C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.


In the motive lies the good or ill.

Dr. Johnson.

Pure motives do not insure perfect results.


What makes life dreary is the want of motive.

George Eliot.

A good intention clothes itself with sudden power.


In the eye of that Supreme Being to whom our whole internal frame is uncovered, dispositions hold the place of actions.


Whatever touches the nerves of motive, whatever shifts man’s moral position, is mightier than steam or caloric or lightning.


Take from men ambition and vanity and you will have neither heroes nor patriots.


Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws, makes that and the action fine.

George Herbert.

Take away the motive, and you take away the sin.


No labor is hard, no time is long, wherein the glory of eternity is the mark we level at.


Real motives, however seemingly apparent, are still hidden.

Alfred Mercier.

Selfishness is the grand moving principle of nine-tenths of our actions.

La Rochefoucauld.

What society wants is a new motive, not a new cant.


The whole world is put in motion by the wish for riches and the dread of poverty.

Dr. Johnson.

He who does evil that good may come pays a toll to the devil to let him into heaven.


Many actions, like the Rhone, have two sources,—one pure, the other impure.


The two great movers of the human mind are the desire of good, and the fear of evil.


However brilliant an action, it should not be esteemed great unless the result of a great motive.

La Rochefoucauld.

In a promise, what you thought, and not what you said, is always to be considered.


Prudent men lock up their motives, letting familiars have a key to their hearts, as to their garden.


In general, we do well to let an opponent’s motives alone. We are seldom just to them. Our own motives on such occasions are often worse than those we assail.

W. E. Channing.

Let the motive be in the deed, and not in the event. Be not one whose motive for action is the hope of reward.


The true worth of a soul is revealed as much by the motive it attributes to the actions of others as by its own deeds.

J. Petit-Senn.

Never fear to bring the sublimest motive to the smallest duty, and the most infinite comfort to the smallest trouble.

Phillips Brooks.

The mingled incentives which lead to action are often too subtle and lie too deep for us to analyze.


If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.


He that does good for good’s sake seeks neither praise nor reward, though sure of both at last.

William Penn.

It is motive alone that gives real value to the actions of men, and disinterestedness puts the cap to it.

La Bruyère.

We should often have reason to be ashamed of our most brilliant actions if the world could see the motives from which they spring.

La Rochefoucauld.

All merit ceases the moment we perform an act for the sake of its consequences. Truly, in this respect “we have our reward.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt.

The difference there is betwixt honor and honesty seems to be chiefly the motive; the mere honest man does that from duty which the man of honor does for the sake of character.


God made man to go by motives, and he will not go without them, any more than a boat without steam, or a balloon without gas.


Man, it is not thy works, which are mortal, infinitely little, and the greatest no greater than the least, but only the spirit thou workest in, that can have worth or continuance.


  • For there’s nothing we read of in torture’s inventions,
  • Like a well-meaning dunce, with the best of intentions.
  • Lowell.

    The impulse to perform a worthy action often springs from our best nature, but is afterwards tainted by the spur of selfishness or sinister interest.

    Emile Souvestre.

    Motives are better than actions. Men drift into crime. Of evil they do more than they contemplate, and of good they contemplate more than they do.


    We must not inquire too curiously into motives. They are apt to become feeble in the utterance; the aroma is mixed with the grosser air. We must keep the germinating grain away from the light.

    George Eliot.

    What if a man save my life with a draught that was prepared to poison me? The providence of the issue does not at all discharge the obliquity of the intent. And the same reason holds good even in religion itself. It is not the incense, or the offering that is acceptable to God, but the purity and devotion of the worshipper.


    Motives are symptoms of weakness, and supplements for the deficient energy of the living principle, the law within us. Let them then be reserved for those momentous acts and duties in which the strongest and best-balanced natures must feel themselves deficient, and where humility no less than prudence prescribes deliberation.


    The motives of the best actions will not bear too strict an inquiry. It is allowed that the cause of most actions, good or bad, may be resolved into the love of ourselves; but the self-love of some men inclines them to please others, and the self-love of others is wholly employed in pleasing themselves. This makes the great distinction between virtue and vice.


    Men’s minds are as variant as their faces. Where the motives of their actions are pure, the operation of the former is no more to be imputed to them as a crime, than the appearance of the latter; for both, being the work of nature, are alike unavoidable.

    Geo. Washington.

    The attendant on William Rufus, who discharged at a deer an arrow, which glanced against a tree and killed the king, was no murderer, because he had no such design. And, on the other hand, a man who should lie in wait to assassinate another, and pull the trigger of a gun with that intent, would be morally a murderer, not the less though the gun should chance to miss fire.


    As the grand discordant harmony of the celestial bodies may be explained by the simple principles of gravity and impulse, so also in that more wonderful and complicated microcosm, the heart of man, all the phenomena of morals are perhaps resolvable into one single principle, the pursuit of apparent good; for although customs universally vary, yet man in all climates and countries is essentially the same.