Philosophy’s longest sentences

I hereby announce a contest: What is the longest sentence ever written by a philosopher?

The kind of sentence that, as you are reading it through — trying to hold the context and decipher the meaning — flows majestically onwards, or meanders along deceptively, with occasional side streams (and parenthetical remarks), until your cerebrum is full, your powers of concentration are taxed, your resolve is flagging, and you find yourself praying ‘Please God let there be a period soon.’

(Pretty pathetic, hmm? A mere 62 words.)

My contribution to the contest will be four quotations, which I will post once per week over the next few weeks.

Here is my first candidate, weighing in at 161 words, from Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism:

mill “We may give what explanation we please of this unwillingness; we may attribute it to pride, a name which is given indiscriminately to some of the most and to some of the least estimable feelings of which mankind are capable; we may refer it to the love of liberty and personal independence, as appeal to which was with the Stoics one of the most effective means for the inculcation of it; to the love of power or to the love of excitement, both of which do really enter into and contribute to it; but its most appropriate appellation is a sense of dignity, which all human beings possess in one form or other, and in some, though by no means in exact, proportion to their higher faculties, and which is so essential a part of the happiness of those in whom it is strong that nothing which conflicts with it could be otherwise than momentarily an object of desire to them.”

Feel welcome to post your candidates in the comments below.

13 thoughts on “Philosophy’s longest sentences

  • February 10, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    I like how Mill, Kant, and Bentham each begin their long sentences with a conjunction.

  • September 4, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    As someone fascinated with philosophers’ never-ending sentences, I’m deeply intrested in this type of contest. As far as Mill is concerned, I think at least one longer sentence (containing 175 words) than the above one can be found in Chapter 1 of ‘The Subjection of Women’:

    “If the authority of men over women, when first established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison between different modes of constituting the government of society; if, after trying various other modes of social organisation—the government of women over men, equality between the two, and such mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented—it had been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted, it was the best: though even then the considerations which recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages, ceased to exist.”

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