Quote of the Day By Charles Cooley

Photo by Richard Felix on Unsplash

Try to recall the last time you were surrounded by people who were on a completely different level than you. Did you feel imprisoned, misunderstood? The next time you feel that way, remember these wise words from Charles Cooley.

Unless a capacity for thinking is accompanied by a capacity for action, a superior mind exists in torture.

Charles Horton Cooley

Cooley was the foremost sociologist of his time (1864 – 1929) and is known for the “looking glass self” concept, which states that your identity grows out of society’s many different perceptions of you. For example, while your mom will see you as an angel, your ex will see you as the devil. The term “Empathic Introspection” is also used to describe this phenomenon.

What we can extract from here is that smart people are often condemned souls in a society that’s less than perfect. Such types must go to great lengths to develop the means to act on their vision. Very few do. Make sure you’re one of them!

Cooley was noted for his indignation towards other sociologists’ methodology. He believed that using an empirical, observational approach was the best way to assess human traits, especially in a social context. He heralded case studies and often used his own offspring as subjects for his work.

Update: as Randy points out in the comments, said quote is also attributed to Benedetto Croce (25 February 1866 – 20 November 1952), an Italian idealist philosopher, historian and politician who had tremendous influence on fellow Italian intellectuals, including marxist Antonio Gramsci and fascist Giovanni Gentile. Our article will mention both Cooley and Croce until more conclusive evidence is obtained regarding who is responsible for the quote in question.

4 Comments

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  • You said Charles Cooley came up with the quote “Unless a capacity for thinking is accompanied by a capacity for action, a superior mind exists in torture”. That is not true. The ACTUAL person that came up with that quote was Benedetto Croce. Look it up.

    Randy Thomas 5 years ago Reply


    • Thank you so much Randy. Your input is highly appreciated. I’ve updated the story to reflect your comment, but I will need to look deeper into the matter to make sure the attribution is indeed accurate. You’ll be surprised how many ‘solid’ sources get their facts wrong when it comes to famous quotes. For example, the web is all over the place with Mark Twain.

      Filip Truta 5 years ago Reply


      • Filip, I agree that sometimes it can get confusing as to whom is the original source of a particular quote. The advent of the internet has made misquoting fairly common. This is because written publications are far more likely to check their facts, while random people on the internet will attribute a quote to someone without fact-checking it (I am not talking about you, but I am talking about people in general).

        Anyways, I am glad you wrote an article about this quote – regardless if it were Cooley OR Croce that came up with it. The quote tells us: action without thought is useless. We end up torturing ourselves because we know we should be taking action on our ideas – but we don’t – and our fear and doubts that keep us from taking action basically causes us mental torture.

        I will end this post with 2 quotes that I believe can be helpful to others that are having a hard time taking action:

        “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Addair

        “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

        Randy Thomas 5 years ago Reply


        • Great feedback, Randy. Hope you continue to enjoy reading our blog. We occasionally post science & technology stuff as well (usually on Sundays). I’ll see if I can use one of these quotes in a future Quote of the Day piece.

          Filip Truta 5 years ago Reply


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