Quotations by Tolstoy, Leo


When [ignorance] does not know something, it says that what it does not know is stupid.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
A Confession, ch. 7 (1882) [tr. Maude (1921)]

Full text.

Added on 5-Apr-11 | Last updated 5-Apr-11
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Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Anna Karanina, opening words (1876) [tr. Garnett (1930)]

Alt trans.:
  • "All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
  • "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Added on 22-Feb-10 | Last updated 7-Apr-11
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Everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Pamphlets (1900)

More common variant: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Apr-11
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The advantage of the rich over the poor could not and cannot be maintained by anything but violence.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 12.1 (1893) [tr. Maude (1936)]
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Rulers always try to draw as many citizens as possible into as much participation as possible in the crimes they commit.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 12.3 (1893) [tr. Maude (1936)]
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The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, ch. 3 (1894)
Added on 10-Oct-06 | Last updated 7-Apr-11
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Slavery was contrary to all the moral principles advocated by Plato and Aristotle, yet neither of them saw this because to renounce slavery would have meant the collapse of the life they were living.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, ch. 6 (1893) [tr. Maude (1936)]
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When a man is unable to understand a thing, he ridicules it.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Thoughts and Aphorisms, 13.5 (1886-1893) [tr. Wiener (1905)]
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Dissatisfaction is a sign of people who are walking on the road and not standing still.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Thoughts and Aphorisms, 8.1 (1886-93) [tr. L. Wiener (1905)]
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Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Tolstoy’s Diaries, Vol. 2 (ed., tr. Christian)

Alt trans: "Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Apr-11
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Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
War and Peace, Book 10, ch. 16 (1865-1869)
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Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
War and Peace, Book 15, ch. 1 (1865-1869)
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Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
War and Peace, Book 4, ch. 11 (1865-1869)
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You will die — and it will all be over. You will die and find out everything — or cease asking.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
War and Peace, Book 5, ch. 1 (1865-1869)
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At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
War and Pestle, Book 10, ch. 17 (1865-1869)
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The assertion that art may be good art and at the same time incomprehensible to a great number of people is extremely unjust, and its consequences are ruinous to art itself … it is the same as saying some kind of food is good but most people can’t eat it.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
What Is Art? (1896)
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I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
What Is Art?, ch. 14 (1896)

Quoted by Joseph Ford, Chaotic Dynamics and Fractals (1985) [ed. Barnsley and Demko] Alt. trans.: "I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives." [tr. Maude (1930)]
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The difference between reactionary repression and revolutionary repression is the difference between cat shit and dog shit.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Adapted. In Theodore Roszak, The Making of the Counter Culture, Appendix (1969)
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It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put one principle into practice.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
Diary (17 Mar 1847)
    (Source)

From his earliest diary entry, when he was 18. Variants:
  • "It is easier to produce ten volumes of philosophical writing than to put one principle into practice."
  • "It is easier to write ten volumes on theoretical principles than to put one principle into practice."
Added on 9-Jul-15 | Last updated 9-Jul-15
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