Alan Watts - The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions (2023)


Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a well-known British philosopher, writer and speaker, best known for his interpretation of Eastern philosophy for Western audiences. He left behind more than 25 books and an audio library of nearly 400 talks, which are still in great demand.

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Full Alan Watts lecture for this audio:

Music at the end: The Vision by Ra-Grim

Special thank you to Lana R. for the amazing generosity on Patreon!


You see the reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren't.

We aren't better because we want to be because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, because all the do-gooders in the world, whether they're doing good for others or doing it for themselves, are troublemakers on the basis of kindly, let me help you or you'll drown said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree.

We white, anglo-saxon protestants.

British german american have been on a rampage for the past hundred or more years to improve the world.

We have given the benefits of our culture, our religion, our technology to everybody, except perhaps the australian aborigines, and we have insisted that they receive the benefits of our culture, even our political styles, our democracy, you better, be democratic or we'll shoot you and having conferred these blessings all over the place.

We wonder why everybody hates us see because sometimes doing good to others and even doing good to oneself is amazingly destructive because it's full of conceit.

How do you know what's good for other people? How do you know what's good for you? If you say uh you want to improve, then you want to know what's good for you, but obviously you don't, because if you did, you would be improved.

So we don't know it's like the problem of geneticists which they face.

Today I went to a meeting of geneticists not so long ago where they gathered in a group of philosophers and theologians and said now.

Look here we need help.

We now are on the verge of figuring out how to breed any kind of human character we would want to have.

We can give you saints philosophers, scientists, great politicians, anything you want just tell us what kind of human beings ought we to breed? So I said: how will those of us who are genetically unregenerate, make up our minds what genetically generate people might be, because I'm afraid very much that our selection of virtues may not work.

It may be like, for example, this new kind of high yield grain, which is made and uh, which is becoming ecologically destructive when we interfere with the processes of nature and breed efficient plants and deficient animals, there's always some way in which we have to pay for it, and I can well see that eugenically produced human beings might be dreadful.

We could have a plague of virtuous people.

Do you realize that any animal considered in itself is virtuous? It does its thing, but in crowds they're awful, like a crowd of ants or locusts on the rampage, they're all perfectly good animals, but it's just too much.

I could imagine a perfectly pesticide mass of a million saints, so I said to these people look was the only thing you can do just be sure that a vast variety of human beings is maintained.

Don't please breed us down to a few excellent types, excellent for what we never know, how circumstances are going to change and how our need for different kinds of people changes at one time we may need very individualistic and aggressive people at another time.

We may need very cooperative teamworking people at another time.

We may need people who are full of interest in dexterous manipulation of the external world at another time we may need people who explore into their own psychology and are introspective there is no knowing, but the more varieties and the more skills we have.

Obviously the better.

So you see here again the problem comes out in genetics.

We do not really know how to interfere with the way the world is.

The way the world actually is is an enormously complex interrelated organism.

The same problem arises in medicine, because the body is a very complexly interrelated organism, and if you look at the body in a superficial way, you may see that something wrong with it is chickenpox and those spots that itch that come all out all over the place.

Well, you might say well spots: are there cut them off? So you kill the bug? Well, then, you find you got real problems because you have to introduce some bugs to kill the bug.

It's like bringing rabbits into australia, and that starts going all over the place and getting out of hand, but then you think well now wait a minute.

It wasn't the bugs in the blood there are bugs all over the place.

What was wrong with this person that his blood system suddenly became vulnerable to those particular bugs his resistance wasn't up.

Therefore, what you should have given was not an antibiotic but vitamins.

Okay, so we're going to build up his resistance, but resistance to what you may build up resistance to this and this and this class of bugs, but then there's another one that loves that situation and comes right in see.

We always look at the human being medically in bits and pieces, because we have heart specialists, lung specialists, bone specialists, nerve specialists and so on, and they each see the human being.

From their point of view, there are a few generalists, but they realize the human body is so complicated that no one mind can understand it.

And, furthermore, supposing we do succeed in healing all these people of their diseases? What do we then do about the population problem? I mean we've stopped cholera.

The black bubonic plague we're getting the better of tuberculosis.

We may fix cancer and heart disease.

Then what will people die of? Well there? Let's go on living will be enormous quantities of us.

Then we have to fix this birth thing pills for everybody.

Then we find what are the effects, the side effects of those pills? What are the psychological effects upon men and women of not breeding uh children in the usual way? We don't know and what seems a good thing today or yesterday, like ddt, turns out tomorrow to have been a disaster.

What seemed in the moral and spiritual sphere too, like great virtues in times past, are easily seen today as hideous evils.

Let's take, for example, the inquisition in its own day among catholics, the holy inquisition was regarded as we today regard the practice of psychiatry.

You you see you, you feel that in curing a person of cancer, almost anything is justified.

The most complex operations, the most weird surgery people suspended for days and days on end on the end of tubes, with x-ray penetration burning or people undergoing shock treatment, people locked in the colorless monotonous corridors of mental institutions in all good faith.

They knew that witchcraft and heresy were terrible things, awful plagues, imperiling people's souls forever, and ever so any means were justified to cure people of heresy.

We don't change we're doing the same thing today, but under different names we can look back at those people and see how evil that was, but we can't see it in ourselves.

So, therefore, beware of the chinese philosopher said the highest.

Virtue is not virtue and therefore really is virtue, but inferior virtue cannot let go of being virtuous and therefore is not virtue.

Translated in more of a periphrastic way.

The highest virtue is not conscious of itself, as virtue and therefore really is virtue.

Lower virtue is so self-conscious that it's not virtue.

In other words, when you breathe you don't congratulate yourself on being virtuous, but breathing is a great virtue.

It's living when you come out with beautiful eyes, blue or brown or green, as the case may be.

You don't congratulate yourself for having grown one of the most fabulous jewels on earth just eyes, and you don't account it a virtue to see to entertain the miracles of color and form.

You say.

Oh that's just, but that's real virtue, virtue in the sense of the old sense of the word as strength is when we talk about the healing virtue of a plant, that's real virtue, but the other virtues are stuck on they, their airsides, their imitation virtues and they usually create trouble because more diabolical things are done in the name of righteousness and be assured that everybody of whatever nationality or political frame of mind or religion always goes to war with a sense of complete rightness.

The other side is the devil.

Our opponents, whether in china or russia or vietnam, have the same feeling of righteousness about what they're doing, as we have on our side and a plague on both houses.

Because, as confucius said, the goody goodies are the thieves of virtue, which is the form of our own proverb.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Consider this a quick reminder, god playing, hide and seek.

My mission is to find.


What does the quote the road to hell is paved with good intentions mean? ›

This page is about the saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" Possible meaning: 1) People who believe they are doing good can end up doing bad (the law of unintended consequences). 2) There is no value in simply planning to do good if you don't actually do it.

Who first said the road to hell is paved with good intentions? ›

According to The Phrase Finder (, the expression is often attributed to the Cistercian abbot Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), but that provenance is suspect given that the earliest reference to Saint Bernard saying this is in a work written almost 500 years later.

What is letting go Alan Watts quotes? ›

To let go is simply to release any images and emotions. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

What is the meaning of the road to hell? ›

idiom saying. Add to word list Add to word list. said to emphasize that you must not simply intend to behave well but you must act according to your intentions, because you will have problems or be punished if you do not.

What does have good intentions mean? ›

purpose or attitude toward the effect of one's actions or conduct: a bungler with good intentions.

What did Alan Watts say about reality? ›

For Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others. They do not belong to particular persons any more than the sun, moon and stars. Complement Become What You Are, which is indispensable in its entirety, with Watts on death and how to live with presence.

What philosophy did Alan Watts believe in? ›

He chose Buddhism, and sought membership in the London Buddhist Lodge, which was then run by the barrister and QC Christmas Humphreys (who later became a judge at the Old Bailey). Watts became the organization's secretary at 16 (1931). The young Watts explored several styles of meditation during these years.

What is the full quote of road to hell Paved? ›

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is a proverb or aphorism. An alternative form is "Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works".

What road was road to hell written about? ›

The single is Rea's biggest success in the United Kingdom, peaking at number 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The song was inspired by the frustrations of M25 and M4 motorway rush-hour traffic.

What is the road to heaven paved with? ›

The road to heaven is paved with effort: Perceived effort amplifies moral judgment.

What does there is a power in letting go mean? ›

There is power in letting go

Letting go means that you trust that the things you are setting out to do are going to work out for you. When you can let go, you know that whatever it may be can come in your life. Let go of the control, and focus on the activities you need to do to reach any goal, like getting new skills.

What is a motivational quote about letting go? ›

The Best Quotes about Letting Go
  • The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward. ...
  • Forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you. ...
  • If you want to fly in the sky, you need to leave the earth.
May 1, 2020

What did Alan Watts say about time? ›

“Time is money,” we say. “I don't have enough time.” “Time flies.” “Time drags.” And I think we should go into the question of what this is, because in our ordinary common sense we think of time as a one-way motion from the past, through the present, and on into the future.

What does the road suggest about good and evil? ›

There can be good and evil in the world but neither can balance the other out. When the father feels that there is no hope for them at the end of the road the boy always reminds him that they are the good guys because he, the father, told the boy that they were good.

What are good intentions in a relationship? ›

Relationship Intentions:

I intend to open my heart, as fully as possible, and feel my partner's magnificent love. I intend for my partner and I to lovingly support each other in our individual dreams and goals. I intend that my partner and I both feel deeply and richly loved and supported by the other.

Is most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions? ›

Here is a pertinent adage about self-deception and fallibility: Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. The above statement has been attributed to the famous poet and playwright T.S. Eliot, but I have never seen a solid citation.

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