A Collection of Wisdom


Voltaire (1694-1778) was a French writer and philosopher. His life and works have had a tremendous impact on French, European, and world culture.

Early Life

Voltaire was born in Paris, France, with the name Francois-Marie Arouet. In 1710 at age 16, he ended his formal schooling and joined a Paris scholarly group, and shortly later began writing and distributing various verses. By 1717, Voltaire was accused of writing negatively about the French government, and was imprisoned for nearly a year. After he got out, he adopted the penname Voltaire, a term whose origin and meaning is uncertain.

In 1718, he released a play he wrote in prison named Oedipe, which became immensely popular and earned him great fame and acclaim. By the mid 1720s, Voltaire was very wealthy due to his writing success, as well as from an inheritance and several shrewd investments.

Duel Challenge and Exile

In 1726, Voltaire got into an argument with a French nobleman named Chevalier de Rohan. After receiving a beating from Rohan’s men, Voltaire challenged Rohan to a duel three months later. Rohan used his influence to cause Voltaire to be imprisoned due to his duel challenge. Two weeks later, Voltaire accepted an option to be exiled from France rather than remain in jail.


Voltaire moved to England and spent three years there, which had a tremendous influence on him. He met writers such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, and also studied ideas of philosopher John Locke and scientist Isaac Newton.

Return to France

In 1729, Voltaire returned to France and came out with a variety of writings over the next few years, including an immensely popular play titled Zaire. He also issueda political work titled Letters Concerning the English Nation / Philosophical Letters, which offended the French government and caused French authorities to condemn the book. This caused Voltaire to flee from Paris to the chateau of Mme du Chatelet, located in Champagne, France.

Voltaire continued his writing, producing a wide variety of other works, including plays, historical works, poetry, writings about Isaac Newton, a philosophical work called Zadig, and a science fiction philosophical story called Micromegas.

The Legend

Voltaire later moved about to Berlin, Switzerland, and then to the Swiss-French border, and continued producing a tremendous amount of material, including his most notable work, a philosophical fiction tale named Candide. He also wrote the Philosophical Dictionary, Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations,and countless other books, plays, and essays. He soon became a renowned figure and celebrity known throughout Europe.

Voltaire finally went back to Paris in the late 1770s, and was treated as a national hero. He died in Paris in 1778.

Voltaire Quotes

People hate others that they label greedy only because nothing can be gained from them.

It is forbidden to kill—and thus, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers, and with the background of trumpets playing.

Our contemptible species is so made that those who walk on a commonly used path are sure to throw stones at those who are displaying a new road.

The best way to be boring is to include everything.

Many are destined to reason wrongly; others, not to reason at all; and others, to persecute those who do reason.

Self-love is the instrument of our preservation.

The multitude of books is making us ignorant.

It is much better to be silent than to merely increase the number of bad books.

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

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.

Man is the creature of the era he lives in; very few can raise themselves above the ideas of the time.

Truth is a fruit that should not be plucked until it is ripe.

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce.

He must be very ignorant; for he answers every question he is asked.

…I like the people who say what they think.

The great consolation in life is to say what one thinks.

Common sense is not so common.

I know of no great men except those who have rendered great service to the human race.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.

Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers.

For every author, let us distinguish the person from his works.

Is there anyone wise enough to learn from other people’s experience?

When it comes to money, everyone is of the same religion.

We never live; we are always anticipating living.

[The Holy Roman Empire:] Neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

If only the true and useful things were recorded, our huge historical libraries would be reduced to very narrow dimensions—but we would know more, and know it better.

… If you have two religions in your country, they will cut each other’s throat; if you have thirty religions, they will live in peace.

History contains little beyond a list of people who have accommodated themselves with other people’s property.

Friendship is the marriage of the soul, and this marriage is subject to divorce.

If you are want to gain a legendary name and found a sect or establishment, be completely mad —but make sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. [And] in your madness, have enough reason to guide your extravagances; and do not forget to be excessively opinionated and forwarding. There is a definite chance that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars built for you.

Prejudice is an opinion without judgment. Thus, all over the world, people inspire children with all the opinions they desire, before the children can judge.

There are some universal and necessary prejudices that even form virtue. In all countries, children are taught to recognize a rewarding and revenging God; to respect and love their father and their mother; to look on theft as a crime and selfish lying as a vice, before they can guess what is a vice and what a virtue. Thus, there are some very good prejudices; they are those that are ratified by judgment when one reasons.

...It is through prejudice that you will respect a man clad in certain clothes, walking gravely, speaking likewise. Your parents have told you that you should bow before this man; you respect him before knowing whether he merits your respect. [Then] you grow in years and in knowledge; you perceive that this man is a charlatan steeped in arrogance, self-interest and artifice; you despise what you revered, and the prejudice cedes to judgment.

Through prejudice you have believed the fables with which your childhood was cradled; you have been told that the Titans made war on the gods, and Venus was amorous of Adonis. When you are twelve you accept these fables as truths; when you are twenty you look on them as ingenious allegories.

Most historical stories have been believed without examination, and this belief is a prejudice. Fabius Pictor relates that many centuries before him, a vestal of the town of Alba, going to draw water in her pitcher, was ravished, that she gave birth to Romulus and Remus, that they were fed by a she-wolf, etc. The Roman people believed this fable; they did not examine whether at that time there were vestals in Latium, whether it were probable that a king’s daughter would leave her convent with her pitcher, whether it were likely that a she-wolf would suckle two children instead of eating them. The prejudice established itself…

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We all have weaknesses and errors; let us mutually pardon each other’s follies—it is the first law of nature.

It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster. That admits of no difficulty. But the government! But the magistrates! But the princes! How do they treat those who have another worship than theirs? If they are powerful strangers, it is certain that a prince will make an alliance with them…

…We ought to be tolerant of one another, because we all have weaknesses, inconsistencies, [and are] liable to inconsistency and error. Shall a reed laid low in the mud by the wind say to a fellow reed fallen in the opposite direction, “Crawl as I crawl, wretch, or I shall petition that you be torn up by the roots and burned?”

It takes twenty years to lead man from the… state in which he is within his mother’s womb… to the state when the maturity… begins to appear. It took thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It might need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.

The great debate over the [superiority of the] ancients and [versus] the moderns has not been resolved yet; it has been on the table since the silver age succeeded the golden age. Mankind has always insisted that the good old days were much better than the present day…

The Chevalier Temple, who has made it his business to demean all the moderns… [maintains with assurance] that there is nothing new in our astronomy, [and] nothing [new] in the knowledge of the human body, unless perhaps, he says, the circulation of the blood. Love of his own opinion… makes him forget the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter, of the five moons and the ring of Saturn… of the calculated position of three thousand stars, of the laws given by Kepler and Newton for the heavenly orbs, of the causes of the precession of the equinoxes, and of a hundred other pieces of knowledge that the ancients did not even suspect the possibility of. The discoveries in anatomy are as great in number. ... The tiny new universe discovered by the microscope was counted for nothing by the Chevalier Temple. He closed his eyes to the marvels of his contemporaries, and opened them only to admire ancient ignorance… He was, however, a scholar, a courtier, a man of much wit, an ambassador, a man who had reflected profoundly on all he had seen. He possessed great knowledge—[yet] a prejudice was all it took to spoil all this merit.

There are beauties in Euripides, and even more in Sophocles; but they have many more defects…

There was pronounced a sentence in favor of Aristotle’s categories, and there was decreed learnedly and equitably the penalty of the galleys for anyone who should be so daring enough as to have an opinion that differs from that of the Stagyrite [Aristotle], whose books were formerly burned by two councils…