Famous Quotations From Voltaire That Still Apply to the Modern World

“To name Voltaire is to characterize the entire eighteenth century.”
– Victor Hugo

Why should you, an extremely intelligent – and, for that matter, attractive – person care about Voltaire quotes?

François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), who is better known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was one of the most prolific writers of the French Enlightenment. As a historian, philosopher, polemicist, and pen pal to numerous important figures of his time, Voltaire was a vehement advocate for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, civil liberties, and the separation of church and state. (His most pointed attacks were aimed at the Catholic Church, given its dominance within the Kingdom of France, although he was by no means an atheist.)

Voltaire is best known for his novella Candide, ou l’Optimisme. Taken out of context Candide is the meandering adventure of a well-meaning if not somewhat goofy fellow who is optimistic to a fault. Taken in context, Candide is a rejection of the philosophical optimism of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a parody of the romantic clichés prevalent during Voltaire’s time, and a commentary on recent events such as the Great Lisbon Earthquake and Seven Years’ War. Although its subject matter has become somewhat dated, Candide remains a funny read as well as one of Western civilization’s most influential novels.

Candide is only the tip of the Voltaire iceberg. The prodigious writer penned over 2,000 books, 20,000 letters, and an unknown number of shopping lists. His other best known works are Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations, The Age of Louis XIV, Commentaire sur Corneille, and Henriade

His subject matter frequently landed Voltaire in trouble with the powers that be. Fortunately wit gives someone’s ideas far greater longevity than political power ever will. This is why people still quote Voltaire but would be hard-pressed to say thing one about Pope Clement XIV.

Quotations by Voltaire

“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”
Candide, ou l’Optimisme

Voltair Quotes - "Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well."
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
– Voltaire

“I and my children cultivate them; our labor preserves us from three great evils – weariness, vice, and want.”
Candide

“Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”
– Voltaire

Voltaire Quotes - "I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know none which has done real evil."
“I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil.”
– Voltaire

“It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.”
Zadig (Destiny)

“Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”
– Voltaire

“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Commonly attributed to Voltaire; actually written by S. G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire

Voltaire Quotes - "Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable"
“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”
– Voltaire

“Common sense is not so common.”
Dictionnaire Philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary)

“What is called happiness is an abstract idea, composed of various ideas of pleasure; for he who has but a moment of pleasure is not a happy man, in like manner that a moment of grief constitutes not a miserable one.”
Dictionnaire Philosophique

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”
Dictionnaire Philosophique

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.”
– Voltaire

Voltaire Quotes - "The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors..."
“The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”
– Voltaire

“Perhaps there is nothing greater on earth than the sacrifice of youth and beauty, often of high birth, made by the gentle sex in order to work in hospitals for the relief of human misery, the sight of which is so revolting to our delicacy. Peoples separated from the Roman religion have imitated but imperfectly so generous a charity.”
– Voltaire

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
Épître à l’Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs

“It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge.”
– Voltaire

“The opportunity to do mischief is found a hundred times a day, and that of doing good once a year.”
Day’s Collacon (attributed)

Voltaire Quotes - "Men are in general so ticky, so envious, and so cruel, that when we find one..."
“Men are in general so tricky, so envious, and so cruel, that when we find one who is only weak, we are too happy.”
Day’s Collacon (attributed)

“All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.”
Day’s Collacon (attributed)

“I have always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is, ‘My God, make our enemies very ridiculous!’”
Letter to Étienne-Noel Damilaville, May 16th, 1767

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition. But certainty is an absurd one.”
Letter to Frederick the Great, November 28th, 1770

“History can be well written only in a free country.”
Letter to Frederick the Great

Voltaire Quotes - "Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: the mad daughter of a wise mother..."
“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.”
– Voltaire

“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.”
– Voltaire

“Human reason is so little able, merely by its own strength, to demonstrate the immortality of the soul, that it was absolutely necessary religion should reveal it to us.  It is of advantage to society in general, that mankind should believe the soul to be immortal; faith commands us to do this; nothing more is required, and the matter is cleared up at once.”
Lettres philosophiques (Letters on the English)

“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
– Commonly attributed to Voltaire; actually from The Enlightenment: An Interpretation by Peter Gay. However, in his May 31st, 1761 letter to Madame de Fontaine Voltaire did write “My dear niece, everything is a shipwreck; save yourself who can! is the motto of each poor individual. Let us then cultivate our garden like Candide: Ceres, Pomona, and Flora are great saints, but we must also celebrate the Muses.”

Voltaire Quotes on Government

“The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.”
The English Constitution (attributed)

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
Questions sur les Miracles

Voltaire Quotes - "It is dangerous to be right in matter on which the established authorities are wrong."
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
The Age of Louis XIV

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
– Voltaire

“A company of tyrants is inaccessible to all seductions.”
Dictionnaire Philosophique

“Clever tyrants are never punished; they have always some slight shade of virtue: they support the laws before destroying them.”
Mérope

“These two nations have been at war over a few acres of snow near Canada, and … they are spending on this fine struggle more than Canada itself is worth.”
Candide

Voltaire Quotes - "When the mob gets involved in reasoning, all is lost."
“When the mob gets involved in reasoning, all is lost.”
– Voltaire

“Democracy is just filler for textbooks! Do you actually believe that public opinion influences the government?”
– Voltaire

Final Thoughts

Did we leave out one of your favorite quotations by Voltaire? Don’t hold your dissatisfaction in. That is unhealthy. Instead write a long, humorous polemic that will be treasured by future generations hundreds of years from now. Or really stick it to us by angrily ordering one of our fine T-shirts, which are made with light, breathable fabric.