Twelve Philosophical Quotes on Life (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on life, arranged in roughly chronological order. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Quotes that begin with a section of bold text are my personal favourites. Without further ado, here are twelve (real) philosophical quotes on life:


Socrates: The difficulty . . . is not to avoid death, but to avid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death.

– Plato, Apology, 28B, trans. Benjamin Jowett


Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.

– Plato, Apology, 38A, trans. Benjamin Jowett


As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will – only make sure that you round it off with a good ending.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 77, trans. Robin Campbell


The value of life lies not in the length of days but in the use you make of them; he has lived for a long time who has little lived. Whether you have lived enough depends not on the number of your years but on your will.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 20, trans. Donald Frame


Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.

– Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, 11


Life must be understood backwards; but…it must be lived forwards.

– Søren Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, trans. A Hannay


The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Economy


The greatest weight.What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence–even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? . . . Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, IV, 341, trans. Walter Kaufmann


Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.

– William James, The Will to Believe


Nothing so saps the profound resources of a life as finding life too easy.

– Jose Ortega Y Gasset, ‘In Search of Goethe from Within’


The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

– Bertrand Russell, What I Believe


Immortality, or a state without death, would be meaningless, I shall suggest; so, in a sense, death gives meaning to life.

– Bernard Williams, ‘The Makropulos Case’, Problems of the Self


If you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.

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