Tag Archives: Arthur Schopenhauer

Truth Passes Through Three Stages: First, It Is Ridiculed. Second, It Is Violently Opposed. Third, It Is Accepted As Self-Evident

Arthur Schopenhauer? Charles Lyell? Louis Agassiz? J. Marion Sims? Apocryphal?

schopenhauer08Dear Quote Investigator: True statements and ideas are often not recognized initially; instead, the process of acceptance is long and circuitous. One popular adage highlights three stages for the recognition of truth:

  1. Ridicule
  2. Violent opposition
  3. Acceptance as self-evident

The prominent German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is usually credited with an apothegm of this type, but I have been unable to find good supporting evidence. Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have been unable to find a matching adage in Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings. Yet, he did craft a different statement about truth that mentioned three stages. His humorous and melancholy remark appeared in the 1819 book “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung” (“The World as Will and Representation”). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Der Wahrheit zu Theil ward, der nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden ist, zwischen den beiden langen Zeiträumen, wo sie als paradox verdammt und als trivial geringgeschätzt wird.

Here is one possible translation into English: 2

To truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial.

In the statement above, acceptance occurred during stage two instead of stage three. Also, the other two stages diverged from the adage under examination. Indeed, the earliest citation found by QI ascribing the popular adage to Schopenhauer appeared in 1913. Yet, the famous philosopher died in 1860; hence, the linkage was very weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1819, Title: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung; 4 Bücher, nebst einem Anhange, der die Kritik der Kantischen Philosophie enthält, Author: Arthur Schopenhauer, Quote Page xvi, Publisher: Brockhaus, Leipzig. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012, The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer, Translation from German to English by E. F. J. Payne, Volume 1 of 2, Section: Preface to the first edition, Quote Page xvii, Dover Publications, Inc., New York. (Translation originally published in 1958 by The Falcon’s Wing Press, Indian Hills, Colorado)(Google Books Preview; accessed Nov 18, 2016)

Research Is to See What Everybody Else Has Seen and Think What Nobody Has Thought

Arthur Schopenhauer? Albert Szent-Györgyi? Erwin Schrödinger? Anonymous?

duck08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a brilliant remark about scientific, artistic, and intellectual progress. Here are four versions:

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and think what nobody has thought.

Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no one else has thought.

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about what everybody sees.

This saying has been attributed to the prominent German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, and the Nobel-Prize-winning physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1851 Arthur Schopenhauer published a two volume work written in German titled “Parerga und Paralipomena” which contained a collection of long essays together with a series of short numbered passages. The piece numbered 76 included the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Daher ist die Aufgabe nicht sowohl zu sehen was noch keiner gesehen hat, als bei Dem was Jeder sieht, zu denken was noch Keiner gedacht hat. Darum auch gehört so sehr viel mehr dazu, ein Philosoph als ein Physiker zu seyn.

Here are two possible translations into English:

1) So the problem is not so much to see what nobody has yet seen, as to think what nobody has yet thought concerning that which everybody sees. Also for this reason, it takes so very much more to be a philosopher than a physicist.

2) Therefore the problem is not so much, to see what nobody has yet seen, but rather to think concerning that which everybody sees, what nobody has yet thought. For this reason, it also takes very much more to be a philosopher than a physicist.

Albert Szent-Györgyi printed a concise instance of this saying in his 1957 book “Bioenergetics”; however, he placed the statement between quotation marks which signaled that he had not originated the expression. A detailed citation is given further below. The attribution to Erwin Schrödinger appears to be spurious.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1851, Title: Parerga und Paralipomena: Kleine Philosophische Schriften, Author: Arthur Schopenhauer, Volume 2, Section: 76, Quote Page 93, Publisher: A. W. Hayn, Berlin. (Google Books Full View) link