If We Have Our Own ‘Why’ of Life, We Shall Get Along With Almost Any ‘How’

Friedrich Nietzsche? Viktor E. Frankl? Thomas Common? Anthony M. Ludovici? Walter Kaufmann? R. J. Hollingdale? Ilse Lasch?

Dear Quote Investigator: Life can be aggravating and even agonizing. Yet, a steady internal purpose helps to make difficulties endurable together with the thought that happiness and pleasure will someday return. Here is an apposite adage:

One who has a ‘why’ to live for can endure almost any ‘how’.

This notion has been attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1889 Friedrich Nietzsche published “Götzen-Dämmerung; oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt” (“Twilight of the Idols, or, How to philosophize with a hammer”) which included a section called “Sprüche und Pfeile” (“Maxims and Arrows”). The following statement was included. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mit einem Ziele. — Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie? — Der Mensch strebt nicht nach Glück; nur der Engländer thut das.

This statement has been translated into English in several different ways during the ensuing decades. Here is a rendering by Thomas Common which appeared in an 1896 edition of Nietzsche’s work: 2

When one has one’s wherefore of life, one gets along with almost every how.—Man does not strive after happiness; the Englishman only does so.

Viktor E. Frankl did employ a version of the adage, but he credited Nietzsche. Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading If We Have Our Own ‘Why’ of Life, We Shall Get Along With Almost Any ‘How’


  1. 1889 (catalog date), Title: Götzen-Dämmerung; oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt, Author: Friedrich Nietzsche, Edition: Zweite Auflage (Second Edition), Chapter: Sprüche und Pfeile (Proverbs and Arrows), Quote Page 2, Publisher: C.G. Naumann, Leipzig. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1896, The Case of Wagner: Nietzsche Contra Wagner, The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by Thomas Common, Section: The Twilight of the Idols, Chapter: Apophthegms and Darts, Quote Page 100, H. Henry and Company, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago

Friedrich Nietzsche? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A fatigued philosopher may forgetfully return to previous ideas. The worn out thinker may fruitlessly reexamine notions that were rightfully rejected in the past. The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has received credit for the following remark:

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

I am skeptical of this ascription because I have not seen a solid citation. Also, I have not seen the original statement in German. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Friedrich Nietzsche died in 1900. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared many years later in the 1957 collection “The Book of Unusual Quotations” compiled by Rudolf Flesch which included the following entry. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

This article presents a snapshot of current research followed by a tentative conclusion. The German versions of this quotation seen by QI were apparently derived from the English statement, and QI has been unable to find earlier matches using German instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago


  1. 1957, The Book of Unusual Quotations, Compiled by Rudolf Flesch, Topic: Idea, Quote Page 124, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

We Sometimes Remain Faithful To a Cause Merely Because Its Opponents Never Cease To Be Insipid

Creator: Friedrich Nietzsche

Context: In 1878 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche published “Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freie Geister” (“Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits”). He employed an aphoristic style that explicated topics with short numbered passages and sayings. Item number 536 consisted of the following: 1

Werth abgeschmackter Gegner. — Man bleibt mitunter einer Sache nur desshalb treu, weil ihre Gegner nicht aufhören, abgeschmackt zu sein.

A translation of the volume from German to English appeared in 1915. The translator Helen Zimmern rendered item 536 as follows: 2

THE VALUE OF INSIPID OPPONENTS—We sometimes remain faithful to a cause merely because its opponents never cease to be insipid.

In 1954 “The Portable Nietzsche” by translator Walter Kaufmann presented this version: 3

The value of insipid opponents. At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Dan Dulay who inquired about the authenticity of this saying.


  1. 1878, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freie Geister (Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits) by Friedrich Nietzsche (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche), Statement Number 536, Quote Page 340, Published by Ernst Schmeitzner, Chemnitz. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915, Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part I, Translated by Helen Zimmern, Statement Number 536, Quote Page 365, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Internet Archive Full View) link
  3. 1976 (1954 Copyright), The Portable Nietzsche by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by Walter Kaufmann, FROM: Human, All-Too-Human, Statement Number 536, Unnumbered Page, Penguin Books, New York. (Google Books Preview)

The Existence of Forgetting Has Never Been Proved

Friedrich Nietzsche? Thomas De Quincey? W. H. Auden? Louis Kronenberger? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A provocative comment about human memory has been attributed to the controversial philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to mind when we want them.

This statement suggests that human memory is more capacious than we imagine, but recollection is hampered because retrieval is sometimes difficult. As an experimental psychologist researching the plasticity of human memory I find this perspective fascinating, and I would like to include the statement in an article under preparation. Unfortunately, the lack of a good citation is problematic. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Friedrich Nietzsche released “Morgenröthe: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile” which has been given the English title “The Dawn of Day”. The work consisted of more than 550 short numbered sections, and in the 126th Nietzsche discussed memory and forgetfulness. The beginning of this excerpt from a 1911 translation by J. M. Kennedy strongly matched the quotation under examination. The full passage was somewhat convoluted. Boldface has been added to excerpts 1 2

FORGETFULNESS.—It has never yet been proved that there is such a thing as forgetfulness: all that we know is that we have no power over recollection. In the meantime we have filled up this gap in our power with the word “forgetfulness,” exactly as if it were another faculty added to our list. But, after all, what is within our power? If that word fills up a gap in our power, might not the other words be found capable of filling up a gap in the knowledge which we possess of our power?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Existence of Forgetting Has Never Been Proved


  1. 1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, Volume 9: The Dawn of Day, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by T. N. Foulis, Edinburgh. (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1924 (Copyright 1911), The Dawn of Day by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London. (Reprint of 1911 edition) (Internet Archive) link link

Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music

Friedrich Nietzsche? Megan Fox? Anne Louise Germaine de Staël? John Stewart? Norman Flint? Science Fiction fans? Angela Monet? Rumi? George Carlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is credited to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Yet, I have never seen a precise pointer that stated where in the works of Nietzsche this quotation appeared. I know that Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, so he may have been sympathetic to individuals who were labeled insane. I also know that music was very important in his thoughts and philosophy.

The quotation is so popular that the actress and supermodel Megan Fox decided to get the words tattooed across her back and side. Astutely, Fox did not include an attribution for her tattoo. If she wanted to append a credit whose name should be rendered in ink?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet located substantive evidence that Nietzsche wrote or said the statement given above. In 2003 a message in the large distributed discussion system called Usenet attributed the quote to Nietzsche. The message appeared in the alt.quotations newsgroup. 1 But Nietzsche died in 1900, so 2003 is an extremely late date.

A precursor to this statement appeared in the early Nineteenth century. In 1813 the influential writer Anne Louise Germaine de Staël published the work “De l’Allemagne” in French. The English title was “Germany”, and in 1814 an excerpt was printed in “The Universal Magazine”. Madame de Staël envisioned herself watching a ballroom filled with dancers, and she imagined her reaction if she had been unable to hear the music: 2

… sometimes even in the habitual course of life, the reality of this world disappears all at once, and we feel ourselves in the middle of its interests as we should at a ball, where we did not hear the music; the dancing that we saw there would appear insane.

This figurative language was employed powerfully to illustrate an episode of dissociation. Madame de Staël was temporarily alienated from the normal rush of living, and the actions of those around her seemed purposeless and absurd.

In 1927 a version similar to the common modern examples was printed in “The Times” newspaper of London where it was labelled an old proverb. This concise instance used the word “mad” instead of “insane”: 3

They who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. The truth of the old proverb was never more surely borne out that it is just now.

This phrasing is distinct, but the core idea is the same. In recent times, the comedian George Carlin helped to popularize the phrase as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music


  1. 2003 August 28, Usenet Newsgroup: alt.quotations, Subject: IM Friedrich Nietzsche, From: dougk. (Google Usenet groups archive; Accessed June 5, 2012) link.
  2. 1814 April, The Universal Magazine, “On the Moravian Mode of Worship by Madame De Stael [From her ‘Germany’]”, Start Page 296, Quote Page 296, Column 2, Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London. (Google Books full view) [Thanks to poster RobotWisdom who shared this cite at the “Shortcuts” blog of the Guardian newspaper here] link
  3. 1927 February 16, The Times (UK), The Dance, Page 15, Column 4, London, England. (Times Digital Archive GaleGroup)