Tag Archives: Louis Agassiz

First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Mohandas Gandhi? Jean Cocteau? Robbie Williams? Julian Beck? Earl B. Morgan? Tony Benn? Peter D. Jones? Louis Agassiz? Arthur Schopenhauer?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi famously employed nonviolent strategies during the struggle for Indian independence. A quotation often attributed to him asserts that popular movements pass through four stages:

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Are these really the words of Gandhi?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in Gandhi’s oeuvre without success. The saying was ascribed to him by 1982, but Gandhi died decades earlier in 1948.

The earliest known substantive match occurred in a speech delivered by Nicholas Klein at a convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Typically, a successful social movement is based on a proposition extolled as a truth. For example, the Gandhian movement was based on the assertion that India should be an independent nation. These propositions face opposition and a harsh reception. QI believes that the saying under analysis fits into a large and evolving family of statements about the multi-stage difficulties obstructing new ideas and truths.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1918, Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: 1916-1918, Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, (Held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 13 to May 18, 1918), Address given in Fourth Session on Wednesday, May 15, 1918, Address of Nicholas Klein, Start Page 51, Quote Page 53, Published by Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. (Special note on dating: The dating on the document was confusing. In some locations the year 1919 was listed. In other locations 1918 was listed. I checked the day of the week for May 15, 1918 and May 15, 1919 and only the earlier date matched the specified weekday of Wednesday) (Google Books Full View) link

I Suppose the Process of Acceptance Will Pass through the Usual Four Stages

J. B. S. Haldane? Louis Agassiz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane stated that interesting new truths were resisted, and acceptance required traversal through a series of four stages. During the first stage the new fact or theory was rejected as nonsense. Are you familiar with Haldane’s quotation on this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1963 J. B. S. Haldane reviewed a book filled with tables of statistics describing human longevity. The tables revealed that humans were living much longer than insurance companies were commonly calculating. Haldane thought that there was a financial incentive for companies selling life insurance to overestimate the probability of death when setting prices. He also thought that the new data would initially be rejected. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This will create a resistance. I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:

1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1963 December, Journal of Genetics, Volume 58, Number 3, Section: Book Reviews, The Truth About Death by J.B.S. Haldane, (Book Review of “The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960”), Start Page 463, Quote Page 464, Revived in 1985 and now published by Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India. (Indian Academy of Sciences Archive at www.ias.ac.in; accessed February 27, 2014) link

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)

Three Stages of Acceptance: (1) It Is Not True. (2) It Is Contrary To Religion. (3) Everyone Knew It Before

Louis Agassiz? William Boyd Dawkins? Charles Lyell? Anonymous?

agassiz14Dear Quote Investigator: Groundbreaking ideas face an intimidating multistage gauntlet of resistance. Several popular quotations elaborate on this notion. The prominent Swiss-American geologist and biologist Louis Agassiz apparently crafted a pungent and humorous saying that outlined three stages. Would you please examine that quotation?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have not yet found an expression of this type directly in the writings of Louis Agassiz who died in 1873. Nevertheless, he has often received credit for the thought. For example, the geologist and archaeologist William Boyd Dawkins presented a paper about hyena dens to the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in England that appeared in the 1861-1862 proceedings.

At that time scientists were debating the age of the human race, and evidence suggested that humankind had resided on planet Earth much longer than six thousand years. Yet, some thinkers resisted the hypothesis of human antiquity. In the following passage Dawkins referred to a remark he ascribed to Agassiz. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And this startling result of the combination of geology with archaeology, so unexpected, and so completely subversive of our pre-conceived notions, having met with, during the last fifty years, two out of the three inevitable objections which, according to Professor Agassiz, all new and startling facts in science must encounter, first, “that it is not true,” and secondly, “that it is contrary to religion,” has now happily arrived at the stage in which people say “everyone knew it before.”

In 1863 the famous geologist Sir Charles Lyell published “The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man”. Lyell placed the statement he ascribed to Agassiz between quotation marks, but he did not give a citation: 2

I may conclude this chapter by quoting a saying of Professor Agassiz, “that whenever a new and startling fact is brought to light in science, people first say, ‘it is not true,’ then that ‘it is contrary to religion,’ and lastly, ‘that everybody knew it before.'”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1863, Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Proceedings During the Years 1861-2, Volume 11, Part II, Papers, Etc., Wookey Hole Hyena Den by W. Boyd Dawkins, Start Page 197, Quote Page 198, Published by Frederick May, Taunton, England and Bell & Daldy, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1863, The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man: With Remarks on Theories of the Origin of Species by Variation by Sir Charles Lyell, Chapter 6, Quote Page 105, George W. Childs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link