Anyone Who Doesn’t Take Truth Seriously in Small Matters Cannot Be Trusted in Large Ones Either

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?

einstein06Dear Quote Investigator: My University has an Academic Integrity Office which has launched a poster campaign that includes an image of Albert Einstein together with the following statement which has been ascribed to the brilliant physicist:

Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted with large ones either.

Misquotations linked to this famous genius are very common, and I have not yet found convincing evidence that these really are the words of Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this quotation and its ascription are genuine; however, the words were originally written in German by Einstein; hence, multiple translations into English were possible.

In 1957 the journal “New Outlook: Middle East Monthly” printed a statement with the following description:

Excerpt from Albert Einstein’s last statement, April, 1955, published here for the first time through the kindness of Helen Dukas, Professor Einstein’s secretary.

The journal presented the text in German with an accompanying English translation. The English passage included a close match for the statement under investigation. Boldface has been added: 1

Wenn es sich um Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit handelt, gibt es nicht die Unterscheidung zwischen kleinen und grossen Problemen. Denn die allgemeinen Gesichtspunkte, die das Handeln der Menschen betreffen, sind unteilbar. Wer es in kleinen Dingen mit der Wahrheit nicht ernst nimmt, dem kann man auch in grossen Dingen nicht vertrauen…

When the issue is one of Truth and Justice, there can be no differentiating between small problems and great ones. For the general viewpoints on human behaviour are indivisible. People who fail to regard the truth seriously in small matters, cannot be trusted in matters that are great.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1989 “Albert Einstein: A Photographic Biography” edited by Kenji Sugimoto and translated from German by Barbara Harshav was released. A photo of Einstein’s handwritten text containing the expression in German was reproduced in the book. The translation closely matched the instance appearing in the University poster: 2

From Einstein’s last, unfinished manuscript… written at the beginning of April 1955:

“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same. Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”

The important reference work “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press included another translation of the quotation: 3

In matters concerning truth and justice there can be no distinction between big problems and small; for the general principles which determine the conduct of men are indivisible. Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.

From an undelivered message to the world, April 1955, intended to address the Arab-Israeli conflict. Einstein died before he could finish and deliver the speech. … Einstein Archives 28-1098.

In conclusion, Albert Einstein can properly be credited with this statement although the original text was written in German. Three translations into English were given in this article.

Image Notes: Albert Einstein portrait in 1947 from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons. Truth/Lie sign from geralt on Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Professor Robert Nelson of the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario who asked about this expression. QI formulated the question and performed the exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1957 July, New Outlook: Middle East Monthly, Volume 1, Number 1, Albert Einstein On Israeli-Arab Relations, Quote Page 5, Published by Tazpioth, Tel Aviv, Israel, (Verified on paper)
  2. 1989, Albert Einstein: A Photographic Biography, Edited by Kenji Sugimoto, (Translated from German by Barbara Harshav), Quote Page 166 and 167, Schocken Books, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: On Humankind, Quote Page 187 and 188, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)