Aristotle Said Many Things, But He Did Not Say This One

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A reader left a comment asking for an investigation of this one. Let’s not beat around the Athenian bush on this one: this is fake, like, really fake.

This seems only recently to have made the leap to Aristotle. It does not seem to be attributed to him in any books, but it appears in Great Thoughts from Master Minds. 1884/1907 by a certain Rev. Haigh.


The quotation is not attributed here, but it sounds like something that may be a summary of Aristotle’s comments on character or habit in the Nicomachean ethics. As far as my ranking of fake Aristotle quotes goes, this is Peisistratos Fake. A vesion that adds “unworthy” and “worthy” shows up in some religious literature in the mid-19th century. By guess is it makes the leap to internet inspirational work through quote texts like this 14000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Preachers, Editors, and Teachers.

Even though this seems like a rather anodyne statement, I think it is really un-Aristotelian and anti-ancient philosophy and general. The notion that you can be for the most part good, but your character is undermined by a single thing is about sin. This is totally Christian and completely not Aristotle.

Here’s some Nicomachaean Ethics as a cleanse 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”


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