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.

4 responses

  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. Pingback: Meme Police: A Collection of things Aristotle Did Not Say « SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

  3. 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 hellenic-wisdom.blogspot.com). 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.

  4. 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.

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