19 December 2011

Quotes from Christopher Hitchens

Selected from a larger collection assembled at 22 Words.
  • The finest fury is the most controlled.
  • Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens.
  • I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
  • Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.
  • The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.
  • We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
  • Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.
  • Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.


  1. What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

    That applies very well to the copyright-related lawsuits\takedowns...

  2. I think this list suggests more profundity than Hitchens deserves credit for. A full Hitchens' quote, "Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." – suggests that he was articulate and not at all trying to assume authorship of the the fundamentals of logic and argument.

    Hitchins was brilliant but also clearly flawed. Another Hitchins quote, "It must be obvious to anyone who can think at all that the charges against the Hussein regime are, as concerns arsenals of genocidal weaponry, true." Epic fail. It was boorish of him to suggest those who disagreed to be non-thinking, and his statement proved to be falsifiable.

    I think Hitch himself would appreciate a clear-eyed view of his story, warts and all. To quote Noam Chomsky, "Since Hitchens evidently does not take what he is writing seriously, there is no reason for anyone else to do so."

  3. You're quite right, BJN, about not crediting Hitchens for aphorisms he is citing. I've deleted those two from the list.

  4. Pretty sure Hitchens didn't come up with the dog/cat thing himself, though I don't know who may have said it first.

  5. There is one ethical action that a believer can take that a nonbeliever can't, and Hitchen's ridiculed it but he shouldn't have. That is to pray. Hitchens said on the Dennis Prager show that "I suppose you could also dance for me," but that he didn't think that would do him any good. However, when I pray for someone, I very often think of something good that I can do for him, which I would not have thought of without praying.


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