David R. Henderson  

Happy Birthday, Dr. Johnson

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Google today highlights the birthday of Sam Johnson, the famous British intellectual in the 18th century. He is thought of as the father of the modern dictionary.

I discovered him when I was in 10th grade and was hanging around our sparsely populated school library in rural Manitoba. Fortunately, it had Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I worked my way through it and wrote down some of my favorites. I found myself writing down a disproportionately high number from Johnson. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

"Worth seeing? Yes. But not worth going to see."
I use this quote when I teach sunk cost.

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

"But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons."

Gentle reader, if you have favorites from Johnson that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy




COMMENTS (5 to date)
Tim Worstall writes:

Nice economic one: "Praise, like gold and diamonds owes its value only to its scarcity."

He got the diamond/water paradox therefore.

One that you will grok as a writer:

"The greatest part of a writer's time is pent in reading in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make a book"

Anon. writes:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.'

From Boswell.

Don Boudreaux writes:
There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.

From Boswell's Life.

Weir writes:

My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do. You may say to a man, 'Sir, I am your most humble servant.' You are not his most humble servant. You say, 'These are bad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times.' You don't mind the times. You tell a man, 'I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.' You don't care sixpence whether he is wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in society: but don't think foolishly.

[from Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson --Econlib Ed.]

Gwen T writes:

"Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory."

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