The Test of a First-Rate Intelligence Is the Ability To Hold Two Opposed Ideas in the Mind at the Same Time

F. Scott Fitzgerald? Lionel Trilling? Katherine A. Powers? H. Maynard Smith? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Our experiences in the world are often complex, ambiguous, and ill-defined. We must be able to accommodate conflicting hypotheses. Here is a pertinent adage:

The truest sign of intelligence is the ability to entertain two contradictory ideas simultaneously.

A notion like this has been credited to the prominent literary figure F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of “The Great Gatsby”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In February 1936 “Esquire” magazine published F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay “The Crack-Up” which contained the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Test of a First-Rate Intelligence Is the Ability To Hold Two Opposed Ideas in the Mind at the Same Time

Notes:

  1. 1936 February, Esquire, The Crack-Up: A desolately frank document from one for whom the salt of life has lost its savor by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Start Page 41, Quote Page 41, Column 1, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Esquire archive at classic.esquire.com)