Nine Philosophical Quotes on Wisdom (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on wisdom, 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 nine philosophical quotes on wisdom:

He . . . Is the wisest who . . . knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.

– Socrates, as quoted in Plato, Apology, 23A, trans.


Only the wise man is pleased with his own. Folly is ever troubled with weariness of itself.

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 9, trans.


All that comes to be, work of nature or of craft, some wisdom has made: everywhere a wisdom presides at a making. No doubt the wisdom of the artist may be the guide of the work; it is sufficient explanation of the wisdom exhibited in the arts; but the artist himself goes back, after all, to that wisdom in Nature which is embodied in himself; and this is not a wisdom built up of theorems but one totality, not a wisdom consisting of manifold detail co-ordinated into a unity but rather a unity working out into detail.

– Plotinus, Fifth Ennead, VIII, 5, trans.


The wisest man that ever was, being asked what he knew, made answer, “He knew this, that he knew nothing.” By which he verified what has been said, that the greatest part of what we know is the least of what we do not; that is to say, that even what we think we know is but a piece, and a very little one, of our ignorance.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology to Raymond Sebond, trans.


Epicurus says, that a wise man can never become a fool; I have an opinion reverse to this sentence, which is, that he who has once been a very fool, will never after be very wise.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, III, 6, Of Coaches, trans.


There is in human nature generally, more of the fool than of the wise; and therefore those faculties, by which the foolish part of men’s minds is taken, are most potent.

– Francis Bacon, Of Boldness


The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance, which is man’s true state. The sciences have two extremes which meet. The first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find themselves at birth. The other extreme is that reached by great intellects, who, having run through all that men can know, find they know nothing, and come back again to that same ignorance from which they set out; but this is a learned ignorance which is conscious of itself. Those between the two, who have departed from natural ignorance and not been able to reach the other, have some smattering of this vain knowledge, and pretend to be wise. These trouble the world, and are bad judges of everything. The people and the wise constitute the world; these despise it, and are despised. They judge badly of everything, and the world judges rightly of them.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, V, 327, trans.


Wisdom attempts nothing enormous and disproportionate to its powers, nothing which it cannot perform or nearly perform.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conservative


Know of a quote that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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