Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.


"When a thing is done again and again, it seems to proceed from a deliberate judgment of reason. Accordingly, custom has the force of a law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law." -

"Custom governs the world; it is the tyrant of our feelings and our manners and rules the world with the hand of a despot." - John Bartlett

"Piety and selfless deeds elevate the inhabitants of this earth to exalted spiritual estates... self-serving acts reduce them to the realms beneath, of sorrow and pain, rebirths among birds and vermin, or out of the wombs of pigs and beasts of the wild, or among trees. Action is a function of character, which in turn is controlled by custom. This is the whole substance of the secret. This knowledge is the ferry across the ocean of hell to beatitude. For all the animate and inanimate objects in this world... are transitory, like dream. The gods on high, the mute trees and stones, are but apparitions in the fantasy. Good and evil attaching to a person are perishable as bubbles. In the cycles of time they alternate. The wise are attached to neither." - Brahma-Vaivarta Purana NULL

"Man yields to custom as he bows to fate - in all things, ruled, mind, body, and estate." - George Crabbe

"The whole history of science, art and morals proves that the mind that appears in individuals, is not as such individual mind. The former is in itself a system of belief, recognitions, and ignorances, of acceptances and rejections, of expectancies and appraisals of meanings which have been instituted under the influence of custom and tradition." - John Dewey

"Custom may lead a man into many errors; but it justifies none." - Henry Fielding

"For... what liberty is; there can no other proof be offered but every man’s own experience, by reflection on himself, and remembering what he useth in his mind, that is, what he himself meaneth when he saith an action... is free. Now he that reflecteth so on himself, cannot but be satisfied... that a free agent is he that can do if he will, and forbear if he will; and that liberty is the absence of external impediments. But to those that out of custom speak not what they conceive, but what they heard, and are not able, or will not take the pains to consider what they think when they hear such words, no argument can be sufficient, because experience and matter of fact are not verified by other men’s arguments, but by every man’s own sense and memory." - Thomas Hobbes

"‘Tis not, therefore, reason, which is the guide of life, but custom." - David Hume

"Custom is the great guide of human life. It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared I the past. Without the influence of custom, we should be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond what is immediately present to the memory and senses. We should never know how to adjust means to ends, or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect. There would be an end at once of all action, as well as of the chief part of speculation." - David Hume

"Custom, then, is the great guide of human life." - David Hume

"Custom is a violent and treacherous school mistress. She, by little and little, slyly and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority; but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes." - Michel de Montaigne, fully Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

"The laws of conscience, which we say are born of nature, are born of custom. Each man, holding in inward veneration the opinions and the behavior approved and accepted around him, cannot break loose from them without remorse, or apply himself to them without self-satisfaction." - Michel de Montaigne, fully Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

"Laws are slaves of custom [Laws are subordinate to custom]." - Plautus, full name Titus Maccius Plautus NULL

"Custom, the world's great idol." - John Pomfret

"Most tyrannous is the authority of custom." - Publius Syrus

"Custom does often reason overrule." - John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

"No man becomes fully evil at once; but suggestion bringeth on indulgence; indulgence, delight; delight, consent; consent, endeavor; endeavor, practice; practice, custom; custom, excuse; excuse, defense; defense, obstinacy; obstinacy, boasting; boasting, a seared conscience and a reprobate mind." - Thomas De Witt Talmage

"How many things both just and unjust, are sanctioned by custom!" -

"Custom is the law of fools." -

"When a law is changed, the binding power of the law is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished. Therefore human law should never be changed, unless, in some way or other, the common welfare be compensated according to the extent of the harm done in this respect." -

"There in fact four very significant stumbling-blocks in the way of grasping the truth, which hinder every man however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to wisdom, namely, the example of weak and unworthy authority, long-standing custom, the feeling of the ignorant crowd, and the hiding of our own ignorance while making a display of our apparent knowledge... there are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely by reasoning and experience." - Roger Bacon, scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis meaning "Wonderful Teacher"

"The imagination acquires by custom a certain involuntary, unconscious power of observation and comparison, correcting its own mistakes and arriving at precision of judgment, just as the outward eye is disciplined to compare, adjust, estimate, measure, the objects reflected on the back of its retina. The imagination is but the faculty of glassing images; and it is with exceeding difficulty, and by the imperative will of the reasoning faculty resolved to mislead it, that it glasses images which have no prototype in truth and nature." - Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, fully Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton

"Truth is a gem that is found at a great depth; whilst on the surface of the world all things are weighed by the false scale of custom." -

"A good custom is surer than law." - Euripedes NULL

"Custom joined with time shall deaden pain." - Euripedes NULL

"Custom may lead a man into many errors, but it justifies none." - Henry Fielding

"Society has only one law, and that is custom. Even religion is socially powerful only so far as it has custom on its side." - Philip G. Hamerton, fully Philip Gilbert Hamerton

"Nature makes us poor only when we want necessaries, but custom gives the name poverty to the want of superfluities." -

"Ancient custom is always held of regarded as law." - Law Maxim NULL

"Custom is held to be as a law." - Law Maxim NULL

"Custom is the best interpreter of laws." - Law Maxim NULL

"The custom of the manor and the place must be observed." - Law Maxim NULL

"The custom of frequent reflection will keep their minds from running adrift, and call their thoughts home from useless unattentive roving." - John Locke

"The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom... It may be said with some plausibility that there is an abecedarian (meaning alphabetically or rudimentary) ignorance that comes before knowledge, and another doctoral ignorance that comes after knowledge; ignorance that knowledge creates and engenders, just as it undoes and destroys the first." - Michel de Montaigne, fully Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

"Custom is the tyranny of the lower human faculties over the higher." -

"Custom and convention govern human activities." - Pyrrho (or Pyrrhon), aka Pyrrho of Elis NULL

"Be not too rash in the breaking of an inconvenient custom; as it was gotten, so leave it by degrees." - Francis Quarles

"Be not too slow in the breaking of a sinful custom; a quick, courageous resolution is better than a gradual deliberation; in such a combat he is the bravest soldier that lays about him without fear or wit. Wit pleads, fear disheartens; he that would kill Hydra had better strike off one neck than five heads: fell the tree, and the branches are soon cut off." - Francis Quarles

"Custom, which diminishes the intense, increases the moderate, pleasures." - Chevalier Ramsay, formally Andrew Michael Ramsay

"Custom controls the sexual impulse as it controls no other." - Margaret Sanger, fully Margaret Higgins Sanger Slee

"All theories, all values, all reforms, all revolutions, all change, and all actions are built on the shifting sands of custom and opinion, and the winds of doubt and new circumstances and considerations are always blowing, always rising." - Robert E. Carter, fully Robert Edgar Carter

"Much of our ethical life is lived unthinkingly, for we do as we do by habit, custom, tradition, or because we have thought the pros and cons of similar situations. We must somehow be able to decide what is valuable at this moment while at the same time remaining open to future revisions in our valuational pattern. This willingness to revise, to be open to new possibilities of value, is for me a key to life and value enhancement." - Robert E. Carter, fully Robert Edgar Carter

"Morality, if it is not fixed by custom and authority, becomes a mere matter of taste determined by the idosyncrasies of the moralist." -

"The whole drift of our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas that diverge in the slightest from the accepted platitudes, and behind that drift or law there is far more potent force of growing custom, and under that custom there is a national philosophy which erects conformity into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of personality into a capital crime against society." -

"Custom adapts itself to expediency." -

"By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes is his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion." -

"Custom everywhere regulates fashion." - Adam Smith

"The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter… seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education." - Adam Smith

"The value of philosophy is to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. He who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thought and free them from the tyranny of custom." - Bertrand Russell, fully Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell

"Custom should be followed only because it is custom, and not because it is reasonable or just. But people follow it for this sole reason, that they think it just. Otherwise they would follow it no longer, although it were the custom; for they will only submit to reason or justice. Custom without this would pass for tyranny; but the sovereignty of reason and justice is no more tyrannical than that of desire. They are principles natural to man." - Blaise Pascal