The most memorable opening lines from philosophy journals

by Toby Manhire / 14 June, 2013
15 of the best and funniest beginnings, as chosen by the smart cookies at New APPS.
Friedrich Nietzsche

A mesmerising post at the blog New APPS (arts, politics, philosophy and science), compiles readers’ suggestions of the most memorable opening lines in philosophy journal articles.

There are scores of gems suggested, even if some stray a little from the original assignment.

Here are 15 of the best.


“Let there be no vulgar suspense: the title will be answered in the affirmative.”

- Timothy Williamson, Is Knowing a State of Mind


“Granny and I think that things have gone too far, what with relativism, idealism and pragmatism at Harvard, graffiti in the subway stations, and Lord knows what all next. Granny and I have decided to put our foot down and dig our heel in. Granny is particularly aroused about people playing fast and loose with the observation/inference distinction; and when Granny is aroused, she is terrible.”

- Jerry Fodor, Observation Reconsidered


“Imagine a dog idling in the foreground, a tree in the middle distance, and a turnip lying on the ground behind the tree.”

- Willard Van Orman Quine, On the Nature of Modern Values


"I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my cart down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn sack to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch."

- John Perry, The Problem of the Essential Indexical


"We know a lot. I know what food penguins eat. I know that phones used to ring, but nowadays squeal, when someone calls up. I know that Essendon won the 1993 Grand Prix. I know that here is a hand, and here is another."

- David Lewis, Elusive Knowledge


"Strange goings on! Jones did it slowly, deliberately, in the bathroom, with a knife, at midnight. What he did was butter a piece of toast."

- Donald Davidson, The Logical Form of Action Sentences.'


“Metaontology is the new black.”

-Ross Cameron, Truthmaking and Ontological Commitment


"In the beginning there was nothing, and it has been getting steadily worse ever since."

- Paul Ennis, Bleak Theory


"Who is master, Humpty Dumpty or Humpty Dumpty's language?"

- Keith Donnellan, Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again


"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."

- Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit


"It’s not terribly important on which claim David Lewis and I disagree. It might be some claim about modality, for instance. The problem is that even though he held that ¬P while I hold that P, I know full well that he was my epistemic superior with regard to the issues surrounding P. Lewis could kick my philosophical ass when it comes to modality—or just about any issue in metaphysics for that matter."

- Bryan Frances, The Reflective Epistemic Renegade


"I offer here an account of the nature of faith, making no pretense to originality. The suggestion that two inebriated zebras once stood on their rear hooves, joined their front hooves, and sang Dixie, thereby creating Heaven and Earth, is original. When originality is a view's only virtue, that view has virtues numbering less than one."

- Keith Yandell, The Nature of Faith: Religious, Monotheistic, and Christian


"Tracing coherent philosophical arguments in De Interpretatione is rather like finding shapes in a cloud. Having discerned the traditional camel there, I do not complain that Professor Linsky finds a weasel or a whale or both, though I marvel a little that he is so sure of his beast."

- Donald C. Williams, Professor Linsky on Aristotle


"To talk about thinking seems to me so presumptuous that I feel I owe you a justification."

- Hannah Arendt, Thinking and Moral Considerations


“Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of ‘world history’, but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense

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