“Internet freedom” has become a highly emotional but completely meaningless shibboleth that hucksters of all stripes have begun to exploit for their own purposes. […] There’s a good chance that today’s copyright laws are unjust and inadequate—but this needs to be empirically demonstrated, not simply assumed from their supposed incompatibility with the spirit of “the Internet.” The reason why copyright reform and protection of anonymity are important is very simple: backed by smart legislation, they would provide many more opportunities for human flourishing. It’s the flourishing of humans—not of “the Internet”—that should preoccupy the Pirates.

Yes, digital technologies simultaneously threaten and enable such human flourishing, and it’s important to bring new, younger, more knowledgeable voices to help improve policy making about their future, but the Pirates are on the wrong path with their aim to defend “Internet freedom.” The term’s ambiguity aside, its value will always be instrumental, not intrinsic: we value “Internet freedom” because, in many cases, it will lead to “human freedom.” Occasionally it will not, in which case there is nothing pathological or regressive about curtailing it.

– Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here (2013)


We are familiar with the idea that people can share the same sensation although they react somewhat differently. One can stub one’s toe one day, and make a fearful fuss about it, but do the same thing, and feel the same pain, another day and bravely smile and carry on. Behaviour is not a transparent guide to sensations, thoughts, or feelings. (That is the point of the joke about two behaviourists in bed: `That was great for you, how was it for me?’)

– Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (1999)

Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where do we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell? Do you ever ask yourself how it is that some people can dream great, wise, beautiful dreams and pass those dreams on as poetry to the world, to be sung and retold as long as the moon will wax and wane? Have you ever wondered why some people make beautiful songs and poems and tales, and some of us do not?

It is a long story, and it does no credit to anyone: there is murder in it, and trickery, lies and foolishness, seduction and pursuit. Listen.

– Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2017)

The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. […] The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that. Like the rivers to the ocean, like the lightning strike, it is obscene and uncontained.

– Naomi Alderman, The Power (2016)

The fact that people have generally rejected racial determinism by saying that an individual is not necessarily possessed of some negative trait because he belongs to a particular ascriptive racial category doesn’t mean that people have rejected the idea that he is likely to be possessed of some negative trait because he belongs to that group or is perceived to belong to that group. Tanya Hernandez refers to this as the “Latin Americanization” of race in the United States, referring to how racial inequality in the United States is beginning to operate the way it has historically in much of Latin America, where, while it is not deterministic and not shaped by a rigid system of classification and articulated ideology, it is nonetheless widespread and demonstrable through economic stratification, aesthetics, and bigotry.

– Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (2011)

A century ago Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal with the name ‘R. Mutt’, entitled it ‘La Fontaine’, and exhibited it as a work of art. […] There is a useful comparison to be made here with jokes. It is as hard to circumscribe the class of jokes as it is the class of artworks. Anything is a joke if somebody says so. A joke is an artefact made to be laughed at. It may fail to perform its function, in which case it is a joke that ‘falls flat’. Or it may perform its function, but offensively, in which case it is a joke ‘in bad taste’. But none of this implies that the category of jokes is arbitrary, or that there is no such thing as a distinction between good jokes and bad. Nor does it in any way suggest that there is no place for the criticism of jokes, or for the kind of moral education that has an appropriate sense of humour as its goal. Indeed, the first thing you might learn, in considering jokes, is that Marcel Duchamp’s urinal was one—quite a good one first time round, corny by the time of Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes and downright stupid today.

– Roger Scruton, Beauty (2009)

To know a person’s nature is to know how they behave in different situations, in different roles, not how they behave in one isolated role. Even if we were to believe, as we surely must, that we put on a front in some situations more than others, there is no justification for privileging solitude as the state which reveals the truth as to how we are. For one thing, it is not obvious that we play no roles when alone. Indeed, in many cases, privacy allows us to indulge the most deluded fantasies about our identities. It can be easier to convince yourself you are a rock god playing guitar in your garage than it is in front of people whose faces reveal you are no such thing. […] Alone, the image we may hold of ourselves may be no true reflection, but a flattering portrait produced by the magic mirror of vanity.

– Julian Baggini, The Ego Trick (2011)

The Victorian naturalist Francis Buckland described how one scientist had attempted a dissection of a beached sperm whale at Whitstable in 1829, descending into ‘the gigantic mass of anatomical horrors’, only to lose his footing and fall into the animal’s heart, trapping his feet in its aorta. In the 1920s, an Oxford professor named Ambrose John Wilson sought to prove the possibility of Jonah’s fate. He reasoned that only a sperm whale could have swallowed the prophet, baleen whales having throats that could admit nothing larger than a grapefruit. As it does not chew its food, the sperm whale uses strongly acidic stomach fluids to digest entire sharks and giant squid. ‘Of course, the gastric juice would be extremely unpleasant but not deadly,’ added the don, noting that the whale would digest only dead matter, lest it consume its own stomach.

– Philip Hoare, Leviathan, or The Whale (2008)

What is this intolerable tolling of great bells, and crashing of wheels, and shouting in the distance? A fire. And what that deep red light in the opposite direction? Another fire. And what these charred and blackened walls we stand before? A dwelling where a fire has been. […] There was a fire last night, there are two to-night, and you may lay an even wager there will be at least one, tomorrow. So, carrying that with us for our comfort, let us say goodnight and climb upstairs to bed.

– Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation (1842)

What is it for Jane to be generous? It is not merely that she does a generous action, or has a generous feeling. Either or both could be true without Jane’s being generous. She may have done a generous action, suppressing her normal stinginess, in order to impress a friend who really is generous and will respond favourably to her action. She may have had a generous feeling triggered by a sentimental song she has just heard. In neither case is she generous, because the action and feeling neither come from nor lead to anything lasting. For Jane to be generous, generosity has to be a feature of her—that is, a feature of Jane as a whole, and not just any old feature, but one that is persisting, reliable, and characteristic.

– Julia Annas, Intelligent Virtue (2011)