Voltaire Quotations

Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) / 1694–1778 / France / Dramatist, Novelist, Essayist


What a pity and what a poverty of spirit, to assert that beasts are machines deprived of knowledge and sentiment . . .

Source: “Animals,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764).

Being Right

It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.

Source: The Age of Louis XIV (1751).

Common Sense

It is sometimes said, common sense is very rare.

Source: “Common Sense,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764).


One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.

Source: Commentaires sur Corneille [Commentaries on Corneille] (1764).


All mortals are equal; it is not their birth,
But virtue itself that makes the difference.

Source: Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet, Act I, Scene IV (1741).


Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.

Source: “The Flood,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764).


Man is free at the instant he wants to be.

Source: Brutus, Act II, Scene I (1730).

Virtue supposes liberty, as the carrying of a burden supposes active force. Under coercion there is no virtue, and without virtue there is no religion.

Source: “Du ministère ecclésiastique” [On Ecclesiastical Ministry], Questions sur l’Encyclopédie [Questions on the Encyclopédie] (1771).


It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

Source: “Droits” [Rights], Questions sur l’Encyclopédie [Questions on the Encyclopédie] (1771).

Nature vs. Culture

Morality is everywhere the same for all men, therefore it comes from God; sects differ, therefore they are the work of men.

Source: “Atheist,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764).


 If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?

Source: Candide, or Optimism (1759).


A Frenchman who arrives in London, will find philosophy, like everything else, very much changed there. He had left the world a plenum, and he now finds it a vacuum. At Paris the universe is seen composed of vortices of subtile matter; but nothing like it is seen in London.

Source: Letters Concerning the English Nation, Letter 14 (1733).


The best is the enemy of the good.

Source: “La Bégueule: Conte Moral” [The Prude: A Moral Tale], Contes en vers [Stories in Verse] (1772).

Religious Tolerance

If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other’s throats, but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.

Source: Letters Concerning the English Nation, Letter 6 (1733).


The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.

Source: “Cato,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764).


Go into the London Stock Exchange—a more respectable place than many a court—and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker.

Source: Letters Concerning the English Nation, Letter 6 (1733).


Virtue is debased by self-justification.

Source: Oedipus, Act II, Scene IV (1718).


Let us work without reasoning . . . it is the only way to make life endurable.

Source: Candide, or Optimism (1759).

Let us cultivate our garden.

Source: Candide, or Optimism (1759).