hers alone and that no one else (men) contributed. Her writings were leveraged as evidence that women were not, as was widely believed at the time, fucking idiots. Her philosophical ponderings embraced vitalism, and her take on nature, reason, and gender resonates today.
There is little difference between man and beast, but what ambition and glory makes.
I had rather die in the adventure of noble achievements, than live in obscure and sluggish security.
For Nature is so full of variety, that our weak Senses cannot perceive all the various sorts of her Creatures; neither is there any one object perceptible by all our Senses, no more then several objects are by one sense.
...that in former ages they had been as wise as they are in this present, nay, wiser; for, said they, many in this age do think their forefathers have been fools, by which they prove themselves to be such.
A judge, replied the Empress, is easy to be had, but to get an impartial judge, is a thing so difficult.
...fear and wonder makes gods.
I think a bad husband is far worse than no husband.
One may be my very good friend, and yet not of my opinion.
For disorder obstructs: besides, it doth disgust life, distract the appetities, and yield no true relish to the senses.
And though I might have learnt more wit and advanced my understanding by living in a Court, yet being dull, fearful and bashful, I neither heeded what was said or practised, but just what belonged to my loyal duty and my own honest reputation.
Pain and Oblivion make mankind afraid to die; but all creatures are afraid of the one, none but mankind afraid of the other.
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist and essayist known for his deadpan delivery and wit. You might recognize him as the author of the iconic book Gulliver’s Travels, a beloved political satire featuring an oddly terrifying scene of the teeny tiny lilliputian people tying down the story's protagonist (the stuff of nightmares). While he never referred to himself as a philosopher, we’re going to impose the title on him post-mortem.
Swift’s writings total more than 100, and he grew into an extremely popular figure of his time. At one point, his close friends told everyone he was fucking crazy to repel hangers-on. Swift was a misanthrope who wrote often of the corruption, the abuse of reason and the dark side of human nature.
You cannot reason a person out of something they were not reasoned into.
You should never be ashamed to admit you have been wrong. It only proves you are wiser today than yesterday.
Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.
Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.
Many a truth is told in jest.
Wise people are never less alone than when they are alone.
I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals.
As love without esteem is capricious and volatile; esteem without love is languid and cold.
No man was ever so completely skilled in the conduct of life as not to receive new information from age and experience.
It is the talent of human nature to run from one extreme to another.
Considered the daddy of Taoism, Laozi. Not much is known about him and it’s contested that he even existed, but some records of Chinese religious folklore claim he became an immortal hermit, which sounds fucking awesome. His seminal (and only) work, Tao Te Ching, is believed to be the product of many writers, with the figure of Laozi created and credited as its author later on. Either way, the writers of Laozi or whoever embodies the graceful directness of Taosim — nice and to the point.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
The past has no power to stop you from being present now.
Only your grievance about the past can do that. What is grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.
Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is to say ‘I don’t want to.’
Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear, and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream.
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;mastering yourself is true power.
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
Act without expectation.
Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.