Voltaire - Philosophy, Success and Ethics
French writer (pictured right) and philosopher whose thinking had a big influence on the American and
His most famous book
This novel savagely attacked Gottfried
Leibniz (pictured right), the German philosopher and mathematician, for saying that God created
the “best of all possible worlds”.
What did he say about success and ethics?
1. Learn and improve your knowledge
- forgive other people’s mistakes and learn from them.
- question everything (“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”, he
- constantly think about solutions to problems.
- choose and clearly state what’s important (don’t drown in information).
- be inquisitive (Voltaire learned a lot about history, mathematics and physics).
- hate superstition and prejudice (which he called “an
opinion without judgement”).
2. Influence people
- don’t talk too much (“The secret of a bore is to tell
everything”, he said).
- be tolerant of other people’s views and weaknesses.
- appreciate what other people do.
3. Be happy
- moderation in all things, not excess or abstinence (“Use do not abuse”, he
- improve yourself (“We must cultivate our garden”, he wrote in Candide).
- don’t dwell on your problems, but do something useful.
- beware of fame (the public is a “ferocious beast”, he said).
Voltaire also said that happiness is good for your health!
4. Importance of work
Work saves you from three great evils:
- vice (you can’t be naughty, if you’re busy).
- need (you earn money to buy what you need).
5. Do good
You must have the freedom to
- decide what is right (e.g. love).
“How infinitesimal is the importance of anything I do, but how infinitely important is that I should do it”, he
6. Beware of war and patriotism
War is legalized murder, and patriotism is dangerous.
“To wish greatness for one’s country is to wish harm to one’s neighbours”, he said.
7. Freedom of thought and expression
Challenge every fact and all authority to discover if powerful people are telling the
Every person has the right to hold and express any opinion so long as it doesn’t
cause violence or unrest.
So he attacked the Roman Catholic Church for telling people what to think (but see
People seek religion because dogmatic certainty is more appealing
than intellectual doubt.
8. Don't forget God
Despite his criticism of the Catholic Church (see point 7), he still believed in
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent
him”, he said.
9. “The perfect is the enemy of the good”
This famous quote of Voltaire’s explains how perfectionism:
- can cause unnecessary worry.
- may be impossible to achieve.
- be prepared to accept something that’s not perfect (so that you can then concentrate
on other things).
10. Philosophy should be useful
Philosophy must be clear and relevant to ordinary people, so that it can
improve their lives.
Philosophy is the best way to defeat superstition and prejudice.
“Superstition sets the whole world in flames, philosophy quenches them”, he said.
Key quotes on God and religion
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
God is on the side not of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots
Key quotes on learning and wisdom
Love truth but pardon error.
Superstition sets the whole world in flames, philosophy quenches them.
Key quotes on ethics
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
Under coercion there is no virtue.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Key quote on influencing
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Key quotes on communication
I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Key quote on management
It is a vice to trust all and equally a vice to trust none.
Key quote on motivation
What makes people unhappy is being made to do things against their will.
Key quote on empowerment and
Liberty is power.