Great Throughts Treasury

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

Will Durant, fully William James "Will" Durant

American Writer, Historian and Philosopher, known for The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant

"From the point of view of morals, life seems to be divided into two periods: in the first we indulge, in the second we preach."

"Every vice was once a virtue, and may become respectable again, just as hatred becomes respectable in wartime."

"Never mind your happiness, do your duty."

"Where there is no honor, there is no disgrace."

"What better way is there to make men love one another than to make men understand one another. True charity comes only with clarity - just as "mercy" is but justice that understands. Surely the root of all evil is the inability to see clearly that which is."

"No man who is in a hurry is quite civilized."

"When love became devotion instead of possession, marriage reached the climax of its slow ascent from brutality."

"Never put a man in the wrong. He will hold it against you forever."

"Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos."

"In my youth I stressed freedom, and in my old age I stress order. I have made the great discovery that liberty is a product of order."

"Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul."

"Our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance."

"Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement. "

"So I say that civilizations begin with religion and stoicism: they end with skepticism and unbelief, and the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure. A civilization is born stoic and dies epicurean."

"The crossroads of trade are the meeting place of ideas, the attrition ground of rival customs and beliefs; diversities beget conflict, comparison, thought; superstitions cancel one another, and reason begins."

"Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision and heroism. When she had overcome them all she flourished for a moment and then began to die."

"We repeatedly enlarge our instrumentation without improving our purpose."

"The soul of civilization is its religion, and it dies with its faith."

"When liberty destroys order, the hunger for order will destroy liberty."

"The family is the nucleus of civilization."

"A nation is born Stoic, dies Epicurean."

"Tired mothers find that spanking takes less time than reasoning and penetrates sooner to the seat of the memory."

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."

"Moral progress in history lies not so much in the improvement of the moral code as in the enlargement of the area within which it is applied."

"Music and religion are as intimately related as poetry and love; the deepest emotions require for their civilized expression the most emotional of arts."

"Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years."

"In many respects religion is the most interesting of man’s ways, for it is his ultimate commentary on life and his only defense against death."

"I find in the universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law, and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order, and law of the world."

"Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal."

"Religious doctrine were determined not by the logic of a few but by the needs of the many; they were a frame of belief within which the common man, inclined by nature to a hundred unsocial actions, could be formed in to a being sufficiently disciplined and self-controlled to make society and civilization possible."

"Religion is the last subject that the intellect begins to understand."

"One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say."

"To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism...If you can’t say good and encouraging things, say nothing."

"The individual succumbs, but they do not die if they have left something to mankind."

"Tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous."

"Friends are helpful not only because they will listen to us, but because they will laugh at us; Through them we learn a little objectivity, a little modesty, a little courtesy; We learn the rules of life and become better players of the game."

"A cat has a reputation to protect. If it had a halo, it would be worn cocked to one side."

"And last are the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world."

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential cause of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars."

"A statesman cannot afford to be a moralist"

"As long as he fears or remembers insecurity, man is a competitive animal. Groups, classes, nations and races similarly insecure compete as covetously as their constituent individuals, and more violently, knowing less law and having less protection; Nature calls all living things to the fray."

"As flowing rivers disappear in the sea, losing their name and form, thus a wise man, freed from name and form, goes to the divine person who is beyond all." Such a theory of life and death will not please Western man, whose religion is as permeated with individualism as are his political and economic institutions. But it has satisfied the philosophical Hindu mind with astonishing continuity."

"Bankers know that history is inflationary and that money is the last thing a wise man will hoard."

"At any moment a comet may come too close to the earth and set our little globe turning topsy-turvy in a hectic course, or choke its men and fleas with fumes or heat; or a fragment of the smiling sun may slip off tangentially -- as some think our planet did a few astronomic moments ago--and fall upon us in a wild embrace ending all grief and pain. We accept these possibilities in our stride, and retort to the cosmos in the words of Pascal: 'When the universe has crushed him man will still be nobler than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and of its victory the universe knows nothing.'"

"By and large the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them."

"As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy."

"As we acquire knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious."

"Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty and dies with chaos."

"Caesar's armies marched on vegetarian foods."

"Chaos results when the world changes faster than people"