French Renaissance Writer, Moralist, Essayist, Father of Modern Skepticism
"A sound intellect will refuse to judge men simply by their outward actions; we must probe the inside and discover what springs set men in motion."
"Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind, than it does in the face, and souls are never, or very rarely seen, that in growing old do not smell sour and musty. Man moves all together, both towards his perfection and his decay."
"All honorable means of safeguarding ourselves from evils are not only permitted but laudable. And constancy’s part is played principally in bearing troubles patiently where there is no remedy."
"Anyone who wants to be cured of ignorance must confess it... Wonder is the foundation of all philosophy, inquiry its progress, ignorance its end."
"Courtesy is a science of the highest importance. It is, like grace and beauty in the body, which charm at first sight, and lend on to further intimacy and friendship, opening a door that we may derive instruction from the example of others, and at the same time enabling us to benefit them by our example, if there by anything in our character worthy of imitation."
"Custom is a violent and treacherous school mistress. She, by little and little, slyly and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority; but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes."
"Do you not see that this world keeps its sight all concentrated inward and its eyes open to contemplate itself? It is always vanity for you, within and without; but it is less vanity, when it is less extensive."
"Even on the highest [most exalted] throne of the world, we can sit only on our own tail [bottom]."
"Every period of life has its peculiar prejudice; whoever saw old age that did not applaud the past, and condemn the present times?"
"Greatness of soul is not so much mounting high and pressing forward, as knowing how to put oneself in order and circumscribe oneself. It regards as great all that is enough and shows its elevation by preferring moderate things to eminent ones. There is nothing so beautiful and just as to play the man well and fitly, nor any knowledge so arduous as to know how to live this life well and naturally; and of all our maladies the most barbarous is to despise our being."
"Here is a wonder: we have many more poets than judges and interpreters of poetry. It is easier to create it than to understand it. On a certain low level it can be judged by precepts and by art. But the good, supreme, divine poetry is above the rules and reason."
"Human wisdom makes as ill use of her talent when she exercises it in rescinding from the number and sweetness of those pleasures that are naturally our due, as she employs it favorably and well in artificially disguising and tricking out the ills of life to alleviate the sense of them."
"I believe it to be true that dreams are the true interpreters of our inclinations; but there is art required to sort and understand them."
"I care not so much what I am in the opinion of others, as what I am in my own; I would be rich of myself, and not by borrowing."
"In truth, knowledge is a great and very useful quality; those who despise it give evidence enough of their stupidity. But yet I do not set its value at that extreme measure that some attribute to it, like Herillus the philosopher, who placed in it the sovereign good, and held that it was in its power to make us wise and content. That I do not believe, nor what others have said, that knowledge is the mother of all virtue, and all vice is produced by ignorance. If that is true, it is subject to a long interpretation."
"Knowledge is an excellent drug; but no drug has virtue enough to preserve itself from corruption and decay, if the vessel be tainted and impure wherein it is put to keep."
"Learning is not to be tacked to the mind, but we must fuse and blend them together, not merely giving the mind a slight tincture, but a thorough and perfect dye. and if we perceive no evident change and improvement, it would be better to leave it alone; learning is a dangerous weapon, and apt to wound its master if it be wielded by a feeble hand, and by one not well acquainted with its use."
"Love hates people to be attached to each other except by himself, and takes a laggard part in relations that are set up and maintained under another title, as marriage is. Connections and means have, with reason, as much weight in it as graces and beauty, or more. We do not marry for ourselves, whatever we say; we marry must as much or more for our posterity, for our family. The practice and benefit of marriage concerns our race very far beyond us. Therefore I like this fashion of arranging it rather by a third hand than by our own, and by the sense of other rather than by our own. How opposite is all this to the conventions of love!"
"Lying is an ugly vice... Since mutual understanding is brought about solely by way of words, he who breaks his word betrays human society. It is the only instrument by means of which our wills and thoughts communicate, it is the interpreter of our soul. If it fails us, we have no more hold on each other, no more knowledge of each other. If it deceives us, it breaks up all our relations and dissolves all the bonds of our society."
"Many persons, after they become learned cease to be good; all other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of honesty and good nature."