Quotations by Voltaire


It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.
[Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
“Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l’histoire littéraire de ce temps” (1752)

Alt trans:
"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."
"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-May-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

The superstitious man is to the knave, what the slave is to the tyrant; nay more — the superstitious man is governed by the fanatic, and becomes a fanatic himself.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
“Superstition,” Philosophical Dictionary (1764) [tr. Fleming (1901)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.: "The superstitious man is to the rascal what the slave is to the tyrant." [tr. Besterman (1971)]
Added on 8-Jun-17 | Last updated 8-Jun-17
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Be it observed, that the most superstitious times have always been those of the most horrible crimes.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
“Superstition,” sec. 4, Philosophical Dictionary (1764) [tr. Besterman (1971)]
    (Source)
Added on 2-Jun-17 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)

Frequently attributed, but unsourced. Also attributed to Kevin Alfred Strom (1993) "To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?"
Added on 7-Dec-12 | Last updated 7-Dec-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
Added on 6-May-13 | Last updated 6-May-13
Link to this post | 1 comment
More quotes by Voltaire

Prejudices are what fools use for reason.

voltaire-prejudices-fool-reason-wist_info

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
Added on 6-Dec-16 | Last updated 6-Dec-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Life is thickly sown with thorns. I know no other remedy than to pass rapidly over them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater their power to harm us.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

In The Lady's Magazine, "Anecdotes of Voltaire" (Jul 1786).
Added on 17-Oct-17 | Last updated 17-Oct-17
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

God is a comic playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Misattributed)

Unverified. See Mencken.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Misattributed)

Actually, Pierre de Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville (1775), I.ii, "Aujourd'hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d'être dit, on le chante" ["Nowadays what isn't worth saying is sung"]. Also, Joseph Addison, The Spectator (21 Mar 1711), who spoke of "an establish'd Rule, which is receiv'd as such to this Day, That nothing is capable of being well set to Musick, that is not Nonsense."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Misattributed)
    (Source)

The words are not found in any Voltaire and actually belong to historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing as S. G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), describing an 1759 incident where Voltaire learned that Claude-Adrien Helvétius' book On the Mind [De l’esprit] had been burned (along with Voltaire's own "On Natural Law") after condemnation by the Paris Parliament and the Sorbonne.
‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ was his attitude now.
Hall later wrote to a friend that the actual words were her own and ought not to have had quotation marks.

Variations:
  • I wholly disapprove of what you say -- and will defend to the death your right to say it.
  • Monsieur l’Abbé, je déteste ce que vous écrivez, mais je donnerais ma vie pour que vous puissiez continuer à écrire.
More information here.
Added on 12-Jul-16 | Last updated 12-Jul-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
(Misttributed)

Actually Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis (1764-1830): "Il est encore plus facile de juger de l'esprit d'un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses." [It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers] in Maximes et réflexions sur différents sujets de morale et de politique, Maxim 17 (1808)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Prejudice is an opinion without judgment.

[Le préjugé est une opinion sans jugement.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, “Prejudices” (1764)
Added on 9-Jul-08 | Last updated 9-Jul-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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

[La morale est la même chez tous les hommes, donc elle vient de Dieu; le culte est différent, donc il est l’ouvrage des hommes.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, “Atheist,” (1764)
Added on 25-Jun-08 | Last updated 25-Jun-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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.

[Qu’est-ce que la tolérance? c’est l’apanage de l’humanité. Nous sommes tous pétris de faiblesses et d’erreurs; pardonnons-nous réciproquement nos sottises, c’est la première loi de la nature.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, “Tolerance” (1764)
Added on 7-May-08 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, “Tolerance” (1764)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Apr-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

[Laissez lire, et laissez danser; ces deux amusements ne feront jamais de mal au monde.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique, “Liberty of the Press” (1785-1789)
Added on 23-Jul-08 | Last updated 23-Jul-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

All philosophical sects have run aground on the reef of moral and physical ill. It only remains for us to confess that God, having acted for the best, had not been able to do better.

[Toutes les sectes des philosophes ont échoué contre l’écueil du mal physique et moral. Il ne reste que d’avouer que Dieu ayant agi pour le mieux n’a pu agir mieux.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Dictionnaire philosophique, “Power, Omnipotence” (1785-1789)
Added on 14-May-08 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

All styles are good, except the tiresome kind.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
L’Enfant prodigue, Preface (1736)
Added on 28-Oct-14 | Last updated 28-Oct-14
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.

[En effet, l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
L’Ingénu, ch.10 (1767)
Added on 20-Apr-09 | Last updated 20-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

We use ideas merely to justify our evil, and speech merely to conceal our ideas.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Le Chapon et al Poularde, ch. 14 (1766)
Added on 12-Jun-12 | Last updated 12-Jun-12
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

A witty saying proves nothing.
[Un bon mot ne prouve rien.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers, “Deuxième Entretien” (1767)

Full text.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

[Il est bien malaisé (puisqu’il faut enfin m’expliquer) d’ôter à des insensés des chaînes qu’ils révèrent.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers, “Troisième Entretien” (1767)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Lettres philosophiques (1734)
Added on 28-Apr-10 | Last updated 28-Apr-10
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Clever tyrants are never punished.
[Les habiles tyrans ne sont jamais punis.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Mérope, act V, sc. 5 (1743)
Added on 16-May-08 | Last updated 16-May-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.
[Si Dieu nous a fait à son image, nous le lui avons bien rendu.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Notebooks (c.1735-c.1750)

Alt. trans. "If God created us in his own image we have more than reciprocated."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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.

[Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu’ils en ont une.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Notebooks, “Leningrad Notebook” (c.1735-c.1750)

The same notebook has a variation on this: Les hommes qui cherchent le bonheur sont comme des ivrognes qui ne peuvent trouver leur maison, mais qui savent qu'ils en ont une. [Men who look for happiness are like drunkards who cannot find their house but know that they have one.]
Added on 21-May-08 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Virtue debases itself in justifying itself.
[La vertu s’avilit à se justifier.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Oedipe, act II, sc. iv (1718)
Added on 28-May-08 | Last updated 28-May-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Cato” (1764)
Added on 12-Sep-16 | Last updated 12-Sep-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk the beaten path always throw stones at those who teach a new path.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Literature and Writers” (1764) [tr. Besterman (1971)]
Added on 16-Nov-11 | Last updated 16-Nov-11
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

What is madness? To have erroneous perceptions and to reason correctly from them.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Madness” (1764)
    (Source)
Added on 7-Nov-17 | Last updated 7-Nov-17
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

This is the character of truth: it is of all time, it is for all men, it has only to show itself to be recognized, and one cannot argue against it. A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Sect” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
    (Source)
Added on 31-Oct-14 | Last updated 31-Oct-14
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

I fear that in this world one must be either hammer or anvil.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.: "In this world we run the risk of having to choose between being either the anvil or the hammer." [Baskin (1961)]
Added on 12-Mar-09 | Last updated 31-Oct-14
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

If I had to choose, I should detest the tyranny of one man less than that of many. A despot always has his good moments; an assembly of despots never.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Tyranny” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
    (Source)
Added on 4-Nov-14 | Last updated 4-Nov-14
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

Money is always to be found when men are to be sent to the frontiers to be destroyed: when the object is to preserve them, it is no longer so.

[On en trouve [l’argent] toujours quand il s’agit d’aller faire tuer des hommes sur la frontière: il n’y en a plus quand il faut les sauver.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, “Charity” (1770)
Added on 13-Aug-08 | Last updated 13-Aug-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Nothing is so common as to imitate one’s enemies, and to use their weapons.
[Rien n’est si ordinaire que d’imiter ses ennemis, et d’employer leurs armes.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, “Oracles” (1770-1774)
Added on 2-Jul-08 | Last updated 2-Jul-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

The Eternal has his designs from all eternity. If prayer is in accord with his immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of him what he has resolved to do. If one prays to him to do the contrary of what he has resolved, it is praying that he be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that he is thus, it is to mock him. Either you ask him a just thing, in which case he must do it, the thing being done without your praying to him for it, and so to entreat him is then to distrust him; or the thing is unjust, and then you insult him. You are worthy or unworthy of the grace you implore: if worthy, he knows it better than you; if unworthy, you commit another crime by requesting what is undeserved.

In a word, we only pray to God because we have made him in our image. We treat him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke or appease.

[L’Éternel a ses desseins de toute éternité. Si la prière est d’accord avec ses volontés immuables, il est très inutile de lui demander ce qu’il a résolu de faire. Si on le prie de faire le contraire de ce qu’il a résolu, c’est le prier d’être faible, léger, inconstant; c’est croire qu’il soit tel, c’est se moquer de lui. Ou vous lui demandez une chose juste; en ce cas il la doit, et elle se fera sans qu’on l’en prie; c’est même se défier de lui que lui faire instance ou la chose est injuste, et alors on l’outrage. Vous êtes digne ou indigne de la grâce que vous implorez: si digne, il le sait mieux que vous; si indigne, on commet un crime de plus en demandant ce qu’on ne mérite pas. 

En un mot, nous ne faisons des prières à Dieu que parce que nous l’avons fait à notre image. Nous le traitons comme un bacha, comme un sultan qu’on peut irriter ou apaiser.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, “Prayers,” (1770-1774)
Added on 16-Jul-08 | Last updated 16-Jul-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

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

[Il est défendu de tuer; tout meurtrier est puni, à moins qu’il n’ait tué en grande compagnie, et au son des trompettes.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, “Rights” (1771)
Added on 29-Jul-08 | Last updated 29-Jul-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.

[Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois: Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre coeur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Questions sur les miracles (1765)

Alt trans.: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Added on 11-Jun-08 | Last updated 17-Jul-15
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , , , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

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

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Sept discours en vers sur l’homme (1738)
Added on 30-Apr-13 | Last updated 30-Apr-13
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Love truth, but pardon error.
[Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l’erreur.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Sept Discours en Vers sur l’Homme, “Deuxième discours: de la liberté” (1738)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.

[Le secret d’ennuyer est celui de tout dire.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Sept Discours en Vers sur l’Homme, “Sixième discours: sur la nature de l’homme” (1738)
Added on 4-Jun-08 | Last updated 4-Jun-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.   

[Il vaut mieux hasarder de sauver un coupable que de condamner un innocent.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Zadig (1747)
Added on 18-Mar-09 | Last updated 18-Mar-09
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe of ours.

[Les opinions ont plus causé de maux sur ce petit globe que la peste et les tremblements de terre.] 

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Élie Bertrand (5 Jan 1759)
Added on 18-Jun-08 | Last updated 18-Jun-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

You are perfectly right, Sire. A wise and courageous prince, with money, troops, and laws, can perfectly well govern men without the aid of religion, which was made only to deceive them; but the stupid people would soon make one for themselves, and as long as there are fools and rascals there will be religions.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Frederick II (5 Jan 1767)
Added on 28-Mar-14 | Last updated 28-Mar-14
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

[Le doute n’est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Frederick II of Prussia (6 Apr 1767)

Alt trans.
  • "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."
  • "Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.
[J’aime fort la vérité, mais je n’aime point du tout le martyre.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Jean le Rond d’Alembert (8 Feb 1776)
Added on 6-Aug-08 | Last updated 6-Aug-08
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire

I have never made but one prayer to God, and very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to M. Damilaville (16 May 1767)
Added on 21-Apr-15 | Last updated 21-Apr-15
Link to this post | No comments
Topics: , , , , ,
More quotes by Voltaire

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I am rarely satisfied with my lines, but I own that I have a father’s tenderness for that one.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to M. Saurin (10 Nov 1770)
Added on 5-Nov-10 | Last updated 5-Nov-10
Link to this post | No comments
More quotes by Voltaire