American historian, philosopher and writer
- I felt more keenly than before the need of a philosophy that would do justice to the infinite vitality of nature. In the inexhaustible activity of the atom, in the endless resourcefulness of plants, in the teeming fertility of animals, in the hunger and movement of infants, in the laughter and play of children, in the love and devotion of youth, in the restless ambition of fathers and the lifelong sacrifice of mothers, in the undiscourageable researches of scientists and the sufferings of genius, in the crucifixion of prophets and the martyrdom of saints — in all things I saw the passion of life for growth and greatness, the drama of everlasting creation. I came to think of myself, not as a dance and chaos of molecules, but as a brief and minute portion of that majestic process... I became almost reconciled to mortality, knowing that my spirit would survive me enshrined in a fairer mold... and that my little worth would somehow be preserved in the heritage of men. In a measure the Great Sadness was lifted from me, and, where I had seen omnipresent death, I saw now everywhere the pageant and triumph of life.
- Transition (1927)
- Sixty years ago I knew everything. Now I know nothing. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
- Quoted in "Books: The Great Gadfly", Time magazine, 8 October 1965 (review of The Age of Voltaire by Will and Ariel Durant)
- The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionaries are philosophers and saints.
- Love one another. My final lesson of history is the same as that of Jesus.
You may think that's a lot of lollipop but just try it. Love is the most practical thing in the world. If you take an attitude of love toward everybody you meet, you'll eventually get along.
- When asked, at the age of 92, if he could summarize the lessons of history into a single sentence. As quoted in "Durants on History from the Ages, with Love," by Pam Proctor, Parade (6 August 1978) p. 12. Durant is quoting Jesus (from John 13:34) here, and might also be quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti: "Love is the most practical thing in the world. To love, to be kind, not to be greedy, not to be ambitious, not to be influenced by people but to think for yourself — these are all very practical things, and they will bring about a practical, happy society."
- It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time. You, too, are your past; often your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been; because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations; because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that has met you, every book that you have read, every experience that you have had; all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul. So with a city, a country, and a race; it is its past, and cannot be understood without it.
- Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.
- As quoted in "The Gentle Philosopher" (2006) by John Little at Will Durant Foundation
- To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism. If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say.
- Durant, Will. Commencement Speech. We Have a Right To Be Happy Today. Webb School of Claremont, CA. 7 Jun 1958.
- Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.
- "What is Civilization?" Ladies' Home Journal, LXIII (January, 1946).
- I know how unfashionable it is now to acknowledge in life or history any genius loftier than ourselves. Our democratic dogma has leveled not only all voters but all leaders; we delight to show that living geniuses are only mediocrities, and that dead ones are myths. … Since it is contrary to good manners to exalt ourselves, we achieve the same result by slyly indicating how inferior are the great men of the earth. In some of us, perhaps, it is a noble and merciless asceticism, which would root out of our hearts the last vestige of worship and adoration, lest the old gods should return and terrify us again. For my part, I cling to this final religion, and discover in it a content and stimulus more lasting than came from the devotional ecstasies of youth.
- The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time.
- The invention and spread of contraceptives is the proximate cause of our changing morals. The old moral code restricted sexual experience to marriage, because copulation could not be effectively separated from parentage, and parentage could be made responsible only through marriage. But to-day the dissociation of sex from reproduction has created a situation unforeseen by our fathers. All the relations of men and women are being changed by this one factor; and the moral code of the future will have to take account of these new facilities which invention has placed at the service of ancient desires.
The Story of Philosophy (1926)Edit
- Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy'.
- p. 76. The quoted phrases within the quotation are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 4; Book I, 7.
- Philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing with problems not yet open to the methods of science - problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and freedom, life and death; so soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible of exact formulation it is called science.
- Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art.
- Philosophy is a hypothetical interpretation of the unknown (as in metaphysics), or of the inexactly known (as in ethics or political philosophy); it is the front trench in the siege of truth.
- When liberty becomes license, dictatorship is near.
- Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.
The Case for India (1931)Edit
- India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.
- It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to the west, such gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and the decimal system.
- India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings.
- Introduced into the US Congressional Record on October 1, 1945 (PDF Document)
- Human progress having reached a high level through respect for the liberty and dignity of men, it has become desirable to re-affirm these evident truths:
- That differences of race, color, and creed are natural, and that diverse groups, institutions, and ideas are stimulating factors in the development of man;
- That to promote harmony in diversity is a responsible task of religion and statesmanship;
- That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own;
- That by the testimony of history intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship; and
- That the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best guard of civilization.
- Rooted in freedom, bonded in the fellowship of danger, sharing everywhere a common human blood, we declare again that all men are brothers, and that mutual tolerance is the price of liberty.
The Story of Civilization (1935–1975)Edit
I - Our Oriental Heritage (1935)Edit
- The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage page 459.
- If the average man had had his way there would probably never have been any state. Even today he resents it, classes death with taxes, and yearns for that government which governs least. If he asks for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own case superfluous. In the simplest societies there is hardly any government. Primitive hunters tend to accept regulation only when they join the hunting pack and prepare for action. The Bushmen usually live in solitary families; the Pygmies of Africa and the simplest natives of Australia admit only temporarily of political organization, and then scatter away to their family groups; the Tasmanians had no chiefs, no laws, no regular government; the Veddahs of Ceylon formed small circles according to family relationship, but had no government; the Kubus of Sumatra "live without men in authority" every family governing itself; the Fuegians are seldom more than twelve together; the Tungus associate sparingly in groups of ten tents or so; the Australian "horde" is seldom larger than sixty souls. In such cases association and cooperation are for special purposes, like hunting; they do not rise to any permanent political order.
- Ch. III : The Political Elements of Civilization, p. 21
II - The Life of Greece (1939)Edit
- No man who is in a hurry is quite civilized.
- Ch. XII : Work and Wealth in Athens, p. 277
III - Caesar and Christ (1944)Edit
- There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
- Chapter 30, part 1, p. 652.
- A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.
- Epilogue: "Why Rome Fell", p. 665
VI - The Reformation (1957)Edit
- I have tried to be impartial, though I know that a man's past always colors his views, and that nothing else is so irritating as impartiality.
- I feel for all faiths the warm sympathy of one who has come to learn that even the trust in reason is a precarious faith, and that we are all fragments of darkness groping for the sun. I know no more about the ultimates than the simplest urchin in the streets.
With Ariel DurantEdit
- Power dements even more than it corrupts, lowering the guard of foresight and raising the haste of action.
- As quoted in Midnight by Dean Koontz