January 8, 2010


Note: This entry is designed to gather into one place the aphorisms in which Gómez Dávila mentions philosophy. Some aphorisms relevant to the topic of philosophy may also be found the entry on intelligence, wisdom, and stupidity.

What is philosophy for the Catholic but the way intelligence lives its faith? (#471)

A philosophy that avoids the problem of evil is a fairy tale for gullible children. (#747)

It has taken Christian philosophers work to take sin seriously, that is to say: to see that it transcends ethical phenomena. (#2,033)

The sinister structure of arguments in favor of the radical absurdity of the world wavers in the presence of the lightest thing that fulfills us. (#2,263)

Men change ideas less than ideas change disguise.
Through the course of the centuries the same voices are in dialogue. (#1)

Since philosophy is a dialogue, there is no reason to suppose that the last one to give his opinion is the one who is right. (#2,718)

The fool is scandalized and laughs when he notices that philosophers contradict each other.
It is difficult to make the fool understand that philosophy is precisely that: the art of contradicting each other without canceling each other out. (#588)

To philosophize is to guess, without ever being able to know whether we are right. (#2,803)

It is not to resolve contradictions, but to order them, to which we can aspire. (#1,836)

I distrust the system deliberately constructed by thought; I trust in the one that results from the pattern of its footprints. (#1,924)

In philosophy a single naïve question is sometimes enough to make an entire system come tumbling down. (#2,872)

A thought should not expand symmetrically like a formula, but disorderly like a shrub. (#2,124)

The pleasure with which we walk down the trail that a system opens up for us in the woods makes us forget that on each side the forest remains intact. (#2,095)

The truth resides in the indeterminate area where opposing principles interweave and correct each other. (#2,416)

The total truth will not be the indigestion of a dialectical process that swallows all the partial truths, but the limpid structure in which they are ordered. (#1,824)

The world becomes filled with contradictions when we forget that things have ranks. (#2,664)

Truths do not contradict each other except when they fall out of order. (#2,575)

Relativism is the solution of a man who is incapable of putting things in order. (#2,103)

Man speaks of the relativity of truth because he calls his innumerable errors truths. (#2,059)

The lower truths tend to eclipse the highest truths. (#2,785)

Fashion adopts those philosophies which cautiously avoid problems. (#1,633)

Solutions in philosophy are the disguise of new problems. (#2,627)

Philosophy is the art of lucidly formulating problems.
Inventing solutions is not an occupation of serious intellects. (#878)

Precision in philosophy is a false elegance.
On the other hand, literary precision is the foundation of aesthetic achievement. (#1,918)

To philosophize is not to solve problems but to live them at a certain level. (#1,482)

Metaphysical problems do not haunt man so that he will solve them, but so that he will live them. (#1,757)

Only the contemplation of the immediate saves us from tedium in this incomprehensible universe. (#2,624)

The fragment is the medium of expression of one who has learned that man lives among fragments. (#2,289)

When we invent a universal meaning for the world, we deprive of meaning even those fragments that do have meaning. (#2,295)

It is upon the antinomies of reason, upon the scandals of the spirit, upon the ruptures in the universe, that I base my hope and my faith. (#2,783)

“Meaning,” “significance,” “importance,” are terms which do not merely designate transitive relations.
There are things with meaning, significance, importance, in themselves. (#2,841)

Man, until yesterday, did not deserve to be called a rational animal.
The definition was inexact as long as he invented, according to his preference, religious attitudes and ethical behavior, aesthetic tasks and philosophical meditations.
Today, on the other hand, man limits himself to being a rational animal, that is to say: an inventor of practical rules at the service of his animality. (#805)

The principle of inertia and the notion of natural selection eliminated the necessity of attributing meaning to facts, but they did not demonstrate that meaning does not exist. (#2,892)

That the abandonment of the “what for” in the sciences has been productive is indisputable, but it is an admission of defeat. (#2,963)

Systematic reductions to single terms (pleasure and pain, self-interest, economics, sex, etc.) fabricate likenesses of intelligibility that seduce the ignorant. (#1,592)

Understanding tends to consist of falsifying what is apparently understood, by reducing it to terms that are supposedly intelligible because they agree with our prejudices at the moment. (#2,093)

The notion of determinism has exercised a corrupting and terrorizing influence on the task of philosophy. (#2,770)

If determinism is real, if only that can happen which must happen, error does not exist.
Error supposes that something happened that should not have. (#2,831)

The determinist swears that there was no gunpowder, when the gunpowder does not explode; he never suspects that somebody put out the fuse. (#1,791)

The permanent possibility of initiating causal series is what we call a person. (#2,644)

Even when it cannot be an act of reason, an option should be an act of the intelligence.
There are no compellingly demonstrable options, but there are stupid options. (#2,656)

The modern tragedy is not the vanquishing of reason, but the triumph of reason. (#603)

What is “rational” consists in prolonging life, avoiding pain, satisfying the appetite for hunger and sex.
Only some such definition sheds any light on the discourse of the last centuries. (#2,164)

Thinking is often reduced to inventing reasons to doubt the obvious. (#36)

Man goes out hunting less for truths than for ways of getting out. (#2,010)

We lack more solid reasons to anticipate that there will be a tomorrow than to believe that there will be another life. (#1,720)

Everything in the world ultimately rests on its own final “just because.” (#2,939)

I listen to every homily with involuntary irony.
My religion, just like my philosophy, comes down to trusting in God. (#511)

If we could demonstrate the existence of God, everything would eventually be subjected to the sovereignty of man. (#1,748)

I have seen philosophy gradually fade away between my skepticism and my faith. (#2,891)

Scholasticism sinned by seeking to turn the Christian into a know-it-all.
The Christian is a skeptic who trusts in Christ. (#1,283)

A philosophy’s atheism consists less in denying God than in not finding a place for Him. (#1,144)

If one does not believe in God, the only honest alternative is vulgar utilitarianism.
The rest is rhetoric. (#2,965)

Man does not find himself thrown only among objects.
He is also immersed in religious experiences. (#1,405)

The soul surpasses the world, whereas the world encompasses humanity.
The insignificance of humanity renders “philosophies of history” ridiculous, whereas the infinite price of each human soul vindicates religion. (#2,279)

The only goals which it has occurred to the philosopher to set for human history are all tedious or sinister. (#2,651)

To the petulant subjectivism of the man who believes he is the measure [of all things] is opposed the humble subjectivism of the man who refuses to be an echo. (#2,040)

Subjectivism is the guarantee that man invents for himself when he stops believing in God. (#2,643)

To understand a philosopher it is not necessary to make an inventory of his ideas, but to identify the angel against which he fights. (#1,624)

The philosopher is not the spokesman of his age, but an angel imprisoned in time. (#45)

Philosophy does not have the task of transforming a world that is transformed all by itself.
But of judging that transformed world. (#1,357)

When the philosopher renounces leadership, the journalist puts himself in charge. (#1,047)

The philosopher becomes unbalanced easily; only the moralist tends not to lose his reason. (#2,703)

As long as they do not take him seriously, the man who says the truth can live for a while in a democracy.
Then, the hemlock. (#2,492)

The practical politician dies from the consequences of the theories he disdains. (#398)

Everything is trivial if the universe is not committed to a metaphysical adventure. (#49)

Thought tends to be a response to an outrage rather than to a question. (#84)

Genuine thought only discovers its principles at the end. (#1,671)

To judge correctly, one must lack principles. (#1,868)

To demand that the intelligence abstain from judging mutilates its faculty of understanding.
It is in the value judgment that understanding culminates. (#1,692)

When we make a value judgment let us never invoke authorities.
The value judgment testifies to itself. Every argument degrades it. (#2,126)

To understand is finally to make fact after fact coincide with our own mystery. (#2,410)

An “explanation” consists in the end in assimilating a strange mystery to a familiar mystery. (#2,693)

We more readily abandon a reality than its symbols. (#1,715)

The intelligent generalization should bear the decipherable imprint of the particular fact that gives rise to it. (#2,147)

Concepts do not seem precise except to a man who has a merely external experience of the facts. (#2,192)

They have buried metaphysics so many times that it must be considered immortal. (#112)

All metaphysics must work with metaphors, and almost all end up only working on metaphors. (#2,621)

What is difficult about a difficult philosopher is more often his language than his philosophy. (#2,881)

Philosophies begin in philosophy and end in rhetoric. (#2,717)

Even in opposition to the intellectual language of a time one cannot help but write in it. (#2,082)

A certain intellectual courtesy makes us prefer the ambiguous word. The univocal term subjects the universe to its arbitrary rigidity. (#138)

Replacing the concrete sense perception of the object with its abstract intellectual construction makes man gain the world and lose his soul. (#2,614)

The definition locates the object, but only the description captures it. (#1,755)

In order to act, an operational notion of the object is required; but a poetic notion is required in order to understand. (#1,706)

What ceases to be thought qualitatively so as to be thought quantitatively ceases to be thought significantly. (#2,568)

Whoever has understood a notion from the natural sciences has understood all that can be understood; whoever has understood a notion from the humanities has understood only what he can understand. (#2,187)

Explanation implies, comprehension unfolds.
Explanation impoverishes, by identifying terms; comprehension enriches, by diversifying them. (#1,823)

As long as we do not know how to judge by confronting the object alone, without the interference of norms, without the consideration of consequences and causes, we have learned nothing. (#2,230)

Classifying is the first step toward understanding; persisting in classifying is the first step toward confusion. (#2,223)

Far from establishing God as certain, ethics does not have sufficient autonomy to establish even itself as certain. (#182)

If the philosophy and the arts and letters of the past century are only the superstructures of its bourgeois economy, we should defend capitalism to the death.
All stupidity commits suicide. (#222)

Two beings inspire particular pity today: the bourgeois politician whom history patiently silences, and the Marxist philosopher whom history patiently refutes. (#401)

Revolutionary intellectuals have the historic mission of inventing the vocabulary and the themes for the next tyranny. (#443)

In the universities, philosophy merely hibernates. (#1,468)

In the humanities the latest fashion is taken for the current state of the discipline. (#1,640)

The professorial tone is not characteristic of one who knows, but of one who doubts. (#227)

There are words for deceiving others, like “rational.”
And others, like “dialectic,” for deceiving oneself. (#1,391)

The greater the importance of an intellectual activity, the more ridiculous the pretension in enhancing the competence of one who carries it out.
A dentistry degree is respectable, but a philosophy degree is grotesque. (#382)

The technical excellence of intellectual work has reached such a point that libraries are bursting at the seams with books which we cannot disdain, but which are not worth the trouble to read. (#785)

We believe we confront our theories with the facts, but we can only confront them with theories of experience. (#231)

“To deduce the consequences of a fact” is something that is impossible.
We can only deduce the consequences of our opinion of it. (#1,484)

The ancient who denied pain, the modern who denies sin—they entangle themselves in identical sophisms. (#300)

Resignation should not be an exercise in stoicism but a surrender into divine hands. (#2,169)

Solitude is the laboratory where commonplaces are verified. (#325)

One must appreciate commonplaces and despise fashionable places. (#2,560)

Common sense is the paternal house to which philosophy returns, in cycles, feeble and emaciated. (#2,628)

Formulating the problems of today in a traditional vocabulary strips away their false pretenses. (#2,791)

“Intuition” is the perception of the invisible, just as “perception” is the intuition of the visible. (#609)

The philosopher’s intuitions sometimes dazzle us; his ratiocinations make us bristle with objections. (#2,722)

Since the 18th century discovered “sensibility,” the serious philosophical task has consisted in isolating in it specific capacities for perception which are confused with passive psychological states.
Ethical consciousness, aesthetic consciousness, religious consciousness. (#2,105)

The philosopher does not demonstrate; he shows.
He says nothing to someone who does not see. (#1,708)

Of anything important there are no proofs, only testimonies. (#1,743)

In important matters, it is not possible to demonstrate, only to show. (#2,579)

Perception of reality, today, dies crushed between modern work and modern entertainment. (#1,013)

The specialist, when they examine his basic notions, bristles as if before a blasphemy and trembles as if in an earthquake. (#1,950)

The South American intellectual, in order to feed himself, imports junk from the European market. (#340)

The virile age of thought is fixed not by experience, nor by years, but by the encounter with certain philosophies. (#344)

The terms which the philosopher invents to express himself, and which the people eventually use as worn out metaphors, pass through an intermediate stage when the semi-educated employ them, with pedantic emphasis, in order to feign thoughts they do not have. (#513)

The philosophies which the public knows and values are strings of vulgarities attributed to illustrious names. (#687)

Philosophers tend to be more influential because of what they seem to have said rather than because of what they really said. (#2,626)

It is fine to demand that the imbecile respect arts, letters, philosophy, the sciences, but let him respect them in silence. (#2,895)

The four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to pull the rest’s leg. (#1,941)

Art criticism’s worst vice is the metaphorical abuse of philosophical vocabulary. (#516)

Behind every common noun arises the same common noun with a capital letter: behind love is Love, behind the encounter is the Encounter.
The universe escapes its captivity when in the individual instance we perceive the essence. (#527)

To mature is to discover that every object desired is only the metaphor for the transcendent object of our desire. (#2,284)

The common man lives among phantasms; only the recluse moves among realities. (#2,613)

Many doctrines are less valuable for the truths they contain than for the errors they reject. (#874)

Of the great philosopher, only his good ideas survive; of the inferior philosopher, only his errors remain afloat. (#2,650)

May God preserve us from purity, in all fields.
From the mother of political terrorism, from religious sectarianism, from ethical severity, from aesthetic sterility, from philosophical stupidity. (#1,246)

“Liberties” are social precincts in which the individual can move without any coercion; “Liberty,” on the other hand, is a metaphysical principle in whose name a sect seeks to impose its ideals of conduct on everyone else. (#2,659)

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