Quotations about   action

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“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.

“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. “You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.”

Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham (b. 1969) American writer [pseud. James S. A. Corey (with Ty Franck), M. L. N. Hanover]
Leviathan Wakes, ch. 36 (2011) [with Ty Franck]
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Added on 12-May-22 | Last updated 12-May-22
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“Faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

There is a deeper meaning in this text than we at first see. Of “these three,” two concern ourselves; the third concerns others. When faith and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must try charity, which is love in action. We must speculate no more on our duty, but simply do it. When we have done it, however blindly, perhaps Heaven will show us the reason why.

Dinah Craik
Dinah Craik (1826-1887) English novelist and poet [b. Dinah Maria Mulock]
Christian’s Mistake, ch. 2 (1865)
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A reference to the Bible, 1 Cor. 13:13, the "Three Theological Virtues."
Added on 6-May-22 | Last updated 6-May-22
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Something must happen — and that explains most human commitments. Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Fall [La Chute] (1956) [tr. O’Brien]
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Added on 4-May-22 | Last updated 4-May-22
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Once divested of missionary virus, the cult of our gods gives no offense. It would be a peaceful age if this were recognized, and religion, Christian, communist or any other, were to rely on practice and not on conversion for her growth.

Freya Stark (1893-1993) Franco-British explorer, travel writer [Freya Madeline Stark]
Ionia: A Quest, ch. 17 (1954)
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Added on 8-Apr-22 | Last updated 8-Apr-22
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What we do belongs to what we are; and what we are is what becomes of us.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
Ships and Havens, ch. 2 (1898)
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Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 14-Mar-22
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In this world a man must either be an anvil or a hammer.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Hyperion, “The Story of Brother Bernardus” (1839)
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Added on 11-Mar-22 | Last updated 11-Mar-22
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The Intellect engages us in the pursuit of Truth. The Passions impel us to Action.

[Cogitatio in vero exquirendo maxime versatur, appetitus impellit ad agendum.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 35 / sec. 132 (44 BC) [Barnes (1814)]

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translation:

Reflection is chiefly employed in the investigation of truth, appetite impels to action.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

Reflection chiefly applies itself in the search of truth. Appetite prompts us to action.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

Thought is occupied chiefly in seeking the truth; impulse urges to action.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]

Thought is employed in the discovery of truth, appetite impels to action.
[tr. Gardiner (1899)]

Thought is occupied chiefly with the discovery of truth; impulse prompts to action.
[tr. Miller (1913)]

Thought is mostly expended in seeking out the truth, passion urges men to action.
[tr. Edinger (1974)]

Added on 17-Feb-22 | Last updated 17-Feb-22
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Don’t be a man of “Intentions.” The world gives a man credit only for his deeds and, often, not even for them.

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Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Don’ts for Bachelors and Old Maids (1908)
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Added on 10-Dec-21 | Last updated 10-Dec-21
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Women are good listeners, but it’s a waste of time telling your troubles to a man unless there is something specific you want him to do.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 3 (1963)
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Added on 18-Nov-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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In a word, our moral dispositions are formed as a result of the corresponding activities. Hence it is incumbent on us to control the character of our activities, since on the quality of these depends the quality of our dispositions. It is therefore not of small moment whether we are trained from childhood in one set of habits or another; on the contrary it is of very great, or rather of supreme, importance.

[καὶ ἑνὶ δὴ λόγῳ ἐκ τῶν ὁμοίων ἐνεργειῶν αἱ ἕξεις γίνονται. διὸ δεῖ τὰς ἐνεργείας ποιὰς ἀποδιδόναι: κατὰ γὰρ τὰς τούτων διαφορὰς ἀκολουθοῦσιν αἱ ἕξεις. οὐ μικρὸν οὖν διαφέρει τὸ οὕτως ἢ οὕτως εὐθὺς ἐκ νέων ἐθίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ πάμπολυ, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ πᾶν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 2, ch. 1 (2.1, 1103b.20ff) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Rackham (1934), sec. 7-8]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Or, in one word, the habits are produced from the acts of working like to them: and so what we have to do is to give a certain character to these particular acts, because the habits formed correspond to the differences of these. So then, whether we are accustomed this way or that straight from childhood, makes not a small but an important difference, or rather I would say it makes all the difference.
[tr. Chase (1847)]

And indeed, in a word, all habits are formed by acts of like nature to themselves. And hence it becomes our duty to see that our acts are of a right character. For, as our acts vary, our habits will follow in their course. It makes no little difference, then, to what kind of habituation we are subjected from our youth up; but it is, on the contrary, a matter that is important to us, or rather all-important.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 24]

In a word moral states are the results of activities corresponding to the moral states themselves. It is our duty therefore to give a certain character to the activities, as the moral states depend upon the differences of the activities. Accordingly, the difference between one training of the habits and another from early days is not a light matter, but is serious or rather all-important.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

In a word, acts of any kind produce habits or characters of the same kind. Hence we ought to make sure that our acts be of a certain kind; for the resulting character varies as they vary. It makes no small difference, therefore, whether a man be trained from his youth up in this way or in that, but a great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

In a word, then, states come about from activities that are similar to them. That is why the activities must exhibit a certain quality, since the states follow along in accord with the differences between these. So it makes no small difference whether people are habituated in one way or in another way straight from childhood; on the contrary, it makes a huge one -- or rather, all the difference.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

In short, it is by similar activities that habits are developed in men; and in view of this, the activities in which men are engaged should be of [the right] quality, for the kinds of habits which develop follow the corresponding differences in these activities. So in acquiring habit it makes no small difference whether we are acting in one way or on the contrary way right from our early youth; it makes a great difference, or rather all the difference.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

In a word, then, like activities produce like dispositions. Hence we must give our activities a certain quality, because it is their characteristics that determine the resulting dispositions. So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age -- it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

In a word, then, like states arise from like activities. This is why we must give a certain character to our activities, since it is on the differences between them that the resulting states depend. So it is not unimportant how we are habituated from our early days; indeed it makes a huge difference -- or rather all the difference.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

And so, in a word, the characteristics come into being as a result of the activities akin to them. Hence we must make our activities be of a certain quality, for the characteristics correspond to the differences among the activities. It makes no small difference, then, whether one is habituated to this or that way straight from childhood but a very great difference -- or rather the whole difference.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

Added on 16-Nov-21 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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More quotes by Aristotle

But the many do not act upon this rule; they rather betake themselves to mere talk about what is right, deluding themselves into the belief that they are philosophers, and are consequently upon the high road to virtue; but, in reality, acting not unlike a sick man who listens attentively to his physicians, and then carries out none of their advice.

[ἀλλ᾽ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ᾽ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ᾽ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ᾽ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 2, ch. 4 (2.4, 1105b.12) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Williams (1869)]
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On practicing virtuous acts to become virtuous. (Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Yet people in general do not perform these actions, but taking refuge in talk they flatter themselves they are philosophising, and that they will so be good men: acting in truth very like those sick people who listen to the doctor with great attention but do nothing that he tells them.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 3]

But most people, instead of doing such actions, take refuge in theorizing; they imagine that they are philosophers and that philosophy will make them virtuous; in fact they behave like people who listen attentively to their doctors but never do anything that their doctors tell them.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

But most men, instead of doing thus, fly to theories, and fancy that they are philosophizing and that this will make them good, like a sick man who listens attentively to what the doctor says and then disobeys all his orders.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

But the mass of mankind, instead of doing virtuous acts, have recourse to discussing virtue, and fancy that they are pursuing philosophy and that this will make them good men. In so doing they act like invalids who listen carefully to what the doctor says, but entirely neglect to carry out his prescriptions.
[tr. Rackham (1934), ch. 4, sec. 6]

Ordinary people, however, do not do these actions but, taking refuge in argument, think that they are doing philosophy and that this is the way to become excellent -- thus behaving a bit like sick people who listen carefully to their doctors but do none of the things that are prescribed.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

Yet most men do not do these; instead, they resort to merely talking about them and think that they are philosophizing and that by so doing they will become virtuous, thus behaving somewhat like patients who listen to their doctors attentively but do none of the things they are ordered to do.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

This is not, however, the course that moes people follow: they have recourse to their principle, and imagine that they are being philosophical and that in this way they will become serious-minded -- behaving rather like invalids who listen carefully to their doctor, but carry out none of his instruction.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

The many, however, do not do these actions but take refuge in arguments, thinking that they are doing philosophy, and that this is the way to become excellent people. In this they are like a sick person who listens attentively to the doctor, but acts on none of his instructions.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

But the masses do not do them. They take refuge in argument, thinking that they are being philosophers and that this is the way to be good. they are rather like patients who listen carefully to their doctors, but do not do what they are told.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Yet most people [or the many] do not do them; and, seeking refuge in argument, they suppose that they are philosophizing and that they will in this way be serious, thereby doing something similar to the sick who listen attentively to their physicians but do nothing prescribed.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

Added on 9-Nov-21 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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Boasts are wind and deeds are hard.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Foundation and Empire, ch. 22 (1952)
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Added on 28-Oct-21 | Last updated 28-Oct-21
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As in the Olympic Games it is not the most attractive and the strongest who are crowned, but those who compete (since it is from this group that winners come), so in life it is those who act rightly who will attain what is noble and good.

[ὥσπερ δ᾽ Ὀλυμπίασιν οὐχ οἱ κάλλιστοι καὶ ἰσχυρότατοι στεφανοῦνται ἀλλ᾽ οἱ ἀγωνιζόμενοι (τούτων γάρ τινες νικῶσιν), οὕτω καὶ τῶν ἐν τῷ βίῳ καλῶν κἀγαθῶν οἱ πράττοντες ὀρθῶς ἐπήβολοι γίνονται.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 1, ch. 9 (1.9, 1099a.4) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Crisp (2000)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

And as at the Olympic games it is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists, for out of these the prize-men are selected; so too in life, of the honourable and the good, it is they who act who rightly win the prizes.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 6]

For as at the Olympic games it is not the fairest and the strongest who are crowned, but they that run -- for some of these it is that win the victory -- so too, among the noble and good in life, it is they that act rightly who become masters of life's prize.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

As in the Olympian games it is not the most beautiful and strongest persons who receive the crown, but they who actually enter the lists as combatants -- for it is some of these who become victors -- so it is they who act rightly that attain what is noble and good in life.
[tr. Welldon (1892), ch. 9]

And as at the Olympic games it is not the fairest and strongest who receive the crown, but those who contend (for among these are the victors), so in life, too, the winners are those who not only have all the excellences, but manifest these in deed.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

And just as at the Olympic games the wreaths of victory are not bestowed upon the handsomest and strongest persons present, but on men who enter for the competitions -- since it is among these that the winners are found, -- so it is those who act rightly who carry off the prizes and good things of life.
[tr. Rackham (1934), ch. 8, sec. 9]

And just as in the Olympic Games it is not the noblest and strongest who get the victory crown but the competitors (since it is among these that the ones who win are found), so also among the noble and good aspects of life it is those who act correctly who win the prizes.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

And as at the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful or the strongest who are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these who become victors), so in life it is those who act rightly who become the winners of good and noble things.
[tr. Apostle (1975), ch. 9]

Just as at the Olympic Games it is not the best-looking or the strongest men present that are crowned with wreaths, but the competitors (because it is from them that the winners come), so it is those who act that rightly win the honors and rewards in life.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

For just as it is not the noblest and strongest who are crowned with the victory wreath at the Olympic Games but rather the competitors (for it is certain of these who win), so also it is those who act correctly who attain the noble and good things in life.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

Added on 26-Oct-21 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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I was waiting for
something extraordinary to
happen

but as the years wasted on
nothing ever did unless I
caused it

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
“two kinds of hell” (c. 1990)
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While this sounds motivational, in the context of the poem, the "extraordinary" things (bar fights, dalliances) always end up poorly.

First published in Third Lung Review, #8 (1992); collected in an edited version in The People Look Like Flowers at Last (2007).
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If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire must be not to write.

Hugh Prather (1938-2010) American minister, writer, counselor
Notes to Myself (1970)
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Much misconstruction of character arises out of our habit of assigning a motive for every action — whereas a good many of our acts are performed without any motive.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 2 (1862)
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Added on 30-Jul-21 | Last updated 30-Jul-21
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The moral case for intervention is only as strong as the practicality of the mission itself. There is no moral case for doing something you’re not capable of doing.

Dexter Filkins
Dexter Filkins (b. 1961) American journalist
“The Moral Logic of Humanitarian Intervention,” New Yorker (16 Sep 2019)
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Added on 2-Jul-21 | Last updated 2-Jul-21
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You must make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.

T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) English biologist [Thomas Henry Huxley]
Letter to Anton Dohrn (17 Oct 1873)
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Added on 3-May-21 | Last updated 3-May-21
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Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Snuff (2011)
Added on 13-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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It’s better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late.

Marilyn Moats Kennedy (1943-2017) American educator, business and career consultant, writer
“The Case Against Performance Appraisals,” Across the Board (Jan 1999)
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Then welcome fate!
‘Tis true I perish, yet I perish great:
Yet in a mighty deed I shall expire,
Let future ages hear it, and admire!

[νῦν αὖτέ με μοῖρα κιχάνει.
μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,
ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 22, l. 303ff (22.303) [Hector] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Pope (1715-20), l. 385ff]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

But Fate now conquers; I am hers; and yet not she shall share
In my renown; that life is left to every noble spirit,
And that some great deed shall beget that all lives shall inherit.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 266ff]

But I will not fall
Inglorious; I will act some great exploit
That shall be celebrated ages hence.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 347ff]

Fate overtakes me. Nevertheless I will not perish cowardly and ingloriously at least, but having done some great deed to be heard of even by posterity.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

My fate hath found me now.
Yet not without a struggle let me die,
Nor all inglorious; but let some great act,
Which future days may hear of, mark my fall.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Now my fate hath found me. At least let me not die without a struggle or ingloriously, but in some great deed of arms whereof men yet to be born shall hear.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Now again is my doom come upon me. Nay, but not without a struggle let me die, neither ingloriously, but in the working of some great deed for the hearing of men that are yet to be.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

But now my death is upon me. Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious, but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Now the appointed time's upon me. Still, I would not die without delivering a stroke, or die ingloriously, but in some action memorable to men in days to come.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

So now I meet my doom. Well let me die --
but not without struggle, not without glory, no,
in some great clash of arms that even men to come
will hear of down the years!
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 359ff]

But now has my doom overcome me. But let me at least not die without making a fight, without glory, but a great deed having done for the men of the future to hear of.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]

May I not die without a fight and without glory
but after doing something big for men to come to learn about.
[tr. @Sentantiq (2011)]

Added on 24-Mar-21 | Last updated 8-Dec-21
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You can tell the man who rings true from the man who rings false, not by his deeds alone, but also by his desires.

[Δόκιμος ἀνὴρ καὶ ἀδόκιμος οὐκ ἐξ ὧν πράσσει μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ὧν βούλεται.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 68 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
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Diels citation "68. (40 N.) DEMOKRATES. 33." Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "A man is approved or rejected not only by what he doth, but by what he wills." [Hammond (1845)]
  • "The worthy and the unworthy man are to be known not only by their actions, but also their wishes." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "One of esteem and one without it do not only act for different reasons but they desire for different reasons too." [tr. @sententiq (2018), fr. 67]
  • "Accomplished or unaccomplished we shall call a man not only from what he does but from what he desires, too." [Source]
  • "The worthy and unworthy are known not only by their deeds, but also by their desires." [Source]
Added on 2-Mar-21 | Last updated 11-May-21
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One should emulate works and deeds of virtue, not arguments about it.

[Ἔργα καὶ πρήξιας ἀρετῆς, οὐ λόγους, ζηλοῦν χρειών.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 55 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
    (Source)

Cited in Diels as "55. (121 N.) DEMOKRATES. 21"; collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium II, 15, 36. Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "One should emulate the deeds and actions of virtue, not the words." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "One must emulate the deeds and actions fo virtue, not the words." [tr. Barnes (1987)]
  • "It is necessary to envy the deeds of the work of virtue not the words." [tr. @sententiq (2018)]
  • "Envy the deeds and actions of virtue, not the words." [Source]
Added on 23-Feb-21 | Last updated 23-Feb-21
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Be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.

[Μύθων τε ῥητῆρ’ ἔμεναι πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 9, l. 442 (9.442) (c. 750 BC) [tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]
    (Source)

Phoenix, on what he was sent to teach Achilles as a child to become. (Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

That thou might'st speak, when speech was fit, and do, when deeds were done,
Not sit as dumb, for want of words, idle, for skill to move.
[tr. Chapman (1611)]

To shine in councils and in camps to dare.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Both elocution and address in arms.
[tr. Cowper (1791)]

An orator in words and a performer in deeds.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

A speaker of words and one accomplished in action.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

A man of eloquence and action.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

A man of words, and a man of action, too.
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 538]

To be both a speaker of words and a doer of actions.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]

To be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
[tr. @Sentantiq (2016)]

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Everything one has a right to do is not best to be done.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Memorandum on Colonial Taxation
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The worship of God is a Duty; the hearing and reading of Sermons may be useful; but, if Men rest in Hearing and Praying, as too many do, it is as if a Tree should Value itself on being water’d and putting forth Leaves, tho’ it never produc’d any Fruit.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Joseph Huey (6 Jun 1753)
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Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Men at Arms (1993)
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The Faith you mention has doubtless its use in the World. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavour to lessen it in any Man. But I wish it were more productive of good Works, than I have generally seen it: I mean real good Works, Works of Kindness, Charity, Mercy, and Publick Spirit; not Holiday-keeping, Sermon-Reading or Hearing; performing Church Ceremonies, or making long Prayers, filled with Flatteries and Compliments, despis’d even by wise Men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Joseph Huey (6 Jun 1753)
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CHARLIE ANDERSON: I wanna say somethin’. I’ve known since the train that we weren’t liable to find him. It was just a hair of a chance that we got Sam back. I knew that. Maybe I knew even before we left home, but somehow I just had to try! And if we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?

James Lee Barrett (1929-1989) American author, producer, screenwriter
Shenandoah (1965)
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Nobody but radicals have ever accomplished anything in a great crisis. Conservatives have their place in the piping times of peace; but in emergencies only rugged issue men amount to much.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Diary entry (1876)
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One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us; but we must ennoble our works.

Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?) German Dominican mystic, theologian [a.k.a. Eckehart von Hochheim]
Work and Being (14th C.)

Note: I haven't found a text by that name in Eckhart's bibliography, nor this quotation anywhere connected with anything but that title or none at all.
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DEXTER: I’d rather do something and make a mistake, than be frightened into doing nothing. That’s the problem back home. Folks have been conned into thinking they can’t change the world. Have to accept what is. I’ll tell you something, my friends, the world is changing every day. The only question is, who’s doing it?

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×20 “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” (14 Oct 1996)

See Straczynski.
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The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if
some kind of sin you must be pursuing,

Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man” (1959)
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It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,

That all sin is divided into two parts.

One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important

And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant.

And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from Billy Sunday to Buddha,

And it consists of not having done something you shudda.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
“Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man”
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Do you believe?
Belief will not save you.
Only actions
Guided and shaped
By belief and knowledge
Will save you.
Belief
Initiates and guides action —
Or it does nothing.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
The Parable of the Talents, ch. 20, epigraph (1998)
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Think not the faith by which the just shall live
Is a dead creed, a map correct of heaven,
Far less a feeling fond and fugitive,
A thoughtless gift, withdrawn as soon as given.
It is an affirmation and an act
That bids eternal truth be present fact.

Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849) English poet, biographer, essayist, teacher
“The Just Shall Live By Faith”
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Ideas must work through the brains and the arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“American Civilization,” lecture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (31 Jan 1862)
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And as she looked about, she did behold
How over that same door was likewise writ,
Be bold, be bold, and everywhere Be bold,
That much she mused, yet could not construe it
By any riddling skill or common wit.
At last she spied at that room’s upper end
Another iron door, on which was writ,
Be not too bold.

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) English poet
The Faerie Queen, Book 3, Canto 11, st. 54 (1590-96)
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Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers — for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (4 Nov 1963)
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The 1963 Proclamation was written, finalized, and distributed prior to Kennedy's assassination, six days before Thanksgiving.
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No sooner said than done — so acts your man of worth.

[Dictum factumque facit frux.]

Quintus Ennius (239-169 BC) Roman poet, writer
Fragment 315 [tr. Warmington]
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Quoted in Priscianus, Ars Prisciani, Book 6.
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Yet I think that to all living things there is a pleasure in the exercise of their energies, and that even beasts rejoice in being lithe and swift and strong. But a man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works. Not only his own thoughts, but the thoughts of the men of past ages guide his hands; and, as a part of the human race, he creates. If we work thus we shall be men, and our days will be happy and eventful.

William Morris (1834-1896) British textile designer, writer, socialist activist
“Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” lecture (1884)
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Printed in Signs of Change (1888).
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A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
(Attributed)
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Wings are freedom only when they are wide open in flight. On one’s back they are a heavy weight.

[Крылья — свобода, только когда раскрыты в полёте, за спиной они — тяжесть.]

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) Russian poet
Notebook 1 (1921)
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Literally "Wings -- freedom, only when opened in flight, behind their backs -- heavy."
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But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
1 John 3:17-18 [KJV]
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Alt. trans.:
  • [NRSV] "How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
  • [NIV] "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
  • [GNT] "If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action."
  • [TJB] "If a man who was rich enough in this world’s goods saw that one of his brothers was in need, but closed his heart to him, how could the love of God be living in him? My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active."
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Nevertheless even here, when a man bears patiently a number of heavy disasters, not because he does not feel them but because he has a high and generous nature, his nobility shines through. And if, as we said, the quality of a life is determined by its activities, no man who is truly happy can become miserable; because he will never do things that are hateful and mean.

[ὅμως δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις διαλάμπει τὸ καλόν, ἐπειδὰν φέρῃ τις εὐκόλως πολλὰς καὶ μεγάλας ἀτυχίας, μὴ δι᾽ ἀναλγησίαν, ἀλλὰ γεννάδας ὢν καὶ μεγαλόψυχος. εἰ δ᾽ εἰσὶν αἱ ἐνέργειαι κύριαι τῆς ζωῆς, καθάπερ εἴπομεν, οὐδεὶς ἂν γένοιτο τῶν μακαρίων ἄθλιος: οὐδέποτε γὰρ πράξει τὰ μισητὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 1, ch. 11 (1.11) / 1100b.30-35 (c. 325 BC) [tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]
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(Source (Greek))

Often highly paraphrased: "Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind."

Alternate translations:

But nevertheless, even in these, nobility of the soul is conspicuous, when a man bears and digests many and great misfortunes, not from insensibility, but because he is high spirited and magnanimous. But if the energies are the things that constitute the bliss or the misery of life, as we said, no happy man can ever become miserable, for he will never do hateful and worthless actions.
[tr. Vincent (1835)]

But still, even in these, nobleness shines through when a man bears contentedly many and great mischances not from insensibility to pain but because he is noble and high-spirited. And if, as we have said, the acts of working are what determine the character of the life, no one of the blessed can ever become wretched, because he will never do those things which are hateful and mean.
[tr. Chase (1847)]

But nevertheless even here true nobility sines out, when a man bears calmly man and great mishaps, not through dullness of feeling, but from true high-breeding, and greatness of spirit. And since, as we have said, it is our own acts that determine our life, no one of the really blessed can ever become wretched, for he will never do hateful and disgraceful deeds.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 17]

Still even in these circumstances nobility shines out, when a person bears the weight of accumulated misfortunes with calmness, not from insensibility but from innate dignity and magnanimity. But if it is the activities which determine the life, as we said, nobody who is fortunate can become miserable; for he will never do what is hateful and mean.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

But nevertheless true worth shines out even here, in the calm endurance of many great misfortunes, not through insensibility, but through nobility and greatness of soul. And if it is what a man does that determines the character of his life, as we said, then no happy man will become miserable; for he will never do what is hateful and base. [tr. Peters (1893), 1.10.13]

Nevertheless even under these the force of nobility shines out, when a man bears calmly many great disasters, not from insensibility, but because he is generous and of a great soul. Setting happiness then, as we do, not in the outward surroundings of man, but in his inward state, we may fairly say that no one who has attained to the bliss of virtue will ever justly become an object of pity or contempt: for he will never do things that are hateful and vile.
[tr. Stock (1897)]

Yet even in these nobility shines through, when a man bears with resignation many great misfortunes, not through insensibility to pain but through nobility and greatness of soul. If activities are, as we said, what gives life its character, no happy man can become miserable; for he will never do the acts that are hateful and mean.
[tr. Ross (1908), 1.10]

Yet nevertheless even in adversity nobility shines through, when a man endures repeated and severe misfortune with patience, not owing to insensibility but from generosity and greatness of soul. And if, as we said, a man's life is determined by his activities, no supremely happy man can ever become miserable. For he will never do hateful or base actions.
[tr. Rackham (1934), 1.10.12-13]

All the same, even in these cases nobility shines through when someone calmly bears repeated strokes of great bad luck -- not because he is insensitive to suffering but because of being well bred and great-souled. And if it is activities that control living, as we said, no blessed person will ever become wretched, since he will never do hateful or base actions.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper. Besides, if it be true, as I affirmed, that the quality of life is determined by its activities, it is impossible for the entirely happy man to become miserable. For he will never be guilty of base or detestable actions.
[tr. Thomson (1953)]

Yet nobility shines out even there, when a man bears many and great misfortunes with calm and ease, not through insensibility to pain, but through nobility of character and highmindedness. Thus if it is the activities that play a dominant role in life, as we have said, no blessed man can become wretched; for he will never do what is hateful or bad.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

And yet, even here, what is fine shines through, whenever someone bears many severe misfortunes with good temper, not because he feels no distress, but because he is noble and magnanimous. And since it is activities that control life, as we said, no blessed person could ever become miserable, since he will never do hateful and base actions.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

What is noble shines through, when a person calmly bears many great misfortunes, not through insensibility, but by being well bred and great-souled. If activities are, as we have said, what really matter in life, no one blessed could become wretched, since he will never do hateful and petty actions.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Nevertheless, even in the midst of these, nobility shines through, whenever someone bears up calmly under many great misfortunes, not because of any insensitivity to pain but because he is wellbore and great souled. And if the activities have authoritative control over life, just as we said, then no one who is blessed would become wretched, since he will never do things that are hateful and base.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

Still, nobility shines bright even in tough times, when someone bears even many severe misfortunes patiently, not because they cannot sense them, but because of their unselfishness and greatness of spirit. If the actions one takes rules their life -- as we just said -- then none of the happy people can ever be miserable.
[tr. @sentantiq (2020)]

But all the same, even in these instances, nobility shines through whenever someone good-naturedly bears a multitude of great misfortunes, and does so not because he's numb to pain, but because he's noble and great-souled.
[tr. Benn (2021)]

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Nations are most commonly saved by the worst men in them. The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths which are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, Vol. 1, ch. 12 (1859)
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Variants:
  • "The adventurer's career suggests the reflection that nations are usually saved by their worse men, since the virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths needed to rouse the people against their tyrants." (Source)
  • "The virtuous are too scrupulous to go to the lengths that are necessary to rouse the people against their tyrants."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men because good men will not go to the lengths necessary to save it."
  • Modern paraphrase: "No great country was ever saved by good men, because good men may not go to the lengths that may be necessary."
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Right actions for the future are the best apologies for wrong ones in the past — the best evidence of regret for them that we can offer, or the world receive.

Tryon Edwards (1809-1894) American theologian, writer, lexicographer
A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908)
    (Source)

Often wrongly quoted, "... best apologies for bad actions in the past."
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In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Memorandum before the Battle of Trafalgar (9 Oct 1805)
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We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can, and would fain have the praise of having intended the result which ensues.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Experience,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
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Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s not something you have, like a house or a car. It is not a piece of paper that proves you are husband and wife. Marriage is a behavior. It is a choice you make over and over again, reflected in the way you treat your partner every day.

Barbara De Angelis (b. 1951) American relationship consultant, lecturer, author
Ask Barbara: The 100 Most-Asked Questions About Love, Sex, and Relationships (1997)
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Words and thoughts concerning compassionate action that are not put into practice are like beautiful flowers that are colorful but have no fragrance.

Thích Nhất Hạnh (b. 1926) Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
Creating True Peace, ch. 1 (2003)
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An activist is the guy who cleans the river, not the guy who concludes it’s dirty.

H. Ross Perot (1930-2019) American entrepreneur, politician, reformer [Henry Ross Perot, Sr.]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

In Ken Gross, Ross Perot: The Man Behind the Myth, ch. 14 (1992). A favorite saying of Perot's, varying slightly over the years (e.g., "The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.").
Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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Agitation is the marshalling of the conscience of a nation to mold its laws.

Robert Peel (1788-1850) British statesman, Prime Minister (1834-35, 1841-46)
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Sometimes quoted as "conscience of a people." Widely quoted without source in the late 19th Century (earliest ref. 1881).
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If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (12 May 1920)
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The time is always right to do what’s right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Future of Integration” Finney Chapel, Oberlin College (22 Oct 1964)

King gave several speeches over the years with this title.
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