I have spotted a certain propensity for arrogance amongst philosophers and creatives, particularly amongst the most studied or celebrated ones. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, of course, but even doubting Descartes and gentle Hume appear to have had their moments.
Here is a list of some of the most arrogant or downright offensive offerings ever to come out of some of the greatest philosophers and creatives. Needless to say, I do not in any way condone or subscribe to these positions—or, at least, not to the vast majority of them… Some may raise a laugh, others are nothing but distasteful.
And here are some questions that I pondered whilst compiling the list.
What is arrogance?
How, if at all, might arrogance be helpful?
Can arrogance ever be excused or justified?
Your answers on the back of a card, please.
1. I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery. —Descartes
2. Philosophy must indeed recognize the possibility that the people rise to it, but must not lower itself to the people. —Hegel
3. Mark this well, you proud men of action! you are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought. —Hegel
4. I’m not ugly, but my beauty is a total creation. —Hegel
5. Democracy… is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.—Aristotle
6. Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one’s feelings, that is, to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward’s part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar. —Aristotle
7. I may tell you, between ourselves, that these six Meditations contain all the foundations of my physics. But please do not tell people, for that might make it harder for supporters of Aristotle to approve them. I hope that readers will gradually get used to my principles, and recognize their truth, before they notice that they destroy the principles of Aristotle. —Descartes
8. As a consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, woman has a smaller share of the advantages and disadvantages these bring with them. She is, rather, a mental myopic… —Schopenhauer
9. Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex … More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling of receptivity: if they affect to do so, it is merely mimicry in service of their effort to please. —Schopenhauer
10. Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent. —Nietzsche
11. A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. —Nietzsche
12. After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands. —Nietzsche
13. ‘Evil men have no songs.’ How is it that the Russians have songs? —Nietzsche
14. It is a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave. —Hume
15. I have written on all sorts of subjects… yet I have no enemies; except indeed all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians. —Hume
16. I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. —Freud
17. To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful. —Jung
18. I don’t do drugs. I am drugs. —Dali
19. My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso. —Picasso
20. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher. —Socrates
21. Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet: Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul? —Socrates
22. …if you mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you will have greatly the advantage of me; you will gain true beauty in return for appearance—like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass. —Socrates
23. Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive. —Nietzsche