Dummet Excerpts

The Natural and Future of Philosophy — by Michael Dummet

“We often look back upon some choice we have made at some stage in our lives, and wonder how things would have gone if we had made a different choice. But there need be no answer to this question; there may be no one conditional statement that gives the true answer.” (p. 132)

“A word has what meaning it has, not in virtue of being endowed with that meaning by a mental act of the speaker, but in virtue of being governed by rules for its use that hold good for speakers of the language to which it belongs…. There is no authority to enforce the rules that govern [a language]; they hold only as part of a common practice. For this reason, the rules may be broken and the practice change. But, if there were at any time no prevailing rules, there would be no right or wrong to what anyone said, and hence no meaning would attach to it. Mistakes are of two kinds: errors of fact and misuses of language…. If many speakers repeatedly confused … two words, one might cease to bear the meaning that it now has: the mistake would have become the rule. The rules of language rest of general agreement among its speakers….” (p. 138-139)

More Quotes from Camus’s work:

From “The Minotaur: Or, a Stop in Oran”

“Spirit counts for nothing and matter for a great deal. Mediocrity insists upon lasting by all means, including bronze. It is refused a right to eternity, and every day it takes that right. Is it not eternity itself? In any event, such perseverance is capable of stirring, and it involves its lesson, that of all the monuments of Oran, and of Oran herself. An hour a day, every so often, it forces you to pay attention to something that has no importance. The mind profits from such recurrences. In a sense this is its hygiene, and since it absolutely needs its moments of humility, it seems to me that this chance to indulge in stupidity is better than others. Everything that is ephemeral wants to last. Let us say that everything wants to last. Human productions mean nothing else…” (p. 175)

“Of course, destroying stone is not possible. It is merely moved from one place to another. In any case, it will last longer than the men who use it. For the moment, it satisfies their will to action. That in itself is probably useless. But moving things about is the work of men; one must choose doing that or nothing.” (p. 177)

“One has to go farther … to discover a still virgin landscape: long, deserted dunes where the passage of men has left no other trace than a worm-eaten hut. From time to time an Arab shepherd drives along the top of the dunes the black and beige spots of his flock of goats. On the beaches of the Oran country every summer morning seems to be the first in the world. Each twilight seems to be the last, solemn agony, announced at sunset by a final glow that darkens every hue. The sea is ultramarine, the road the color of clotted blood, the beach yellow. Everything disappears with the green sun; an hour later the dunes are bathed in moonlight. Then there are incomparable nights under a rain of stars. Occasionally storms sweep over them, and the lightning flashes flow along the dunes, whiten the sky, and give the sand and one’s eyes orange-colored glints. But this cannot be shared. One has to have lived it…. The memory of those joys does not make me regret them, and thus I recognize that they were good. After so many years they still last, somewhere in this heart which finds unswerving loyalty so difficult. And I know that today, if I were to go to the deserted dune, the same sky would pour down on me its cargo of breezes and stars. These are lands of innocence.” (p. 179-180)

From “Helen’s Exile”

“The historical spirit and the artist both want to remake the world. But the artist, through an obligation of his nature, knows his limits, which the historical spirit fails to recognize. This is why the latter’s aim is tyranny whereas the former’s passion is freedom. All those who are struggling for freedom today are ultimately fighting for beauty.” (p. 191)

“In a certain sense, the direction history will take is not the one we think. It lies in the struggle between creation and inquisition. Despite the price which artists will pay for their empty hands, we may hope for their victory.” (p. 192)

From “Return to Tipasa”

“It seemed as if the morning were stabilized, the sun stopped for an incalculable moment. In this light and this silence, years of wrath and night melted slowly away. I listened to an almost forgotten sound within myself as if my heart, long stopped, were calmly beginning to beat again…. It seemed to me that I had at last come to harbor, for a moment at least, and henceforth that moment would be endless. But soon after, the sun rose visibly a degree in the sky. A magpie preluded briefly…. The day started up again. It was to carry me to evening ” (p. 200-201)

Camus Quotes from “The Myth of Sisyphus”

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.” (p. 1)

“I come at last to death and to the attitude we have toward it. On this point everything has been said and it is only proper to avoid pathos. Yet one will never be sufficiently surprised that everyone lives as if no one “knew.” This is because in reality there is no experience of death. Properly speaking, nothing has been experienced but what has been lived and made conscious. Here, is barely possible to speak of the experience of others’ deaths. It is a substitute, an illusion, and it never quite convinces us…. If time frightens us, this is because is works out the problem and the solution comes afterward. All the pretty speeches about the soul will have their contrary convincingly proved, at least for a time. From this inert body on which a slap makes no mark the soul has disappeared. This elementary and definitive aspect of the adventure constitutes the absurd feeling.” (p. 15)

“[T]he mind that aims to understand reality can consider itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought. If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled. If thought discovered in the shimmering mirrors of phenomena eternal relations capable of summing them up and summing themselves up in a single principle, then would be seen an intellectual joy of which the myth of the blessed would be but a ridiculous imitation.” (p. 17)

“This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers.” (p. 19)

“Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled. Forever I shall be a stranger to myself.” (p. 19).

“Let us say that the sole obstacle, the sole deficiency to be made good, is constituted by premature death. Thus it is that no depth, no emotion, no passion, and no sacrifice could render equal in the eyes of the absurd man (even if he wished it so) a conscious life of forty years and a lucidity spread over sixty years. Madness and death are his irreplaceables. Man does not choose. The absurd and the extra life it involves therefore do not depend on man’s will, but on its contrary, which is death. Weighing words carefully, it is altogether a question of luck. One just has to be able to consent to this. There will never be any substitute for twenty years of life and experience.” (p. 63)

“From the fact that everything is to die someday he draws the best conclusion. An actor succeeds or does not succeed. A writer has some hope even if he is not appreciated. He assumes that his works will bear witness to what he was. At best the actor will leave us a photograph, and nothing of what he was himself, his gestures and his silences, his gasping or his panting with love, will come down to us. For him, not to be known is not to act, and not acting is dying a hundred times with all the creatures he would have brought to life or resuscitated.” (p. 78)

“Through an absurd miracle, it is the body that also brings knowledge. I should never really understand Iago unless I played his part. It is not enough to hear him, for I grasp him only at the moment when I see him. Of the absurd character the actor consequently has the monotony, that single, oppressive silhouette, simultaneously strange and familiar, that he carries about from hero to hero.” (p. 81)

“We also know that [death] ends everything. This is why those cemeteries all over Europe, which obsess some among us, are hideous. People beautify only what they love, and death repels us and tires our patience. It, too, is too be conquered.” (p. 89)

“The work of art is born of the intelligence’s refusal to reason the concrete. It marks the triumph of the carnal. It is lucid thought that provokes it, but in that very act that thought repudiates itself…. The work of art embodies a drama of the intelligence, but it proves this only indirectly. The absurd work requires an artist conscious of these limitations and an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than itself. It cannot be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of a life.” (p. 97)

“All of Dostoevsky’s heroes question themselves as to the meaning of life. In this they are modern: they do not fear ridicule. What distinguishes modern sensibility from classical sensibility is that the latter thrives on moral problems and the former on metaphysical problems. In Dostoevsky’s novels the question is propounded with such intensity that it can only invite extreme solutions. Existence is illusory or it is eternal. If Dostoevsky were satisfied with this inquiry, he would be a philosopher. But he illustrates the consequences that such intellectual pastimes may have in a man’s life, and in this regard he is an artist.” (p. 104)

“…existence is illusory and it is eternal.” (p. 112)

“Thus, I ask of absurd creation what I required from thought — revolt, freedom, and diversity.” (p. 117)

“To create is likewise to give a shape to one’s fate…. The actor taught us this: there is no frontier between being and appearing.” (ibid.)

“I see that man [Sisyphus] going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.” (p. 121) <– the coolest part

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burdens again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." (p. 123)


In this space, I will be posting seemingly endless quotes from multiple philosophers’ texts. The striking bits of information will hopefully be helpful to me as I put together a conference presentation for next month and also recalibrate my composition courses for next year.

Below are the current philosophers I hope to look at closely and find striking bits of information possessing enough worth to share with all of you.

What struck me might strike you.

Let’s hope at least.

Below are the philosophers that I intend to look at closely:

Hannah Arendt
Simone de Beauvoir
Albert Camus
Helene Cixous
Jacques Derrida
W.E.B. DuBois
Frantz Fanon
Jurgen Habermas
Immanuel Kant
Soren Kierkegaard
Fredrich Nietzsche
Edward Said
Ibn Sina (aka. Avicenna)

Additions are welcomed. Send them to me. In a comment or in an email. Or however you can contact me. Which philosophers do you feel I need to read about? I’m exceptionally interested in philosophers exploring social justice, anti-colonialism, and existentialism.