Philosophy’s Most Famous Quotations, Part 3


I love ideas. And I love thinking about them. One of the fundamental reasons I study philosophy is that I believe ideas really matter. And philosophy is the discipline of big ideas: God, the cosmos, the mind, knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, logic, etc.

As a Christian, I also think it is important apologetically to understand how the big philosophical ideas through the centuries relate to the truth of historic Christianity. For much of Christian history, the discipline of philosophy was understood to be a handmaid (servant) to theology. But in the ancient world, as today, certain philosophical ideas posed challenges to Christian truth-claims.

In parts one and two of this series, I suggested that 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 three of this series, we’ll look briefly at three famous philosophical quotations from three of history’s greatest thinkers. The three quotes relate to such topics as the mind, creation, and morality.

Three Famous Philosophy Quotes

1. René Descartes (1596–1650)

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Because of his break with the traditional Scholastic-Aristotelian philosophy, he has been called “the father of modern Western philosophy.” He developed the first modern form of mind-body dualism. Thus, his famous dictum:

I think, therefore I am. (Latin: Cogito ergo sum.)

René Descartes, Discourse on the Method

Descartes affirmed that thought was indubitable evidence that a person existed, for one must be a thinking entity (mind) to even doubt one’s existence. And even if a person is confused about their existence, they must exist to be confused.

2. Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. As part of his argument for God’s existence, he asked the ultimate metaphysical question:

 Why is there something rather than nothing?

Gottfried Leibniz, Principles of Nature and of Grace

For Leibniz, all contingent (dependent) realities find their cause in God, who is a noncontingent, or necessary, reality. Leibniz’s question anticipated big bang cosmology, which implies a cosmic beginning.

3. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who deeply influenced Enlightenment thinking. He was a systematic philosopher who wrote in such fields as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political theory, and aesthetics. In developing his duty-oriented approach to objective ethics, he stated:

Always act so as to will the maxim of your action to become a universal law.

Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

In affirming a nonconsequential approach to ethics, Kant believed that one could, in effect, universalize one’s ethical actions. Thus, Kant believed in an objective basis for ethics, which he grounded in God’s existence.

I hope this very brief introduction to some of philosophy’s greatest thinkers and their most important quotes will help you appreciate the unique discipline of philosophy and part of its history. Join me once more next week for the final post in this series on philosophy’s most famous quotations!

Reflections: Your Turn

Which one of the three quotes above do you find the most engaging? Why? philosophy-part-3


For more about the ideas of Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant in light of Christianity, see Christianity and Western Thought: A History of Philosophers, Ideas and Movements by Colin Brown and A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John M. Frame.

  One thought on “Philosophy’s Most Famous Quotations, Part 3

  1. March 13, 2018 at 5:23 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. Iris
    March 13, 2018 at 9:56 am

    The Kant quote struck me today, because I have been pondering the issue of total surrender to God. (Not I but Christ within me.) That surrender of oneself to God would be what brings one to that place where all actions count for eternity.

    • March 13, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks, Iris.

      Ken Samples

    • Judy
      March 14, 2018 at 6:29 am

      Iris, I love your comment. That is what I believe too. And I teach my grandchildren that their good, kind deeds done in the name of Christ are treasures in Heaven as Jesus taught us when He reminded us to store up treasure in Heaven rather than on earth.

  3. Judy
    March 14, 2018 at 6:39 am

    I like the Leibniz statement as it speaks to our times with the debate about creation. There are those who try to defy our common sense by stating that everything (in all its incredible beauty and complexity) came out of nothing. And Leibniz beautiful simple statement echoes in our hearts that everything could not have come out of nothing.

    • March 14, 2018 at 10:26 am

      Thanks, Judy.

      Leibniz’s metaphysical question is very provocative.

      Ken Samples

  4. Daniel Ong
    March 14, 2018 at 11:37 am

    My version, circa high school, of Descartes’ dictum was:
    I think, therefore I am, I think.
    (I was just making a flippant and I hoped clever connection to a common expression; it doesn’t translate as well into writing without the verbal inflection.)
    I did not know Descartes had already considered the confusion (or in this case superficial personal uncertainty) aspect until reading your post.

    • March 14, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks, Daniel.

      Ken Samples

    • March 17, 2018 at 9:19 pm

      I saw what you did there..

      the last “I think” is that typical upwardly lilting tonality, best delivered in doofy, half-puzzled looking facies.

  5. Rita
    March 14, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    I thought all three quotations were engaging, but Kant’s made me think the most. His statement would have had to come from someone who believed in God. Otherwise, I would think that some people’s maxims of their actions could evolve catastrophically as a universal law, not necessarily those rooted in absolute truth and God-honoring.

    Also, I thought Daniel’s high school version of Descart’s quote was hilarious!

    • March 15, 2018 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Rita.

      Ken Samples

  6. March 17, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    I read a quote attributed to the late Stephen Hawking: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,”

    A conjecture, from what I read. And a seeming rebuttal to Leibniz’ challenge: is the universe necessary? [ie did it create itself, as Hawking declares]

    There is an eloquence in Leibniz’ paradox, which is absent in Hawking’s ad hoc declaration.

    Hawking’s multiverse more resembles Hinduism, to my mind, than science.

    • March 17, 2018 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks, Dan.

      Ken Samples

  7. March 20, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Ken, my feeling is they they have a strong synergy taken in concert. There is no worldly gain for speaking the truth of Gods glory which satisfies logical arguments in the most concise and uncomplicated fashion.
    Mark J.

    • March 20, 2018 at 2:27 pm

      Thanks, MJ.

      Ken Samples

  8. March 27, 2018 at 10:45 am

    In today’s society, floundering in relativistic ethics, Kant’s “Always act so as to will the maxim of your action to become a universal law” is profound. In my understanding it echos Christ, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

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