This title is not funny

Image from here.

by Gerald Dworkin

Some of my readers may recall from an earlier blog post or Justin Smith's review of my Philosophy: A Commonplace Book that for many years I have been collecting humorous quotes, epigrams, aphorisms, parodies, etc. that have some connection to Philosophy. The connection is sometimes that it is from a philosopher, or specifically about a philosophical topic–particularly ethics. Sometimes it is a joke that I see has a philosophical point behind or around or under it. Perhaps any great joke can be seen to be philosophical in some sense if one squints hard enough at it. But many of the quotes are just interesting and thought-provoking without being humorous.

Since publishing my book I have continued to mine for gems. One of the advantages to publishing an ebook is that it makes second editions easy and I intend to revise one of these days. But in the interim I provide a sampling of my sampling for your Monday morning amusement and edification.

If you can only be good at one thing, be good at lying. … Because if you're good at lying, you're good at everything.

Anonymous tweet

The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.


An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a- half.


The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people worse than they are.

Karl Kraus

Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.


As a guest, Emily Price had three main drawbacks: she was incapable of saying please, incapable of saying thank you, and incapable of saying sorry, all the while creating a surge in the demand for these expressions.


Asked if he was his own worst enemy: I certainly hope so,” Patrick replies. “I dread to think what would happen if somebody else turned out to be better at it than me.”


Just as a novelist may sometimes wonder why he invents characters who do not exist and makes them do things which do not matter, so a philosopher may wonder why he invents cases that cannot occur in order to determine what must be the case.


Personal identity, of course, is a fiction, a pure fiction. But I've reached this conclusion by the wrong method.

What was that?

Not thinking about it.


But that's what the English mean, isn't it, when they say “He was very philosophical about it?” They mean that someone stopped thinking about something.

Edward St. Aubyn

The Melrose Novels

Mind, in 1921: “[The author's] method of exegesis consists, in fact, of a combination of the suppressio veri with the suggestio falsi, both, of course, practised in the absolute good faith which comes from propagandist enthusiasm unchecked by any infusion of historical sense…. It is because Mr. Urwick's book is one long dogmatising without knowledge that I feel bound to put it on record that of all bad books on Plato his is the very worst.”

If I had a hammer I would not hammer in the morning. I would not hammer in the evening. I would not philosophize. But I would have a hammer.

NEIN Quarterly

Is it solipsistic in here or is it just me?

If you're studying Geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all, but Philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.

Steve Martin

If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.

De Quincey

[the speaker's] discussion of Kant was couched in a grammatical mode that might be dubbed the incantatory imperative, inspiring in the listener contradictory impulses to cheer and salute.

Robert Paul Wolff

Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it's all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where the police are German, the chefs British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it's all organized by the Italians

[language is] a fake horizon and there's something else, a real truthful thing, but language is keeping it from us. And I think we should torture language to stop fucking around and tell it to us. We should torture language to tell the truth.

Rachel Kushner

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” …I was pleased to learn of a simple rule that made such sense. But now, when I try to apply it literally to one person I know, it doesn't seem to work. One of his problems is that has a lot of hostility toward certain other people and when I imagine how he would have them do unto him I can only think that he would in fact want them hostile toward him, as he imagines they are, because he is already so very hostile toward them…his feelings against them are so strong that he need the full strength of what he imagines to be their feelings against him in order to continue feeling what he wants to feel against them. So,really, he is already doing unto those certain others as he would have them do unto him, though in fact it occurs to me that at this point he is only having certain feelings about them and not doing anything to them, so he may still be quite within some system of ethics, unless to feel something toward someone is in tact to do something to that person.

Lydia Davis

Every word in this sentence is a gross misspelling of the word “tomato.”

Doug Hofstadter

A Franciscan priest sits down next to a Jesuit priest while riding a train to Rome. After a while the Franciscan notices that the Jesuit is smoking and praying.

Franciscan: I'm surprised to see you doing that.

Jesuit: Why's that?

Franciscan: Well, our order asked the Holy Father for permission to do that and were denied. Jesuit: Really? We asked the Pope, and he said we could. What did you ask him?

Franciscan: We asked if we could smoke while we prayed, and he said no.

Jesuit: Ahhhh! That's the problem. We Jesuits asked if we could pray while we smoked, and he said, “of course!”

{The Jesuits} appear to have discovered the precise point to which intellectual culture can be carried without risk of intellectual emancipation.


A East German gets a job in Siberia. He tells a friend: Let's have a code. Anything I write to you in blue ink is true; anything i write in red ink is false. A month later the friend gets a letter written entirely in blue ink: Everything is great here. The climate is great,the working conditions are great. My apartment is large and clean. The movies they show are excellent. Food is abundant, the girls are all pretty. My only complaint is that you cannot get any red ink.

Philosophy is the conflict between the obvious and the obvious.

Renford Bambrough

In Blackwells, the famous Oxford bookshop, theTheology section was reached through a passage labeled “SECOND-HAND PHILOSOPHY.”

Perhaps even if nothing else today has any future, our laughter may yet have a future.