Best Philosophical Quotes by Henry David Thoreau

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by Henry David Thoreau. Details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.

On civil disobedience:

Under the government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.

Civil Disobedience

On law:

Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

Civil Disobedience

On civil disobedience:

Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil

Civil Disobedience

On revolution:

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or inefficiency are great and unbearable.

Civil Disobedience

On poetry:

The poet is the man who lives . . . by watching his moods. An old poet comes to watch his moods as narrowly as a cat does a mouse.

Journal, (Aug. 28, 1851)

On aging:

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them.

Journal, (July 14, 1852)

On property:

The highest law gives a thing to him who can use it.

Journal, (Nov. 9, 1852)

On money:

You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business. An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not.

Life Without Principle

On religion:

The wisest man preaches no doctrines; he has no scheme; he sees no rafter, not even a cobweb, against the heavens. It is clear sky.

The Christian Fable

On individuality:

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Walden, Conclusion

On aging:

Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it.

Walden, Economy

On change:

All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

Walden, Economy

On custom:

No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.

Walden, Economy

On history:

Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East—to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them.

Walden, Economy

On the human condition:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

Walden, Economy

On human nature:

Man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.

Walden, Economy

On philosophers:

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Walden, Economy

On wealth:

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature, or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live.

Walden, Economy

On classics:

For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed.

Walden, Reading

On knowledge:

What is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance.

Walking

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