The Meaning Of Passion Often Renders Clever Man A Fool By Francois De La Rochefoucauld Fully Explained

Heard of passion often renders clever man a fool?

Today I’m going to explore and explain the meaning of this popular maxim by Francois De La Rochefoucauld:

“Passion often renders the most clever man a fool, and even sometimes renders the most foolish man clever.”

“La passion fait souvent un fou du plus habile homme, et rend souvent les plus sots habiles.” (French)


(This quote is also found in: )

(The quote in French is found in: Réflexions: Ou, Sentences Et Maximes Morales De La Rochefoucauld, A Paris, De L’imprimerie De Crapelet, 1822, Réflexions: Ou, Sentences Et Maximes Morales, VI, P. 12)

(The quote in French is also found here.)

Note: The other English translations are:

“Passion makes idiots of the cleverest men, and makes the biggest idiots clever.”

(Note: I have yet to find the direct source of this English translation.)

“Passion often makes a fool of a man of sense; sometimes it makes a man of sense of a fool.”

(Maxims And Moral Reflections By The Duke De La Rochefoucauld, From The French, Printed At The Office Of George Nicholson, Ludlow, 1799, Passions, 330, PP. 30-31)

(This translation is also found here.)

“Passion very often makes the wisest Men Fools, and very often too inspires the greatest Wit.”

(The Moral Maxims And Reflections Of The Duke De La Rochefoucauld, With An Introduction And Notes By George H. Powell, With A Frontispiece By N. Nonsiau, London: Methuen & Co., Ltd, 1913, The Maxims, VII, P. 31)

“Passion often makes a madman of the cleverest man, and renders the greatest fools clever.”

(Moral Reflections, Sentences And Maxims Of Francis, Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Newly Translated From The French, With Introduction And Notes, New York: William Gowans, 1851, 7, P. 6)

“Passion often makes a madman of the cleverest man, and the greatest fools clever.”

(Moral Reflections, Sentences And Maxims Of Francis, Duc De La Rochefoucauld, New York: William Gowans, 1851, 7, P. 6)

“Passion often makes fools of the wisest men and gives the silliest wisdom.”

(La Rochefoucauld Maxims, Translated By Leonard Tancock, Penguin UK, 1981, Reflections Or Aphorisms And Moral Maxims, 6)

The key word of this aphorism is: passion.

Let’s find out a little more about the subject: passion.

passion often renders clever man a fool

What Is Passion?

Passion means any strong motivation combined with fervent emotions, either positive or negative.

It embodies a number of different emotions, that includes lust, anger, love, enthusiasm, faith, desire, joy, sadness, pride, hope and hatred.

It is said that there are two different philosophical perspectives of passion:

1. we should strive to numb our passions and only listen to reason.

2. we are unable to disregard our passions as they are what make us human and our sense of of reason emerges only as a result of our passions.

In addition, according to an extensive research by Professor Robert J. Vallerand, there are two types of passion:

  1. harmonious passion

2. obsessive passion

In his book “The Psychology Of Passion: A Dualistic Model“, he mentioned that the duality of passion can bring out the best and worst in people.

This barely controllable emotion could lead one to engage in both irrational and unreasonable behavior.

Philosopher René Descartes said that we human must how to differentiate between the “good” and “bad” passions.

For instance, having courage is good as it remains under our control, whereas temerity can get us into trouble if we lose control and go too far.

Passion Often Renders Clever Man A Fool

Now, let’s explore the maxim by Francois De La Rochefoucauld.

It says the intense emotion many times causes the most clever person becomes a fool, and even occasionally causes the most foolish man to be clever.

So, what does this mean actually?

As I have mentioned earlier, passion is an uncontrollable emotion which can cause any one of us to lose our bearings.

Even the smartest one among us can be overwhelmed by one’s raging passion, and resulted in making irrational or unreasonable decisions.

One very good reason is being a smart or knowledgeable person, he is definitely confident of his chances of achieving what he is out to do.

To exacerbate the matter, his inner intense emotional push (passion) will keep urging him on, he becomes overly confident of an assured successful outcome.

There is a good possibility he could fail miserably, not because of his lack of acuteness in making a more favorable decision.

I would say it’s the blind determined passion which causes him to lose sight of their decision.

Interestingly, sometimes by a stroke of luck, passion can get the foolish or unwise individual to be successful.

It’s not so much of a person’s intelligence or discerning faculty, but the impassioned emotional interest and a little help from lady luck.

* Talking about luck, check out this Somerset Maugham’s view on good luck and merit.

Now you can see, what the hidden power of passion can do to us.

In short, passion is a two-edged sword.

By the way, now it reminds me of this quote:

“If passion drives, let reason hold the reins.” – Benjamin Franklin

(Poor Richard’s Almanack By Benjamin Franklin, The U. S. C. Publishing Co., 1914, 261, P. 30)

(The quote is also found in: Poor Richard’s Almanack By Benjamin Franklin, Introduction By Paul A. Volcker, Skyhorse Publishing, 2007, On Money And Business, P. 3)

This quote is saying the similar thing.

It means you can let your passion to propel or push you, but at the same time you still need your sense of reason or logic to restrain or curb it.

Finally, let’s check out some of my five favorite passion quotes:

Passion Quotes

“…no one wishes to have passions. For who wants to have himself put in chains when he can be free?” – Immanuel Kant

(Anthropology From A Pragmatic Point Of View By Immanuel Kant, Translated, With An Introduction By Mary J. Gregor, Martinus Nijhoff, 1974, Book III. On The Appetitive Power, On Effects In Comparison With Passion, P. 121)

“Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

(The Complete Works Of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Comprising His Essays, Lectures, Poems, And Orations, In Two Volumes, Vol. II, London: Bell & Daldy, 1866, The Conduct Of Life, VII. Considerations By The Way, P. 419)

“…nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

(The Philosophy of History By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, With Prefaces By Charles Hegel And The Translator, J. Sibree, Kitchener: Batoche Books, 2001, Introduction, P. 37)

(The quote is also found here.)

“…Wonder is the first of all the passions.” – René Descartes

(Passions Of the Soul By René Descartes, An English Translation Of Les Passions de l’âme, Translated And Annotated By Stephen Voss, Hackett Publishing Company, 1989, Second Part, The Order And Enumeration Of The Passion, Article 53. Wonder, P. 52)

(The quote is also found in: The Philosophical Works Of René Descartes, Rendered Into English By Elizabeth S. Haldane, LL.D. And G. R. T. Ross, M. A., D.Phil, In Two Volumes, Volume I, University Press, 1911, The Passion Of The Soul, Part Two, The Order And Enumeration Of The Passion, Article LIII, Wonder, P. 358)

Man is only truly great when he acts from the passions…” – Benjamin Disraeli

(Coningsby; Or The New Generation By Benjamin Disraeli, In Three Volumes, Vol. II, London: Henry Colburn, 1844, Book IV, Ch. XIII, P. 180)