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Goethe’s Aphorisms-My 21 Favorites

Goethe's Aphorisms
21 Of My Favorite Goethe’s Aphorisms

I recently got introduced to the Book Maxims and Reflections by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an 18th-century writer, statesman, lawyer, playwright, polymath, and philosopher. Goethe, in the Book, distills a lifetime of thinking, teaching, and learning into a set of pithy maxims that compel you to reflect on life. Goethe’s Book contains 590 aphorisms from which I am sharing below 21, which resonated for me and made me ponder. I hope they have the same effect on you. The highlighted ones are my absolute favorites (it astounds me that someone understood human nature so well 300 years back !!)

  1. Ap 2. How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty and you will know at once what you are worth.
  2. Ap 7. Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are. If I know what your business is, I know what can be made of you.
  3. Ap 20. It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is or for less than one is worth.
  4. Ap 33. Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.
  5. Ap 34. A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.
  6. Ap 65. Generosity wins favor for every one, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.
  7. Ap 124. One need only grow old to become gentler in one’s judgments. I see no fault committed which I could not have committed myself.
  8. Ap 130. Hatred is active displeasure, envy passive. We need not wonder that envy turns so soon to hatred.
  9. Ap 152. Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.
  10. Ap 162. There are people who make no mistakes because they never wish to do anything worth doing.
  11. Ap 211. Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away by it.
  12. Ap 231. Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.
  13. Ap 264. A man’s manners are the mirror in which he shows his portrait.
  14. Ap 276. Fools and wise folk are alike harmless. It is the half-wise and the half-foolish, who are the most dangerous.
  15. Ap 278. Difficulties increase the nearer we come to our aim.
  16. Ap 320. A man is not deceived by others, he deceives himself.
  17. Ap 324. It is not enough to know, we must also apply; it is not enough to will, we must also do.
  18. Ap 332. Nothing is more highly to be prized than the value of each day.
  19. Ap 346. The senses do not deceive; it is the judgment that deceives.
  20. Ap 383. Every man hears only what he understands.
  21. Ap 529. We more readily confess to errors, mistakes and shortcomings in our conduct than in our thought.

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