There Is No Expedient to which a Man Will Not Resort to Avoid the Real Labor of Thinking

Thomas Edison? Joshua Reynolds? Irving Babbitt? Apocryphal?

reynolds06Dear Quote Investigator: A piquant statement about mental laziness is attributed to the inventor and research laboratory pioneer Thomas A. Edison. Here are two versions:

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.

There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.

This expression is also attributed to the prominent English painter Joshua Reynolds. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In the eighteenth century Joshua Reynolds was the most successful portrait painter in England, and he was selected to be the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Between 1769 and 1790 Reynolds delivered an influential series of Discourses about art. 1 The Twelfth Discourse contained a prolix statement with a meaning that largely matched the adage under investigation.

Through a multistep process the expression of Reynolds was greatly simplified and condensed to yield a much pithier statement. This new phrase was reassigned directly to Reynolds by 1914. Thomas Edison saw a concise instance and was impressed enough to choose it as an admonitory didactic motto for his organization. By 1921 Edison had decided to have placards placed on the walls of his plant in Orange, New Jersey displaying the saying together with an ascription to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Later writers elided the name of Reynolds and attributed the words to Edison.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is No Expedient to which a Man Will Not Resort to Avoid the Real Labor of Thinking

Notes:

  1. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Seventh edition) by Dinah Birch, Entry: Sir Joshua Reynolds (1701—1779), Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online. (Accessed May 15, 2014)