The significance of the most harmless words and actions grows with the years, and if I see any one about me for any length of time, I always try to show him the difference there is between sincerity, confidence, and indiscretion; nay, that in truth there is no difference at all, but a gentle transition from what is most innocent to what is most hurtful; a transition which must be perceived or rather felt.
Herein we must exercise our tact; otherwise in the very way in which we have won the favour of mankind, we run the risk of trifling it away again unawares. This is a lesson which a man learns quite well for himself in the course of life, but only after having paid a dear price for it; nor can he, unhappily, spare his posterity a like expenditure.
Love of truth shows itself in this, that a man knows how to find and value the good in everything.
Character calls forth character.
If I am to listen to another man's opinion, it must be expressed positively. Of things problematical I have enough in myself.
Superstition is a part of the very being of humanity; and when we fancy that we are banishing it altogether, it takes refuge in the strangest nooks and corners, and then suddenly comes forth again, as soon as it believes itself at all safe.
I keep silence about many things, for I do not want to put people out of countenance ; and I am well content if they are pleased with things that annoy me.
Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.
A man is really alive only when he delights in the goodwill of others.
Piety is not an end, but a means: a means of attaining the highest culture by the purest tranquillity of soul.
Hence it may be observed that those who set up piety as an end and object are mostly hypocrites.
When a man is old he must do more than when he was young.
To fulfil a duty is still always to feel it as a debt, for it is never quite satisfying to oneself.
Defects are perceived only by one who has no love; therefore, to see them, a man must become uncharitable, but not more so than is necessary for the purpose.
The greatest piece of good fortune is that which corrects our deficiencies and redeems our mistakes.
Reading ought to mean understanding; writing ought to mean knowing something; believing ought to mean comprehending; when you desire a thing, you will have to take it; when you demand it, you will not get it; and when you are experienced, you ought to be useful to others.
The stream is friendly to the miller whom it serves; it likes to pour over the mill wheels; what is the good of it stealing through the valley in apathy?
Whoso is content with pure experience and acts upon it has enough of truth. The growing child is wise in this sense.
Theory is in itself of no use, except in so far as it makes us believe in the connection of phenomena.
When a man asks too much and delights in complication, he is exposed to perplexity.
Thinking by means of analogies is not to be condemned. Analogy has this advantage, that it comes to no conclusion, and does not, in truth, aim at finality at all. Induction, on the contrary, is fatal, for it sets up an object and keeps it in view, and, working on towards it, drags false and true with it in its train.
The absent works upon us by tradition. The usual form of it may be called historical; a higher form, akin to the imaginative faculty, is the mythical. If some third form of it is to be sought behind this last, and it has any meaning, it is transformed into the mystical. It also easily becomes sentimental, so that we appropriate to our use only what suits us.
In contemplation as in action, we must distinguish between what may be attained and what is unattainable. Without this, little can be achieved, either in life or in knowledge.
'le sense commun est le gènie de l'humanitè?'
Common-sense, which is here put forward as the genius of humanity, must be examined first of all in the way it shows itself. If we inquire the purpose to which humanity puts it, we find as follows: Humanity is conditioned by needs. If they are not satisfied, men become impatient; and if they are, it seems not to affect them. The normal man moves between these two states, and he applies his understanding — his so-called common-sense — to the satisfaction of his needs. When his needs are satisfied, his task is to fill up the waste spaces of indifference. Here, too, he is successful, if his needs are confined to what is nearest and most necessary. But if they rise and pass beyond the sphere of ordinary wants, common-sense is no longer sufficient; it is a genius no more, and humanity enters on the region of error.
There is no piece of foolishness but it can be corrected by intelligence or accident; no piece of wisdom but it can miscarry by lack of intelligence or by accident.
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