Head and Heart: A Quotation Falsely Attributed to Aristotle

A twitter correspondent asked me to check on the following quotation often attributed to Aristotle: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” The proliferation of unattributed quotations was one of the reasons we started our twitter feed years back–and tracking down proverbs is something that allows me to procrastinate with purpose!

I was almost immediately certain that this line could not be Aristotelian (or even ancient Greek) for the following reasons: the mind/heart division would only make sense from the period of Classical Greek if it were a drastic mis-translation; the phraseology as translated does not seem Aristotelian at all.

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I started out with a simple google search and was a little disappointed, but not exactly surprised, at how widespread the unattributed quote was. I then searched for discussions of the provenance/authenticity of the quotation (there were a few). While doing this, I switched between the TLG where I search Aristotle’s corpus for paideu-, didask- and manthan– compounds (varied as well for their root forms etc.) and the Loeb Classical Library online where I searched using English “education”, “teaching”. “learning” etc. I was not shocked to come up with nothing.

The best texts for education in Aristotle are the Politics  and the Nicomachean Ethics. There is also some material in the Poetics and the Rhetorica. The closest I came to a comment like the quotation is actually in the margin of the Loeb for the Politics (H. Rackham, 1926) 8.6 “Teaching is powerless without a foundation of good habits”. This annotates a passage that begins as follows:

“Some think that we are good by nature; others by habit, and others by teaching. It is clear that what comes naturally is not subject to our will, but it is based on divine causes, given to those who are fortunate

—γίνεσθαι δ᾿ ἀγαθοὺς οἴονται οἱ μέν φύσει, οἱ δ᾿ ἔθει, οἱ δὲ διδαχῇ. τὸ μὲν οὖν τῆς φύσεως δῆλον ὡς οὐκ ἐφ᾿ ἡμῖν [ὑπάρχει],2 ἀλλὰ διά τινας θείας αἰτίας τοῖς ὡς ἀληθῶς εὐτυχέσιν ὑπάρχει·

This is too tenuous a connection and unrelated a statement, I think, to have anything to do with the quotation. So, taking a tip from Yahoo answers, I looked into Google books and found several variations on the saying without attribution during the latter half of the 19th century.

In Home, the School and the Church, Or, the Presbyterian Education we find “whilst the state plan educates the mind without educating the heart…” (1850). Similarly, in the report of the faculty of Waterville College (1856) we find  “To educate the head without educating the heart is to make moral monsters…”

But this did not explain how and when the text came to be attributed to Aristotle. Many self-help books, educational texts, and business texts past-2000 attribute the quotation to Aristotle, but the earliest print attribution in google books I could find is from  1991’s Invitational Teaching, Learning Living.

So, the quotation is as I first suspected: absolutely false (and, to add my opinion, rather banal). I cannot say with certainty when it made the leap from proverbial blather to Aristotelian counterfeit, but it happened before the modern internet.

Here are some actual quotes on education from Aristotle.

Politics 8 (1337a)

“No one could doubt that a lawgiver must make provisions for the education of the youth. For, when this does not happen in a state, it undermines the constitution.”

Ὅτι μὲν οὖν τῷ νομοθέτῃ μάλιστα πραγματευτέον περὶ τὴν τῶν νέων παιδείαν, οὐδεὶς ἂν ἀμφισβητήσειεν. καὶ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν οὐ γιγνόμενον τοῦτο βλάπτει τὰς πολιτείας.

“It is clear that education must be one and the same for everyone.”

φανερὸν ὅτι καὶ τὴν παιδείαν μίαν καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι πάντων


“Since it is clear from these arguments that music is able to shape the character of the soul, and if it can do this, it is manifest that it should applied and taught to the young.”

ἐκ μὲν οὖν τούτων φανερὸν ὅτι δύναται ποιόν τι τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ἦθος ἡ μουσικὴ παρασκευάζειν, εἰ δὲ τοῦτο δύναται ποιεῖν, δῆλον ὅτι προσακτέον καὶ παιδευτέον ἐν αὐτῇ τοὺς νέους.

Here are some quotes attributed to Aristotle by Diogenes Laertius in his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers.

“He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet. ”

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν.

“He used to say that three things are needed for education: innate ability, study, and practice.”

τριῶν ἔφη δεῖν παιδείᾳ, φύσεως, μαθήσεως, ἀσκήσεως.

“When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well. “

ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι.

“When asked what he had gained from philosophy, he said “doing unbidden what some do for fear of the law.”

ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ποτ’ αὐτῷ περιγέγονεν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας, ἔφη, “τὸ ἀνεπιτάκτως ποιεῖν ἅ τινες διὰ τὸν ἀπὸτῶν νόμων φόβον ποιοῦσιν.”

I also quickly searched Stobaeus to see if the sentiment had been mis-attributed from some other ancient author. It wasn’t. But there are some other worthy quotes.

Stobaeus, 2.31.64

“Diogenes said that the uneducated differ from wild beasts only in their shape.”

     ῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τοὺς ἀπαιδεύτους μόνῃ τῇ μορφῇ τῶν θηρίων διαφέρειν.

2.31.68 [Antisthenes]

“It right that those who are to become good men shape their bodies in the gymnasium and their soul through education.”

Δεῖ τοὺς μέλλοντας ἀγαθοὺς ἄνδρας γενήσεσθαι τὸ μὲν σῶμα γυμνασίοις ἀσκεῖν, τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν παιδεύσει.

Ariston (Stob. 2.31.95)

“A navigator loses his way in neither a great nor a small vessel; but the inexperienced do in both. In the same way, an educated person is not troubled in wealth or poverty, but the uneducated is troubled in both.”

     Κυβερνήτης μὲν οὔτε ἐν μεγάλῳ πλοίῳ οὔτε ἐν μικρῷ ναυτιάσει, οἱ δὲ ἄπειροι ἐν ἀμφοῖν· οὕτως ὁ μὲν πεπαιδευμένος καὶ ἐν πλούτῳ καὶ ἐν πενίᾳ οὐ ταράττεται, ὁ δ’ ἀπαίδευτος ἐν ἀμφοῖν.

2.31.96 Pythagoras

    “A lack of education is the mother of all suffering.”

᾿Απαιδευσία πάντων τῶν παθῶν μήτηρ·

3.4.61 (Attributed to Socrates)

“While foreigners wander on the roads, the uneducated wander in their actions.”

     Οἱ μὲν ξένοι ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς, οἱ δὲ ἀπαίδευτοι ἐν τοῖς πράγμασι πλανῶνται.

3.20 12b

“Many evils come from uneducated rage.”

     Πόλλ’ ἐστὶν ὀργῆς ἐξ ἀπαιδεύτου κακά.


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9 thoughts on “Head and Heart: A Quotation Falsely Attributed to Aristotle

  1. I wonder if you would be able to check this Aristotle quote:

    ‘Character is made by many acts, it may be lost by a single one’.

    It is quoted all over the web but I cannot find a source for it.

    Thank you


  2. It was cited as Aristotle in 1991 on page 7 of Invitational Teaching, Learning, and Living by William Watson Purkey, Paula Helen Stanley of the NEA Professional Library, National Education Association:
    Now these are not your typical types who add a famous name to give a bit of hot sauce to an internet quote in order to give it extra legs on social media. These would seem to be of the ilk that would NOT make such a falsification deliberately. They too must have ‘got it from somewhere’ and not checked their sources. Puzzling…
    ps. I found this using google books advanced search and setting the date criteria. Invaluable research tactic…

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