To Die for an Idea Is To Place a Very High Price Upon Conjecture

Anatole France? François Rabelais? Michel de Montaigne? Lewis Piaget Shanks? Will Durant? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French Nobel laureate Anatole France was skeptical of martyrdom. Here are three versions of a statement attributed to him:

  • To die for an idea is to set a pretty high value on conjectures.
  • To die for an idea is to put a very high value on one’s opinions.
  • To die for an idea is to set a rather high price upon guesswork.

Would you please help me to find the original statement in French?

Quote Investigator: In April 1889 Anatole France published a piece in “Le Temps” (“The Times”) newspaper of Paris in which he discussed a book about François Rabelais. France’s essay praised the controversial 16th century satirical writer for maintaining integrity while avoiding execution. The following is a statement from the essay together with one possible translation into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . mourir pour une idée, c’est mettre à bien haut prix des conjectures.

. . . to die for an idea is to place a very high price on conjectures.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading To Die for an Idea Is To Place a Very High Price Upon Conjecture

Notes:

  1. 1889 Avril (April) 21, Le Temps (The Times), La Vie Littéraire: Rabelais by Anatole France, (Discussion of Paul Stapfer’s book “Rabelais, sa personne, son génie, son oeuvre”), Quote Page 2 (Not paginated), Column 3, Paris, France. (BNF Gallica)

Science Is Organized Knowledge. Wisdom Is Organized Life

Immanuel Kant? Herbert Spencer? Will Durant? Raoul Jossett? Anonymous?

organize08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a fascinating two-part adage about science and wisdom that is commonly attributed to the influential 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant:

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

I have attempted to find a convincing citation for this saying, but none of the websites or books that present these words have been helpful. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Immanuel Kant communicated in German, and QI believes that he probably did not write or speak a statement in German that corresponded to the English quotation above. Instead, QI believes that the first part of the expression was crafted by the influential philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer. In addition, QI conjectures that the popular historian Will Durant constructed the second part while he was attempting to explain the thoughts of Kant; Durant also combined the two parts.

Kant died in 1804, and the earliest evidence of the first phrase was published in an essay titled “The Art of Education” by Spencer in May 1854. Boldface has been added to excerpts. 1

Science is organized knowledge; and before knowledge can be organized, some of it must first be possessed. Every study, therefore, should have a purely experimental introduction; and only after an ample fund of observations has been accumulated, should reasoning begin.

Further discussion of Spencer’s remark is presented in a separate website entry located here. This article will explore the full two-part expression.

In 1924 the historian Will Durant published a one-volume popular work titled “The Story of Philosophy” which included a section called “Kant and German Idealism”. During the following decades revised editions were released. The following passage appeared in the 1938 and 1943 editions. QI has not yet been able to examine the 1924 edition.

Durant explained Kant’s philosophical position by discussing a hierarchical sequence of interacting levels. The quotation under examination was part of Durant’s elucidation: 2 3

Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity. Whence this order, this sequence, this unity? Not from the things themselves; for they are known to us only by sensations that come through a thousand channels at once in disorderly multitude; it is our purpose that put order and sequence and unity upon this importunate lawlessness.

This passage reflected Durant’s conception of Kant’s ideas, and it was not directly translated from Kant’s German. Indeed, Durant remarked in a footnote that his discussion of the difficult philosopher employed few quotations: 4

A word about what to read. Kant himself is hardly intelligible to the beginner, because his thought is insulated with a bizarre and intricate terminology (hence the paucity of direct quotation in this chapter).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Science Is Organized Knowledge. Wisdom Is Organized Life

Notes:

  1. 1854 May, The North British Review, Article 5: The Art of Education by Herbert Spencer, Start Page 137, Quote Page 152, Published by W. P. Kennedy, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1938, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. New Revised Edition, Section: Kant and German Idealism, Sub-Section: Transcendental Analytic, Quote Page 295 and 296, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1943, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, Second Edition, (Footnote 13), Quote Page 201, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1938, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, New Revised Edition, Section: Kant and German Idealism, (Footnote 2), Quote Page 289, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)