Quotations about   human nature

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The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do and, in addition, will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people. They say “no” to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds, but in their quiet refusals to commit villainies. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’’re telling the truth about the human being — what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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The greatest works of art speak to us without knowing of us.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 5 “Consolation for a Broken Heart” (2000)
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Added on 12-Apr-18 | Last updated 12-Apr-18
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Man is a successful animal, that’s all.

Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915) French poet, novelist, critic
Promenades Philosophiques (1908)

Alt. trans.: "Man is merely a successful animal."
Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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The best aphorisms are pointed expressions of the results of observation, experience, and reflection. They are portable wisdom, the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and protective proverbs.

William Rounseville Alger (1822-1905) American writer, minister, translator
“The Utility and the Futility of Aphorisms,” Atlantic Monthly (Feb 1863)
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Often paraphrased, "Aphorisms are portable wisdom."
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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A man is a god in ruins.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Nature,” ch. 8 (1836)
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Added on 16-Oct-17 | Last updated 16-Oct-17
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If a man is not rising upwards to be an angel, depend upon it, he is sinking downwards to be a devil. He cannot stop at the beast. The most savage of men are not beasts; they are worse, a great deal worse.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Table Talk (30 Aug 1833)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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Character is simply habit long continued.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Moral Writings [Moralia], “On the Education of Children,” 4.3 [tr. Babbitt and Goodwin]
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Added on 29-Aug-17 | Last updated 29-Aug-17
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We’re animals. We’re born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts.

Barbara Kingsolver (b. 1955) American novelist, essayist, poet
Animal Dreams (1990)
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest. … The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) Austrian psychologist
The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, ch. 3, sec 3 (1956) [ed. Ansbacher]
Added on 22-Nov-16 | Last updated 22-Nov-16
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He who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler # 6 (7 Apr 1750)
Added on 29-Sep-16 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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Fine natures are like fine poems; a glance at the first two lines suffices for a guess into the beauty that waits you, if you read on.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) English novelist and politician
My Novel, or Varieties in English Life (1853)
Added on 27-Sep-16 | Last updated 27-Sep-16
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Kull was still mazed. “But being a wizard, having knowledge of all the ages and despising gold, glory, and position, what could Kaanuub offer Tuzun Thune that would make of him a foul traitor?”

“Gold, power, and position,” grunted Brule. “The sooner you learn that men are men whether wizard, king, or thrall, the better you will rule, Kull.”

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” (1929)
Added on 16-May-16 | Last updated 16-May-16
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The world is made up for the most part of morons and natural tyrants, sure of themselves, strong in their own opinions, never doubting anything.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) American lawyer
Personal Liberty (1928)
Added on 25-Apr-16 | Last updated 25-Apr-16
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There is a capacity of virtue in us, and there is a capacity of vice to make your blood creep.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1831)
Added on 9-Mar-16 | Last updated 9-Mar-16
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I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.

Baretti - hate mankind - wist_info quote

Giuseppe Baretti (1719-1789) Italian-English literary critic and translator [a.k.a. Joseph Baretti]
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
Added on 8-Mar-16 | Last updated 10-Mar-16
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Human nature is so constituted, that all see and judge better in the affairs of other men than in their own.

Terence (186?-159 BC) African-Roman dramatist [Publius Terentius Afer]
(Attributed)
Added on 11-Feb-16 | Last updated 11-Feb-16
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It’s silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are all brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, assassins, traitors, liars, hypocrites, poltroons.

Henry Miller (1891-1980) American novelist
“Two Writers in Praise of Rabelais and Each Other,” New York Times (7 Sep 1974)
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Added on 12-Nov-15 | Last updated 12-Nov-15
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The high sentiments always win in the end, the leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“The Art of Donald McGill” (Sep 1941)
Added on 16-Oct-15 | Last updated 16-Oct-15
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Human nature is at once sublime and horrible, holy and satanic. Apart from the accumulation of knowledge and experience, which are external and precarious acquisitions, there is no proof that we have changed much since the first stone age.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
Added on 5-Oct-15 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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There ought not to be anything in the whole universe that man can’t poke his nose into — that’s the way we’re built and I assume that there’s some reason for it.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Methuselah’s Children [Lazarus Long] (1958)
Added on 11-Aug-15 | Last updated 11-Aug-15
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BAKUNIN: Left to themselves people are noble, generous, uncorrupted. They’d create a completely new kind of society if only people weren’t so blind, stupid and selfish.
HERZEN: Is that the same people or different people?
BAKUNIN: The same people.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
The Coast of Utopia: Salvage (2002)
Added on 7-Nov-14 | Last updated 7-Nov-14
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Drove up a newcomer in a covered wagon: “What kind of folks live around here?”
“Well, stranger, what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?”
“Well, they was mostly a lowdown, lying, thieving gossiping, backbiting kind lot of people.”
“Well, I guess, stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.”
And the dusty gray stranger had just about blended into the dusty gray cottonwoods in a clump on the horizon when another newcomer drove up: “What kind of folks live around here?”
“Well, stranger, what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?”
“Well, they was mostly a decent, hard-working, law-abiding, friendly lot of people.” “Well, I guess, stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.”

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) American poet, biographer
The People, Yes, Poem #52 (1936)
Added on 5-Nov-14 | Last updated 5-Nov-14
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At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice, and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1952)
Added on 5-Nov-14 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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Our errors and our controversies, in the sphere of morality, arise sometimes from looking on men as though they could be altogether bad, or altogether good.

[Nos erreurs et nos divisions dans la morale viennent quelquefois de ce que nous considérons les hommes comme s’ils pouvaient être tout à fait vicieux ou tout à fait bons.]

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], # 31 (1746) [tr. Stevens (1940)]
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Added on 24-Oct-14 | Last updated 24-Oct-14
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If there be, in any region of the universe, an order of moral agents living in society, whose reason is strong, whose passions and inclinations are moderate, and whose dispositions are turned to virtue, to such an order of happy beings, legislation, administration, and police, with the endlessly various and complicated apparatus of politics, must be in a great measure superfluous.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly,” ch. 1 “Government by Laws and Sanctions, why necessary” (1774)
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Added on 23-Oct-14 | Last updated 23-Oct-14
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How can anyone keep other people from doing stupid things? Humans are good at doing stupid things. It’s one of our talents, and one we like to exercise frequently.

John G. Hemry (contemp.) American naval officer, author [pseud. Jack Campbell]
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught (2011)
Added on 2-Jul-14 | Last updated 2-Jul-14
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Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 23 May 1903 [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 19-Dec-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldome extinguished. Force maketh nature more violent in the return.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Nature in Men,” Essays, No. 38 (1625)
Added on 17-Nov-11 | Last updated 16-May-16
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Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses, Introduction to First Book (1517) [tr. Detmold (1940)]

Alt. trans.: "It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope." [Discourse upon the First Ten Books of Livy, Book 1, ch. 3 (1513-18) [tr. Gilbert]]
Added on 19-Sep-11 | Last updated 21-Apr-17
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The human race consists of the damned and the ought-to-be-damned.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 1-Jun-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Conservatism stands on man’s incontestable limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitiude.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Conservative,” lecture, Masonic Temple, Boston (9 Dec 1841)
Added on 14-Apr-09 | Last updated 26-Dec-16
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Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and every one, and make that Best a part of my life.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
“Optimism,” part 1 (1903)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Feb-15
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