concise expression of a fundamental moral rule
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Maxims are concise expressions of fundamental moral rules or principles, whether considered as objective or subjective contingent on one's philosophy. A maxim is often pedagogical and motivates specific actions.

Maxim... Generally any simple and memorable rule or guide for living ~ Oxford Dictionary


  • There is something anachronistic about the very idea of aphorisms or maxims. Contemporary culture isn’t stately enough, or stable enough, to support them.
    • Anatole Broyard (1920–1990), American literary critic. ‘Wisdom of Aphorisms’, New York Times, (30 April 1983)
  • Your humble author [Scott Greer] crafted a simple set of maxims to resist the zeitgeist. The Greerhead Pledge encourages adherents to refrain from smoking weed, to stop listening to rap, to turn off the NFL, and to ignore the latest Marvel movie.
  • Aphorism or maxim, let us remember that this wisdom of life is the true salt of literature; that those books, at least in prose, are most nourishing which are most richly stored with it; and that is one of the great objects, apart from the mere acquisition of knowledge, which men ought to seek in the reading of books.
  • Maxim... Generally any simple and memorable rule or guide for living; for example, 'neither a borrower nor a lender be'. Tennyson speaks of 'a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart (Locksley Hall), and maxims have generally been associated with a 'folksy' or 'copy-book' approach to morality.
    • Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press (2008) p. 226

Sententiae, a collection of maxims in verse form, Publilius Syrus

Poverty is the lack of many things, but avarice is the lack of all things. ~ Publilius Syrus

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  • He doubly benefits the needy who gives quickly.
  • Bitter for a free man is the bondage of debt.
  • If your parent is just, revere him; if not, bear with him.
  • Audacity augments courage; hesitation, fear.
  • A good reputation is more valuable than money.
  • He who helps the guilty, shares the crime.
  • Poverty is the lack of many things, but avarice is the lack of all things.
  • Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.
  • The judge is condemned when the guilty is absolved.
  • It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.
  • Pardon one offence and you encourage the commission of many.
  • Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.
  • Penitence follows hasty decisions.
  • Confession of our faults is the next thing to innocence.
As it is the character of great minds to make many things heard in a few words, small minds, on the contrary, have the gift of speaking a lot, and of saying nothing. ~ François de La Rochefoucauld
  • Pride has more part than kindness in the remonstrances we make to those who make mistakes; and we do not take them back so much to correct them as to persuade them that we are exempt from them.
  • Those who focus too much on small things usually become incapable of big ones.
  • A clever man must regulate the rank of his interests and lead them each in his order.
  • Our greed often troubles him by making us run to so many things at once that, in order to desire too much the less important, we miss the most important.
  • The love of justice is in most men only the fear of suffering injustice.
  • We are so used to disguising ourselves from others that we finally disguise ourselves from ourselves.
  • As it is the character of great minds to make many things heard in a few words, small minds, on the contrary, have the gift of speaking a lot, and of saying nothing.
  • The world rewards the appearances of merit more often than merit itself.
  • It is better to use our minds to endure the misfortunes that happen to us than to foresee those that may happen to us.
  • When vices leave us, we pride ourselves on the belief that it is we who are leaving them.
  • The desire to appear skillful often prevents one from becoming so.
  • Happy people hardly correct themselves; they always believe they are right when fortune supports their bad behavior.
  • True eloquence is saying all you need to do, and only saying what you need to do.
  • The readiness to believe evil without having examined it enough is an effect of pride and laziness. We want to find the culprits; and we don't want to bother looking at the crimes.
  • Mediocre minds usually condemn anything that is beyond their reach.
  • Of all our faults, the one we are most easily in agreement with is laziness; we are persuaded that it is attached to all the peaceful virtues and that, without entirely destroying the others, it only suspends their functions.
  • We try to make virtues out of the faults we have no wish to correct.
  • Only those with real strength of character can have real gentleness; those who look gentle are usually merely weak
  • There are people so light and frivolous that they are as far removed from having real flaws as they are solid qualities.
A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Maxims and Reflections, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1906)


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  • How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth. But what is your duty? The claims of the day.
  • The longer I live, the more it grieves me to see man, who occupies his supreme place for the very purpose of imposing his will upon nature, and freeing himself and his from an outrageous necessity,—to see him taken up with some false notion, and doing just the opposite of what he wants to do; and then, because the whole bent of his mind is spoilt, bungling miserably over everything.
  • Be genuine and strenuous; earn for yourself, and look for, grace from those in high places; from the powerful, favour; from the active and the good, advancement; from the many, affection; from the individual, love.
  • Every man must think after his own fashion; for on his own path he finds a truth, or a kind of truth, which helps him through life. But he must not give himself the rein; he must control himself; mere naked instinct does not become him.
  • Our plans and designs should be so perfect in truth and beauty, that in touching them the world could only mar. We should thus have the advantage of setting right what is wrong, and restoring what is destroyed.
  • General ideas and great conceit are always in a fair way to bring about terrible misfortune.
  • The most insignificant man can be complete if he works within the limits of his capacities, innate or acquired; but even fine talents can be obscured, neutralised, and destroyed by lack of this indispensable requirement of symmetry. This is a mischief which will often occur in modern times; for who will be able to come up to the claims of an age so full and intense as this, and one too that moves so rapidly?
  • It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less than one is worth.
  • Love of truth shows itself in this, that a man knows how to find and value the good in everything.
  • Character calls forth character.
  • If I am to listen to another man's opinion, it must be expressed positively. Of things problematical I have enough in myself.
  • Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.
  • A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.
  • Piety is not an end, but a means: a means of attaining the highest culture by the purest tranquillity of soul. Hence it may be observed that those who set up piety as an end and object are mostly hypocrites.
  • When a man is old he must do more than when he was young.
  • The greatest piece of good fortune is that which corrects our deficiencies and redeems our mistakes.
  • Whoso is content with pure experience and acts upon it has enough of truth. The growing child is wise in this sense.
  • When a man asks too much and delights in complication, he is exposed to perplexity.
  • There is no piece of foolishness but it can be corrected by intelligence or accident; no piece of wisdom but it can miscarry by lack of intelligence or by accident.
  • Every great idea is a tyrant when it first appears; hence the advantages which it produces change all too quickly into disadvantages. It is possible, then, to defend and praise any institution that exists, if its beginnings are brought to remembrance, and it is shown that everything which was true of it at the beginning is true of it still.
  • There are two powers that make for peace: what is right, and what is fitting.
  • If a man is to achieve all that is asked of him, he must take himself for more than he is, and as long as he does not carry it to an absurd length, we willingly put up with it.
  • Work makes companionship.
  • Wisdom lies only in truth.
  • Generosity wins favour for every one, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.
  • Not everywhere where there is water, are there frogs; but where you have frogs, there you will find water.
  • Error is quite right as long as we are young, but we must not carry it on with us into our old age.
  • Whims and eccentricities that grow stale are all useless, rank nonsense.
  • The man who is up and doing should see to it that what he does is right. Whether or not right is done, is a matter which should not trouble him.
  • No nation gains the power of judgment except it can pass judgment on itself. But to attain this great privilege takes a very long time.
  • Certain minds must be allowed their peculiarities.
  • It is said that vain self-praise stinks in the nostrils. That may be so; but for the kind of smell which comes from unjust blame by others the public has no nose at all.
  • Dirt glitters as long as the sun shines.
  • Real obscurantism is not to hinder the spread of what is true, clear, and useful, but to bring into vogue what is false.
  • The finest achievement for a man of thought is to have fathomed what may be fathomed, and quietly to revere the unfathomable.
  • Let us remember how great the ancients were; and especially how the Socratic school holds up to us the source and standard of all life and action, and bids us not indulge in empty speculation, but live and do.
  • In science it is a service of the highest merit to seek out those fragmentary truths attained by the ancients, and to develop them further.
  • The century advances; but every individual begins anew.
  • It is very seldom that we satisfy ourselves; all the more consoling is it to have satisfied others.

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