This post was originally published today at The Financial Philosopher.

Whenever a timely milestone, such as this new calendar quarter and the second half of the year, is reached I do my best to resist the tiresome looking-back-and-looking-forward ritual.  To remove myself from the timely chatter, I indulge in the timeless words of philosophers from another age.

Who better to provide the greatest unbiased perspective on today’s world than those who are not living in it?  Who would you prefer–today’s politicians, technocrats and mainstream media?

As we move into the third quarter, consider this guidance from dead philosophers:

…those who wish to know in what direction they are going would do well to give their attention not to the politicians but to the philosophers, for what they propound today will be the faith of tomorrow. ~ I.M. Bochenski (1902-1995)

Even if someone knew the entire physical history of the world, and every mental event were identical with a physical, it would not follow that he could predict or explain a single mental event (so described, of course). ~ Donald Davidson (1917-2003)

We do not, in fact step out of the movement of things, ask ‘What am I to do’ and, having obtained an answer, step in again.  All our actions, all our questionings and answerings, are part of the movement of things, and if we can work on things, things can work on us… ~ John Anderson (1893-1962)

All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse. ~ Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. ~ Aesop (620-560 BC)

And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. ~ Shakespeare (1564-1616)

A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one. ~ Heraclitus (c.536-470 BC)

It is the mark of an educated mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness where only an approximation is possible. ~ Aristotle (384-322 BC)

When the mind is in a state of uncertainty the smallest impulse directs it to either side. ~ Terence (195/185 – 159 BC)

Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt. ~ Roger Bacon (c.1214-1292)

It’s quite true what philosophy says, that life must be understood backwards. But one then forgets the other principle, that it must be lived forwards. A principle which, the more one thinks it through, precisely leads to the conclusion that life in time can never be properly understood, just because no moment can acquire the complete stillness needed to orient oneself backward.~ Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

The crowd is untruth. ~ Soren Kierkegaard(1813-1855)

Stubborn and ardent clinging to one’s opinion is the best proof of stupidity. ~ Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ~ Lau Tzu (fl. circa 600BC)

Do any of these thoughts align with your philosophies?  If so, which one(s)?  If not, how would you describe your overall philosophy of money and investing?  Also, who do you listen to/watch/read to get the information that forms your philosophies and, hence, your actions?

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This is a guest post from Kent Thune, blog author of The Financial Philosopher.

Category: Philosophy, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

22 Responses to “Listening to Dead Philosophers”

  1. Gallego says:

    A man’s got to know his limitations. – Harry Callahan 1973 (Clint Eastwood)

    I guess this would be similar to know what you know and what you don’t know. Or ‘Only invest in companies you understand’ from Warren Buffet. But I like the way Dirty Harry says it better.

  2. VennData says:

    “Bad reasoning as well as good reasoning is possible; and this fact is the foundation of the practical side of logic” 

    – Charles Sanders Peirce

  3. RW says:

    Kierkegaard, not surprisingly, spots the problem with understanding life as we live it but other’s, mostly dead too but including some who doubt it is a problem, have their own take; e.g. (some of my favorites),

    “The world was not created once and for all time for each of us individually. There are added to it in the course of our life things of which we have never had any suspicion.” –Marcel Proust

    “[T]he past must be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present. …[T]he unhistorical and the historical are equally necessary for the health of an individual, a people and a culture.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

    “Predictions of the future are never anything but projections of present automatic processes and procedures, that is, of occurrences that are likely to come to pass if [people] do not act and if nothing unexpected happens; every action, for better or worse, and every accident necessarily destroys the whole pattern in whose frame the prediction moves and where it finds its evidence.” –Hannah Arendt

    “We live, it appears, in a world of emergent evolution; of problems whose solutions if they are solved, beget new and deeper problems. Thus we live in a universe of emergent novelty; of novelty which, as a rule, is not completely reducible to any of the preceding stages.” -Karl Popper

    “We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.” –Albert Camus

    “Understanding is a lot like sex. It has a practical purpose, but that’s not why people do it normally.” –Frank Oppenheimer

  4. rj chicago says:

    And NOT ONE VERSE from the Book of Proverbs. EVERYTHING one NEEDS to know about life was written by King Solomon to his sons in that book in the Bible. These live on while all the philosophers noted above are ummm…..well……DEAD!!!

  5. farfetched says:

    “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” Yogi Berra

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

    “Welcome to Walmart.” Me if I don’t stick to my system

  6. beaufou says:

    I love music, particularly Joe Jackson because he executes even the simplest task with great care and grace.
    I would suggest bankers and investors follow the lead.

  7. mad Albanian says:

    Life has meaning only in the living. It is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. It is in the being , not in the becoming.

  8. Kent Thune says:

    I love Barry’s readers! I’d like to comment on all the above:

    @Gallego: Yes, Clint Eastwood (as Dirty Harry) was quite the philosopher with his gift of getting directly to the point: “I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? ” Buffet is also quite the philosopher.

    @VennData: I once thought that my logical nature made me a better investor than most. Knowing that one’s reasoning may be good or bad places logic in its proper context and utility.

    @RW: Kierkegaard is one of my favorites. If I had more time, I would have loved to add something from Nietzsche and/or Proust but you did it for us. Thanks…

    @rj Chicago: Yes, I need to remind myself from time to time that Proverbs is a wonderful resource for philosophical thought.

    @farfetched: Love the Yogi stuff. My favorite, which is applicable to investing: “People don’t go there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

    @beaufou: I love music deeply. My favorite for simplicity and grace is David Gilmore. He can “say” more with one note than most other guitarists can with 100. He also has almost no range but his voice adds the perfect legitimacy to his lyrics.

    @mad Albanian: “Whatever has being does not become; whatever becomes does not have being. ” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

    “The unhappy one is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But in being absent, one can obviously be in past or future time.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

    “Do I want the present moment to be my friend or enemy? The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of relationship you want to have with life. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes, and soon you will see the results. ~ Eckhart Tolle

  9. 873450 says:

    “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.” – Stephen Colbert at White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2006)

  10. beaufou says:

    Thank you for your answer Kent, I love Gilmore too.

    Here’s one for the masters of the universe, or so they think:

    Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own.
    Charles de Gaulle

  11. mote says:

    “Know thyself.”

    attributed to Socrates

    “To see a world in a grain of sand.”

    William Blake

    “In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there.”

    Captain B. H. Liddell Hart

    “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

    Helmuth Graf von Moltke

    “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.”

    Joe Louis

    “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.”

    William James

    “If you are not egotistical, you will welcome the opportunity to learn more.”

    Sir John Templeton

    “I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it.”

    General Joseph Warren Stilwell

    “Congratulate the temporary.”

    Coach Al McGuire

  12. mathman says:

    “At least two-thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity: idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religous or political ideas.”
    Aldous Huxley

    “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
    Albert Einstein

    for my co-enjoyers of this blog (and each other):
    “There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”
    Richard Feynman

    and not to go on ad nauseum (which i could easily do, being a math teacher):
    “I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death. ”

    Thanks everyone for being part of this existence (as if you had a choice).
    George Carlin

  13. D Dog says:

    God favors those that are more heavily armed.

    ‘Mogambo Guru’

  14. Kent Thune says:

    Thanks to all for adding your great choices:

    @ 873450: I assume Colbert is speaking of President GW Bush. Do you believe Colbert intended the statement as flattery? By the way, I love the idea of using comedy to make philosophical statements. The greatest at this were George Carlin and Steve Martin (in my humble opinion).

    @ beaufou: Yes. If a man or woman is able to truly fall back on their own unbiased judgment, this is the best approach, no matter the consequence.

    @ mote: Profound thoughts. Thanks for sharing. I like the Templeton quote on ego. Awareness of ego dissolves it.

    @ mathman: I love Einstein and Carlin especially. You may have seen another guest post I did here at TBP on Carlin’s comedy/philosophies:

    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/06/investment-advice-from-george-carlin/

    @ everyone else who follows: I truly enjoy the conversation and look forward to more here at The Big Picture. Thank you, as always, Barry for inviting me to return time and time again. In the mean time, you can find me at The Financial Philosopher: http://www.thefinancialphilosopher.com/

  15. jadogsl says:

    Add a new wrinkle to the game. Link Philosopy with Economic Theory
    I’ll start.

    We do not, in fact step out of the movement of things, ask ‘What am I to do’ and, having obtained an answer, step in again. All our actions, all our questionings and answerings, are part of the movement of things, and if we can work on things, things can work on us… ~ John Anderson (1893-1962)

    Reflexivity : George Soros

  16. lvwray says:

    I loved Aristotle’s understanding that one needs to accept “the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness where only an approximation is possible”.

    This is a concept that eludes most of the current critics of science.

  17. favjr says:

    “If you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

    Clint Eastwood’s character in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

    As for the investment philosophy, its all about “taking out the canes”. See 50 Years on Wall Street from the 19th Century or read some Niederhoffer.

  18. ToNYC says:

    “The Dude abides.”
    - Jeffrey Lebowski, just saying in “The Big Lebowski” (1998)

  19. Clem Stone says:

    You could spend a lifetime pondering any one of those great statements but the one that resonates strongest with me is:

    “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. ~ Shakespeare (1564-1616)”

    And the world was without form, and void, until humans came along and created meaning out of nothingness. But the nothingness is still there behind the curtain. So I guess playing with money is as good an activity as anything else.

  20. reedsch says:

    “sh|t happens” is probably one of the finest pieces of philosophical insight to emerge from the US in the later half of the 20th Century.

  21. ToNYC says:

    McLuhan opened the door; Kierkegaard fell through.

  22. Stochos says:

    “You have control over doing your respective duty, but no control or claim over the result. Fear of failure, from being emotionally attached to fruit of work, is the greatest impediment to success because it robs efficiency by constantly disturbing equanimity of the mind.” A farmer is responsible for working his land yet has no control over the harvest. But, if he does not work his land he cannot expect a harvest. “Boundary of one’s jurisdiction ends with completion of one’s duty. Do your duty to the best of your ability, O Arjuna, with your mind attached to the Lord. Abandon worry and attachment to results. Remain calm in both success and failure. Such selfless service brings peace and equanimity of the mind.” (2.48)

    —Bhagavad Gita
    English Translation by H. Bhalla available as a free download http://www.gita-society.com