Fake Aristotle Fakely Rails Against Fighting Inequality

Want to read about more fake Aristotle quotes? We have a post for that….

So, I came across the following in a random Aristotle hashtag search. it is, indubitably, a fake. This is Peisistratos and Racist Level Fake:

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”

This has already been judged a “misattribution” by wikiquotes, but it has a life of its own as a meme that is used to justify inequality. What more a noble pursuit than the counterfeiting of ancient philosophical quotes in the service of upholding injustice!

This little horror shows up in the mid-seventies and has gained new life in the last decade or so. It seems that this is ‘inspired’ (to stretch the meaning of the word) by a segment from the Politics, which, by my reading, provides a very different sentiment from that purveyed by the meme:

Aristotle, Politics 3, 1280a 8-17

“First we must establish what people claim as the definitive boundaries of oligarchy and democracy and what principle of justice characterizes oligarchy and democracy in turn. For all people lay claim to some kind of justice, but they only pursue it up to a point and they do not define justice in its proper entirety.

For example, equality seems to be just and it is, but not to everyone, only to those who are equal to begin with. And so, inequality seems to be just, and, indeed, it is, but not for all people, only those who are not equal. But those people deprive [the concept of the meaning] in respect to those [whom it concerns] and render a bad judgment. The fault behind this is that the judgment is over something that concerns the people [making the judgment] themselves! Nearly all people are poor judges on matters that interest them.”

Ληπτέον δὲ πρῶτον τίνας ὅρους λέγουσι τῆς ὀλιγαρχίας καὶ δημοκρατίας, καὶ τί τὸ δίκαιον τό τε ὀλιγαρχικὸν καὶ δημοκρατικόν. πάντες γὰρ ἅπτονται δικαίου τινός, ἀλλὰ μέχρι τινὸς προέρχονται, καὶ λέγουσιν οὐ πᾶν τὸ κυρίως δίκαιον. οἷον δοκεῖ ἴσον τὸ δίκαιον εἶναι, καὶ ἔστιν, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ πᾶσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἴσοις· καὶ τὸ ἄνισον δοκεῖ δίκαιον εἶναι, καὶ γάρ ἐστιν, ἀλλ᾿ οὐ πᾶσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀνίσοις· οἱ δὲ τοῦτ᾿ ἀφαιροῦσι, τὸ οἷς, καὶ κρίνουσι κακῶς. τὸ δ᾿ αἴτιον ὅτι περὶ αὑτῶν ἡ κρίσις, σχεδὸν δ᾿ οἱ πλεῖστοι φαῦλοι κριταὶ περὶ τῶν οἰκείων.

Just because this sentiment does not belong to Aristotle, does not mean that someone in the ancient world didn’t express (something like) it. H/T to Andrew Riggsby (@AntiqueThought) and John Ma (@Nakhthor) for pointing out these passages.

Cicero Republic 1.43

“But the people have too little participation in common justice and deliberation in monarchies; in aristocracies, the populace is incapable of having the smallest part of freedom since they lack access from any shared governance and power. When all the power is exercised by the people, even if it is done justly and moderately, the equality itself is not equal since it provides for no gradations in honor.”

Sed et in regnis nimis expertes sunt ceteri communis iuris et consilii, et in optimatium dominatu vix particeps libertatis potest esse multitudo, cum omni consilio communi ac potestate careat, et cum omnia per populum geruntur quamvis iustum atque moderatum, tamen ipsa aequabilitas est iniqua, cum habet nullos gradus dignitatis.


Pliny the Younger, Letters 9.5

 “You stand very far away from this mistake, I know well, but I cannot keep myself from seeming to warn you when praising the way you maintain differences of class and honor. If these things are mixed up and confused, nothing is more unequal than that kind of equality. Goodbye!”

A quo vitio tu longe recessisti, scio, sed temperare mihi non possum quominus laudem similis monenti, quod eum modum tenes ut discrimina ordinum dignitatumque custodias; quae si confusa turbata permixta sunt, nihil est ipsa aequalitate inaequalius. Vale.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 2.12.5

“But this is judged by the majority—their views are counted but they are not weighed. Nothing else can happen in public decision making in which there is nothing as unequal as this kind of equality. This persists because the right is everyone’s equally even though wisdom is unequally distributed.”

 Sed hoc pluribus visum est. Numerantur enim sententiae, non ponderantur; nec aliud in publico consilio potest fieri, in quo nihil est tam inaequale quam aequalitas ipsa. Nam cum sit impar prudentia, par omnium ius est.

Fake Aristotle

“Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

Another entry in Meme Police, cue the music. This one’s a little complicated.

Someone asked me about the following quotation this morning. I tried to ignore it and move on with my day, but the internet is a terrible drug.

So, this does not really sound much like Aristotle and I will be the first to admit it. I expected this to be totally fake. I searched around a little, and found a link on wordreference.com which includes the following rather convincing Greek.

“Aνδρειότερος εἶναι μοί δοκεῖ ὂ τῶν ἐπιθυμῶν ἢ τῶν πολεμίων κρατῶν καὶ γὰρ χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τὸ ἑαυτόν νικῆσαι

This is listed as being from Stobaeus’ Florilegium. This attribution shows up in a quotation book from the 19th century.

Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations 1897

Aristotle 1

There’s more than a little problem with this ascription. First, elsewhere in this particular quotation book, Stobaeus is cited by Roman numeral and Arabic numeral, so, probably according to the standard version published by Wachsmuth and Hense (1884; available through the TLG) or the version edited by Augustus Meineke in 1854. The edition cited in the quotation book is one printed by Hieronymos Frobenius from the 16th century. The editor was Sigismundus Gelenius who only printed part of the Florilegium.

The 19th century editors do slightly different things with this line. Neither of them include it in the full manuscript. Meineke includes it among the Addenda ex edit. Froben (additions from Frobensius).

Aristotle addenda

Wachsmuth and Hense include it in the apparatus criticus (page 502):

Aristotle Hense

The later editors have judged that the original quotation above is not correctly part of the manuscript tradition Stobaeus and was instead added in the margins because of its similarities to the sentiment attributed to Democritus.

Stobaeus 3.17.39, attributed to Democritus [=page 502 Hense]

“Not only brave is the one who is stronger than enemies, but the one who is stronger than pleasures is too.”

᾿Ανδρήιος οὐχ ὁ τῶν πολεμίων μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῶν ἡδονέων κρέσσων.

Democritus’ line is a little different from the Pseudo-Aristotle: where Democritus merely says that the one who overpowers desire is also brave (like one who overpowers enemies), the dubious fragment claims that this man is braver.

I think that it is most likely that this made the leap straight from Meineke’s version to the quotation book without the collator actually consulting Frobenius. According to editorial information above, the line is extracted from a collection of gnomologia (proverbial sayings).

But, it gets a bit more complicated: Here’s the one of the works cited above, the Aristotle Pseudographus.

Valentin Rose Aristoteles Pseudigraphus 1863

Aristotle 2 Rose

This is cited from the section of this text on Pseudo-Aristotle which is titled dubia. In particular, this is from the subsection “sententiae ex florlegiis collectae” [“quotations collected from quotebooks.”). As Rose notes in the introduction, the section attributed here to Maximus are printed in gnomologia from the 12 century CE (Laurentianos XI, 14) and the 11th century (VII, 15). [This is what “La” means above.] Several of these sententiae are attributed to Maximus Monachus, Maximus the Confessor, from the 6th-7th century CE.

So, based on the pretty clear fact that this line is not included in the manuscripts of Stobaeus, but is instead attributed to other florilegia from the medieval period and that its content seems more Stoic (and more stoic-Christian) than anything in Aristotle, I am going to say this is just not Aristotle.

Also, this line is used on reddit (and likely elsewhere) to encourage people who are trying not to masturbate. So, um, let’s be done with it.

This entire process has made me think that I need some sort of rating system, since there are levels of fakery. So, let me explain.

    1. The Real Deal: A quotation from an ancient text which is extant.
    2. Aegis Real: Like the head of the Gorgon Medusa, these quotations have been decontextualized and passed down embedded in some other ancient author. They have been attributed to the same author for a long time, but who really knows.
    3. Delphian Graffiti: A quote of real antiquity, but whose attribution has been shifted for different valence in modern contexts (e.g., “know thyself” has been attributed to almost everyone)
    4. Rhetorica ad Fictum Fake: (with thanks to Hannah Čulík-Baird) Aristotle and Quintilian think it is just fine to make up quotations for persuasive reasons. This actually undermines many of the attributions we have from antiquity. So, this is the kind of fake that is really old and may just be too good to be true.
    5. Cylon-Helen: Just as Herodotus and Stesichorus report that ‘real’ Helen was replaced with a near-exact copy for the ten years of the Trojan War, so too some quotations are transformed through translation (Latin into Greek, Greek into Latin; or into Modern languages). The intervention of an outside force changes the cultural status of the words.
    6. Peisistratos Fake: A quote that is not misattributed or transformed, but merely just dressed up and falsely claimed as antique for political reasons (the tyrant Peisistratos pulled some pretty crazy stunts to get into power). These quotations have no sources in antiquity and are used to enforce modern points of view.
    7. Racist Fake: Quotations of the Peisistratus type but with the particular intention of enforcing a racist world view.

This quotation has some antiquity to it but it is not in any text we have from Aristotle and is not attested until at least the 6th century CE. While it has some Cylon Helen features and not a little of Peisistratos cultural drift going on, it is Delphian Graffiti level fake: it has shifted to Aristotle over time.

“Habit Just Like Nature”: Tawdry Tuesday, Confused Biology Edition

There is a lot in this that is interesting, challenging, and infuriating (both syntactically and semantically). Beyond a regressive albeit typically Aristotelian assumption that (1) there is an absolute category of “according to nature” and (2) the category of the natural is good, we find the objectionable and horrific positioning of non-heteronormative men and all women as monstrous. (In more canonical work, Aristotle clearly claims that women are a deformed human, less than male.)  But within all of this, we have a fascinating acknowledgement that human sexuality and desire is shaped by culture and habit.

Aristotle, Problems 4.26

“Why is it that some men enjoy being passive in sex and some also enjoy being active, while others do not? Is this because for each effluent there is a place into which it is received naturally and when effort is applied, it causes the force to swell as it exits and then it expels it? Examples of this include urine in the bladder, food which has been digested in the stomach, tears in the eyes, mucus in the nose, or blood in the veins.

It is the same way when it comes to semen in the testicles and penis. When people do not have the same natural passages, either because those which flow to the penis have been blocked up—as what happens with eunuchs and those like eunuchs or for some other reason—then the secretion flows instead into the anus. For this is the direction it goes. An indication of this is the spasming of that part of the body during sexual intercourse and the simultaneous weakening of the area around the anus. So, if someone is extreme in desire, then the material (semen) comes together there, with the result that, whenever desire develops, the place where desire is located yearns for friction.

Desire can arise from both nourishment and imagination. But whenever it is moved by anything, then the pneuma increases there and the effluent flows to the place where it is most natural. So, when the semen is light or full of pneuma, then upon its release the erections stop, as they often do with young children and old men, when no liquid is expelled or when the moisture has dried up.

But if someone has neither of these experiences, he feels desire until something happens. The more effeminate men are set up by nature in such a way that no semen—or very little—is kept in that place it is designated for by nature but instead into that area we mentioned above. The reason for this is because they are arranged against nature. For, even though they are male they are developed in such away that this part of their bodies is deformed. This deformity makes them either completely ruined or twisted. But it is not complete destruction, because then he would be a woman. For this reason it is necessary that things be distorted and the force of the expulsion of the semen should move through some other place.

This is why they cannot be pleased, like women. For there is little ejaculate and it is not compelled to exit, but instead it cools quickly. The desire to be passive develops in the men whose semen cools in the anus; those whose bodies cool semen in both places, desire to play both roles. Yet, they desire more to play the part based on where a greater preponderance of semen is cooling.

For some people this activity comes from habit. It turns out that people enjoy doing the things they do and ejaculate when they do. Therefore, they long to do the things which makes this happen and practice can become something more like nature. For this reason, whoever has not learned to submit passively to sex before puberty but instead start the practice at the time of puberty, desire the same thing, to be passive in sex. This is because of the memory they keep from the experience and the pleasure that comes with the memory and it is from the habit they develop, as if it were natural. Really, many other things and habit too develop as if they are natural. If one happens to be libidinous and soft, then each of these things happens with greater speed.”


Διὰ τί ἔνιοι ἀφροδισιαζόμενοι χαίρουσι, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἅμα δρῶντες, οἱ δ᾿ οὔ; ἢ ὅτι ἔστιν ἑκάστῃ περιττώσει τόπος ǁ εἰς ὃν πέφυκεν ἀποκρίνεσθαι κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ πόνου ἐγγινομένου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐξιὸν ἀνοιδεῖν ποιεῖ, καὶ συνεκκρίνει αὐτήν, οἷον τὸ μὲν οὖρον εἰς κύστιν, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξικμασμένη τροφὴ εἰς κοιλίαν, τὸ δὲ δάκρυον εἰς ὄμματα, μύξαι δ᾿ εἰς μυκτῆρας, | αἷμα δὲ εἰς φλέβας; ὁμοίως δὴ τούτοις καὶ ἡ γονὴ εἰς ὄρχεις καὶ αἰδοῖα. οἷς δὴ οἱ πόροι μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ἢ διὰ τὸ ἀποτυφλωθῆναι τοὺς εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον, οἷον συμβαίνει τοῖς εὐνούχοις καὶ εὐνουχίαις, ἢ καὶ ἄλλως, εἰς τὴν ἕδραν συρρεῖ ἡ τοιαύτη ἰκμάς· καὶ γὰρ διεξέρχεται ταύτῃ. σημεῖον | δ᾿ ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ ἡ συναγωγὴ τοῦ τοιούτου τόπου καὶ ἡ σύντηξις τῶν περὶ τὴν ἕδραν. ἐὰν οὖν ὑπερβάλλῃ τις τῇ λαγνείᾳ, τούτοις ἐνταῦθα συνέρχεται, ὥστε ὅταν ἡ ἐπιθυμία γένηται, τοῦτ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖ τῆς τρίψεως εἰς ὃ συλλέγεται. ἡ δ᾿ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ἀπὸ σιτίων καὶ ἀπὸ διανοίας γίνεται. ὅταν | γὰρ κινηθῇ ὑφ᾿ ὁτουοῦν, ἐνταῦθα τὸ πνεῦμα συντρέχει, καὶ τὸ τοιοῦτο περίττωμα συρρεῖ οὗ πέφυκεν. κἂν μὲν λεπτὸν ᾖ ἢ πνευματῶδες, τούτου ἐξελθόντος, ὥσπερ αἱ συντάσεις τοῖς παισὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ ἐνίοτε, οὐθενὸς ὑγροῦ ἐκκριθέντος, παύονται, ὅταν τε κατασβεσθῇ τὸ ὑγρόν.

ἐὰν δὲ μηδέτερον | τούτων πάθῃ, ἐπιθυμεῖ ἕως ἄν τι τούτων συμβῇ. οἱ δὲ φύσει θηλυδρίαι οὕτω συνεστᾶσιν ὥστ᾿ ἐκεῖ μὲν μὴ ἐκκρίνεσθαι ἢ ὀλίγην, οὗπερ τοῖς ἔχουσι κατὰ φύσιν ἐκκρίνεται, εἰς δὲ τὸν τόπον τοῦτον. αἴτιον δὲ ὅτι παρὰ φύσιν συνεστᾶσιν· ἄρσενες γὰρ ὄντες οὕτω διάκεινται ὥστε ἀνάγκη τὸν τόπον | τοῦτον πεπηρῶσθαι αὐτῶν. πήρωσις δὲ ἡ μὲν ὅλως ποιεῖ φθόρον, ἡ δὲ διαστροφήν. ἐκείνη μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν· γυνὴ γὰρ ἂν ἐγένετο. ἀνάγκη ἄρα παρεστράφθαι καὶ ἄλλοθί που ὁρμᾶν τῆς γονικῆς ἐκκρίσεως. διὸ καὶ ἄπληστοι, ὥσπερ αἱ γυναῖκες· ὀλίγη γὰρ ἡ ἰκμάς, καὶ οὐ βιάζεται ἐξιέναι,  καὶ | καταψύχεται ταχύ. καὶ ὅσοις μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἕδραν, οὗτοι πάσχειν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, ὅσοις δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφότερα, οὗτοι καὶ δρᾶν καὶ πάσχειν· ἐφ᾿ ὁπότερα δὲ πλεῖον, τούτου μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσιν. ἐνίοις δὲ γίνεται καὶ ἐξ ἔθους τὸ πάθος τοῦτο. ὅσα γὰρ ἂν ποιῶσι, συμβαίνει αὐτοῖς χαίρειν καὶ προΐεσθαι | τὴν γονὴν οὕτως. ἐπιθυμοῦσιν οὖν ποιεῖν οἷς ἂν ταῦτα γίνηται, καὶ μᾶλλον τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ φύσις γίνεται. διὰ τοῦτο ὅσοι ἂν μὴ πρὸ ἥβης ἀλλὰ περὶ ἥβην ἐθισθῶσιν ἀφροδισιάζεσθαι, δισιάζεσθαι, ǁ διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ χρείᾳ τὴν μνήμην, ἅμα δὲ τῇ μνήμῃ τὴν ἡδονήν, διὰ [δὲ] τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκότες ἐπιθυμοῦσι πάσχειν· τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται. ἐὰν δὲ τύχῃ λάγνος | ὢν καὶ μαλακός, καὶ θᾶττον ἕκαστα τούτων συμβαίνει.

Image result for ancient greek sexuality

The assertion late in this segment, that “many things and habit too develop as if they are natural” τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται is the closest thing to the attributed “habit is second nature.” Given the genealogy and the implications of this belief, it is, well, complicated.

Imagine the Awkward Conference Panels: Plato and Aristotle, Frenemies

Aelian, Varia Historia 3.19

“It is reported that the first difference between Plato and Aristotle developed for the following reasons. Plato was displeased with Aristotle’s life, and in the clothing he selected. See, Aristotle dressed in well-made clothes and shoes; he also had his haircut in a manner disliked by Plato; he also took pride in wearing many rings. His face, moreover, bore a certain aspect of derision; and within this face, an untimely talkativeness brought his character into question too. All these characteristics are obviously foreign to a philosopher. When Plato saw them, he was repelled by the man and preferred Xenocrates, Speusippos, Amykles, and others. These men received his respect and regular conversation.

When Xenocrates was out of town to visit his home, Aristotle set upon Plato and made a chorus of his companions around him with Mnason of Phocis and other similar men. Speusippus was ill and was incapable of walking with Plato who was already eighty years old. Thanks to his age, he had lost some parts of his memory. Aristotle plotted against him and set upon him: he questioned him rather aggressively and in the manner of refutation, which was clearly unjust and unsympathetic. Because of this, Plato stopped going for his walk outside; he walked inside with his friends.”

Λέγεται τὴν διαφορὰν ᾿Αριστοτέλους πρὸς Πλάτωνα τὴν πρώτην ἐκ τούτων γενέσθαι. οὐκ ἠρέσκετο τῷ βίῳ αὐτοῦ ὁ Πλάτων οὐδὲ τῇ κατασκευῇ τῇ περὶ τὸ σῶμα. καὶ γὰρ ἐσθῆτι ἐχρῆτο περιέργῳ ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης καὶ ὑποδέσει, καὶ κουρὰν δὲ ἐκείρετο καὶ ταύτην ἀήθη Πλάτωνι, καὶ δακτυλίους δὲ πολλοὺς φορῶν ἐκαλλύνετο ἐπὶ τούτῳ· καὶ μωκία δέ τις ἦν αὐτοῦ περὶ τὸ πρόσωπον, καὶ ἄκαιρος στωμυλία λαλοῦντος κατηγόρει καὶ αὕτη τὸν τρόπον αὐτοῦ. πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ὡς ἔστιν ἀλλότρια φιλοσόφου, δῆλον. ἅπερ οὖν ὁρῶν ὁ Πλάτων οὐ προσίετο τὸν ἄνδρα, προετίμα δὲ αὐτοῦ Ξενοκράτην καὶ Σπεύσιππον καὶ ᾿Αμύκλαν καὶ ἄλλους, τῇ τε λοιπῇ δεξιούμενος αὐτοὺς τιμῇ καὶ οὖν καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ τῶν λόγων.

ἀποδημίας δὲ γενομένης ποτὲ τῷ Ξενοκράτει ἐς τὴν πατρίδα, ἐπέθετο τῷ Πλάτωνι ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης, χορόν τινα τῶν ὁμιλητῶν τῶν ἑαυτοῦ περιστησάμενος, ὧν ἦν Μνάσων τε ὁ Φωκεὺς καὶ ἄλλοι τοιοῦτοι. ἐνόσει δὲ τότε ὁ Σπεύσιππος, καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἀδύνατος ἦν συμβαδίζειν τῷ Πλάτωνι. ὁ δὲ Πλάτων ὀγδοήκοντα ἔτη ἐγεγόνει, καὶ ὁμοῦ τι διὰ τὴν ἡλικίαν ἐπελελοίπει τὰ τῆς μνήμης αὐτόν. ἐπιθέμενος οὖν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐπιβουλεύων ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης, καὶ φιλοτίμως πάνυ τὰς ἐρωτήσεις ποιούμενος καὶ τρόπον τινὰ καὶ ἐλεγκτικῶς, ἀδικῶν ἅμα καὶ ἀγνωμονῶν ἦν δῆλος· καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἀποστὰς ὁ Πλάτων τοῦ ἔξω περιπάτου, ἔνδον ἐβάδιζε σὺν τοῖς ἑταίροις.

Aelian, Varia Historia 4.9

“Plato used to call Aristotle Pôlos [the Foal]. What did he wish with that name? Everyone knows that a foal, when it has had its fill of baby’s milk, kicks its mother. Thus Plato was signaling a certain ingratitude on Aristotle’ part. Indeed, Aristotle received the greatest seeds of Philosophy from Plato and then, though he was filled to the brim with the best ideas, he broke with Plato rebelliously. He founded his own house, took his friends on Plato’s walk, and set himself up to be Plato’s rival.”

῾Ο Πλάτων τὸν ᾿Αριστοτέλη ἐκάλει Πῶλον. τί δὲ ἐβούλετο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα ἐκεῖνο; δηλονότι ὡμολόγηται τὸν πῶλον, ὅταν κορεσθῇ τοῦ μητρῴου γάλακτος, λακτίζειν τὴν μητέρα. ᾐνίττετο οὖν καὶ ὁ Πλάτων ἀχαριστίαν τινὰ τοῦ ᾿Αριστοτέλους. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος μέγιστα ἐς φιλοσοφίαν παρὰ Πλάτωνος λαβὼν σπέρματα καὶ ἐφόδια, εἶτα ὑποπλησθεὶς τῶν ἀρίστων καὶ ἀφηνιάσας, ἀντῳκοδόμησεν αὐτῷ διατριβὴν καὶ ἀντιπαρεξήγαγεν ἐν τῷ περιπάτῳ ἑταίρους ἔχων καὶ ὁμιλητάς, καὶ ἐγλίχετο ἀντίπαλος εἶναι Πλάτωνι.

Image result for aristotle and plato

Sorry to Scrooge This Up, But Aristotle Did Not Say This Thing about Snowflakes

The following quote has recently been attributed to Aristotle. As anyone who has read even a little bit by Aristotle can attest, this is about as far away from an Aristotelian sentiment as you can get.

Oh, Town and Country magazine, you fell for it. I get it. The quotation sounds kind of cool. It is inspiring in that insipid, soul-numbing way motivational posters start out as ‘neat’ and end up as part of a fevered nightmare.

As recently as 2012, this quotation was attributed anonymous (and this appears frequently). So, this one must have jumped attribution quite recently. Please, contact your local office of common sense and decency and let them know we cannot stand for this.

Here’s a real Aristotle quotation about snow:

Aristotle, Prior Analytics, 12b

“To be hot is the nature of fire and snow’s nature is white”

τῷ πυρὶ τὸ θερμῷ εἶναι καὶ τῇ χιόνι τὸ λευκῇ.


And here is a Pinterest version for you:

Snow istotle

And because I was bored….

Snowy Mountain

Aristotle on Whether Young People Should Use Maxims (An Ironic Quotation)

Many books and websites quote Aristotle as saying “It is unbecoming for a young man to use maxims”. Aristotle kind of says this, but why he says it and what he means by a maxim is not understood clearly from the way this quotation is applied as a meme. This is ironic because the quotation is a maxim but it violates the very reason Aristotle says the young should not use maxims (because they don’t have the experience to know what they’re talking about).

Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.1395a

“Using maxims is appropriate for those who are older in age [when uttered] about things for which they have some experience. Using maxims before one is this age lacks propriety as does story-telling: [to speak] about what one has no experience in is foolish and uneducated. A sufficient sign of this is that bumpkins especially tend to make up maxims and they easily show them off.”

 ἁρμόττει δὲ γνωμολογεῖν ἡλικίᾳ μὲν πρεσβυτέροις, περὶ δὲ τούτων ὧν ἔμπειρός τις ἐστί, ὡς τὸ μὲν μὴ τηλικοῦτον ὄντα γνωμολογεῖν ἀπρεπὲς ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ μυθολογεῖν, περὶ δ᾿ ὧν ἄπειρος, ἠλίθιον καὶ ἀπαίδευτον. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἱκανόν· οἱ γὰρ ἀγροῖκοι μάλιστα γνωμοτύποι εἰσὶ καὶ ῥᾳδίως ἀποφαίνονται.

Something else this usage misses is how Aristotle defines a maxim. Oh, and there is also the fact that this comes from the Rhetoric. Aristotle is not claiming that it is unseemly for the young to use maxims because it is amoral or unethical, but rather that because of their youth and lack of experience they will not be persuasive by doing so.


“A maxim is a statement which does not concern specifics about each thing—as in what kind of a person Iphikrates was—but it is general. Nevertheless, it does not aim at all general things—such as the fact that straight is the opposite of crooked—but about however so many things are the goals of actions and what should be selected or avoided in acting.

And where the enthymeme is pretty much the syllogism for these things, maxims are the outcomes of the enthymeme or the starting principles without the syllogism’s completion. Here’s an example: ‘It isn’t right that any sensible man have his children educated to be excessively wise’ [Eur. Medea 296]. This is a maxim; should the cause and the explanation be added, it would be an enthymeme.”

ἔστι δὲ γνώμη ἀπόφανσις, οὐ μέντοι περὶ τῶν καθ᾿ ἕκαστον, οἷον ποῖός τις Ἰφικράτης, ἀλλὰ καθόλου· καὶ οὐ περὶ πάντων καθόλου, οἷον ὅτι τὸ εὐθὺ τῷ καμπύλῳ ἐναντίον, ἀλλὰ περὶ ὅσων αἱ πράξεις εἰσί, καὶ αἱρετὰ ἢ φευκτά ἐστι πρὸς τὸ πράττειν. ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὰ ἐνθυμήματα ὁ περὶ τούτων συλλογισμός ἐστι σχεδόν, τά τε συμπεράσματα τῶν ἐνθυμημάτων καὶ αἱ ἀρχαὶ ἀφαιρεθέντος τοῦ συλλογισμοῦ γνῶμαί εἰσι, οἷον

χρὴ δ᾿ οὔ ποθ᾿, ὅς τις ἀρτίφρων πέφυκ᾿ ἀνήρ, / παῖδας περισσῶς ἐκδιδάσκεσθαι σοφούς.

τοῦτο μὲν οὖν γνώμη· προστεθείσης δὲ τῆς αἰτίας καὶ τοῦ διὰ τί, ἐνθύμημά ἐστι τὸ ἅπαν

Image result for It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims
Ugh. Why mountains?

It Sounds Cool, But Aristotle Only Kind of Said “The End of Labor is to Gain Leisure”

 “The end of labor is to gain leisure.”

This shows up in Tyron Edwards’ A Dictionary of Thoughts in 1909, Century Illustrated Magazine, also from 1909. And then it just keeps on keeping on. This may be Aristotelian, but as far as I can find, it is not really Aristotle.

There are ideas that seem akin to this in Aristotle: in Nicomachean Ethics, for example, he says “[because], happiness seems to reside in leisure, we labor [sacrifice leisure] so that we may have leisure” δοκεῖ τε ἡ εὐδαιμονία ἐν τῇ σχολῇ εἶναι, ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν (1177b). And Aristotle talks a lot about leisure as being desirable and “although leisure and business are both necessary, leisure is more fully an end than business” (εἰ γὰρ ἄμφω μὲν δεῖ, μᾶλλον δὲ αἱρετὸν τὸ σχολάζειν τῆς ἀσχολίας καὶ τέλος, 1337b33-35). Earlier, he repeats the phrase that “business is for the sake of leisure” (ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς), in a series of nearly Orwellian paradoxes: “war is for the sake of peace, business for the sake of leisure, and necessary and useful things are for the sake of the good.” (πόλεμον μὲν εἰρήνης χάριν, ἀσχολίαν δὲ σχολῆς, τὰ δ᾿ ἀναγκαῖα καὶ χρήσιμα τῶν καλῶν ἕνεκεν,1333c35-37).

So, for this one, I think we have a bit of an elaborated translation of an essentially Aristotelian idea. But, still, he didn’t really say this—Aristotle is perfectly capable of saying that the telos of a thing is another thing. Where he mentions telos in conjunction with leisure, he writes that leisure itself is an end on its own more than business [read: ‘labor’] is. This is a rather different notion than saying that one is the end of the other.

From the Psalter of Bonne