About Voltaire

Voltaire (1694 – 1778) was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and separation of church and state.  Wikipaedia

References:   Encyclopaedia Britannica    |   Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy



Voltaire (quotes)

Principles for living


Live well

  • God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.


  • Happiness is not the portion of man.
  • What is called happiness is an abstract idea, composed of various ideas of pleasure; for he who has but a moment of pleasure is not a happy man, in like manner that a moment of grief constitutes not a miserable one.
  • Constant happiness is the philosopher’s stone of the soul.
  • I have decided to be happy because it’s good for one’s health.
  • The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude.
  • We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.
  • Man ought to be content, it is said; but with what?

Living in the present

  • Paradise is where I am.
  • Wherever my travels may lead, paradise is where I am.
  • We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.


  • Appreciation is a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
  • By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property.


  • I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.
  • Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare The truth thou hast, that all may share; Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.
  • The discovery of what is true and the practice of that which is good are the two most important aims of philosophy.
  • Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.
  • There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
  • Love truth, but pardon error.
  • A witty saying proves nothing.


  • He is a hard man who is only just, and a sad one who is only wise.
  • Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?

Common sense

  • Common sense is not so common.
  • It is sometimes said, common sense is very rare.


  • True greatness consists in the use of a powerful understanding to enlighten oneself and others.
  • Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another.


  • Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.
  • Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.
  • Many are destined to reason wrongly; others, not to reason at all; and others, to persecute those who do reason.
  • The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.
  • The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.
  • Let us work without reasoning,” said Martin; “it is the only way to make life endurable.


  • Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.
  • No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.
  • One great use of words is to hide our thoughts.
  • Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.
  • No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.


  • Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.


  • Anyone who seeks to destroy the passions instead of controlling them is trying to play the angel.


  • Labor rids us of three great evils–poverty, vice, and boredom.
  • Our labour preserves us from three great evils — weariness, vice, and want.
  • Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.
  • Let us work without theorizing, ’tis the only way to make life endurable.
  • The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude.
  • Work is often the father of pleasure.


  • Everyone should be his own physician. We ought to assist and not force nature. Eat with moderation what agrees with your constitution. Nothing is good for the body but what we can digest. What medicine can produce digestion? Exercise. What will recruit strength? Sleep. What will alleviate incurable ills? Patience.
  • I have decided to be happy because it’s good for one’s health.


  • I loved him as we always love for the first time; with idolatry and wild passion.
  • I should like to lie at your feet and die in your arms.
  • Love has features which pierce all hearts, he wears a bandage which conceals the faults of those beloved. He has wings, he comes quickly and flies away the same.
  • Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination.
  • Paradise was made for tender hearts; hell, for loveless hearts.
  • Whatever you do, crush the infamous thing, and love those who love you.
  • Love is of all the passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the body.


  • Friendship is the marriage of the soul, and this marriage is liable to divorce.
  • May God defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies.
  • Sensual pleasure passes and vanishes, but the friendship between us, the mutual confidence, the delight of the heart, the enchantment of the soul, these things do not perish and can never be destroyed.
  • Where there is friendship, there is our natural soil.
  • Virtuous men alone possess friends.

Self love

  • It is not love that should be depicted as blind, but self-love.
  • This self-love is the instrument of our preservation; it resembles the provision for the perpetuity of mankind: it is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure, and we must conceal it.


  • If we do not find anything very pleasant, at least we shall find something new.


  • One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.


  • It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it.


  • Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.


  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Freedom and equality

  • All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they may be equally free.
  • It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
  • Man is free at the instant he wants to be.
  • Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference.

Freedom of thought and speech

  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
  • It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.
  • Liberty of thought is the life of the soul.
  • No opinion is worth burning your neighbor for.
  • The greatest consolation in life is to say what one thinks.
  • Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.


  • To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.


  • To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.


  • All men are equal: it is not birth, but virtue alone, that makes the difference.
  • Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference.
  • What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy.
  • Virtue is debased by self-justification.
  • Virtuous men alone possess friends.

Doing good

  • Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
  • Every one goes astray, but the least imprudent are they who repent the soonest.
  • The safest course is to do nothing against one’s conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death.
  • The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.


  • Discord is the great ill of mankind; and tolerance is the only remedy for it.
  • It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster.
  • Of all religions the Christian is without doubt the one which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.
  • Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.
  • What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity.  We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature. 
  • We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies – it is the first law of nature.
  • Toleration is the prerogative of humanity; we are all full of weaknesses and mistakes; let us reciprocally forgive ourselves. It is the first law of nature.
  • The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.


  • Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.


  • Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.

Excellence and perfection

  • Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.
  • The best is the enemy of good.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good.


  • It is vain for the coward to flee; death follows close behind; it is only by defying it that the brave escape.


  • Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.


  • The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.
  • The secret of being boring is to say everything.


  • It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce.


  • No opinion is worth burning your neighbor for.
  • It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster.
  • Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.
  • It requires ages to destroy a popular opinion.
  • Prejudice is an opinion without judgement.


  • Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cars in order to win the game.

Human challenges and shortcomings



  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.


  • All kinds are good except the kind that bores you.


  • Clever tyrants are never punished; they have always some slight shade of virtue: they support the laws before destroying them.
  • A company of solemn tyrants is impervious to all seductions.
  • Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.
  • The sovereign is called a tyrant who knows no laws but his caprice.


  • How inexpressible is the meanness of being a hypocrite! how horrible is it to be a mischievous and malignant hypocrite.


  • Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.
  • Illusion is the first of all pleasures.


  • He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.
  • It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.
  • The multitude of books is making us ignorant.


  • It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.


  • Every abuse ought to be reformed, unless the reform is more dangerous than the abuse itself.


  • Men hate the individual whom they call avaricious only because nothing can be gained from him.


  • Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals.  


  • Prejudices are what fools use for reason.
  • Prejudice is an opinion without judgement.


  • I have lived eighty years of life and know nothing for it, but to be resigned and tell myself that flies are born to be eaten by spiders and man to be devoured by sorrow.


  • In every province, the chief occupations, in order of importance, are lovemaking, malicious gossip, and talking nonsense.


  • The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.


  • Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.


  • Injustice in the end produces independence.


  • The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.
  • All men would then be necessarily equal, if they were without needs. It is the poverty connected with our species which subordinates one man to another. It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.

Blind faith

  • Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.


  • The infinitely little have a pride infinitely great.
  • We are rarely proud when we are alone.


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


  • Who has not the spirit of his age, of his age has all the unhappiness.

Tears and grief

  • Tears are the silent language of grief.

Public opinion

  • It requires ages to destroy a popular opinion.
  • The public is a ferocious beast; one must either chain it or flee from it.


  • Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.
  • Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.
  • The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

The fallibility of humankind

  • Men are in general so tricky, so envious, and so cruel, that when we find one who is only weak, we are too happy.
  • Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.
  • Men will always be mad, and those who think they can cure them are the maddest of all.
  • The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error.
  • The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.
  • The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture for wild beasts to fight in.
  • Even in those cities which seem to enjoy the blessings of peace, and where the arts florish, the inhabitants are devoured by envy, cares and anxieties, which are greater plagues than any experienced in a town when it is under siege.

Fame and reputation

  • What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.
  • Time, which alone makes the reputation of men, ends by making their defects respectable.
  • His reputation will go on increasing because scarcely anyone reads him.

Thoughts on …


The soul

  • Four thousand volumes of metaphysics will not teach us what the soul is.
  • What then do you call your soul? What idea have you of it? You cannot of yourselves, without revelation, admit the existence within you of anything but a power unknown to you of feeling and thinking.


  • Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause.


  • Doctrine of reincarnation is neither absurd nor useless. It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.

Present and future

  • It is said that the present is pregnant with the future.


  • Nature has always had more force than education.

Reading and books

  • Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! And if one reads profitably, one would realize how much stupid stuff the vulgar herd is content to swallow every day.
  • Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.
  • I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil.
  • I read only to please myself, and enjoy only what suits my taste.
  • It is with books as with men: a very small number play a great part.
  • Let us read and let us dance – two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.
  • The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
  • The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.
  • Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable.
  • Fools admire everything in an author of reputation.

Marriage and sex

  • God created sex. Priests created marriage.
  • Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly.
  • The husband who decides to surprise his wife is often very much surprised himself.
  • Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks the more ancient.


  • If you have two religions in your land, the two will cut each other’s throats; but if you have thirty religions, they will dwell in peace.
  • Of all religions the Christian is without doubt the one which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.
  • Religion was instituted to make us happy in this life and in the other. What must we do to be happy in the life to come? Be just.
  • Such is the feebleness of humanity, such is its perversity, that doubtless it is better for it to be subject to all possible superstitions, as long as they are not murderous, than to live without religion.
  • Wherever there is a settled society, religion is necessary; the laws cover manifest crimes, and religion covers secret crimes.
  • What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?
  • The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason.
  • Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.
  • Ours is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world.
  • A false science makes atheists, a true science prostrates men before the Deity.
  • Religion may be purified. This great work was begun two hundred years ago: but men can only bear light to come in upon them by degrees.
  • The institution of religion exists only to keep mankind in order, and to make men merit the goodness of God by their virtue. Everything in a religion which does not tend towards this goal must be considered foreign or dangerous.


  • All men are born with a nose and five fingers, but no one is born with a knowledge of God.
  • All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.
  • God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.
  • God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.
  • God is not on the side of the big battalions but on the side of those who shoot best.
  • God prefers bad verses recited with a pure heart to the finest verses chanted by the wicked.
  • I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.
  • I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.
  • If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.
  • If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.
  • It is not known precisely where angels dwell whether in the air, the void, or the planets. It has not been God’s pleasure that we should be informed of their abode.
  • To believe in God is impossible; not to believe in Him is absurd.
  • To pray to God is to flatter oneself that with words one can alter nature.
  • It is very strange that men should deny a creator and yet attribute to themselves the power of creating eels.
  • Morality is everywhere the same for all men, therefore it comes from God; sects differ, therefore they are the work of men.


  • History can be well written only in a free country.
  • History is a pack of lies we play on the dead.
  • History is only the register of crimes and misfortunes.
  • History should be written as philosophy.
  • What is history? The lie that everyone agrees on.
  • Ancient histories, as one of our wits has said, are but fables that have been agreed upon.


  • Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.
  • superstition! Your inflexible rigours deprive humanity of the most sensitive hearts.
  • May we not return to those scoundrels of old, the illustrious founders of superstition and fanaticism, who first took the knife from the altar to make victims of those who refused to be their disciples?
  • It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.
  • Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.


  • The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.
  • Governments need to have both shepherds and butchers.
  • In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to another.
  • A minister of state is excusable for the harm he does when the helm of government has forced his hand in a storm; but in the calm he is guilty of all the good he does not do.


  • It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.
  • Our country is that spot to which our heart is bound.
  • Who serves his country well has no need of ancestors.

Law and punishment

  • Fear follows crime and is its punishment.
  • It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.
  • A multitude of laws in a country is like a great number of physicians, a sign of weakness and malady.
  • Let the punishments of criminals be useful. A hanged man is good for nothing; a man condemned to public works still serves the country, and is a living lesson.
  • If you want good laws, burn those you have and make new ones.


  • Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.
  • When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.


  • Medicine is the art of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
  • Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little to cure diseases of which they know less in human beings of whom they know nothing.
  • Doctors put drugs of which they know little into bodies of which they know less for diseases of which they know nothing at all.


  • To hold a pen is to be at war.


  • One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.


  • In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.


  • Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.
  • Answer me, you who believe that animals are only machines. Has nature arranged for this animal to have all the machinery of feelings only in order for it not to have any at all?
  • People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines. … Such people can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel.

Final thoughts

  • A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.
  • All styles are good except the tiresome kind.
  • All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women.
  • An infallible method of making fanatics is to persuade before you instruct.  
  • Anything too stupid to be said is sung.
  • Everything happens through immutable laws, …everything is necessary… There are, some persons say, some events which are necessary and others which are not. It would be very comic that one part of the world was arranged, and the other were not; that one part of what happens had to happen and that another part of what happens did not have to happen. If one looks closely at it, one sees that the doctrine contrary to that of destiny is absurd; but there are many people destined to reason badly; others not to reason at all others to persecute those who reason.   
  • Froth at the top, dregs at bottom, but the middle excellent.
  • He who has not the spirit of this age, has all the misery of it.
  • How I like the boldness of the English, how I like the people who say what they think!
  • I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.
  • I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way.
  • I would rather obey a fine lion, much stronger than myself, than two hundred rats of my own species.
  • In every author let us distinguish the man from his works.
  • It is the flash which appears, the thunderbolt will follow.
  • Let us cultivate our garden.
  • Minds differ still more than faces.
  • Satire lies about literary men while they live and eulogy lies about them when they die.
  • The ear is the avenue to the heart.
  • The hand of our parents traces on our feeble hearts those first characters to which example and time give firmness, and which perhaps God alone can efface.
  • The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.
  • The little may contrast with the great, in painting, but cannot be said to be contrary to it. Oppositions of colors contrast; but there are also colors contrary to each other, that is, which produce an ill effect because they shock the eye when brought very near it.
  • The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.
  • The mouth obeys poorly when the heart murmurs.
  • The superfluous, a very necessary thing.
  • There is a wide difference between speaking to deceive, and being silent to be impenetrable.
  • Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
  • To the wicked, everything serves as pretext.
  • Very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool.
  • We cannot wish for that we know not.
  • We must cultivate our own garden. When man was put in the garden of Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest.
  • We must distinguish between speaking to deceive and being silent to be reserved.
  • Weakness on both sides is, as we know, the motto of all quarrels.
  • When he to whom one speaks does not understand, and he who speaks himself does not understand, that is metaphysics.
  • When men do not have healthy notions of the Divinity, false ideas supplant them, just as in bad times one uses counterfeit money when there is no good money.
  • The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.
  • It requires twenty years for a man to rise from the vegetable state in which he is within his mother’s womb, and from the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.
  • Nothing is so common as to imitate one’s enemies, and to use their weapons.
  • One always speaks badly when one has nothing to say.

On a lighter note

  • I advise you to go on living solely to enrage those who are paying your annuities. It is the only pleasure I have left.
  • Now, now my good man, this is no time to be making enemies. ( on his deathbed in response to a priest asking him that he renounce Satan.) 
  • The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.
  • He was a great patriot, a humanitarian, a loyal friend; provided, of course, he really is dead.
  • What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy.