Every Blockhead Is Thoroughly Persuaded That He Is In the Right

Baltasar Gracián y Morales? Mountstuart Grant Duff? Joseph Jacobs? Christopher Maurer? Martin Fischer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Thoughtful people periodically revise their opinions as their knowledge grows. Obstinate and foolish people develop an opinion and then refuse to change it even when evidence accumulates that their original position is deeply flawed. Clinging to erroneous beliefs is wrong-headed.

The Spanish Jesuit writer and philosopher Baltasar Gracián (Baltasar Gracián y Morales) said something like this in the 17th century. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Baltasar Gracián wrote “Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia” (“The Art of Worldly Wisdom”) in 1647. The work primarily consisted of three hundred maxims together with commentary. The following passage in Spanish discussed the wisdom of cultivating intellectual flexibility. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

No aprender fuertemente. Todo necio es persuadido, y todo persuadido necio, y quanto mas erroneo su dictamen, es mayor su tenacidad: aun en caso de evidencia es ingenuidad el ceder, que no se ignora la razon que tuvo, y se conoce la galanteria que tiene.

In 1877 the British author Mountstuart Grant Duff published a piece in “The Fortnightly Review” of London which included material from Gracián’s book. The Spanish text above corresponded to maxim 183, and Duff presented the following partial translation: 2

Do not hold your opinions all too firmly.—Every blockhead is thoroughly persuaded that he is in the right, and every one who is all too firmly persuaded is a blockhead, and the more erroneous is his judgment the greater is the tenacity with which he holds it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1892 Joseph Jacobs, a corresponding Member of the Royal Academy of History in Madrid, published a translation of “Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia” (“The Art of Worldly Wisdom”) which included the following: 3

Do not hold your views too firmly.

Every fool is fully convinced, and every one fully persuaded is a fool: the more erroneous his judgment the more firmly he holds it. Even in cases of obvious certainty, it is fine to yield: our reasons for holding the view cannot escape notice, our courtesy in yielding must be the more recognised.

In 1957 “The Book of Unusual Quotations” compiled by Rudolf Flesch included the first line listed above: 4

Every fool is fully convinced, and everyone fully persuaded is a fool.
Baltasar Gracián

In 1985 “A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations” compiled by Bernard E. Farber included the following entry: 5

Every fool is fully convinced, and every one fully persuaded is a fool: the more erroneous his judgment the more firmly he holds it.
—Balthasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, clxxxiii (1647).

In 1992 Christopher Maurer offered another translation: 6

Don’t hold on to anything too firmly. Fools are stubborn, and the stubborn are fools, and the more erroneous their judgment is, the more they hold on to it. Even when you are right, it is good to make concessions: people will recognize you were right but admire your courtesy.

In 1993 Martin Fischer provided the following translation: 7

Hold to nothing too violently. Every fool stands convinced; and everyone convinced is a fool; and the faultier a man’s judgment, the firmer his conviction; even with the proof on your side, it is well to make concession; for your reasons are known and your gentlemanliness is recognized.

In conclusion, Baltasar Gracián y Morales deserves credit for the adage and commentary he penned in Spanish in 1647. Several different translations into English have been crafted during the ensuing years.

Image Notes: Portrait of Baltasar Gracian preserved in Graus and restored. Portrait creator unknown. Image has been resized, retouched, and cropped. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(QI has received many requests to examine a quotation attributed to Mark Twain about fooling people. While investigating the Twain attribution QI encountered the remarks of Baltasar Gracián which led QI to formulate this separate question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1659, Title: Oraculo manual, y arte de prudencia (The Art of Worldly Wisdom), Author: Baltasar Gracián y Morales, Editor: Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa, Quote Page 127, Publisher: En casa de Iuan Blaeu,, A Amsterdam. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1877 March 1, The Fortnightly Review, Volume 21, Balthasar Gracian by M. E. Grant Duff (Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff), Maxim 183, Start Page 328, Quote Page 338, Chapman and Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1892, The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracian, Translated from Spanish by Joseph Jacobs (Corresponding Member of the Royal Academy of History, Madrid), Quote Page 110, Maxim 183 (clxxxiii), Macmillan and Company, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1957, The Book of Unusual Quotations, Compiled by Rudolf Flesch, Topic: Conviction, Quote Page 50, Column 2, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1985, A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations, Compiled by Bernard E. Farber, Section: Conviction, Quote Page 63, Column 1, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1992, The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle by Baltasar Gracián, Translated by Christopher Maurer, Maxim 183, Currency Doubleday, New York. (Verified with ebook)
  7. 1993, The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Collection of Aphorisms from the Work of Baltasar Gracian, Translated by Martin Fischer, Maxim 183, Quote Page 107, Barnes & Noble Books, New York. (Verified with scans)