Felix Adler lays the cornerstone for the New York Society for Ethical Culture

Quotations on a variety of topics from Felix Adler. Adler was a professor of political and social ethics, a religious reformer, and a founder of the Ethical Culture movement. He was a part of the progressive movement, seeking social reform to bring out human worth. His commitment to education led to the founding of the Ethical Culture schools, originally to serve children of working families.

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Act to elicit the best in others, and thereby in yourself.

— Felix Adler

An optimist is a person who sees only the lights in the picture, whereas a pessimist sees only the shadows. An idealist, however, is one who sees the light and the shadows, but in addition sees something else: the possibility of changing the picture, of making the lights prevail over the shadows.

— Felix Adler

May the humanity that is within every human being be held precious. The vice that underlies all vices is that we are held cheap by others, and far worse, that in our innermost soul we think cheaply of ourselves.

— Felix Adler

Religion has concerned itself with the beginnings of the world and of life. Today religion must concern itself with the end, the purpose and the future of life. How did things come to be? No, religion must turn to a greater, more important question. What shall we do with this world? What is the outcome to be? We must do what we can to affect the outcome of life.

— Felix Adler

Binding ties are imposed not from above (by fiat of God) but from ahead. The radiant future stretches forth its arms toward us, and binds us to be willing servants to its work, willingly to accept those limitations of the individual will which are indispensable in the service of a far-off cause, a service which at the same time disciplines and ennobles the individual himself. This, to my mind, is the solution of the problem how constraint upon the self is compatible with the affirmation of the self.

— Felix Adler, (1925)

To put forth power in such a way as to be provocative of power in others is the ethical aim that should guide men in all vocations and in all their relations.

— Felix Adler

The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly. In our own lives we give them immortality. Let us arise and take up the work they have left unfinished, and preserve the treasures they have won, and round out the circuit of their being to the fullness of an ampler orbit in our own.

— Felix Adler

An ideal is a port toward which we resolve to steer. We may not reach it. The mere fact that our goal is definitely located does not suffice to conduct us thither. But surely we shall thus stand a better chance of making port in the end than if we drift about aimlessly the sport of winds and tides without having decided in our own minds in what direction we ought to bend our course.

— Felix Adler

The truth which has made us free will in the end make us glad also.

— Felix Adler

The purpose of life is not happiness but worthiness. Happiness may come as an accessory; we dare never make it the end.

— Felix Adler

A human being is not to be handled as a tool but is to be respected and revered.

— Felix Adler

We are not married on our wedding-day; on that day we do but begin to be married. The true marriage is an endless process, the perpetual interlinking of two souls while life lasts.

— Felix Adler

The human race may be compared to a writer. At the outset a writer has often only a vague general notion of the plan of his work, and of the thought he intends to elaborate. As he proceeds, penetrating his material, laboring to express himself fitly, he lays a firmer grasp on his thought; he finds himself. So the human race is writing its story, finding itself, discovering its own underlying purpose, revising, recasting a tale pathetic often, yet none the less sublime.

— Felix Adler

We stand, as it were, on the shore, and see multitudes of our fellow beings struggling in the water, stretching forth their arms, sinking, drowning, and we are powerless to assist them.

— Felix Adler

[People] may be said to resemble not the bricks of which a house is built, but the pieces of a picture puzzle, each differing in shape, but matching the rest, and thus bringing out the picture.

— Felix Adler

There is as yet no civilized society, but only a society in the process of becoming civilized. There is as yet no civilized nation, but only nations in the process of becoming civilized. From this standpoint, we can now speak of a collective task of humankind. The task of humanity is to build a genuine civilization.

— Felix Adler

The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.

— Felix Adler

No religion can long continue to maintain its purity when the church becomes the subservient vassal of the state.

— Felix Adler

Love of country is like love of woman — he loves her best who seeks to bestow on her the highest good.

— Felix Adler

Love is the expansion of two natures in such fashion that each include the other, each is enriched by the other.

— Felix Adler

We cannot adopt the way of living that was satisfactory a hundred years ago. The world in which we live has changed, and we must change with it.

— Felix Adler

To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.

— Felix Adler

The moral law is the expression of our inmost nature and when we live in consonance with it we feel that we are living out our true being.

— Felix Adler

Every dogma, every philosophic or theological creed, was at its inception a statement in terms of the intellect of a certain inner experience.

— Felix Adler

The unique personality which is the real life in me, I can not gain unless I search for the real life, the spiritual quality, in others. I am myself spiritually dead unless I reach out to the fine quality dormant in others. For it is only with the god enthroned in the innermost shrine of the other, that the god hidden in me, will consent to appear.

— Felix Adler

Ethical religion can be real only to those who are engaged in ceaseless efforts at moral improvement. By moving upward we acquire faith in an upward movement, without limit.

— Felix Adler

Religion is a wizard, a sibyl . . .
She faces the wreck of worlds, and prophesies restoration.
She faces a sky blood-red with sunset colours that deepen into darkness, and prophesies dawn.
She faces death, and prophesies life.

— Felix Adler

The conception of worth, that each person is an end per se, is not a mere abstraction. Our interest in it is not merely academic. Every outcry against the oppression of some people by other people, or against what is morally hideous is the affirmation of the principle that a human being as such is not to be violated. A human being is not to be handled as a tool but is to be respected and revered.

— Felix Adler

We have already transgressed the limit of safety, and the present disorders of our time are but precursors of other and imminent dangers.

— Felix Adler

There is a great and crying evil in modern society. It is want of purpose. It is that narrowness of vision which shuts out the wider vistas of the soul. It is the absence of those sublime emotions which, wherever they arise, do not fall to exalt and consecrate existence.

— Felix Adler
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