Great Throughts Treasury

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

Nicholas Murray Butler

American Educator, Philosopher, President of Columbia University and Diplomat, Adviser to seven U.S. Presidents Received Honorary Degrees from 37 Colleges

"All the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think."

"The forty-four hour week has no charm for me. I'm looking for a forty-hour day."

"There are five tests of the evidence of education - correctness and precision in the use of the mother tongue; refined and gentle manners, the result of fixed habits of thought and action; sound standards of appreciation of beauty and of worth, and a character based on those standards; power and habit of reflection, efficiency or the power to do."

"Time was invented by Almighty God in order to give ideas a chance."

"Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress."

"This desire of knowledge and the wonder which it hopes to satisfy are the driving power behind all the changes that we, with careless, question-begging inference, call progress."

"The mythologies represent genuine reflection and not a little insight. They reveal man's simple, naïve consciousness busying itself with the explanation of things."

"An important step, far-reaching in its consequences, was taken when man first sought the cause of change and decay in things themselves and in the laws which appeared to govern things, rather than in powers and forces outside of and beyond them. When the question was first asked, What is it that persists amid all changes and that underlies every change? A new era was about to dawn in the history of man's wonder and his desire to know."

"The maxim, "An unexamined life is not worth living," is the priceless legacy of Socrates to the generations of men who have followed him upon this earth. The beings who have stood on humanity's summit are those, and only those, who have heard the voice of Socrates across the centuries. The others are a superior kind of cattle."

"Science is a subordinate category. When science offers itself as the final stage or form of knowing, it is guilty of a false quantity, in that it puts the accent, which belongs elsewhere, upon the penultimate."

"Education is in no small measure preparing the way for the intellectual life and pointing to it. Those who cannot enter in at its gates are doomed, in Leonardo da Vinci's words, to "possess neither the profit nor the beauty of the world." For them life must be short, however many its years, and barren, however plentiful its acts. Their ears are deaf to the call of the indwelling Reason, and their eyes are blind to all the meaning and the values of human experience."

"Necessity does the work of courage."

"An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing."

"Those people who think only of themselves, are hopelessly uneducated. They are not educated, no matter how instructed they may be."

"The history of the building of the American nation may justly be described as a laboratory experiment in understanding and in solving the problems that will confront the world tomorrow"

"The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously. "

"Perhaps we should comprehend these things better were it not for the persistence of the superstition that human beings habitually think. There is no more persistent superstition than this."

"Modern mathematics, that most astounding of intellectual creations, has projected the mind's eye through infinite time and the mind's hand into boundless space. "

"The analytical geometry of Descartes and the calculus of Newton and Leibniz have expanded into the marvelous mathematical method—more daring than anything that the history of philosophy records—of Lobachevsky and Riemann, Gauss and Sylvester. Indeed, mathematics, the indispensable tool of the sciences, defying the senses to follow its splendid flights, is demonstrating today, as it never has been demonstrated before, the supremacy of the pure reason. "

"Cherish yesterday. dream tomorrow, live like crazy today!"

"The old world order died with the setting of that day’s sun and a new world order is being born while I speak, with birth-pangs so terrible that it seems almost incredible that life could come out of such fearful suffering and such overwhelming sorrow."

"Businesses planned for service are apt to succeed businesses planned for profit are apt to fail."

"A degenerate nobleman, or one that is proud of his birth, is like a turnip. There is nothing good of him but that which is underground."

"America is the best half-educated country in the world."

"Many peoples' tombstones should read 'Died at 30, burried at 60.'"

"Optimism is the foundation of courage."

"The epitaphs on tombstones of a great many people should read: Died at thirty, and buried at sixty."

"This was the penn'worth of his thought."

"To swallow gudgeons ere they're catch'd And count their chickens ere they're hatch'd."

"Brigands demand your money or your life; women require both."

"Nothing so good as a university education, nor worse than a university without its education."

"One of the embarrassments of being a gentleman is that you are not permitted to be violent in asserting your rights"