A Person Has Two Reasons for Doing Anything: A Good Reason and the Real Reason

John Pierpont Morgan? Theodore Roosevelt? Mrs. Walter B. Helm? Anonymous?

morgan04Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful quotation about the true motivations that guide the actions of people. I have seen a few different versions:

A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.

A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.

The good reason provides an explanation for others, and the real reason produces the strongest impetus. This adage has been attributed to financier John Pierpont Morgan, President Teddy Roosevelt, and influential essayist Thomas Carlyle. I hope this query gives you a reason to explore this saying.

Quote Investigator: In 1930 the memoir “Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship” by Owen Wister was published. Wister wrote about his long friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, and he included a quotation that he ascribed to the prominent banker John Pierpont Morgan: 1

Pierpont Morgan once said: “A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.”

This is the earliest known linkage of the saying to Morgan who died in 1913, and it was also listed in the key reference “The Yale Book of Quotations”. 2

However, versions of the saying were in circulation long before this date, and it may have originated in France. Details are given below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Person Has Two Reasons for Doing Anything: A Good Reason and the Real Reason

Notes:

  1. 1930, Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship: 1880-1919, by Owen Wister, Quote Page 280, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section J. P. Morgan, Quote Page 537, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)