John of Salisbury

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Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint.

John of Salisbury (or Joannes Saresberiensis) (c. 1120October 25 1180) was an English philosopher who wrote on ethics, logic and political theory. He was a student of Peter Abelard and an associate of Thomas Becket.


  • Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos gigantium humeris insidentes, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine, aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvehimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantea
    • Bernard of Chartres used to say that we were like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.
      • Metalogicon (1159) bk. 3, ch. 4. Translation from Henry Osborn Taylor The Mediaeval Mind ([1911] 1919) vol. 2, p. 159; such similes were available to Isaac Newton, when he humbly made use of them in comparing his progress in scientific ideas to those whose ideas he drew upon, in his famous statement to Robert Hooke in a letter of 15 February 1676: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Policraticus (1159)[edit]

English translations are taken from The Statesman's Book of John of Salisbury ([1927 1963) translated by John Dickinson]
  • Est ergo tyranni et principis hæc differentia sola, quod hic legi obtemperat, et ejus arbitrio populum regit, cujus se credit ministrum.
    • Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant.
      • Bk. 4, ch. 1
  • Exquisita lectio singulorum, doctissimum; cauta electio meliorum, optimum facit.
    • Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint.
      • Bk. 7, ch. 10
  • Et pro virtutum habitu quilibet et liber est, et, quatenus est liber, eatenus virtutibus pollet.
    • A man is free in proportion to the measure of his virtues, and the extent to which he is free determines what his virtues can accomplish.
      • Bk. 7, ch. 25
  • Lex donum Dei est, æquitatis forma, norma justitiæ, divinæ voluntatis imago, salutis custodia, unio et consolidatio populorum, regula officiorum, exclusio et exterminatio vitiorum, violentiæ et totius injuriæ pœna.
    • Law is the gift of God, the model of equity, a standard of justice, a likeness of the divine will, the guardian of well-being, a bond of union and solidarity between peoples, a rule defining duties, a barrier against the vices and the destroyer thereof, a punishment of violence and all wrongdoing.
      • Bk. 8, ch. 17

Quotes about John of Salisbury[edit]

  • He would be a scholar in any age, and was head and shoulders above his own.
  • He learnt to write what is regarded by competent critics as the purest Latin of the middle ages…The breadth of his reading in the Latin classics is astonishing.
    • A. L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta 1087-1216 ([1951] 1964) p. 235

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