Two German Pessimists Quotations

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg / 1742–1799 / near Darmstadt, Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt (now Germany) / Physicist, Travel Writer, Publisher, Aphorist

Note: All quotations are taken from Sudelbücher [Waste Books] (first published posthumously between 1800 and 1806).


The American who first discovered Columbus made a bad discovery.


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


With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.


A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out. 

There are very many people who read simply to prevent themselves from thinking.

It is almost everywhere the case that soon after it is begotten the greater part of human wisdom is laid to rest in repositories.


It is hardly to be believed how spiritual reflections when mixed with a little physics can hold people’s attention and give them a livelier idea of God than do the often ill-applied examples of his wrath.


Once the good man was dead, one wore his hat and another his sword as he had worn them, a third had himself barbered as he had, a fourth walked as he did, but the honest man that he was—nobody any longer wanted to be that.

Human Nature

Every man has his moral backside which he refrains from showing unless he has to and keeps covered as long as possible with the trousers of decorum.

What is called an acute knowledge of human nature is mostly nothing but the observer’s own weaknesses reflected back from others.

That man is the noblest creature may also be inferred from the fact that no other creature has yet contested this claim.

God makes the animals, man makes himself.

Man loves company—even if it is only that of a small burning candle.


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

Intelligent Design

The thing that astonished him was that cats should have two holes cut in their coat exactly at the place where their eyes are.


Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc., at times before they’re worn out and at times—and this is the worst of all—before we have new ones.

. . . the more thoughtful we become the more earnest we grow.

To grow wiser means to learn to know better and better the faults to which this instrument with which we feel and judge can be subject.


We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think that a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.


. . . universal morality is to be found in little everyday penny-events just as much as in great ones. 


Man is always partial and is quite right to be. Even impartiality is partial.

Reason and Passion

He was then in his fifty-fourth year, when even in the case of poets reason and passion begin to discuss a peace treaty and usually conclude it not very long afterwards.

Man is to be found in reason, God in the passions.


People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers: simply because they are unfit for any other station. 

Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.

Much reading has brought upon us a learned barbarism.

Rational free spirits are the light brigade who go on ahead and reconnoitre the ground which the heavy brigade of the orthodox will eventually occupy.


The most heated defenders of a science, who cannot endure the slightest sneer at it, are commonly those who have not made very much progress in it and are secretly aware of this defect.


He who is enamored of himself will at least have the advantage of being inconvenienced by few rivals.


Just as the performance of the vilest and most wicked deeds requires spirit and talent, so even the greatest demand a certain insensitivity which under other circumstances we would call stupidity.


Nothing contributes more to peace of soul than having no opinion at all.


Even if my philosophy does not extend to discovering anything new, it does nevertheless possess the courage to regard as questionable what has long been thought true.

Even truth needs to be clad in new garments if it is to appeal to a new age.

Soothsayers make a better living in the world than truthsayers.

There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.

It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody’s beard.

The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted.


Arthur Schopenhauer / 1788–1860 / Danzig, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (now Gdańsk, Poland) / Philosopher, Aphorist


One might say with truth, Mankind are the devils of the earth, and the animals the souls they torment.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Boundless compassion for all living beings is the surest and most certain guarantee of pure moral conduct, 

On the Basis of Morals (1840).

Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he, who is cruel to living creatures, cannot be a good man. Moreover, this compassion manifestly flows from the same source whence arise the virtues of justice and loving-kindness towards men.

On the Basis of Morals (1840).

Field of Vision

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Great Minds

It is natural for great minds—the true teachers of humanity—to care little about the constant company of others; just as little as the schoolmaster cares for joining in the gambols of the noisy crowd of boys which surround him. The mission of these great minds is to guide mankind over the sea of error to the haven of truth—to draw it forth from the dark abysses of a barbarous vulgarity up into the light of culture and refinement. Men of great intellect live in the world without really belonging to it.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


The two foes of human happiness are pain and boredom.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Almost all of our sorrows spring out of our relations with other people. There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Hatred vs. Contempt

Hatred comes from the heart; contempt from the head; and neither feeling is quite within our

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


If people insist that honor is dearer than life itself, what they really mean is that existence and well- being are as nothing compared with other people’s opinions. Of course, this may be only an exaggerated way of stating the prosaic truth that reputation, that is, the opinion others have of us, is indispensable if we are to make any progress in the world.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


Intellect is invisible to the man who has none.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive their effect is gone.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Do not shorten the morning by getting up late; look upon it as the quintessence of life, as to a certain extent sacred. . . . Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Life is a business that does not cover the costs.

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859).


The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind; the lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the stupidity.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


To marry is to halve your rights and double your duties.

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859).


It is a curious fact that in bad days we can very vividly recall the good lime that is now no more; but that in good days we have only a very cold and imperfect memory of the bad.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Mystery of Existence

The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him.

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859).


Opinion is like a pendulum and obeys the same law. If it goes past the centre of gravity on one side, it must go a like distance on the other; and it is only after a certain time that it finds the true point which it can remain at.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Parting and Reunion

Every parting gives a foretaste of death; every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Talent vs. Genius

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859).

True Thinker

Every true thinker for himself is so far like a monarch; he is absolute, and recognises nobody above him. His judgments, like the decrees of a monarch, spring from his own sovereign power and proceed directly from himself. He takes as little notice of authority as a monarch does of a command; nothing is valid unless he has himself authorised it. On the other hand, those of vulgar minds, who are swayed by all kinds of current opinions, authorities, and prejudices, are like the people which in silence obey the law and commands.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


To truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial.

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859).

To free a man from error is to give, not to take away. Knowledge that a thing is false is a truth. 

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).

Truth that is naked is the most beautiful, and the simpler its expression the deeper is the impression it makes.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).


Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become.

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851).