“There are very few things which we know, which are not capable of being reduc’d to a Mathematical Reasoning; and when they cannot it’s a sign our knowledge of them is very small and confus’d; and when a Mathematical Reasoning can be had it’s as great a folly to make use of any other, as to grope for a thing in the dark, when you have a Candle standing by you.” — John Arbuthnot, Of the Laws of Chance, 1692

The Moralist

la rochefoucauld

More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “We should often be ashamed of our best Actions, if the world saw all their Motives.”
  • “If we had no Faults ourselves, we should not take such Pleasure in observing those of others.”
  • “The Reason we are so angry with such as trick us is, because they think they have more Wit than we.”
  • “There are Heroes in Ill, as well as in Good.”
  • “There are People who are disagreeable with great Merit; and others who with great Faults are agreeable.”
  • “We easily forget Crimes that are known to none but ourselves.”
  • “To judge of Love by most of its Effects, one would think it more like Hatred than Kindness.”
  • “Our Merit procures us the Esteem of Men of Sense, and our Fortune that of the Public.”
  • “Narrowness of Mind is the Cause of Obstinacy; and we don’t easily believe beyond what we see.”
  • “Quarrels would not last long if the Fault was but on one Side.”
  • “We are not able to act up to our Reason.”
  • “Men are oftener treacherous through Weakness than Design.”
  • “Our Self-love bears with less Patience the Condemnation of our Tastes, than of our Opinions.”
  • “We are almost always tired with the Company of those whom we ought not to be tired of.”
  • “The Mind, thro’ Laziness and Constancy, fixes on what is easy or agreeable to it. This Habit bounds our Knowledge; and no Man has ever given himself the trouble to extend and carry his Genius as far as it was capable of going.”

And “Few People are well-acquainted with Death. ‘Tis generally submitted to thro’ Stupidity and Custom, not Resolution; and most Men die merely because they can’t help it.”

Near and Far

More proverbs from around the world:

  • A lover should be regarded as a person demented. (Roman)
  • Great politeness means “I want something.” (Chinese)
  • Large desire is endless poverty. (India)
  • A short rest is always good. (Danish)
  • A stumble is not a fall. (Haitian)
  • Abroad one has a hundred eyes, at home not one. (German)
  • The church is near, but the way is icy; the tavern is far, but I will walk carefully. (Ukrainian)
  • A bully is always a coward. (Spanish)
  • Failure is the source of success. (Japanese)
  • The greater part of humankind is bad. (Greek)
  • The inside is different from the outside. (Korean)
  • You are as many a person as languages you know. (Armenian)
  • By getting angry, you show you are wrong. (Madagascar)
  • Life is a road with a lot of signs. (Jamaican)
  • Old age does not announce itself. (Zulu)
  • Whether small or large, a snake cannot be used as a belt. (Yoruban)
  • He that is too smart is surely done for. (Yiddish)


“I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so.” — Stephen Leacock


“I can’t recall who first pointed out that the word ‘explain’ means literally to ‘flatten out.'” — Philip Slater



“Murder is a crime. Describing murder is not. Sex is not a crime. Describing sex is.” — Gershon Legman

Worldly Wise

Proverbs from around the world:

  • A pretty basket does not prevent worries. (Congo)
  • Good painters need not give a name to their pictures; bad ones must. (Poland)
  • Sickness comes riding on horseback and goes away on foot. (Belgium)
  • The spectator is a great hero. (Afghanistan)
  • Those who have to go ten miles must regard nine as only halfway. (Germany)
  • The world is dark an inch ahead. (Japan)
  • Those who place their ladder too steeply will easily fall backward. (Czech Republic)
  • All the wealth of the world is in the weather. (Scotland)
  • Those whose mother is naked are not likely to clothe their aunt. (Sudan)
  • To be in the habit of no habit is the worst habit in the world. (Wales)
  • What is bad luck for one is good luck for another. (Ghana)
  • Good luck is the guardian of the stupid. (Sweden)
  • A change is as good as a rest. (England)
  • Good scribes are not those who write well, but who erase well. (Russia)
  • There is no such thing as a pretty good omelette. (France)
  • Of all the thirty-six alternatives, running away is the best. (China)


“If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.” — R.D. Laing

Seeing and Believing


“Experience never misleads; what you are misled by is only your judgment, and this misleads you by anticipating results from experience of a kind that is not produced by your experiments.” — Leonardo



“Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense. The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.” — Benjamin Disraeli

“The multitude of books is making us ignorant.” — Voltaire

“We live in an age that reads too much to be wise.” — Oscar Wilde

“The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure or limit to this fever of writing; everyone must be an author, some for some kind of vanity to acquire celebrity and raise a name, others for the sake of lucre or gain.” — Martin Luther

“There are times when I think that the reading I have done in the past has had no effect except to cloud my mind and make me indecisive.” — Robertson Davies

“The road to ignorance is paved with good editions.” — Bernard Shaw