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Thomas More (1478 – 1535) was an English Renaissance humanist and politician of conciliation and moderation. If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable. 

Thomas More

Thomas More, philosopher

Sources of quotations: WikiQuote, GoodReads,


Quotations from Thomas More

If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable.

To tell you the truth, though, I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish at all. Tastes differ so widely, and some people are so humorless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them.

Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?

An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man.

One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.

Most people know nothing about learning; many despise it. Dummies reject as too hard whatever is not dumb.

What part soever you take upon you, play that as well as you can and make the best of it.

Pride thinks its own happiness shines the brighter, by comparing it with the misfortunes of other persons; that by displaying its own wealth they may feel their poverty the more sensibly.

[How can anyone] be silly enough to think himself better than other people, because his clothes are made of finer woolen thread than theirs. After all, those fine clothes were once worn by a sheep, and they never turned it into anything better than a sheep.

Why do you suppose they made you king in the first place?’ I ask him. ‘Not for your benefit, but for theirs. They meant you to devote your energies to making their lives more comfortable, and protecting them from injustice. So your job is to see that they’re all right, not that you are – just as a shepherd’s job, strictly speaking, is to feed his sheep, not himself.

I must say, extreme justice is an extreme injury: For we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital, nor of that opinion of the Stoics that makes all crimes equal; as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion.

One man to live in pleasure and wealth, whiles all other weep and smart for it, that is the part not of a king, but of a jailer.

Until you put these things to right, you’re not entitled to boast of the justice meted out to thieves, for it’s a justice more specious than real or social desirable. You allow these people to be brought up in the worst possible way, and systematically corrupted from their earliest years. Finally, when they grow up and commit the crimes that they were obviously destined to commit, ever since they were children, you start punishing them. In other words, you create thieves, and then punish them for stealing.

Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse.

A pretty face may be enough to catch a man, but it takes character and good nature to hold him.

The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.

Or can it be thought that they who heap up an useless mass of wealth, not for any use that it is to bring them, but merely to please themselves with the contemplation of it, enjoy any true pleasure in it? The delight they find is only a false shadow of joy. Those are no better whose error is somewhat different from the former, and who hide it, out of their fear of losing it; for what other name can fit the hiding it in the earth, or rather the restoring to it again, it being thus cut off from being useful, either to its owner or to the rest of mankind? And yet the owner having hid it carefully, is glad, because he thinks he is now sure of it. It if should be stole, the owner, though he might live perhaps ten years after the theft, of which he knew nothing, would find no difference between his having or losing it; for both ways it was equally useless to him.

Men be so foolish as to have delight and pleasure in the doubtful glistering of a trifling little stone, which may behold any of the stars or else the sun itself.

Nor can they understand why a totally useless substance like gold should now, all over the world, be considered far more important than human beings, who gave it such value as it has, purely for their own convenience.

Why shouldst thou not take even as much pleasure in beholding a counterfeit stone, which thine eye cannot discern from a right stone?

Then, too, the senate has a rule that no point is discussed on the same day it is brought up, but rather it is put off till the next meeting; they do this so that someone who blurts out the first thing that occurs to him will not proceed to think up arguments to defend his position instead of looking for what is of use to the commonwealth, being willing to damage the public welfare rather than his own reputation, ashamed, as it were, in a perverse and wrong-headed way, to admit that his first view was short-sighted. From the start such a person should have taken care to speak with deliberation rather than haste.

It is only natural, of course, that each man should think his own opinions best: the crow loves his fledgling, and the ape his cub.

The Utopians call those nations that come and ask magistrates from them Neighbours; but those to whom they have been of more particular service, Friends; and as all other nations are perpetually either making leagues or breaking them, they never enter into an alliance with any state. They think leagues are useless things, and believe that if the common ties of humanity do not knit men together, the faith of promises will have no great effect; and they are the more confirmed in this by what they see among the nations round about them, who are no strict observers of leagues and treaties.

No, do the best you can to make the present production a success – don’t spoil the entire play just because you happen to think of another one that you’d enjoy rather more.

You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the winds.

It’s wrong to deprive someone else of a pleasure so that you can enjoy one yourself, but to deprive yourself of a pleasure so that you can add to someone else’s enjoyment is an act of humanity by which you always gain more than you lose.

Kindness and good nature unite men more effectually and with greater strength than any agreements whatsoever, since thereby the engagements of men’s hearts become stronger than the bond and obligation of words.

We did not ask if he had seen any monsters, for monsters have ceased to be news. There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food, or devour whole populations; but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find.

Anticipated spears wound less.

God said, “Thou shalt not kill” – does the theft of a little money make it quite all right for us to do so? If it’s said that this commandment applies only to illegal killing, what’s to prevent human beings from similarly agreeing among themselves to legalize certain types of rape, adultery, or perjury? Considering that God has forbidden us even to kill ourselves, can we really believe that purely human arrangements for the regulation of mutual slaughter are enough, without any divine authority, to exempt executioners from the sixth commandment? Isn’t that like saying that this particular commandment has no more validity than human laws allow it? – in which case the principle can be extended indefinitely, until in all spheres of life human beings decide just how far God’s commandments may conveniently be observed.

Love rules without rules.

Let them speak as lewdly as they list of me…as long as they do not hit me, what am I the worse?

In the first place, most princes apply themselves to the arts of war, in which I have neither ability nor interest, instead of to the good arts of peace. They are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms by hook or by crook than on governing well those that they already have.
The most part of all princes have more delight in warlike manners and feats of chivalry than in the good feats of peace.

If a king should fall under such contempt or envy that he could not keep his subjects in their duty but by oppression and ill usage, and by rendering them poor and miserable, it were certainly better for him to quit his kingdom than to retain it by such methods as make him, while he keeps the name of authority, lose the majesty due to it.The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.

It is naturally given to all men to esteem their own inventions best.

We asked him many questions concerning all these things, to which he answered very willingly; we made no inquiries after monsters, than which nothing is more common; for everywhere one may hear of ravenous dogs and wolves, and cruel men-eaters, but it is not so easy to find states that are well and wisely governed.

The most wicked are always the most obstinate, so the best and most holy religion might be choked with superstition, as corn is with briars and thorns; he therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause.

No man shall be blamed in the maintenance of his own religion.

It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Wales?

The devil…the prowde spirite…cannot endure to be mocked.

(…) personal prejudice and financial greed are the two great evils that threaten courts of law, and once they get the upper hand they immediately hamstring society, by destroying all justice.

[On ascending the platform to his execution] I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.

But what they find most amazing and despicable is the insanity of those who all but worship the rich, to whom they owe nothing and who can do them no harm; they do so for no other reason except that they are rich, knowing full well that they are so mean and tightfisted that they will certainly never give them one red cent during their whole lives.

Some men may be snared by beauty alone, but none can be held except by virtue and compliance.

By reason of gifts and bribes the offices be given to rich men, which should rather have been executed by wise men.

Pride measures prosperity not by her own advantages but by the disadvantages of others. She would not even wish to be a goddess unless there were some wretches left whom she could order about and lord it over, whose misery would make her happiness seem all the more extraordinary, whose poverty can be tormented and exacerbated by a display of her wealth.

Either it’s a bad thing to enjoy life, in other words, to experience pleasure – in which case you shouldn’t help anyone to do it, but should try to save the whole human race from such a frightful fate – or else, if it’s good for other people, and you’re not only allowed, but positively obliged to make it possible for them, why shouldn’t charity begin at home?

To gold and silver nature hath given no use that we may not well lack.

They wonder much to hear that gold which in itself is so useless a thing, should be everywhere so much esteemed, that even men for whom it was made, and by whom it has value, should yet be thought of less value than this metal. That a man of lead, who has no more sense than a log of wood, and is as bad as he is foolish, should have many wise and good men to serve him, only because he has a great heap of that metal…

The leaving him thus did not a little gratify one that was more fond of travelling than of returning home to be buried in his own country; for he used often to say, that the way to heaven was the same from all places, and he that had no grave had the heavens still over him.

If the lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.


COMMENTS on the quotations from Thomas More

If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable. In their own estimation everyone I meet appears to think themselves honorable, good and kind, and yet when these subjects are discussed few have much to say to demonstrate an appreciation of those words.

Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety? This is classic Stoic philosophy, and yet More also states, I must say, extreme justice is an extreme injury: For we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital, nor of that opinion of the Stoics that makes all crimes equal; as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion. This seems to make Stoic ideas cruel and inhumane, as it takes a philosophy of mildness and distorts it into extreme injustice. That is the direct opposite of Stoicism. It appears that this attitude is a result of a thousand years of the church scholars successfully warping non-church-driven ideas in an effort to bring everyone into their fantastic creation called Heaven.

The most wicked are always the most obstinate, so the best and most holy religion might be choked with superstition, as corn is with briars and thorns; he therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause. To this statement we might ask the question, Who are the most obstinate people in our modern world? By that criterion who is it that we should be most concerned with depriving them of power such that they may not limit the life and liberty of the rest of us?


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