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Aristotle’s sayings

Between 1964 and 1976 a ‘Little Red Book’ was widely distributed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution: it was a compilation of the wisdom found in the sayings of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China.

This was lampooned in the West, partly because it seemed to deny people the capacity to think for themselves . . . a form of brainwashing.

Rather than respecting political leaders, Westerners treat them with a cynical suspicion. Healthy at first, this has now turned into a total lack of respect for politics and politicians that has diminished and degraded the importance of public administration.

To describe someone as wise nowadays seems somehow embarrassingly obsequious or socially inappropriate – so we simply don’t bother. Does that mean that wisdom is tedious, illusory, or vastly overrated?

Here is an anthology of wisdom from the philosopher’s philosopher, Aristotle – who is a reassuring mix of sage, entertainer, and grumpy old man.


1. “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.”
2. “Democracy arose from men’s thinking that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal absolutely.”
3. “Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons.”
4. “First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
5. “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
6. “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”
7. “It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions.”
8. “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”
9. “Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”
10. “My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.”
11. “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.”
12. “One thing alone not even God can do, To make undone whatever hath been done.” –
13. “Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”
14. “Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities.”
15. “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.”
17. “The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold”
18. “The secret to humor is surprise.”
19. “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
20. “This is the reason why mothers are more devoted to their children than fathers: it is that they suffer more in giving them birth and are more certain that they are their own.”
21. “To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do.”
23. “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.”
24. “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”
25. “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.”
29. “If happiness is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest excellence.”
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
30. A basic taxonomic insight in relation to the naming of organisms … that in any classification we need to recognize both similarity and difference as succinctly as possible. This is expressed in Latin as Per genus et per differentia – ‘By kind and by difference’ e.g. the name Homo sapiens expresses a common kind, man or Homo and a particular kind of man, sapiens.
31. “It was through the feeling of wonder that men now and at first began to philosophize.” – Aristotle
32. “Memory is the scribe of the soul.”
33. “Nature does nothing uselessly.”
34. “No notice is taken of a little evil, but when it increases it strikes the eye.”
35. “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.”
36. “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”
39. “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.”
40. “The most perfect political community must be among those who are in the middle rank, and those states are best instituted wherein these are a larger and more respectable part, if possible, than both the other; or, if that cannot be, at least than either of them separate
41. “The soul never thinks without a picture. Hope is the dream of a waking man.”
42. “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.”
43. “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
44. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
45. “What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”
46. “All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”
47. “Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids.”
48. “Education is the best provision for old age.”
49. “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
50. “Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy.”
51. “Hope is a waking dream.”
52. “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. The young they keep out of mischief; to the old they are a comfort and aid in their weakness, and those in the prime of life they incite to noble deeds.” – Aristotle
53. “It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.” – Aristotle
54. “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
55. “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” – Aristotle
56. “No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness.”
57. “Nor was civil society founded merely to preserve the lives of its members; but that they might live well: for otherwise a state might be composed of slaves, or the animal creation… nor is it an alliance mutually to defend each other from injuries, or for a commercial intercourse. But whosoever endeavors to establish wholesome laws in a state, attends to the virtues and vices of each individual who composes it; from whence it is evident, that the first care of him who would found a city, truly deserving that name, and not nominally so, must be to have his citizens virtuous.” – Aristotle
58. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle
59. “Praise invariably implies a reference to a higher standard.” – Aristotle
60. “The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.” – Aristotle
61. “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.” – Aristotle
62. “The law is reason, free from passion.”
63. “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”
64. “The wise man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life — knowing that under certain conditions it is not worthwhile to live.”
65. “They — Young People have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things — and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning — all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything — they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else.”
66. “We give up leisure in order that we may have leisure, just as we go to war in order that we may have peace.”
68. “Wicked men obey from fear; good men, from love.”

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