15 philosophical phrases that make you think about everyday life
Author: Clark Tos
Throughout history, philosophers have crossed the ages thanks to their universal ideologies which allow us to better understand what constitutes the essence of humanity and of life. We come back to the 15 greatest philosophical quotes that accompany us on a daily basis.
Famous statue of the philosopher Aristotle / Credit: Istock
At first glance, we encounter philosophy for the first time in our life when we arrive in terminale, at the dawn of our life as a young adult. A subject taught for a single year in high school to become a test that we would have liked to do without in order to obtain the precious baccalaureate, a pass for the pursuit of studies. In the end, who really remembers their philosophy lessons? Even if some notions remain and we use them, unconsciously, in everyday life.
The recipe for getting a good grade on your dissertation? Place a few citations a philosopher author here or there to better support your reasoning for the philosophical question you are asked. And the trick is played like a beautiful work of art!
During this year, we learn many ideologies, universal thoughts, born from the brains of men dating from Ancient Greece, between Socrates and Aristotle.
Then, we discover the famous Age of Enlightenment, between the 17th and 18th centuries, with illustrious philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu and Denis Diderot.
Finally, philosophy continued during the 19th century and the 20th century with philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche Jean-Paul Sartre and Sigmund Freud, to name but a few.
In short, every historical period has its philosophical current or currents which have made it possible to change History and have influenced its course, whether at the human, political, social, religious, scientific and economic level.
Philosophy, what is it?
The word “philosophy” is a contraction of the Greek words “philein” which means “to love” or “to desire” and “sophia” which means “wisdom” or “to know”. Thus, philosophy refers to the idea of the love of knowledge, the love of wisdom, or the desire to know.
Philosophy is therefore a process of the mind which aims at an understanding of the world and of life through rational and critical reflection. She seeks the truth by constantly questioning herself about the reality of the world, knowledge, her conscience and human existence.
Thus, it is often characterized through a debate of shared ideas, a dialogue, which analyzes many concepts of life such as good, evil, justice, love, truth, freedom, equality or consciousness again, with the perpetual quest for happiness as its target.
More than a way of thinking, philosophy is also, for some philosophers, a way of life that must be disseminated within society. Thus, many Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, Epicurus or Plato, created philosophical schools in order to create a real community governed by their philosophy and to transmit ideologies of life that could be applied to an entire society and to a political project. .
Philosophy as a way of life, ideology of a society
One of them, Epicurus, left a way of life that is still very well known today and that we call… epicurean. Indeed, Epicureanism is a way of life whose main objective is to achieve happiness by satisfying only “natural and necessary” desires.
Another example is that of René Descartes. Applying his philosophy makes us be 'Cartesian', that is to say, to be someone who is rigorous, clear, logical, methodical and rational.
Later, during the Renaissance period, the Age of Enlightenment drastically changed the face of society with its ideas that spread within society. Indirectly, the precepts of the Enlightenment led to the various political revolutions which changed the face of Europe, in this case the French Revolution which sowed the first seeds of democracy and put an end to centuries of monarchy. It also made it possible to abolish slavery, which was commonplace, by philosophizing on the question of human races and their equality.
Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau / Credit: Istock
However, other philosophers had far more radical thinking on the matter, which led this world into its darkest hours. Indeed, Nazism would never have existed without eugenic philosophers who classified races.
In more recent history, the philosopher Karl Marx created a new philosophical thought that led to the advent of a political movement called communism, in opposition to capitalism which was born more of an economic logic. An ideological opposition that divided the world in two for almost half a century.
Inevitably, like any discipline, philosophy can say everything and its opposite and philosophers, as numerous as they are, very often convey different thoughts and ideologies to each other. Because life is complicated, a question can only have one answer or absolute truth, philosophy brings very diverse ideas to all the subjects it delves into.
We have cited men but in its historical evolution, philosophy has also been perpetuated through the brilliant minds of women, philosophizing on the condition of women, too often forgotten in history. Philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt or, more formerly Hypatia of Alexandria.
Nowadays, there are therefore many quotes, phrases and philosophical texts that we use, without really knowing it, in our daily lives. We apply certain precepts without suspecting it because our society has certainly conditioned us to them. We
We sometimes quote philosophers in our conversations, in our debates, in our dialogues, in order to give credibility to our reasoning. Some even use philosophical quotes just to “shine in society”, to highlight their culture and their knowledge. Who has never quoted Plato, Nietzsche or Dante just to make themselves intellectual?
We offer you a compilation of 15 philosophical sentences among the most famous, but also the most relevant, in an attempt to provide you with a synthetic analysis. Who knows ? It could help you pass the baccalaureate!
1. “Man is a political animal” Aristotle, Politics (4th century BC)
With this quote, the philosopher Aristotle wants to make it clear that Man only truly lives as a human being when he is in society. If he does not live in society, he is deviant in his nature and is therefore an animal, or else a God.
2. “I think, therefore I am” René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637)
René Descartes discovers that the thinking subject is the only being whose existence cannot be doubted, because doubting and already thinking, therefore existing. This precept is called the “cogito”.
Portrait of René Descartes / Credit: D.R.
3. “Hell is other people” Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis Clos (1947)
With this quote from the play, Jean-Paul Sartre conveys the idea that hell reveals the fact of never being able to extract oneself from the judgment of others. It is a drama within consciousness, by which it discovers itself exposed to the gaze of others.
4. “We are not born a woman: we become one” Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949)
Illustrious feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, modifies a quote from Hegel describing the master/slave relationship to think about the male/female relationship and the domination of one over the other. The solution, according to her, would be to take the woman out of biology or rather out of her biological destiny by refusing motherhood.
5. “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in irons” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social (1762)
This quote is the introductory sentence of the famous work by Jean-Jacques Rousseau entitled “Du Contrat Social”. It means that Man is free in law, but enslaved in fact because his existence is governed by rules established by others.
6. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, what matters is to transform it” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845)
Founding father of communist philosophy, Karl Marx wants to give a new role to intellectual work: that of working concretely to transform the world. For him, philosophy should not just be an ideology and should be put into practice, thus determining the ends and means of transformative action.
7. “Only he who can do without wealth is worthy to enjoy it” Epicurus
By this phrase, the Greek philosopher means that if we are able to be satisfied with little, we will be the first to take better advantage of what life can bring us more. Because we know what it is to have nothing, we will know how to enjoy what it is to have everything.
8. “The misfortune of some makes the happiness of others” Voltaire
Here is a sometimes overused proverb, a very famous quote. It should not be understood in the sense that it is necessary to do evil in order to have good. However, this is a very cynical phrase because sometimes an unfortunate event can benefit someone else. The opposite is just as true and just as cynical, the happiness of some can also make the misfortune of others.
9. “An individual’s intelligence is measured by the amount of uncertainty he is able to bear” Immanuel Kant
According to Emmanuel Kant, intelligence would therefore be to accept one's ignorance, one's questions about life and nature, about oneself and others. And accepting does not mean concealing the difficulties or renouncing to understand. On the contrary, you just have to accept that the answers are not definitive and this uncertainty also allows you to continue asking questions and daring new approaches, and therefore to stimulate your intelligence.
10. “I know that I know nothing” Socrates
It was Plato who attributed this quote to Socrates and echoes the Kant quote above. Knowing that one can be ignorant is already knowing something.
Status of the philosopher Socrates / Credit: Istock
11. “Man is a wolf to man” Plautus
This sentence of Plautus was popularized by Thomas Hobbes in his work “The Leviathan”. It is a question here of defining man, in his deepest state of nature, as individualist, apolitical and asocial, on the margins of the collective idea of a society, where he would be nothing but a predator towards his neighbour.
12. “You never bathe twice in the same river” Heraclitus, Fragments (6th century BC)
Specifically, Heraclitus wrote, 'No man ever walks twice in the same river, for it is not the same river and it is not the same man.' Here, the philosopher wanted to emphasize that man and his environment are always in constant evolution.
13. “There is no happiness without freedom, nor freedom without courage” Pericles
For the Greek philosopher, happiness comes through the quest for freedom. However, like any quest, freedom is not given, you have to acquire it yourself and therefore have the courage to go and get it.
14. “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know” Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1696)
If we think that this quote speaks of love, it speaks above all of religion. According to Blaise Pascal, reason is not the best way to apprehend God and that is what he wanted through this sentence. Over time, this quote has been taken up in popular culture to describe the intimate complexity of certain choices, in this case when it comes to romantic partners. And it is true that sometimes the choices of the heart are difficult for reason to understand.
15. “Whoever seeks in freedom something other than itself is made to serve” Alexis de Tocqueville
Political and social thinker and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville emphasizes that freedom must be the only motivation in the quest for freedom. Anything else will make us dependent on something, and to be dependent is to enslave us.