The Maxims of Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A man’s life is made up of three sorts of days, good ones that seem to pass quickly, bad ones which drag on forever and finally the middle-sized. It’s these spaces in between when we must take care not to err by overrating one day more than another or underrating its successor. A healthy mind understands this well: it has learned how to live without letting itself be guided by what comes next nor fixating too much on the past.

The “François de La Rochefoucauld maxims pdf” is a book by Francois de La Rochefoucauld that contains his thoughts on life. This book was originally published in 1665 and has been translated into many different languages.

Francis de la Rouchefocauld Portrait black white.

I’m a sucker for a good maxim.

I respect those who have the capacity to express a deep truth or insight in as few words as possible. Such complex bits of information are simple to eat while yet challenging you to consider. As a result, we’ve previously featured the maxims of 17th-century Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracián, Benjamin Franklin’s sayings, and time-worn aphorisms that have been taught and shared for so long that no one knows where they came from.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld, a contemporary of Gracián, was another one of my favorite aphoristic authors.

La Rochefoucauld was born into aristocratic riches at a period when the French royal court was torn between assisting and threatening the noble class. When the French monarch (Louis XIV) was a kid in the mid-1640s, his mother and other members of the royal court reigned in his place. They often implemented measures that served their personal interests while weakening the nobility’s authority and independence. The nobles retaliated by revolting. From 1648 until 1653, France was engulfed in a civil war between nobles and royal court officials, known as the Fronde. During these battles, La Rochefoucauld was a notable rebel nobleman. In 1650, his father was shot through the skull while fighting in the Fronde. He was temporarily blinded by the headshot, but miraculously recovered and subsequently regained full eyesight.

The noblemen lost despite their best efforts, and La Rochefoucauld went to his rural house, where he wrote and attended Madeleine de Souvré, marquise de Sablé’s salon. La Rochefoucauld, like many noblemen who fought in the Fronde, penned his memoirs. But he also devoted a lot of time and effort to a collection of aphorisms he called Maximes. 

La Rochefoucauld contemplates upon honor, destiny, friendship, love, and the human predisposition to self-delusion in hundreds of two- or three-line lines in Maximes. His time with the royal court during the Fronde greatly impacted his Maximes. He saw personally the plotting and social duplicity that existed among members of the royal court, and he noticed that in life, it is frequently the crafty and fortunate that prevail rather than the good. La Rochefoucauld, like many other French classical authors, extolled physical and mental strength and scorned weakness. It’s no wonder that Nietzsche was inspired by him and attempted to emulate his aphoristic approach.

When you read La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes, you’re struck by how contemporary they seem. I occasionally lose track of the fact that I’m reading sentences written over 355 years ago. This is partially owing to the fact that they are tinged with cynicism. In reality, several of La Rochefoucauld’s contemporaries thought Maximes’ cynicism was meant as a jab at conventional morals and scruples. However, La Rochefoucauld was an idealist who lived a very pure and moral life, clinging to his convictions even when they landed him into social and political difficulties. His maxims were not meant to urge people to behave in a completely Machiavellian manner at the time, but rather to encourage readers to become more self-aware and comprehend others’ intentions in order to avoid falling prey to their traps and temptations. In brief, he was attempting to understand how to live one’s values in a backstabbing society where individuals are often not who they seem to be and are unable to recognize their own predisposition to mislead others and fool themselves.


I like thumbing through La Rochefoucauld’s maxims every now and then when I’m feeling a little too full of myself. His maxims remind me that success in life is frequently the result of pure chance, and Lady Luck is a fickle lady. Furthermore, his profound insights into human psychology remind me that the easiest person to deceive is generally oneself, so constantly question the stories you tell yourself about yourself.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite maxims from La Rochefoucauld’s 504 maxims below. Hopefully, they’ll offer you a sense of his approach, as well as tips on how to navigate a society that nonetheless has striking similarities to the intrigues of a French royal court.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims

No one deserves to be rewarded for being nice if he lacks the courage to be evil; all other forms of kindness are usually just laziness or a lack of determination.

If a guy is willing to be constantly scrutinized by respectable people, he is genuinely honorable.

A person who does not engage in stupidity is not as smart as he believes.

When we are courteous, we get less thanks than we anticipate since the giver’s and recipient’s prides cannot agree on the worth of the favor.

We often bother others when we believe we cannot possibly offend them.

People who are fortunate seldom amend their mistakes; they always believe they are correct while fortune is on their side.

Nothing is more infectious than example, and we never do extremely good or very bad things without inspiring others to do the same. We duplicate good actions out of a sense of emulation, and evil deeds out of the malignity of our nature — which shame used to keep behind lock and key, but which an example unlocks.

More often than not, it is pride more than a lack of understanding that drives us to contradict widely held beliefs. The front seats are already taken on the proper side, and none of the rear seats are available.

Few tasks are impossible in and of themselves; rather, we lack the perseverance to see them through.

Some people’s flaws become their strengths, while others, despite their many positive attributes, lack charm.

Humility is often only a pretext for submissiveness that we use to get others to surrender to us. It’s a ruse by which pride debases itself in order to raise itself; and, although pride may manifest itself in a variety of ways, it’s never better camouflaged or more misleading than when it hides behind the mask of humility.

The ability to judge is more important than intellect when it comes to good taste.

Politeness is a desire to be treated with respect and to be considered courteous.

Small-mindedness breeds obstinacy; we find it difficult to trust anything that contradicts what we see.


If we believe that only aggressive feelings, such as ambition and love, can overpower the others, we are misleading ourselves. Laziness, however lethargic, often manages to master them; it wrests from us all of life’s intentions and acts, where it invisibly kills and devours both emotions and virtues.

We despise judges for the most insignificant of reasons, but we are willing to put our reputation and glory in the hands of men who are utterly opposed to us, whether through jealousy, self-absorption, or a lack of enlightenment; and it is merely to have them rule in our favor that we risk our peace of mind and even our lives in so many ways.

Almost no guy is intelligent enough to be aware of all the harm he does.

The honors that have been gained are a down payment on the honors that are still to be won.

There are persons who enjoy society’s favor despite the fact that their sole virtues are vices that are handy in everyday life transactions.

Often, the same pride that elicits so much jealousy also serves to alleviate it.

It may require just as much dexterity to benefit from excellent advise as it does to offer oneself good advice.

Some evil individuals would be less harmful if they have no virtue at all.

Some business issues and diseases may be exacerbated by treatments at specific times; the trick is to recognize when it’s risky to employ them.

A subtle imposture is the illusion of simplicity.

There are more temperamental flaws than mental flaws.

We like people who admire us, but we don’t necessarily like people who admire us.

We are still a long way from realizing all of our desires.

Some follies, like infectious diseases, are contagious.

Many individuals despise their belongings, but few know how to give them away.

We normally only take the risk of not trusting in appearances in things of little importance.

Whatever is spoken about us in a positive light never teaches us anything new.

We are quick to forgive people who bore us, but we are unable to forgive those who bore us.

There are moments in life when you must be a bit silly to deal with certain situations.

Because they are continually chatting about themselves, couples are never bored with each other’s presence.

The fact that we like talking about ourselves so much should make us fear that we won’t be able to provide any to our listeners.

It is generally our own skepticism of ourselves that keeps us from sharing the depths of our souls with our companions.

Weak individuals are incapable of being truthful.

If we give ourselves the freedom to speak about their flaws constantly, we will never be able to feel the way we should about our friends and benefactors for very long.

Only those who deserve to be treated with contempt are scared of being treated with contempt.

We admit minor flaws in order to persuade others that we have no major flaws.

Envy is more difficult to quell than hate.


We may believe we despise flattery, but what we despise is the manner in which it is delivered.

When our hatred is too strong, it lowers us to the level of people we despise.

Only in proportion to our self-love do we experience our good and bad fate.

To be a great guy, you must be able to seize any opportunity that comes your way.

Like plants, most men have hidden features that are discovered by coincidence.

We only come across a few decent folks who share our viewpoint.

The fact that those who behave cunningly believe they are smarter than us is what gets us so enraged.

We are almost always bored in the presence of those who should not bore us.

Little brains are too easily injured by little things, but large minds perceive everything without being harmed.

Humility is the actual litmus test for Christian virtues: without it, we maintain all of our flaws, which are only concealed by pride, which conceals them from others and, in many cases, from ourselves.

People are disgraced much more in our sight for little infidelities committed against us than for larger ones committed against others.

Other people’s injuries frequently bring us less agony than those we inflict ourselves.

Even if we doubt the sincerity of individuals who speak with us, we always believe they are more honest with us than with others.

Only a small percentage of cowards are aware of the full degree of their worries.

When most young people act uncivil and boorish, they believe they are being natural.

Ordinary people are quick to criticize something that is beyond their comprehension.

Just as light illuminates things, fortune shows our virtues and vices.

Nobody makes more mistakes than someone who can’t stand being incorrect.

We should regard fortune like we would health: appreciate it when it’s good, be patient when it’s terrible, and only adopt harsh measures if absolutely necessary.

The most difficult challenge in a friendship is persuading our buddy to notice his own flaws rather than ours.

Almost all of our flaws are more forgiving than the techniques we use to conceal them.

Whatever humiliation we have incurred, we nearly always have the ability to restore our reputation.

In times of adversity, we frequently believe we are being consistent when we are just downcast and enduring it without daring to confront it.

Confidence is more important in communication than intellect.

Few individuals understand what it means to grow old.

We take pleasure in flaws that are diametrically opposed to our actual flaws; when we are weak, we gloat about our tenacity.

We are willing to overlook our friends’ flaws if they do not harm us.

Nothing stops us from being natural more than the need to seem natural.

We should evaluate a man’s worth not by his exceptional skills, but by how he employs them.


Weakness is more incompatible with virtue than vice.

It’s almost hard to occupy a position of greatness and seem worthy of holding it when chance catches us off guard and hands us a position of greatness without leading us to it step by step and without our having sought for it.

The same pride that causes us to condemn the flaws we believe we lack also causes us to despise the wonderful characteristics we lack.

Our empathy for our opponents’ problems frequently contains more pride than goodwill; we offer them signals of compassion to make them feel superior to us.

We never crave fervently what we desire only for the sake of reason.

Real friendship, as uncommon as true love is, is much rarer.

Our jealousy usually lasts longer than those we envy’s good fortune.

Vanity is more common than malice when it comes to defamation.

If the blame existed just on one side, quarrels would be short-lived.

Men are more important to study than books.

Only to be appreciated, we blame ourselves.

Only persons with a strong character can be really kind; what seems to be tenderness is typically only weakness, which quickly leads to bitterness.

Virtues, like rivers, are drowned in the sea of self-interest.



The “la rochefoucauld: books” is a book by Francois de La Rochefoucauld. It is a collection of maxims, which are short phrases on the nature of human beings and how they interact with one another.

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