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Simone Weil Quotes

Simone Weil (1909 - 1943)

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Simone Weil, a philosopher, critic, writer, mystic and teacher who focused on such topics as democracy, social reform, religion, suffering, and pacifism, was born in France. Her family was Jewish but had assimilated into French Christian culture. Simone Weil fled to London with her parents first to Marseilles when the Germans occupied most of the rest of France, and then she moved to London to be part of the resistance against Nazis in France. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, she died in the sanitarium. Her death was called a suicide because of her refusal of most food, in solidarity with those suffering under the Nazis. After her death, her works were published and translated, and her ideas became more influential than they had been during her lifetime.

Selected Simone Weil Quotations

• I can, therefore I am.

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

• Whatever debases the intelligence degrades the entire human being.

• It is an eternal obligation toward the human being not to let him suffer from hunger when one has a chance of coming to his assistance.

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

• If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.

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

• 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.

• 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 color, or to the moral or other value attributed to the human being in question, or to any consideration whatsoever.

• A hateful act is the transference to others of the degradation we bear in ourselves.

• Fire destroys that which feeds it.

• The contemporary form of true greatness lies in a civilization founded on the spirituality of work.

• At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.

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

• Who were the fools who spread the story that brute force cannot kill ideas? Nothing is easier. And once they are dead they are no more than corpses.

• When once a certain class of people has been placed by the temporal and spiritual authorities outside the ranks of those whose life has value, then nothing comes more naturally to men than murder.

• When a man's life is destroyed or damaged by some wound or privation of soul or body, which is due to other men's actions or negligence, it is not only his sensibility that suffers but also his aspiration toward the good. Therefore there has been sacrilege towards that which is sacred in him.

• 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.

• Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.

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

• Oppression that is clearly inexorable and invincible does not give rise to revolt but to submission.

• The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.

• The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes.

• With no matter what human being, taken individually, I always find reasons for concluding that sorrow and misfortune do not suit him; either because he seems too mediocre for anything so great, or, on the contrary, too precious to be destroyed.

• The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle.

• Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him.

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

• Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.

• To set up as a standard of public morality a notion which can neither be defined nor conceived is to open the door to every kind of tyranny.

• One cannot imagine St. Francis of Assisi talking about rights.

• A doctrine serves no purpose in itself, but it is indispensable to have one if only to avoid being deceived by false doctrines.

• Every perfect life is a parable invented by God.

• We can only know one thing about God -- that he is what we are not. Our wretchedness alone is an image of this. The more we contemplate it, the more we contemplate him.

• Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.

• God could only create by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.

• To believe in God is not a decision we can make. All we can do is decide not to give our love to false gods. In the first place, we can decide not to believe that the future contains for us an all-sufficient good. The future is made of the same stuff as the present.

• It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good.

• It is only the impossible that is possible for God. He has given over the possible to the mechanics of matter and the autonomy of his creatures.

• Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.

• Evil, when we are in its power, is not felt as evil, but as a necessity, even a duty.

• Evil being the root of mystery, pain is the root of knowledge.

• Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.

• Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent. Never anything real, everything about it is imaginary. It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part. A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Celimene) etc. One is condemned to false infinity. That is hell itself.

• It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.

• Every time that I think of the crucifixion of Christ, I commit the sin of envy.

• 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.

• An atheist may be simply one whose faith and love are concentrated on the impersonal aspects of God.

• Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace.

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

• Nothing can have as its destination anything other than its origin. The contrary idea, the idea of progress, is poison.

• The future is made of the same stuff as the present.

• Charity. To love human beings in so far as they are nothing. That is to love them as God does.

• Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.

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

• We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise.

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

• A science which does not bring us nearer to God is worthless.

• Science is voiceless; it is the scientists who talk.

• Mathematics alone make us feel the limits of our intelligence. For we can always suppose in the case of an experiment that it is inexplicable because we don't happen to have all the data. In mathematics we have all the data and yet we don't understand. We always come back to the contemplation of our human wretchedness. What force is in relation to our will, the impenetrable opacity of mathematics is in relation to our intelligence.

• To write the lives of the great in separating them from their works necessarily ends by above all stressing their pettiness, because it is in their work that they have put the best of themselves.

• A mind enclosed in language is in prison.

• Do not allow yourself to be imprisoned by any affection. Keep your solitude. The day, if it ever comes, when you are given true affection there will be no opposition between interior solitude and friendship, quite the reverse. It is even by this infallible sign that you will recognize it.

• For when two beings who are not friends are near each other there is no meeting, and when friends are far apart there is no separation.

• To want friendship is a great fault. Friendship ought to be a gratuitous joy, like the joys afforded by art or life.

• A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.

• 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 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.

• In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish.

• The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like the condemned man who is proud of his large cell.

• Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it.

• It is not the cause for which men took up arms that makes a victory more just or less, it is the order that is established when arms have been laid down.

• As soon as men know that they can kill without fear of punishment or blame, they kill; or at least they encourage killers with approving smiles.

• A self-respecting nation is ready for anything, including war, except for a renunciation of its option to make war.

• In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!

• What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Petrol is more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict.

• Imagination is always the fabric of social life and the dynamic of history. The influence of real needs and compulsions, of real interests and materials, is indirect because the crowd is never conscious of it.

• Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.

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

• A work of art has an author and yet, when it is perfect, it has something which is anonymous about it.

• If we are suffering illness, poverty, or misfortune, we think we shall be satisfied on the day it ceases. But there too, we know it is false; so soon as one has got used to not suffering one wants something else.

• All sins are attempts to fill voids.

• Liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense, consists in the ability to choose.

• Culture is an instrument wielded by teachers to manufacture teachers, who, in their turn, will manufacture still more teachers.

• More than in any other performing arts the lack of respect for acting seems to spring from the fact that every layman considers himself a valid critic.

• Beauty always promises, but never gives anything.

• I am not a Catholic; but I consider the Christian idea, which has its roots in Greek thought and in the course of the centuries has nourished all of our European civilization, as something that one cannot renounce without becoming degraded.

• If Germany, thanks to Hitler and his successors, were to enslave the European nations and destroy most of the treasures of their past, future historians would certainly pronounce that she had civilized Europe.

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2009. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Simone Weil Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/simone_weil.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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