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Leonardo da Vinci’s Advice for a Fulfilling Life

Leonardo da Vinci is among the most talented and insightful individuals to ever share our planet. His indelible legacy as a masterful painter persists to this day, as works such as the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper” can attest.

In addition to being a prolific Renaissance artist, Leonardo was also a brilliant theorist. His views on the human condition were ahead of their time and remain as relevant today as they were more than 500 years ago.

Leonardo kept an extensive series of notebooks and journals to chronicle his thoughts on topics such as painting, anatomy, botany, and paleontology, to name just a few. These original sources provide us with an invaluable direct look into the mind of this great polymath, whose brilliant philosophical observations have inspired countless others over the centuries.

In honor of this incredible artist and thinker, here are 12 quotes that illustrate Leonardo da Vinci’s thoughts on life and that can be used as guiding principles on our own personal journeys.

Poor is the pupil that does not surpass his master.

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Leonardo preached the importance of continually seeking out knowledge. According to his philosophy, an effective education involves taking the basics one learns as a student and using them to expand the mind even further.

Experience never errs; it is only your judgments that err by promising themselves effects such as are not caused by your experiments.

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Ever the practical theorist, Leonardo believed trial and error to be the foundation of truth. In turn, he thought all fallacies arise from untested personal beliefs.

It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.

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It’s best to tackle the roots of evil when they first present themselves Leonardo posited. Waiting too long allows those bad influences to grow stronger and potentially become unmanageable.

Whoever in discussion adduces authority uses not intellect but rather memory.

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Leonardo believed all men are equal and that those who claim to have power tend to rely on perception rather than fact to maintain their control.

The knowledge of past times and of the places on the earth is both an ornament and nutriment to the human mind.

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It’s important to remember the past, according to Leonardo, as those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat prior mistakes.

We ought not to desire the impossible.

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When setting personal goals, Leonardo believed in the importance of remaining grounded and seeking out realistically achievable end results.

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.

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According to Leonardo, our own beliefs are often responsible for guiding us down the wrong path. The great thinker thought important decisions should be based on scientific methods rather than on gut feelings.

As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.

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Leonardo believed that in order to leave this Earth feeling content, we must consciously live fulfilling lives while we’re here.

Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.

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Leonardo claimed that evolution arises out of necessity. It’s need, rather than want, that makes the world grow stronger and develop more fully.

To lie is so vile, that even if it were in speaking well of godly things it would take off something from God’s grace; and Truth is so excellent, that if it praises but small things they become noble.

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To Leonardo (and surely to many of us), lying is a wholly reprehensible action, considering the destruction and chaos it’s sure to bring about . Telling the truth, on the other hand, can highlight the value and virtue of even the littlest things.

Avoid studies of which the result dies with the worker.

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It’s imperative to leave behind a worthy legacy, per Leonardo. We should do what we can to ensure our work doesn’t die with us and that our pursuits continue to inspire others after we’re gone.

Just as iron rusts unless it is used, and water putrifies or, in cold, turns to ice, so our intellect spoils unless it is kept in use.

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Leonardo was a huge proponent of staying eternally curious and constantly exercising one’s mind so it doesn’t become stale with disuse. As it happens, we’re big proponents of that as well.

Featured image credit: Culture Club/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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About the Author
Bennett Kleinman
Bennett is a staff writer at Optimism as well as a freelance comedy writer. He's based in New York City.
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