Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I seem to be on the 'wise quotations' trail at the moment. Sometimes a pithy phrase can be worth a dozen insights and pages of analysis. This morning I stumbled across something from Jean Rostand (1894 - 1977), the biologist and philosopher. He wrote and studied very widely, and maintained a humanistic agnosticism which was suspicious of the claims of comfortable ideologists of all shapes and sizes. Son of the playwright Edmond Rostand and the poet Rosemonde Gérard, his brother was the writer Maurice Rostand. He campaigned vigorously against nuclear proliferation and the death penalty. Here are some bon mots, with the odd commentary from me. Some of them are as if Wilde had met Swift in a railway carriage on a foggy evening. Wonderful. The last one is beyond price.

"To love an idea is to love it a little more than one should." (from De l’amour des idées , 1926)

"A few great minds are enough to endow humanity with monstrous power, but a few great hearts are not enough to make us worthy of using it." (They might be enough to remind us not to use it, however.)

"In order to remain true to oneself one ought to renounce one's party three times a day."

"It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honours him [sic]".

"In politics, yesterday's lie is attacked only to flatter today's."

"Kill one, and you are a murderer. Kill millions, and you are a conquerer. Kill everyone, and you are a god." (This is why good religion is about learning not to entertain the gods)

"A couple are well suited when both partners usually feel the need for a quarrel at the same time."

"To reflect is to disturb one's thoughts." (Or not, in the case of much modern commentary)

"Theories pass. The frog remains." (Now there's a good theology of creation!)

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