Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

German Physicist, Writer, Satirist and Anglophile

"Ah, how happy would many lives be if individuals troubled themselves as little about other people’s affairs as about their own!"

"A person doesn't only love himself in others; he also hates himself in others."

"A man has virtues enough if, on account of them, he deserves forgiveness for his faults."

"All else failing, a man's character may be inferred from nothing so surely as the jest he takes in bad part."

"I and myself. I feel myself - these are two distinct things. Our false philosophy is incorporated in our whole language; we cannot reason without, so to speak, reasoning wrongly. We overlook the fact that speaking, no matter of what, is itself a philosophy."

"It is a golden rule not to judge men by their opinions but rather by what their opinions make of them."

"Perseverance can lend the appearance of dignity and grandeur to many actions, just as silence in company affords wisdom and apparent intelligence to a stupid person."

"To many people virtue consists chiefly in repenting faults, not in avoiding them."

"We imagine we are free in our actions, just as in dreaming we deem a place perfectly familiar which we then see doubtless for the first time."

"With most people, doubt about one thing is simply blind belief in another."

"A book is a mirror: if an ass peers into it, you can't expect an apostle to look out... To read means to borrow; to create out of one's readings is paying off one's debts."

"My body is that part of the world which can be altered by my thoughts. Even imaginary illnesses can become real. In the rest of the world my hypotheses cannot disturb the other of things."

"We are a great deal more certain that our will is free than that everything that happens is bound to have a cause. This being the case, could we not for once in a way reverse the argument, and say: our ideas of cause and effect must be very inaccurate, for were they right, our will could not be free?"

"One must judge men not by their opinions, but by what their opinions have made of them."

"The reason for the sublime simplicity in the works of nature lies all too often in the sublime shortsightedness in the observer."

"There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again."

"With most people unbelief in one thing is founded upon blind belief in another."

"A long happiness loses by its mere length."

"My body is that part of the world which my thoughts can alter. Even imaginary illnesses can become real ones. In the rest of the world my hypotheses cannot disturb the order of things."

"I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better."

"Does music make plants grow, or are there among the plans some that are musical?"

"He despises me because he does not know me, and I despise his accusations because I know myself."

"We accumulate opinions at an age when our understanding is at its weakest."

"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything - and one's last is to come to terms with everything."

"Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own."

"A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents. "

"Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all. "

"Probably no invention came more easily to man than when he thought up heaven. "

"To do just the opposite is a form of imitation. "

"What a blessing it would be if we could open and shut our ears as easily as we open and shut our eyes!"

"Don't judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him."

"First there is a time when we believe everything, then for a little while we believe with discrimination, then we believe nothing whatever, and then we believe everything again - and, moreover, give reasons why we believe."

"The human tendency to regard little things as important has produced very many great things."

"The worst thing you can possibly do is worrying and thinking about what you could have done."

"With most men, unbelief in one thing sprin"

"The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth."

"Some people read because they are too lazy to think."

"Those who never have time do least."

"If moderation is a fault then indifference is a crime."

"It often takes more courage to change one's opinion than to stick to it."

"Man…who lives in three places – in the past, in the present, and in the future – can be unhappy if one of these three is worthless. Religion has even added a fourth – eternity."

"I am confident of my ability to demonstrate that one can sometimes believe in something and yet not believe in it. Nothing is less fathomable than the systems that motivate our actions."

"A book which, above all others in the world, should be forbidden, is a catalogue of forbidden books."

"A clever child brought up with a foolish one can itself become foolish. Man is so perfectable and corruptible he can become a fool through good sense."

"A good means to discovery is to take away certain parts of a system to find out how the rest behaves."

"A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on."

"A great speech is easy to learn by heart and a great poem even easier. How hard it would be to memorize as many words linked together senselessly, or a speech in a foreign tongue! Sense and understanding thus come to the aid of memory. Sense is order and order is in the last resort conformity with our nature. When we speak rationally we are only speaking in accordance with the nature of our being. That is why we devise genera and species in the case of plants and animals. The hypotheses we make belong here too: we are obliged to have them because otherwise we would unable to retain things... The question is, however, whether everything is legible to us. Certainly experiment and reflection enable us to introduce a significance into what is not legible, either to us or at all: thus we see faces or landscapes in the sand, though they are certainly not there. The introduction of symmetries belongs here too, silhouettes in inkblots, etc. Likewise the gradation we establish in the order of creatures: all this is not in the things but in us. In general we cannot remember too often that when we observe nature, and especially the ordering of nature, it is alwaysourselves alone we are observing."

"A handful of soldiers is always better than a mouthful of arguments."

"A man is never more serious than when he praise himself."

"A on his lips and not-A in his heart."