Philosophy’s Most Famous Quotations, Part 1

Though I studied philosophy in my college years and have now read hundreds of books on philosophy and philosophical topics, I nevertheless think I was born to be a philosopher. Long before I began studying and teaching philosophy, I was—even as a youth—asking philosophical questions. My baseball coach nicknamed me “Professor.”

I view philosophy primarily as an activity in which I seek to think carefully about life’s most important questions. The word philosophy (from the Greek phileó, “love,” and sophía, “wisdom”) means “the love of wisdom.” One way of coming to know and appreciate philosophy is to consider some of the powerful quotations made by great philosophers on ultimate issues. In part one of this series, we’ll briefly look at three famous philosophical quotations from ancient Greek philosophy’s “Big Three.”

The Big Three Philosophers of Ancient Greece

1. Socrates (470–399 BC)

Socrates was ancient Greece’s “gadfly” who provoked people to think deeply about life. His “Socratic method” consisted of a question-and-answer philosophical approach, where he would carry out a form of reflective interrogation intended to help him and others discover answers to life’s big questions. The Oracle of Delphi (a prophetic voice) identified Socrates as the wisest man in Athens. While considered one of the greatest teachers in history, Socrates was ultimately arrested for challenging the deepest beliefs of those in authority in Athens as well as for corrupting the youth with his alleged subversive ideas. In one of history’s great miscarriages of justice, he was ultimately put to death by the drinking of poisonous hemlock.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

–Socrates, Plato’s Apology

This is arguably Socrates’s most influential quotation. To him, human beings are reflective creatures by nature. Therefore, to fail to ask the deep questions of life is to live a shallow and unengaged existence.

2. Plato (427–347 BC)

Coming from a Greek aristocratic family, Plato was a student of Socrates. In fact, most of what we know about the life and teachings of Socrates comes from a series of Plato’s writings. Plato is considered the first systematic philosopher because he held well-developed views on such philosophical ideas as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and even politics. He may be best known philosophically for his affirmation of the “forms” (the view that ultimate reality is found in a transcendent world of conceptual ideas). Plato’s most influential story is found in his “Allegory of the Cave,” which focuses on philosophical enlightenment. His greatest book is The Republic, which has been a classic of Western civilization since it was written almost 2,400 years ago.

Philosophy is a silent dialogue between the soul and itself.

–Plato, Theaetetus

Plato believed human beings have eternal souls and that philosophical reflection allows people to get in touch with their inner selves. Plato agreed with his teacher Socrates that fulfillment was found in an examined life.

3. Aristotle (384–322 BC)

Just as Plato was a student of Socrates, so Aristotle was a student of Plato. Aristotle formally studied at Plato’s Academy—recognized as the first university of the Western world. Aristotle would go on to found his own school known as the Lyceum. He tutored Alexander the Great. Medieval Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas would later call Aristotle “the Philosopher.” An amazingly prolific author of some 1,000 books and pamphlets, Aristotle explored such fields as philosophy, science, and the arts. He wrote extensively in the philosophical areas of metaphysics and ethics, and he became the father of rhetoric and logic. Though he would have competition from Plato, Aristotle may be the most influential philosopher of all time.

All men by nature desire to know.

–Aristotle, Metaphysics

Following in the footsteps of Socrates and Plato, Aristotle affirmed that human beings are distinct creatures in their pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. In fact, Aristotle thought that a truly fulfilled life is found in philosophical reflection.

I hope this brief introduction to Greek philosophy’s Big Three and some of their most important quotes will help you appreciate the discipline of philosophy and part of its history. Come back next week for more of philosophy’s most famous quotations.

Reflections: Your Turn

Which one of the three quotes above do you find the most engaging? Why?


For a good introduction to the lives and thoughts of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, see the following books:

  One thought on “Philosophy’s Most Famous Quotations, Part 1

  1. February 27, 2018 at 7:34 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. February 27, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    You are definitely a kindred spirit.

    • February 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm

      Blessings, Dave.

      Ken Samples

  3. February 27, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Thank you for the informative blog – I always enjoy seeing you on RTB 28:19. Sure appreciate your attention to details and the fact your never provide “pat” answers.

    • February 28, 2018 at 10:11 am

      Thank you, Cloudlogos. Appreciate your comments.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

    • March 3, 2018 at 7:07 pm

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

  4. March 5, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Well done as always, Ken. When it comes to philosophy and science, philosophy wins. The above Aristotle quote reminds me of another by Aristotle … “Although physics is a kind of wisdom, it is not the first kind.” Aristotle was always interested in the first principles of reality. I think that was what Heidegger was getting at when he said metaphysics can never be measured by the yard stick of science. Thanks for a thoughtful article.

    • March 5, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Thank you, David. I’m pleased to see your growth as a philosophical thinker.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  5. James H. Kugler P.E.
    March 13, 2018 at 6:41 am

    My vote for the most engaging quote is “All men by nature desire to know” by Aristotle As a linear thinker (Engineer by training) my nature is to learn as much as possible. This applies to scientific understanding as well as ones own belief. This is why I enjoy these articles so much; they encourage me to expand my knowledge base. The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. As for ” The unexamined life is not worth living”, I believe as a Christian every life is worth living, including those that don’t have the capability of self examination. Likewise “Philosophy is a silent dialogue between the soul and itself” although true is incomplete. A deeper understanding comes from more then self reflection; it also includes debate with others to solidify ones belief.

    • March 13, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Thanks, James.

      Ken Samples

  6. Mike Graebner
    March 13, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    I like Socrates quote “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is important to understand ourselves in order to know why we do what we do. But my all time favorite is “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda, Jedi Master.

    • March 13, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks, Mike.

      Ken Samples

  7. Rita
    March 13, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    I was going to comment one way and then read the above comments and changed my mind. Only to say that it is of benefit to read or check out other points of view. Reminds me of times when my husband and I are making a large purchase and I’m convinced by the first sales person that his is absolutely the right purchase. My husband, on the other hand, insists on talking to two or more companies, and lo and behold I get a totally different point of view and not only learn more, I often change my mind – and thank my husband in the process. Thank you, Ken, for bringing us lots to think about.

    • March 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks, Rita. Hearing the other side’s argument or offer is often beneficial.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  8. J.E. Ashbee
    March 13, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    To me “the unexamined life is not worth living” was most engaging, and I used the quote to further engage a group of non-believers who were invited to hear the story of my journey into faith. I asked the men to examine their life in light of their answer to what I termed ‘the most important question ever asked’ by Jesus, “who do you say that I am?” Their response and openness to the gospel was one of the best days of my life. I thank God for such philosophers and for such a Savior.

    • March 13, 2018 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks for sharing, J.E.

      Ken Samples

  9. May 29, 2018 at 7:17 am

    Well said.Food for thought.Thank ypu

    • May 29, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks. Best regards.

      Ken Samples

    • June 25, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

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