Goethe’s Aphorisms-My 21 Favorites
March 10, 2021
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 !!)
- 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.
- 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.
- Ap 20. It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is or for less than one is worth.
- Ap 33. Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.
- Ap 34. A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.
- Ap 65. Generosity wins favor for every one, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.
- 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.
- Ap 130. Hatred is active displeasure, envy passive. We need not wonder that envy turns so soon to hatred.
- Ap 152. Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.
- Ap 162. There are people who make no mistakes because they never wish to do anything worth doing.
- Ap 211. Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away by it.
- Ap 231. Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.
- Ap 264. A man’s manners are the mirror in which he shows his portrait.
- Ap 276. Fools and wise folk are alike harmless. It is the half-wise and the half-foolish, who are the most dangerous.
- Ap 278. Difficulties increase the nearer we come to our aim.
- Ap 320. A man is not deceived by others, he deceives himself.
- Ap 324. It is not enough to know, we must also apply; it is not enough to will, we must also do.
- Ap 332. Nothing is more highly to be prized than the value of each day.
- Ap 346. The senses do not deceive; it is the judgment that deceives.
- Ap 383. Every man hears only what he understands.
- Ap 529. We more readily confess to errors, mistakes and shortcomings in our conduct than in our thought.