Great Philosophical Come-Ons

One of the best opening lines of any philosophical work has to be from Aristotle’s Metaphysics“All human beings by nature desire understanding.”  I smile to think of how often his claim has met with profound skepticism from students, and of the wonderful conversations it has sparked as we considered together what he could possibly mean.

Yet the most disarmingly charming opening lines I’ve come across are those with which George Santayana begins the preface to his Skepticism and Animal Faith:

Here is one more system of philosophy. If the reader is tempted to smile, I can assure him that I smile with him, and that my system—to which this volume is a critical introduction—differs widely in spirit and pretensions from what usually goes by that name.  In the first place, my system is not mine, nor new. I am merely attempting to express for the reader the principles to which he appeals when he smiles. There are convictions in the depths of his soul, beneath all his overt parrot beliefs, on which I would build our friendship.

I first came across Santayana’s book during college while browsing at a used bookstore. I read these lines and was instantly sold. Of course I had to keep reading to find out what principles my smile appealed to, and what core convictions he thought we shared in common.

What more can an author wish for from a good come-on?

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2 Responses to Great Philosophical Come-Ons

  1. Norm says:

    Perhaps it is a characteristic of all pickup lines (philosophical or otherwise) to smile at themselves. Why would one have any lasting interest in anyone or anything who said directly everything that they thought? A come-on, I suppose, is a promise to one might not know exactly what.

    • This is a nice observation, especially your point about a come-on being a promise to “one might not know exactly what.” I’m not sure I can go along with the idea that “all” pickup lines smile at themselves. After all, there are many, many humorless philosophers. (I recall Verene offering a reward to anyone who could find a joke in Heidegger’s work.)

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