John of Salisbury

English philosopher and theologian

John of Salisbury (or Joannes Saresberiensis) (c. 1120October 25 1180) was an English philosopher who wrote on ethics, logic and political theory. He was a student of Peter Abelard and an associate of Thomas Becket.

The beginning of the preface to Denis Foulechat’s French translation of John of Salisbury’s „Policraticus“ in the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. français 24287, fol. 2r. The famous miniature shows King Charles V of France.
Bernard of Chartres used to say that we were like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants.
Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint.


  • Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos gigantum humeris insidentes, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine, aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvehimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantea
    • Bernard of Chartres used to say that we were like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.
      • Metalogicon (1159) bk. 3, ch. 4. Translation from Henry Osborn Taylor The Mediaeval Mind ([1911] 1919) vol. 2, p. 159; such similes were available to Isaac Newton, when he humbly made use of them in comparing his progress in scientific ideas to those whose ideas he drew upon, in his famous statement to Robert Hooke in a letter of 15 February 1676: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.
English translations are taken from The Statesman's Book of John of Salisbury ([1927 1963) translated by John Dickinson]
  • Est ergo tyranni et principis hæc differentia sola, quod hic legi obtemperat, et ejus arbitrio populum regit, cujus se credit ministrum.
    • Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant.
      • Bk. 4, ch. 1
  • Exquisita lectio singulorum, doctissimum; cauta electio meliorum, optimum facit.
    • Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint.
      • Bk. 7, ch. 10
  • Et pro virtutum habitu quilibet et liber est, et, quatenus est liber, eatenus virtutibus pollet.
    • A man is free in proportion to the measure of his virtues, and the extent to which he is free determines what his virtues can accomplish.
      • Bk. 7, ch. 25
  • Lex donum Dei est, æquitatis forma, norma justitiæ, divinæ voluntatis imago, salutis custodia, unio et consolidatio populorum, regula officiorum, exclusio et exterminatio vitiorum, violentiæ et totius injuriæ pœna.
    • Law is the gift of God, the model of equity, a standard of justice, a likeness of the divine will, the guardian of well-being, a bond of union and solidarity between peoples, a rule defining duties, a barrier against the vices and the destroyer thereof, a punishment of violence and all wrongdoing.
      • Bk. 8, ch. 17

The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury (1159)

English translations are taken from The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury Hathi Trust
  • These Peripatetics accordingly made careful investigations into the nature of all things, so as to determine which I should be avoided as evil, discounted as useless, sought after as good,or preferred as better, and finally which are called "good" or "bad" according to circumstances. There thus developed two branches of philosophy, natural and moral, which are also called ethics and physics. But, through lack of scientific skill in argumentative reasoning, many absurdities were concluded. Thus Epicurus would have the world originate from atoms and a void, and would dispense with God as its author; whereas the Stoics asserted that matter is coeternal with God, and held that all sins are equally grave. p. 76
  • To say that a thing "wholly pertains" to something else, or "does not pertain to it in any way," and that something "is predicated in a universal way" of something else, or "is completely alien to it" amount to the same thing. Nevertheless, while one form of expression is [now] in frequent use, the other has become practically obsolete, except so far as it may occasionally be admitted through mutual agreement. In Aristotle's day it was perhaps customary to use both of these forms of expression, but now one has replaced the other [simply] because usage has so decreed. p. 168
  • Faith is, indeed, most necessary in human affairs, as well as in religion Without faith, no contracts could be concluded, nor could any business be transacted. And without faith, where would be the basis for the divine reward of human merit? As it is, that faith which embraces the truths of religion deserves reward. Such faith is, according to the Apostle, "a substantiation of things to be hoped for, a testimonial to things that appear not." Faith is intermediate between opinion and science. p. 223

Quotes about John of Salisbury

  • He would be a scholar in any age, and was head and shoulders above his own.
  • He learnt to write what is regarded by competent critics as the purest Latin of the middle ages…The breadth of his reading in the Latin classics is astonishing.
    • A. L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta 1087-1216 ([1951] 1964) p. 235
  • Representative authorities relying considerably on the Metalogicon include: Friedrich Ueberweg, Heinrich Ritter, Barthelemy Haureau, Francois Picavet, Martin Grabmann, Etienne Gilson, Maurice de Wulf, and Karl Prantl in the history of philosophy; James Mark Baldwin and George S. Brettin the history of psychology; and Leon Maitre, Augusta Drane,Jules Alexandre Clerval, Hastings Rashdall, G. Robert, Charles S.Baldwin, Bigerius Thorlacius, Reginald Lane Poole, Bishop William Stubbs, J. E. Sandys, G. Pare, A. Brunet, and P. Tremblay, Eduard Norden, F. A. Wright, Charles Homer Haskins, and T. A. Sinclair in the history of education and learning.
    • The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury, 1159 translated by Daniel D. McGarry 1955
Wikipedia has an article about:
Social and political philosophers
Classic AristotleMarcus AureliusChanakyaCiceroConfuciusMozi LaoziMenciusMoziPlatoPlutarchPolybiusSeneca the YoungerSocratesSun TzuThucydidesXenophonXun Zi
Conservative de BenoistBolingbrokeBonaldBurkeBurnhamCarlyleColeridgeComteCortésDurkheimDávilaEvolaFichteFilmerGaltonGentileHegelHeideggerHerderHobbesHoppeHumede JouvenelJüngerKirkvon Kuehnelt-LeddihnLandde MaistreMansfieldMoscaOakeshottOrtegaParetoPetersonSantayanaSchmittScrutonSowellSpenglerStraussTaineTocqueville • VicoVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Liberal ArendtAronBastiatBeccariaBenthamBerlinBoétieCamusCondorcetConstantDworkinEmersonErasmusFranklinFukuyamaHayekJeffersonKantLockeMachiavelliMadisonMaineMillMiltonMenckenMisesMontaigneMontesquieuNietzscheNozickOrtegaPopperRandRawlsRothbardSadeSchillerSimmelSmithSpencerSpinozade StaëlStirnerThoreauTocquevilleTuckerVoltaireWeberWollstonecraft
Religious al-GhazaliAmbedkarAugustine of HippoAquinasAugustineAurobindoCalvinChestertonDanteDayanandaDostoyevskyEliadeGandhiGirardGregoryGuénonJesusJohn of SalisburyJungKierkegaardKołakowskiLewisLutherMaimonidesMalebrancheMaritainMoreMuhammadMüntzerNiebuhrOckhamOrigenPhiloPizanQutbRadhakrishnanShariatiSolzhenitsynTaylorTeilhard de ChardinTertullianTolstoyVivekanandaWeil
Socialist AdornoAflaqAgambenBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBernsteinButlerChomskyde BeauvoirDebordDeleuzeDeweyDu BoisEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFrommGodwinGoldmanGramsciHabermasKropotkinLeninLondonLuxemburgMaoMarcuseMarxMazziniNegriOwenPaine RortyRousseauRussellSaint-SimonSartreSkinnerSorelTrotskyWalzerXiaopingŽižek