French writer Francois (, the second duc de) la Rochefoucauld (, Prince de Marsillac) (1613-1680) produced many unique ideas in philosophy and many interesting insights on human nature.
Francois was born in Paris, France, and belonged to one of the most illustrious families of the French noblesse. During those times, the unstable French government often alternated between aiding the nobility and posing a threat to them.
Francois spent much of his life in the military. He served for the French army on-and-off from 1629 to 1646, and also was a notable fighter in the French civil war from 1648 to 1653. During his military career, Francois received major wounds several times before finally retiring around 1653.
After retiring, and while recovering from various injuries, Francois joined an intellectual and scholarly group in Paris. During his time with them, he and the others often composed epigrams, which are concise statements and sayings that are often clever, witty, informative, and sometimes paradoxical or enigmatic.
Francois was very proficient at writing these epigrams, and by 1665, he collected many of them along with several of his essays, and put them in the first edition of Reflexions ou Sentences et Maximes Morales,which is more commonly known as Maximes, or Maxims in English.
Francois also produced various other writings throughout his life, but Maxims is by far and away the most famous and widely read of his works.
Maxims was first released in 1665 in its first edition, but Francois made various revisions, additions, and subtractions over time and consequently released five revised editions, the last of which came out in 1678. A sixth edition was released thirteen years after his death, in 1693, and included fifty new maxims the editor attributed to Francois.
Maxims contains mainly proverbial type statements, many of which are commentary about human nature and human interaction, and what Francois believes are the common inaccuracies of people’s perceptions of themselves and of others. Francois’s theories about human nature cover such topics as self-interest & self-love, passions / emotions, vanity, relationships, love, conversation, insincerity, and deception. His writings are very concise, straightforward, and candid.
Maxims is considered one of the most notable and widely read works of literature in history. It also has a somewhat notorious reputation, due to its various not-so-flattering portrayals of human nature.
But although Francois’s writings depict people as extremely self-interested and vain, Francois liked people and was generally quite friendly and sociable. He was also noted for being romatic. His life is marked by four various periods, each of which was occupied with an association and obsession with a different woman.
Francois described himself as active, melancholy, reserved, skilled, fond of conversation, fond of reading, excessively critical, fond of argument, fond of self-improvement and hearing his friends candidly tell him of his faults, emotionally controlled, and very respectful and chivalrous towards women.
Quotes About Maxims / La Rochefoucuald
Till you come to know mankind by your experience, I know no thing nor no man that can in the meantime bring you so well acquainted with them as Le Duc de la Rochefoucauld. His little book of maxims, which I would advise you to look into for some moments at least every day of your life, is, I fear, too like and too exact a picture of human nature. I own it seems to degrade it, but yet my experience does not convince me that it degrades it unjustly. Lord Chesterfield
[La Rochefoucauld is]the great philosopher for administering consolation to the idle, the curious, and the worthless part of mankind. Joseph Addison
As Rochefoucauld his maxims drew From Nature—I believe them true. They argue no corrupted mind in him; the fault is in mankind. Jonathan Swift
We rarely ever perceive others as sensible, except for those who agree with us.
In order to punish man for his original sin, God has made him so fond of his self-love that he is tormented by it in all the actions of his life.
I love my friends; and I love them to such an extent that I would not for a moment weigh my interest against theirs. I condescend to them, I patiently endure their bad temper. But, also, I do not make much of their caresses, and I do not feel great uneasiness in their absence.
When our hatred is too keen, it places us beneath those we hate.
If we take the liberty to dwell on their faults, we cannot long preserve the feelings we should hold towards our friends and benefactors.
We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that we end up becoming disguised to ourselves
We concern ourselves less with becoming happy than making others believe we are.
Most young people think they are natural when they are only boorish and rude.
Nothing prevents our being natural as much as our desire to seem so.
Sincerity is an openness of heart; we find it in very few people. What we usually see is only an artful dissimulation to win the confidence of others.
Men would not live long in society were they not the dupes of each other.
Self love is more cunning than the most cunning man in the world.
It is as easy to unknowingly deceive yourself as to deceive others.
The head is ever the dupe of the heart.
We do not wish ardently for what we desire only through reason.
A man often believes himself leader when he is led; as his mind endeavors to reach one goal, his heart insensibly drags him towards another.
Reason alone is insufficient to make us enthusiastic in any matter.
Those who know their minds do not necessarily know their hearts.
The head cannot play the part of the heart for long.
In the human heart there is a perpetual generation of passions; so that the ruin of one is almost always the foundation of another.
Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily.
Jealousy is in a manner just and reasonable, as it tends to preserve a good which belongs, or which we believe belongs to us. Envy, on the other hand, is a fury that cannot endure the happiness of others.
Interest blinds some and makes some see.
If we never flattered ourselves, we should have but insufficient pleasure.
It is sometimes necessary to play the fool in order to avoid being deceived by cunning men.
One reason why we find so few people who are rational and agreeable in conversation is that there is harldly anyone who does not think more about what he wants to say than about responding to what is said. The most clever and polite people are content with merely seeming attentive—and we can can perceive in their eyes and mind that they are wandering from what is said, and want to return to what they want to say; instead of considering that the worst way to persuade or please others is to try to please ourselves [this way], and that listening well and answering well are some of the greatest charms we can have in conversation.
Numberless acts appear foolish whose secret motives are most wise and weighty.
Most things are praised or condemned only because it is fashionable to praise or condemn them.
Ability wins us the esteem of the true individuals, luck [wins] that of the people.
However deceitful hope may be, yet she carries us on pleasantly to the end of life.
The desire to appear clever often prevents our being so.
He who thinks he can find in himself the means of doing without others is much mistaken; but he who thinks that others cannot do without him is still more mistaken.
Intrepidity is an extraordinary strength of soul that raises it above the troubles, disorders, and emotions that the sight of great perils can arouse in it. By this strength, heroes maintain a calm aspect and preserve their reason and liberty in the most surprising and terrible predicaments.
Lucky people are often bad hands at correcting their faults; they believe that they are right when luck backs up their vice or folly.
It is great folly to wish only to be wise.
We often bore others when we think we cannot possibly bore them.
There is at least as much eloquence in the voice, eyes, and air of a speaker as in his choice of words.
To men who have deserved high praise, nothing should be more humbling than the lengths to which they will still go to get credit for petty things.
Interest, which is accused of all our misdeeds, often should be praised for our good deeds.
There are few virtuous women who are not tired of their part.
It is much easier to know men than it is to know a man.
It is more necessary to study men than books.
As in friendship so in love, we are often happier from ignorance than from knowledge.
In great matters we should not try so much to create opportunities as to utilize those that offer themselves.
The mind attaches itself by idleness and habit to whatever is easy or pleasant. This habit always places bounds to our knowledge, and no one has ever yet taken the pains to enlarge and expand his mind to the full extent of its capacities.
Those who apply themselves too closely to trifling things often become incapable of great things.
A clever man ought to so regulate his interests that each will fall in due order. Our greediness so often troubles us, making us run after so many things at the same time, that while we too eagerly look after the least, we miss the greatest.
We should earnestly desire but few things if we clearly knew what we desired.
Few things are needed to make a wise man happy; nothing can make a fool content; that is why most men are miserable.
Before strongly desiring anything, we should examine the happiness of those who already posses it.
It is more easy to extinguish the first desire than to satisfy those which follow.
A true friend is the greatest of all goods, and that of which we think least of acquiring.
It is most difficult to speak when we are ashamed of being silent.
A man who no one is pleasing is much unhappier than a man who pleases nobody.
Lovers do not wish to see the faults of their mistresses until their enchantment is at an end.
...When their [women's] intellect is cultivated, I prefer their society to that of men: one there finds a mildness one does not meet with among ourselves, and it seems to me beyond this that they express themselves with more neatness, and give a more agreeable turn to the things they talk about.”