Friedrich Nietzsche? Josh Billings? Thomas Common? Alexander Tille? Walter Kaufmann? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A popular humorist or a famous philosopher said something like the following:
It is better to know nothing than to half-know many topics.
Would you please help me to find the correct statement of this adage and the name of its originator?
Quote Investigator: The prominent German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a philosophical novel titled “Also Sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen” (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One”) between 1883 and 1885. During one episode the main character Zarathustra encountered a man whose arm was bleeding because he had been bitten by leeches. The man was a follower of Zarathustra’s philosophy, and he employed the adage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Oscar Levy, Volume 11, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Translated by Thomas Common, Chapter LXIV: The Leech, Quote Page … Continue reading
“I am the spiritually conscientious one,” answered he who was asked, “and in matters of the spirit it is difficult for any one to take it more rigorously, more restrictedly, and more severely than I, except him from whom I learnt it, Zarathustra himself. Better know nothing than half-know many things! Better be a fool on one’s own account, than a sage on other people’s approbation!”
The text above is from a translation by Thomas Common published in 1911. Below is the original German together with two other translations.