Five French Moralists Quotations

Nicolas Chamfort / 1741–1794 / France / Dramatist, Poet, Essayist, Critic, Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Maximes et pensées [Maxims and Thoughts] (first published posthumously in 1796).

Common Decency

A decent man plays his part to the best of his ability, regardless of the taste of the gallery.


Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.


Pleasure can be supported by an illusion, but happiness rests upon truth.

Last Words

And so I leave this world, where the heart must either break or turn to lead.


The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed.


In order not to find life unbearable, you must accept two things: the ravages of time and the injustices of man.

Living is a sickness to which sleep provides relief every sixteen hours. It’s a palliative. The remedy is death.


There are more people who wish to be loved than there are who are willing to love.


Whoever is not a misanthrope at forty can never have loved mankind.

Opposing Virtues

We ought to be able to combine opposites: the love of goodness with indifference to other people’s opinions, a liking for work with indifference to fame, concern for our health with indifference to life.


It is passion that makes man live; wisdom makes one only last.

Public Opinion

Public opinion is the worst of all opinions.

One can be certain that every generally held idea, every received notion, will be an idiocy, because it has been able to appeal to a majority.


It is commonly supposed that the art of pleasing is a wonderful aid in the pursuit of fortune; but the art of being bored is infinitely more successful..

When you want to be well-liked in the world, you have to let a lot of people teach you things that you know and they don’t.

M. de Lassay, a very mild-mannered man, but with a great knowledge of society, used to say that we should swallow a toad every morning to avoid being disgusted for the rest of the day, when we have to spend it in society.


Joseph Joubert / 1754–1824 / France / Essayist, Memoirist, Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Pensées [Thoughts] (posthumously published in 1838).


When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees.

Art and Speech

Drawing is speaking to the eye; talking is painting to the ear.


Children need models rather than critics.


The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.

It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.


Imagination is the eye of the soul.


A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.


He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.


How many people eat, drink, and get married; buy, sell, and build; make contracts and attend to their fortune; have friends and enemies, pleasures and pains, are born, grow up, live and die—but asleep!


Misery is almost always the result of thinking.


You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.


To teach is to learn twice.


What is true by lamplight is not always true by sunlight.


Our worries always come from our weaknesses.


François de La Rochefoucauld / 1613–1680 / France / Memoirist, Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Maximes [Maxims] (1665; many later editions).


Men give away nothing so liberally as their advice.

Old people love to give good advice; it compensates them for their inability to set a bad example.


We frequently forgive those who bore us, but cannot forgive those whom we bore.


We are strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.


Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.


No man is clever enough to know all the evil he does.


If we had no faults of our own, we would not take so much pleasure in noticing those of others.

We confess to little faults only to persuade ourselves that we have no great one.

Most of our faults are more pardonable than the means we use to conceal them.

Fortune and Misfortune

We need greater virtues to sustain good fortune than bad.

In the misfortune of our best friends we often find something that is not displeasing.

Good Sense

We rarely find that people have good sense unless they agree with us.


Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favors.


We are never so happy nor so unhappy as we imagine.


Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.


There is no disguise which can for long conceal love where it exists or simulate it where it does not.

True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.

The pleasure of love is in loving. We are happier in the passion we feel than in that we arouse.

Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind blows out candles
and fans fire.

We pardon to the extent that we love.


If we resist our passions, it is more due to their weakness than our strength.

The mind is always the dupe of the heart.


Philosophy triumphs easily over past evils and future evils; but present evils triumph over it.


Quarrels would not last long if the fault was only on one side.


We would rather speak ill of ourselves than not talk about ourselves at all.

Self-love is the greatest of all flatterers.

Everyone complains of his memory, and no one complains of his judgment.

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.


Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding.


The constancy of the wise is the art to contain their excitement in the heart.


Antoine de Rivarol /1753–1801 / France / Poet, Essayist, Political Commentator, Journalist, Translator, Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Pensées inédites [Unpublished Thoughts] (first published posthumously in 1808).

Heart and Mind

Mind is the partial side of men; the heart is everything.


Ideas are a capital that bears interest only in the hands of talent.


Man spends his life in reasoning on the past, in complaining of the present, in fearing future.


The world is governed by love,—self-love.


The modest man has everything to gain, and the arrogant man everything to lose; for modesty has always to deal with generosity, and arrogance with envy.


It is easy for men to write and talk like philosophers, but to act with wisdom, there is the rub!


In general, indulgence for those we know is rarer than pity for those we know not


Silence never yet betrayed any one!


Of every ten persons who talk about you, nine will say something bad, and the tenth will say something good in a bad way.


That which happens to the soil when it ceases to be cultivated by the social man happens to man himself when he foolishly forsakes society for solitude; the brambles grow up in his desert heart.

Thought and Speech

Speech is external thought, and thought internal speech.


Opinions, theories, and systems pass by turns over the grindstone of time, which at first gives them brilliancy and sharpness, but finally wears them out.


If poverty makes man groan, he yawns in opulence. When fortune exempts us from labor, nature overwhelms us with time.


Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues / 1715–1747 / France / Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Réflexions et maximes [Reflections and Maxims] (1746).


To achieve great things we must live as though we were never going to die.


As it is natural to believe many things without proof, so, despite all proof, is it natural to disbelieve others.


Give help rather than advice.


A liar is a man who does now know how to deceive, a flatterer one who only deceives fools.

Emotion and Reason

Emotions have taught mankind to reason.


All that is unfair, offends us if it’s not beneficial for us.


Faith is the consolation of the wretched and the terror of the happy.


More are taken in by hope than by cunning.


Indolence is the sleep of the mind.

Intelligent Design

As a house implies a builder, and a garment a weaver, and a door a carpenter, so does the existence of the Universe imply a Creator.


The things we know best are the things we haven’t been taught.


We should expect the best and the worst from mankind as from the weather.

It is not in everyone’s power to secure wealth, office, or honors; but everyone may be good, generous, and wise.


Our errors and our controversies, in the sphere of morality, arise sometimes from looking on men as though they could be altogether bad, or altogether good.


Necessity delivers us from the embarrassment of choice.


Patience is the art of hoping.

Pleasing Others

The art of pleasing is the art of deception.


We discover in ourselves what others hide from us and we recognize in others what we hide from ourselves.


Servitude degrades people to such a point that they come to like it.