Believe Those Who Are Seeking the Truth; Doubt Those Who Find It

Václav Havel? André Gide? François Truffaut? Marcel Proust? John Dingell Sr.? Luis Buñuel? Amanda Palmer? Voltaire? Anonymous?

gidesistine03Dear Quote Investigator: There is a provocative saying about leadership, discipleship, and the search for truth that is commonly attributed to the Czech statesman Václav Havel who passed away in 2011. Here are two versions:

Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

Seek the company of those who search for truth; run from those who have found it.

Although I have connected these statements to Havel for years I recently began to doubt the ascription. I have been unable locate solid information about its provenance. Would you be willing to attempt to trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: A large and diverse set of expressions can be grouped together naturally with the two sayings presented by the questioner. Below are nine examples labeled with their years of publication. This exploration was conducted primarily using databases of English text, hence it was incomplete. Only the keystone first expression from Nobel laureate André Gide is listed here in French:

1952: Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent.

1959: Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

1971: Love those who seek the truth; beware of those who find it.

1974: Love those who seek the truth; distrust those who have found it.

1980: Follow the man who seeks the truth. Shun the one who claims to have found it.

1986: Lead me to those who seek the truth, and deliver me from those who’ve found it.

2007: Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

2009: Honour those who seek the truth, but beware of those who’ve found it.

2010: I love the man who seeks the truth and hate the man who claims to have it.

In 1952 “Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits” by André Gide was released in France. The title in English was “So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down”. The following statement was included in the book: 1

Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent; doutez de tout; mais ne doutez pas de vous-mêmes.

In 1959 a translation of Gide’s volume to English by Justin O’Brien was created. Here is an extended excerpt. Boldface has been added to the excerpts below. In this passage the boldface corresponds to the French text immediately above: 2

I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself. There is more light in Christ’s words than in any other human word. This is not enough, it seems, to be a Christian: in addition, one must believe. Well, I do not believe. Having said this, I am your brother.

QI hypothesizes that the other eight statements above were derived directly or indirectly from the words of Gide. The second statement labeled 1959 is simply the translation created by O’Brien.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In May 1959 the major U.S. weekly “Newsweek” reviewed “So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down” and reprinted an excerpt that precisely matched the one given above. Hence, the quotation in English achieved a wide distribution. The magazine’s conclusory remark was: 3

Summing Up: Moving last reflections of an ardent agnostic.

In 1971 a journalist in a periodical for automotive enthusiasts called “Car and Driver” printed an instance of the saying and ascribed the words to Marcel Proust. QI has found no substantive support for this attribution: 4

Zealots of all kinds concern me. Marcel Proust made one of the most profound warnings I can imagine when he said, “Love those who seek the truth; beware of those who find it.”

In 1964 the prominent French director François Truffaut released “La Peau Douce” known in English as “The Soft Skin”. The film included a passage that corresponded to the words written by André Gide given above. The 1972 book “François Truffaut” by C. G. Crisp discussed “La Peau Douce” and reprinted the speech from the film in English. The book also claimed that Gide’s words were taken from “La Séquestrée de Poitiers”, but QI has not verified that claim: 5

The relevance of Gide’s lines in ‘La Séquestrée de Poitiers’ is self-evident: ‘I bring no doctrine, I refuse to give advice, and in an argument I immediately back down. But I know that today many are feeling their way tentatively, not knowing what to put their trust in. To them I say: Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those that find it, doubt everything, but don’t doubt yourself.’

In 1974 the powerful U.S. Congressman Wayne Hays employed an instance of the expression which he ascribed to a fellow politician named John Dingell Sr.: 6

Mr. HAYS. Mr. Speaker, John Dingell, Sr., who was a longtime Member of this House, had a saying which I think is very timely. He used to say: “Love those who seek the truth; distrust those who have found it.”

That certainly applies to John Gardner, the head of Common Cause. A more succinct saying we have in Ohio is “Beware of a man who keeps telling you how honest he is.”

In 1980 a medical doctor writing in a scientific journal called “The Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science” stated that a correspondent had sent him an adage which he shared with readers: 7

The second correspondent contributed an apt corollary to Whitehead’s aphorism, “Seek simplicity and distrust it,” which I had used to end my commentary article (Conn 1974). He wrote, “Follow the man who seeks the truth. Shun the one who claims to have found it.”

Isn’t this the real crux of the matter?

In 1986 a newspaper in Houston, Texas printed a music review that began with the following epigraph: 8

Lead me to those who seek the truth, and deliver me from those who’ve found it.
– Anonymous

In 2001 the journal “Film Comment” published an article about the well-known film-maker Luis Buñuel which credited him with an instance of the saying: 9

The overall result is a mixture of studied irreverence and untamed awe that just might be the cinematic summa of the Luis Bunuel who was in the habit of saying, “I’m still an atheist, thank God,” and who asserted, in his last published writing, “I have always been on the side of those who seek the truth, but I part ways with them when they think they have found it.”

In 2007 “The Observer” newspaper interviewed the controversial doctor Andrew Wakefield who became well-known for maintaining that the measles mumps rubella vaccine was dangerous. Wakefield presented an instance of the adage which he credited to Václav Havel: 10

As Vaclav Havel once said: “Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.” I can’t tell you that we know that the MMR vaccine causes autism. But the Department of Health can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that it doesn’t, and they believe that, and that concerns me greatly.

In 2008 a travel writer in “The Times” of London wrote about visiting the Czech Republic and seeing a museum dedicated to Havel. The journalist encountered the saying at the museum: 11

The next day I found a small museum to Havel by a much larger one dedicated to Franz Kafka on the north bank of the Vltava River. There I came across a quote from the man who knew the reality of living under German occupation and the totalitarian communist menace before leading the 1989 Velvet Revolution: “Follow the man who seeks the truth, run from the man who has found it.”

In 2009 the popular musician Amanda Palmer was interviewed in “The Herald” newspaper of Scotland, and she mentioned a version of the adage without attribution: 12

A quote I love so much is: “Honour those who seek the truth, but beware of those who’ve found it.”

In 2010 the influential British philosopher A. C. Grayling was interviewed in the Australian newspaper “The Age”. Grayling connected a version of the saying to the famous satirist Voltaire. QI has been unable to locate substantive support for this attribution: 13

His free thinking is based on two main tenets. The first is that whatever view one holds, it must be evidence-based, conformable to observation. “Note I’ve avoided the word ‘true’, though truth is central. As Voltaire said, I love the man who seeks the truth and hate the man who claims to have it.”

In conclusion, QI believes that André Gide should be credited with the statements in French and English that are cited above. His remarks were widely disseminated and influenced other writers and thinkers.

QI was unable to determine if Václav Havel made the statement that was ascribed to him. However, QI has no ability to search databases in the Czech language. So the investigation was constrained.

Image Notes: André Gide in 1901 cropped from the painting “A Reading by Emile Verhaeren” by Théo van Rysselberghe. Part of “The Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

(Great thanks to Andreas Bay-Larsen whose inquiry gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1953 October, The French Review, Volume 27, Number 1, André Gide-deux ans après sa mort, II by Lucien Wolff, Start Page 6, Quote Page 8, Published by American Association of Teachers of French. (JSTOR) link
  2. 1959 copyright (1960 edition), So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down (Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits) by André Gide, Translated from French to English by Justin O’Brien, Quote Page 146, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1959 May 25, Newsweek, Section: Books, Legacy of an Agnostic, (Review of André Gide’s “So Be It or The Chips Are Down”), Quote Page 123, Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  4. 1971 November, Car and Driver, Brock Yates [Column about Ralph Nader], Page 10, Column 1, Ziff-Davis Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  5. 1972, François Truffaut by C. G. Crisp, Quote Page 76, Column 2, Published by Praeger, New York. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1974 March 21, Congressional Record, House of Representatives, (Speaking: Representative Wayne Hays), Quote Page 7583, Column 2 and 3, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  7. 1980 July-September, The Pavlovian Journal of Biological Science, “Is Psychoanalysis Alive and Well at 85? A Rejoinder” by Jacob H. Conn, M.D., Start Page 131, Quote Page 134, Column 1, J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1986 February 9, Houston Chronicle, (4 STAR Edition), Section: 3, Twisted Sister shares inconsequential gospel: by Marty Racine, (Epigraph for article), Quote Page 9, Houston, Texas, Hearst Corporation. (ProQuest)
  9. 2001 January-February, Film Comment, Volume 37, Issue 1, The discreet fury of Luis Bunuel by Peter Hogue, Start Page 42, End Page 46, Published by Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York. (ProQuest)
  10. 2007 July 7, The Observer, I told the truth all along, says doctor at heart of autism row by Denis Campbell, (Website of The Guardian and The Observer at guardian.co.uk; accessed November 11, 2013) link
  11. 2008 April 5, The Times (UK), Section: Travel, Arrive at your leisure to take the most away – Green spaces by Dan Kieran, Quote Page 12, London, England. (NewsBank Access World News)
  12. 2009 August 16, The Herald Scotland (heraldscotland), A piece of my mind, (Interview by Sean Bell of Amanda Palmer, Songwriter and lead singer of the Dresden Dolls), (Accessed heraldscotland.com on November 11, 2013) link
  13. 2010 March 13, The Age, Section: Insight, “The God botherer – ENCOUNTER WITH A. C. GRAYLING” by Barney Zwartz (Religion editor of The Age), Quote Page 10, Melbourne, Australia. (NewsBank Access World News)