Below is a dynamic list of some of the most thought-provoking quotations I have come across over the years. These are the thoughts and sentiments of some of the greatest leaders, heroes, intellectuals and polymaths to ever stamp their mark on humankind.


“It is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones…He must be unable to make his life revolve round another…Nor is he given to admiration; for nothing to him is great…He is one who will possess beautiful and profitless things rather than profitable and useful ones; for this is more proper to a character that suffices to itself.”

 —  Aristotle (384-322BC)



“When a man does not know which harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”

 —  Seneca (4BC-65AD)


“Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives.”

 —  Seneca (4BC-65AD)



“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason?…If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary…remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event.”

 —  Epictetus (50-135AD)



“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

 —  Marcus Aurelius (121-180AD)



“Men never do good unless necessity drives them to it; but when they are free to choose and can do just as they please, confusion and disorder can become everywhere rampant. Hence it is said hunger and poverty make men industrious, and that laws make them good.”

 —  Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)



“It is intolerable when an office engrosses a man with fixed hours and a settled routine. Those are better that leave a man free to follow his own devices, combining variety with importance, for the change refreshes the mind.”

—  Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658)


“Keep the imagination under control…for it makes us either contented or discontented with ourselves. Before some it continually holds up the penalties of action, and becomes the mortifying lash of these fools. To others it promises happiness and adventure with blissful delusion. It can do all this unless the most prudent self-control keeps it in subjection.”

—  Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658)


“Leave something to wish for, so as not to be miserable from very happiness. The body must respire and the soul aspire. If one possessed all, all would be disillusion and discontent. Even in knowledge there should always be something left to know in order to arouse curiosity and excite hope. Surfeits of happiness are fatal.”

 —  Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658)



“The history of the errors of mankind…is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries. Truth is uniform and narrow…but error is endlessly diversified [and] in this field, the soul has room enough to expand herself to display all her boundless faculties and all of her beautiful and interesting extravagancies and absurdities.”

 —  Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)


“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

—  Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)



“What must be thought of that barbarous education which sacrifices the present to an uncertain future, which burdens a child by making him miserable in order to prepare him for I know not what happiness he may enjoy?…Why do you want to fill with bitterness and pain those few years which go by so rapidly and can return no more for them than they can for you?”

 —  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)



“What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything, and who, having eyes to see what time and chance are perpetually holding on to him as he journeys on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on.”

 —  Laurence Sterne (1713-1768)



“The human being must be so occupied that he is filled with the purpose that he has before his eyes, in such a way that he is not conscious of himself at all, and the best rest for him is the one that comes after work.”

 —  Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)



“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

—  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)



“If the people only understood the rank injustice of our money and banking system, there would be a revolution by morning.”

—  Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)



“In our time no one has the conception of what is great. It is up to me to show them.”

 —  Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821)



“And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!”

—  Lord Byron (1788-1824)



It is really incredible how meaningless and insignificant when seen from without, and how dull and senseless when felt from within, is the course of life of the great majority of men. It is weary longing and worrying, a dreamlike staggering through the four ages from life to death, accompanied by a series of trivial thoughts…Every individual, every human apparition and its course of life, is only one more short dream of the endless spirit of nature.”

 —  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


“The lower a man is in an intellectual respect, the less puzzling and mysterious existence itself is to him.”

 —  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


“The result of this mental dullness is that inner vacuity and emptiness that is stamped on innumerable faces and also betrays itself in a constant and lively attention to all events in the external world, even the most trivial. This vacuity is the real source of boredom and always craves for external excitement in order to set the mind and spirits in motion through something…the craze for society, diversion, amusement, and luxury of every kind which lead many to extravagance and so to misery. Nothing protects us so surely from this wrong turning as inner wealth, the wealth of the mind, for the more eminent it becomes, the less room does it leave for boredom. The inexhaustible activity of ideas, their constantly renewed play with the manifold phenomena of the inner and outer worlds, the power and urge always to make different combinations of them, all these put the eminent mind, apart from moments of relaxation, quite beyond the reach of boredom.”

—  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


“People are often reproached because their desires are directed mainly to money and they are fonder of it than of anything else. Yet it is natural and even inevitable for them to love that which, as an untiring Proteus, is ready at any moment to convert itself into the particular object of our fickle desires and manifold needs. Thus every other blessing can satisfy only one desire and one need; for instance, food is good only to the hungry, wine only for the healthy, medicine for the sick, a fur coat for winter, women for youth, and so on. Consequently, all these are only…relatively good. Money alone is the absolutely good thing because it meets not merely one need in concrete, but needs generally in abstract.”

 —  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


“Talent works for money and fame; the motive which moves genius to productivity is, on the other hand, less easy to determine…It is rather an instinct of a unique sort by virtue of which the individual possessed of genius is impelled to express what he has seen and felt in enduring works without being conscious of any further motivation. It takes place, by and large, with the same sort of necessity as a tree brings forth fruit, and demands of the world no more than a soil on which the individual can flourish.”

—  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)



“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.”

—  Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)



“What creates men of genius, or rather, what they create, is not new ideas, it is that idea – inside them – that what has been said has still not been said enough.”

 — Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)



“If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time…so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours. Of the universal mind each individual man is one more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Each new fact in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was at first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the problem of the age.”

—  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


“The difficulty is that we do not make a world of our own but fall into institutions already made and have to accommodate ourselves to them to be useful at all and this accommodation is, I say, a loss of so much integrity and of course so much power.” 

—  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common…To the wise, therefore, a fact is true poetry, and the most beautiful of fables.”

—  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


“Genius is a delicate sensibility to the laws of the world, adding the power to express them again in some new form. The highest measure of poetic power is such insight and faculty to fuse the circumstances of to-day as shall make transparent the whole web of circumstance and opinion in which the man finds himself, so that he releases himself from the traditions in which he grew…but sees so truly the omnipresence of eternal cause that he can convert the daily and hourly event of New York, of Boston, into universal symbols.”

—  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


“Self-trust is the first secret of success, the belief that if you are here the authorities of the universe put you here, and for cause, or with some task strictly appointed you in your constitution, and so long as you work at that you are well and successful.”

—  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


“Every man I meet is my superior in some way, in that, I learn of him.”

 —  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)



“The main constituents of a satisfied life appear to be two, either of which by itself is often found sufficient for the purpose: tranquillity, and excitement. With much tranquillity, many find that they can be content with very little pleasure: with much excitement, many can reconcile themselves to a considerable quantity of pain. There is assuredly no inherent impossibility in enabling even the mass of mankind to unite both; since the two are so far from being incompatible that they are in natural alliance, the prolongation of either being a preparation for, and exciting a wish for, the other.”

—  John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)



“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the World, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it come off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away timid adventurers.”

 —  Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809-1894)



“But surely working for a living can’t be the meaning of life. Surely it is self-contradictory to say that this – the constant effort to provide the conditions of living – should be an answer to the question of the purpose of life, since living itself is what creates those selfsame conditions…To maintain that the purpose of life is to die seems like another contradiction.”

—  Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)



“I have learned, that if one advances in confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

 —  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)



“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

—  William James (1842-1910)


“The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.”

—  William James (1842-1910)


“We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.”

 —  William James (1842-1910)



“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

 —  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


“I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible.”

—  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


“It may be conjectured that the decisive event for a spirit in whom…is one day to ripen to sweet perfection has been a great separation, and that before it he was probably all the more a bound spirit, and seemed to be chained forever to his corner…For such bound people the great separation comes suddenly…an urge, a pressure governs it, mastering the soul like a command: the will and wish awaken to go away, anywhere, at any cost: a violent, dangerous curiosity for an undiscovered world flames up and flickers in all the senses…a rebellious, despotic, volcanically jolting desire to roam abroad…He wanders about savagely with an unsatisfied lust…There is some arbitrariness and pleasure in arbitrariness to it…Behind his ranging activity stands the question mark of an ever more dangerous curiosity…always further onward, always further away.”

 —  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)



“It is not necessary for a man to be actively bad in order to make a failure in life; simple inaction will accomplish it. Nature has everywhere written her protest against idleness; everything which ceases to struggle, which remains inactive, rapidly deteriorates. It is the struggle toward an ideal, the constant effort to get higher and further, which develops manhood and character.”

 —  James Terry White (1845-1920)



“A failure makes one inventive, creates a free flow of associations, brings idea after idea, whereas once success is there a certain narrow-mindedness or thick-headedness sets in so that one always keeps coming back to what has already been established but can make no new combinations.”

 —  Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)



“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

 —  George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)



“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 —  Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)



“Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant…Wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement, of reality; and there is an ‘importance’ in the only real and positive sense in which importance ever anywhere can be.”

 —  Henri Bergson (1859-1941)



“These young people…feel a fatal want of harmony between their theory and their lives, a lack of coördination between thought and action. I think it is hard for us to realize how seriously many of them are taking to the notion of human brotherhood, how eagerly they long to give tangible expression to the democratic ideal. These young men and women, longing to socialize their democracy, are animated by certain hopes which may be thus loosely formulated…the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

—  Jane Addams (1860-1935)



“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

 —  L.P. Jacks (1860-1955)



“Many people are busy trying to find better ways of doing things that should not have to be done at all. There is no progress in merely finding a better way to do a useless thing.”

—  Henry Ford (1863-1947)


“Youth should not be slandered. Boy nature and girl nature are less repressed and therefore more wholesome today than before. If they at times seem unimpressed by their elders, it is probably because we make a matter of authority what should be a matter of conference. These young people are new people sent to this scene by Destiny to take our places. They come with new visions to fulfill, new powers to exploit.”

—  Henry Ford (1863-1947)



Content makes the world more comfortable for the individual, but it is the death-knell of progress. Man should be content with each step of progress merely as a station, discontented with it as a destination; contented with it as a step; discontented with it as a finality. There are times when a man should be content with what he has, but never with what he is.

—  William George Jordan (1864-1928)



“We bring up our children in a mist of vague intimations, in a confusion of warring voices, perplexed as to what they must do, uncertain as to what they may do, doomed to lives of compromise and fluctuating and inoperative opinion.”

 —  H.G. Wells (1866-1946)



“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

 —  André Gide (1869-1951)



“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

 —  Marcel Proust (1871-1922)



“The modern man does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meagre and uninteresting it may be. It is because every form of imitation seems to him deadening and sterile that he rebels against the form of tradition that would hold him in well-trodden ways. All such roads, for him, lead in the wrong direction…However wretched this state may be, it also stands him in good stead, for in this way alone can he get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings. It is, moreover, only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own nature.”

 —  Carl Jung (1875-1961)



“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…some day the piercing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

  —  H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)



“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

 —  Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)



“[Man is a] creature of dream [who] has created an invisible world of ideas, beliefs, habits and customs which buttress him about and replace for him the precise instincts of lower creatures.”

 —  Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)



“Is one to die voluntarily or to hope in spite of everything?”

 —  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

 —  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“It happens that the stage-sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the ‘why’ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.”

 —  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”

 —  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“There always comes a time when one must choose between contemplation and action. This is called becoming a man…One must live with time and die with it or else elude it for a greater life.”

 —  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“But practically I know men and recognize them by their behavior, by the totality of their deeds, by the consequences caused in life by their presence.”

—  Albert Camus (1913-1960)


“For the mistake is thinking that the quantity of experiences depends on the circumstances of our life when it depends solely on us…Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum.”

—  Albert Camus (1913-1960)



“A philosopher, which is what I am supposed to be, is a sort of intellectual yokel who gapes and stares at what sensible people take for granted, a person who cannot get rid of the feeling that the barest facts of life are unbelievably odd. As Aristotle put it, the beginning of philosophy is wonder. I am simply amazed to find myself living on a ball of rock that swings around an immense spherical fire.”

 —  Alan Watts (1915-1973)


“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”

 —  Alan Watts (1915-1973)


“Beneath such outward appearances, there is a clear change of values: rich experiences are more to be desired than property and bank accounts, and plans for the future are of use only to those who can fully live in the present.”

—  Alan Watts (1915-1973)


“We are becoming accustomed to a conception of the universe so mysterious and so impressive that even the best father-image will no longer do for an explanation of what makes it run. But the problem then is that it is impossible for us to conceive an image higher than the human image…However, our image of man is changing as it becomes clearer and clearer that the human being is not simply and only his physical organism. My body is also my total environment, and this must be measured by light-years in the billions…In knowing the world we humanize it, and if, as we discover it, we are astonished at its dimensions and its complexity, we should be just as astonished that we have the brains to perceive it.”

—  Alan Watts (1915-1973)



“Anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the theoretical difficulties are, if it is desired greatly enough.”

 —  Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)


“But mere extension of the life span, and even improved health and efficiency, are not important in themselves. We all know people who have done more in forty years than others have done in eighty. What is really significant is richness and diversity of experience, and the use to which that is put by men and the societies they constitute.”

—  Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)



“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

—  Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)



“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

—  Umberto Eco (1932-2016)



“Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.”

 —  Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (1932-)



“The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

 —  Steven Weinberg (1933-)



“Go without a coat when it’s cold; find out what cold is. Go hungry; keep your existence lean. Wear away the fat, get down to the lean tissue and see what it’s all about. The only time you define your character is when you go without.”

 —  Henry Rollins (1961-)



“Eventually, I sickened of people, myself included, who didn’t think enough of themselves to make something of themselves – people who did only what they had to and never what they could have done. I learned from them the infected loneliness that comes from the end of each misspent day. I knew I could do better.”

 —  Mark Twight (1961-)


Feel free to leave your favourite quotations in the comments below and they’ll be added to the list


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