Nope, Aristotle Did Not Say, “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without….”

Oh, Internet, why do you abuse Aristotle so?

This has been bouncing around lately with the hashtag #Aristotle

Like many of the fake-istotle quotes, this one can be googled out of existence in about 5 seconds. According to wikiquote, this was first attributed to Aristotle by Lowell L. Bennion in his Religion and the Pursuit of Truth 1989, 52). They suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Nicomachean Ethics 1094b24. The density of the passage provides some grounds for why it may have been (over)simplified. But since it stands so early at the beginning of the Ethics, I suspect that there was a kind of smash and run search for an authoritative sounding quotation. As a side note, there is an interesting–by which I mean crazy–discussion of what this fake quote might mean on Quora. Some of the content there is interesting and accurate (about the idea of the fake quotation, not the actual bit); other parts are like Ancient Aliens crazy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

50 thoughts on “Nope, Aristotle Did Not Say, “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without….”

  1. You’re an American hero, sir. Fake quotes are the fake news of our discipline. Your sleuthing urge probably dates back to having to listen to that one guy attribute everything he ever heard to Jonathan Swift.

  2. Dear Sirs,
    First of all I would like to congratulate you for this priceless blog, it’s been a great help to me in my 18-year effort to write a book on the ancient Greek literature. (see As for the above-mentioned quote of Aristotle “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without accepting it” you must realize that the fault is not with Aristotle but with the translator. Aristotle wrote “πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1 1094a24-1095a), in modern Greek (Ίδιον του μορφωμένου ανθρώπου είναι να ζητεί την ακρίβειαν δι’ έκαστον γένος εις τόσον βαθμόν, όσον επιτρέπει
    η φύσις του πράγματος.” In English, the above quote correctly translated should be ” it is the mark of an educated mind to expect that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.) So, fake is the translator’s note. People should be more careful when translating from one language to another, especially if they are not that familiar with a beautiful language like the ancient Greek language.
    Thank you for your attention.
    Best regards from Greece.

  3. I ran into a fake quote from Ignatius of Antioch recently, and had a hard time following it to its source (which I think –I think– I found). These things are impossible to kill once they’re out and proliferating, and there is no institution, no mechanism to destroy them, that any of us would want to establish. Thus, we are left with suckiness.

      1. The quote was something like “if the lions tore me apart, I hope they would find the name of Jesus written on my heart”. I traced it back to a book of martyrs from the period of the Reformations — I think it was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

      1. Thank you for this! I do love the quote, despite it not being Aristotle. Not to challenge your answer, but to make sure i can cite my sources… do you happen to have a source that attributes it to Joel Christensen? I can’t seem to find anything…

      2. Nick, I believe the author is saying “my name is Joel Christensen”. This blog’s about page lists an e-mail address with a joel in it.

  4. Πεπαιδευμένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ᾽ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ᾽ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται.
    – Διότι ίδιον του μορφωμένου ανθρώπου είναι
    να ζητεί την ακρίβειαν δι’ έκαστον γένος εις τόσον βαθμόν, όσον επιτρέπει η φύσις του πράγματος.
    Αριστοτέλης (Ηθικά Νικομάχεια Α. 1094α24)
    (EN) It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits
    Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Α. 1094α24)
    (FR) L’homme cultivé, en effet, se montre en n’exigeant dans chaque genre de recherche que le degré de précision compatible avec la nature du sujet.
    Aristote (Éthique de Nicomaque, A. 1094a24)
    (DE) Darin zeigt sich der Kenner, daß man in den einzelnen Gebieten je den Grad von Genauigkeit verlangt, den die Natur der Sache zuläßt.
    Aristoteles (Nikomachische Ethik, A. 1094a24)
    (IT) È proprio dell’uomo colto, infatti, richiedere in ciascun campo tanta precisione quanta ne permette la natura dell’oggetto.
    Aristotele (Etica Nicomachea, A. 1094a24)
    (SP) Lo que revela al hombre instruido es el ir en busca de la certidumbre en toda classe de cosas, hasta el punto que la naturaleza del asunto lo permita.
    Aristóteles (Moral a Nicómaco, A. 1094a24)

    1. This is far the same from the quotation. The greek emphasizes precision, not to entertain a thought, etc. This English version of the quotation has been twisted beyond the original meaning to mean something quite different

  5. So, would we then have to attribute the quote to Lowell L. Bennion, as he initially attributed the quote to Aristotle? If Aristotle didn’t say it, and Bennion mistranslated, doesn’t that make the quote his?

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