Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Simone Weil

French Jewish Philosopher, Theologian, Sociologist and Political Activist

"The human soul has need of security and also of risk. The fear of violence or of hunger or of any other evil is a sickness of the soul. The boredom produced by a complete absence of risk is also a sickness of the soul."

"The human soul has need of some solitude and privacy and also of some social life."

"The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell."

"The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."

"The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade."

"The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, “What are you going through?”"

"The miser deprives himself of his treasure because of his desire for it. If we love God while thinking that he does not exist, he will manifest his existence."

"The most important part of teaching = to teach what it is to know."

"The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation."

"The necessity for power is obvious, because life cannot be lived without order; but the allocation of power is arbitrary because all men are alike, or very nearly. Yet power must not seem to be arbitrarily allocated, because it will not then be recognized as power. Therefore prestige, which is illusion, is of the very essence of power."

"The need for punishment is not satisfied where, as is generally the case, the penal code is merely a method of exercising pressure through fear."

"The needs of a human being are sacred. Their satisfaction cannot be subordinated either to reasons of state, or to any consideration of money, nationality, race, or colour, or to the moral or other value attributed to the human being in question, or to any consideration whatsoever. There is no legitimate limit to the satisfaction of the needs of a human being except as imposed by necessity and by the needs of other human beings. The limit is only legitimate if the needs of all human beings receive an equal degree of attention."

"The needs of the soul can for the most part be listed in pairs of opposites which balance and complete one another. The human soul has need of equality and of hierarchy. Equality is the public recognition, effectively expressed in institutions and manners, of the principle that an equal degree of attention is due to the needs of all human beings. Hierarchy is the scale of responsibilities. Since attention is inclined to direct itself upwards and remain fixed, special provisions are necessary to ensure the effective compatibility of equality and hierarchy."

"The notion of rights is linked with the notion of sharing out, of exchange, of measured quantity. It has a commercial flavor, essentially evocative of legal claims and arguments. Rights are always asserted in a tone of contention; and when this tone is adopted, it must rely upon force in the background, or else it will be laughed at."

"The number 2 thought of by one man cannot be added to the number 2 thought of by another man so us to make up the number 4."

"The only hope of socialism resides in those who have already brought about in themselves, as far as is possible in the society of today, that union between manual and intellectual labor which characterizes the society we are aiming at."

"The only way into truth is through one's own annihilation; through dwelling a long time in a state of extreme and total humiliation."

"The payment of debts is necessary for social order. The non-payment is quite equally necessary for social order. For centuries humanity has oscillated, serenely unaware, between these two contradictory necessities."

"The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real"

"The poison of skepticism becomes, like alcoholism, tuberculosis, and some other diseases, much more virulent in a hitherto virgin soil."

"The proper method of philosophy consists in clearly conceiving the insoluble problems in all their insolubility and then in simply contemplating them, fixedly and tirelessly, year after year, without any hope, patiently waiting."

"The proportions of good and evil in any society depend partly upon the proportion of consent to that of refusal and partly upon the distribution of power between those who consent and those who refuse. If any power of any kind is in the hands of a man who has not given total, sincere, and enlightened consent to this obligation such power is misplaced. If a man has willfully refused to consent, then it is in itself a criminal activity for him to exercise any function, major or minor, public or private, which gives him control over people's lives. All those who, with knowledge of his mind, have acquiesced in his exercise of the function are accessories to the crime. Any State whose whole official doctrine constitutes an incitement to this crime is itself wholly criminal. It can retain no trace of legitimacy. Any State whose official doctrine is not primarily directed against this crime in all its forms is lacking in full legitimacy. Any legal system which contains no provisions against this crime is without the essence of legality. Any legal system which provides against some forms of this crime but not others is without the full character of legality. Any government whose members commit this crime, or authorize it in their subordinates, has betrayed its function."

"The real sin of idolatry is always committed on behalf of something similar to the State."

"The real stumbling-block of totalitarian regimes is not the spiritual need of men for freedom of thought; it is men's inability to stand the physical and nervous strain of a permanent state of excitement, except during a few years of their youth."

"The recognition of human wretchedness is difficult for whoever is rich and powerful because he is almost invincibly led to believe that he is something. It is equally difficult for the man in miserable circumstances because he is almost invincibly led to believe that the rich and powerful man is something."

"The respect inspired by the link between man and the reality alien to this world can make itself evident to that part of man which belongs to the reality of this world. The reality of this world is necessity. The part of man which is in this world is the part which is in bondage to necessity and subject to the misery of need. The one possibility of indirect expression of respect for the human being is offered by men's needs, the needs of the soul and of the body, in this world."

"The role of the intelligence - that part of us which affirms and denies and formulates opinions is merely to submit."

"The simultaneous existence of opposite virtues in the soul—like pincers to catch hold of God."

"The struggle between the opponents and defenders of capitalism is a struggle between innovators who do not know what innovation to make and conservatives who do not know what to conserve."

"The thought of being under absolute compulsion, the plaything of another, is unendurable for a human being. Hence, if every way of escape from the constraint is taken from him, there is nothing left for him to do but to persuade himself that he does the things he is forced to do willingly, that is to say, to substitute devotion for obedience. ... It is by this twist that slavery debases the soul: this devotion is in fact based on a lie, since the reasons for it cannot bear investigation. ... Moreover, the master is deceived too by the fallacy of devotion."

"The work of art which I do not make, none other will ever make it."

"There are necessities and impossibilities in reality which do not obtain in fiction, any more than the law of gravity to which we are subject controls what is represented in a picture. ... It is the same with pure good; for a necessity as strong as gravity condemns man to evil and forbids him any good, or only within the narrowest limits and laboriously obtained and soiled and adulterated with evil. ... The simplicity which makes the fictional good something insipid and unable to hold the attention becomes, in the real good, an unfathomable marvel."

"There are two atheisms of which one is a purification of the notion of God."

"There can be a true grandeur in any degree of submissiveness, because it springs from loyalty to the laws and to an oath, and not from baseness of soul."

"There is a certain kind of morality which is even more alien to good and evil than amorality is."

"There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties. Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world. Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world. Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good. That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behaviour that is mindful of obligations. Those minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men. Although it is beyond the reach of any human faculties, man has the power of turning his attention and love towards it."

"There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of hought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like to the extent that is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills."

"There is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present too."

"There is nothing that comes closer to true humility than the intelligence. It is impossible to feel pride in one's intelligence at the moment when one really and truly exercises it."

"There is one, and only one, thing in modern society more hideous than crime--namely, repressive justice."

"There is something else which has the power to awaken us to the truth. It is the works of writers of genius. They give us, in the guise of fiction, something equivalent to the actual density of the real, that density which life offers us every day but which we are unable to grasp because we are amusing ourselves with lies."

"Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention."

"Those who keep the masses of men in subjection by exercising force and cruelty deprive them at once of two vital foods, liberty and obedience; for it is no longer within the power of such masses to accord their inner consent to the authority to which they are subjected. Those who encourage a state of things in which the hope of gain is the principal motive take away from men their obedience, for consent which is its essence is not something which can be sold."

"Those who love a cause are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it."

"Those who serve a cause are not those who love that cause. They are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it - except in the case of the very purest, and they are rare."

"To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself."

"To claim that theft or adultery or lying are evil simply reflects our degraded idea of good-—that it has something to do with respect for property, respectability, and sincerity."

"To desire friendship is a great fault. Friendship should be a gratuitous joy like those afforded by art or life. We must refuse it so that we may be worthy to receive it; it is of the order of grace."

"To get power over is to defile. To possess is to defile."

"To listen to someone is to put oneself in his place while he is speaking. To put oneself in the place of someone whose soul is corroded by affliction, or in near danger of it, is to annihilate oneself. It is more difficult than suicide would be for a happy child. Therefore the afflicted are not listened to. They are like someone whose tongue has been cut out and who occasionally forgets the fact. When they move their lips no ear perceives any sound. And they themselves soon sink into impotence in the use of language, because of the certainty of not being heard."