Thomas A. Edison Quotes

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Paine suffered then, as now he suffers not so much because of what he wrote as from the misinterpretations of others... He disbelieved the ancient myths and miracles taught by established creeds. But the attacks on those creeds - or on persons devoted to them - have served to darken his memory, casting a shadow across the closing years of his life. When Theodore Roosevelt termed Tom Paine a 'dirty little atheist' he surely spoke from lack of understanding. It was a stricture, an inaccurate charge of the sort that has dimmed the greatness of this eminent American. But the true measure of his stature will yet be appreciated. The torch which he handed on will not be extinguished. If Paine had ceased his writings with 'The Rights of Man' he would have been hailed today as one of the two or three outstanding figures of the Revolution. But 'The Age of Reason' cost him glory at the hands of his countrymen - a greater loss to them than to Tom Paine. I was always interested in Paine the inventor. He conceived and designed the iron bridge and the hollow candle; the principle of the modern central draught burner. The man had a sort of universal genius. He was interested in a diversity of things; but his special creed, his first thought, was liberty. Traducers have said that he spent his last days drinking in pothouses. They have pictured him as a wicked old man coming to a sorry end. But I am persuaded that Paine must have looked with magnanimity and sorrow on the attacks of his countrymen. That those attacks have continued down to our day, with scarcely any abatement, is an indication of how strong prejudice, when once aroused, may become. It has been a custom in some quarters to hold up Paine as an example of everything bad. The memory of Tom Paine will outlive all this. No man who helped to lay the foundations of our liberty - who stepped forth as the champion of so difficult a cause - can be permanently obscured by such attacks. Tom Paine should be read by his countrymen. I commend his fame to their hands. {The Philosophy of Paine, June 7, 1925}

Thomas A. Edison
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What I have denied and what my reason compels me to deny, is the existence of a Being throned above us as a god, directing our mundane affairs in detail, regarding us as individuals, punishing us, rewarding us as human judges might. When the churches learn to take this rational view of things, when they become true schools of ethics and stop teaching fables, they will be more effective than they are to-day... If they would turn all that ability to teaching this one thing - the fact that honesty is best, that selfishness and lies of any sort must surely fail to produce happiness - they would accomplish actual things. Religious faiths and creeds have greatly hampered our development. They have absorbed and wasted some fine intellects. That creeds are getting to be less and less important to the average mind with every passing year is a good sign, I think, although I do not wish to talk about what is commonly called theology. The criticisms which have been hurled at me have not worried me. A man cannot control his beliefs. If he is honest in his frank expression of them, that is all that can in justice be required of him. Professor Thomson and a thousand others do not in the least agree with me. His criticism of me, as I read it, charged that because I doubted the soul's immortality, or 'personality,' as he called it, my mind must be abnormal, 'pathological,' in other, words, diseased... I try to say exactly what I honestly believe to be the truth, and more than that no man can do. I honestly believe that creedists have built up a mighty structure of inaccuracy, based, curiously, on those fundamental truths which I, with every honest man, must not alone admit but earnestly acclaim. I have been working on the same lines for many years. I have tried to go as far as possible toward the bottom of each subject I have studied. I have not reached my conclusions through study of traditions; I have reached them through the study of hard fact. I cannot see that unproved theories or sentiment should be permitted to have influence in the building of conviction upon matters so important. Science proves its theories or it rejects them. I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. I earnestly believe that I am right; I cannot help believing as I do... I cannot accept as final any theory which is not provable. The theories of the theologians cannot be proved. Proof, proof! That is what I always have been after; that is what my mind requires before it can accept a theory as fact. Some things are provable, some things disprovable, some things are doubtful. All the problems which perplex us, now, will, soon or late, be solved, and solved beyond a question through scientific investigation. The thing which most impresses me about theology is that it does not seem to be investigating. It seems to be asserting, merely, without actual study... Moral teaching is the thing we need most in this world, and many of these men could be great moral teachers if they would but give their whole time to it, and to scientific search for the rock-bottom truth, instead of wasting it upon expounding theories of theology which are not in the first place firmly based. What we need is search for fundamentals, not reiteration of traditions born in days when men knew even less than we do now. [Columbian Magazine interview]

Thomas A. Edison
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Study, along the lines which the theologies have mapped, will never lead us to discovery of the fundamental facts of our existence. That goal must be attained by means of exact science and can only be achieved by such means. The fact that man, for ages, has superstitiously believed in what he calls a God does not prove at all that his theory has been right. There have been many gods - all makeshifts, born of inability to fathom the deep fundamental truth. There must be something at the bottom of existence, and man, in ignorance, being unable to discover what it is through reason, because his reason has been so imperfect, undeveloped, has used, instead, imagination, and created figments, of one kind or another, which, according to the country he was born in, the suggestions of his environment, satisfied him for the time being. Not one of all the gods of all the various theologies has ever really been proved. We accept no ordinary scientific fact without the final proof; why should we, then, be satisfied in this most mighty of all matters, with a mere theory? Destruction of false theories will not decrease the sum of human happiness in future, any more than it has in the past... The days of miracles have passed. I do not believe, of course, that there was ever any day of actual miracles. I cannot understand that there were ever any miracles at all. My guide must be my reason, and at thought of miracles my reason is rebellious. Personally, I do not believe that Christ laid claim to doing miracles, or asserted that he had miraculous power... Our intelligence is the aggregate intelligence of the cells which make us up. There is no soul, distinct from mind, and what we speak of as the mind is just the aggregate intelligence of cells. It is fallacious to declare that we have souls apart from animal intelligence, apart from brains. It is the brain that keeps us going. There is nothing beyond that. Life goes on endlessly, but no more in human beings than in other animals, or, for that matter, than in vegetables. Life, collectively, must be immortal, human beings, individually, cannot be, as I see it, for they are not the individuals - they are mere aggregates of cells. There is no supernatural. We are continually learning new things. There are powers within us which have not yet been developed and they will develop. We shall learn things of ourselves, which will be full of wonders, but none of them will be beyond the natural. [Columbian Magazine interview]

Thomas A. Edison
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Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.' But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind. We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen. Washington himself appreciated Paine at his true worth. Franklin knew him for a great patriot and clear thinker. He was a friend and confidant of Jefferson, and the two must often have debated the academic and practical phases of liberty. I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it. Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore time must balance the scales. The Declaration and the Constitution expressed in form Paine's theory of political rights. He worked in Philadelphia at the time that the first document was written, and occupied a position of intimate contact with the nation's leaders when they framed the Constitution. Certainly we may believe that Washington had a considerable voice in the Constitution. We know that Jefferson had much to do with the document. Franklin also had a hand and probably was responsible in even larger measure for the Declaration. But all of these men had communed with Paine. Their views were intimately understood and closely correlated. There is no doubt whatever that the two great documents of American liberty reflect the philosophy of Paine... Then Paine wrote 'Common Sense, ' an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty. It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty. The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession. In 'Common Sense' Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again. It must be remembered that 'Common Sense' preceded the declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour... Certainly [the Revolution] could not be forestalled, once he had spoken. {The Philosophy of Paine, June 7, 1925}

Thomas A. Edison
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I have always been interested in this man. My father had a set of Tom Paine's books on the shelf at home. I must have opened the covers about the time I was 13. And I can still remember the flash of enlightenment which shone from his pages. It was a revelation, indeed, to encounter his views on political and religious matters, so different from the views of many people around us. Of course I did not understand him very well, but his sincerity and ardor made an impression upon me that nothing has ever served to lessen. I have heard it said that Paine borrowed from Montesquieu and Rousseau. Maybe he had read them both and learned something from each. I do not know. But I doubt that Paine ever borrowed a line from any man... Many a person who could not comprehend Rousseau, and would be puzzled by Montesquieu, could understand Paine as an open book. He wrote with a clarity, a sharpness of outline and exactness of speech that even a schoolboy should be able to grasp. There is nothing false, little that is subtle, and an impressive lack of the negative in Paine. He literally cried to his reader for a comprehending hour, and then filled that hour with such sagacious reasoning as we find surpassed nowhere else in American letters - seldom in any school of writing. Paine would have been the last to look upon himself as a man of letters. Liberty was the dear companion of his heart; truth in all things his object... we, perhaps, remember him best for his declaration: 'The world is my country; to do good my religion.' Again we see the spontaneous genius at work in 'The Rights of Man', and that genius busy at his favorite task - liberty. Written hurriedly and in the heat of controversy, 'The Rights of Man' yet compares favorably with classical models, and in some places rises to vaulting heights. Its appearance outmatched events attending Burke's effort in his 'Reflections'. Instantly the English public caught hold of this new contribution. It was more than a defense of liberty; it was a world declaration of what Paine had declared before in the Colonies. His reasoning was so cogent, his command of the subject so broad, that his legion of enemies found it hard to answer him. 'Tom Paine is quite right, ' said Pitt, the Prime Minister, 'but if I were to encourage his views we should have a bloody revolution.' Here we see the progressive quality of Paine's genius at its best. 'The Rights of Man' amplified and reasserted what already had been said in 'Common Sense', with now a greater force and the power of a maturing mind. Just when Paine was at the height of his renown, an indictment for treason confronted him. About the same time he was elected a member of the Revolutionary Assembly and escaped to France. So little did he know of the French tongue that addresses to his constituents had to be translated by an interpreter. But he sat in the assembly. Shrinking from the guillotine, he encountered Robespierre's enmity, and presently found himself in prison, facing that dread instrument. But his imprisonment was fertile. Already he had written the first part of 'The Age of Reason' and now turned his time to the latter part. Presently his second escape cheated Robespierre of vengeance, and in the course of events 'The Age of Reason' appeared. Instantly it became a source of contention which still endures. Paine returned to the United States a little broken, and went to live at his home in New Rochelle - a public gift. Many of his old companions in the struggle for liberty avoided him, and he was publicly condemned by the unthinking. {The Philosophy of Paine, June 7, 1925}

Thomas A. Edison
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