Attribution of Schopenhauer's Three Stages of Truth

HappyMonday

Moderator
Attribution to Schopenhauer of Three Stages of Truth

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

This quote keeps cropping up in conversation with conspiracy types, and is often incorrectly attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer.

The following document examines the history of the quote, and the use of the 'stages of truth' device in detail.
https://cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/Papers/stages.pdf (attached)


The oldest quote which I have been able to find that suggests truth goes through several stages is due to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788{1860), who wrote in 1818 [29]

Der Wahrheit ist allerzeit nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden, zwischen den beiden langen ZeitrÄaumen, wo sie als Paradox verdammt und als Trivial gering geschÄatzt wird.


which is translated as follows:


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.

[29, Preface to the First Edition, p. xxv]
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I have also found what appear to be three spurious attributions of the "stages of truth" quote. The most prevalent is the following version:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

This quotation and its minor variants, which may be found on many Internet web sites, Usenet news postings, and letters to the editor of newspapers, is nearly always attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer. For example, see [26, p. 93].

However, I have not found this particular quotation in Schopenhauer's writings; neither have Schopenhauer experts that I have consulted been able to produce a citation.

Why has this quotation come to be attributed to Schopenhauer? It seems likely this is due in part to its citation in a popular book of quotations, first published in 1981, that has since gone through several different titles and printings [11].

In the United States, it is called The Harper Book of Quotations, and the quotation appears, for example, on page 451 of the 3rd edition:

Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.

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Whilst Schopenhauer may be the first person to suggest 'stages of truth' in 1818, the quote in wide circulation appears to have evolved much later.


 

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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
That's an excellent bit of quote debunking there by Shallit. Unfortunately debunking a quote does not really stop people from using it.

The common usage of this quote often forgets that it's getting to the third stage that qualifies something as truth, not the first.

I like to juxtapose it with this real quote:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

- Carl Sagan
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Which Shallit also references on the first page.
 

HappyMonday

Moderator
That's an excellent bit of quote debunking there by Shallit. Unfortunately debunking a quote does not really stop people from using it.

The common usage of this quote often forgets that it's getting to the third stage that qualifies something as truth, not the first.

I like to juxtapose it with this real quote:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

- Carl Sagan
Content from External Source
Which Shallit also references on the first page.

I agree, and that Sagan line is gold.

The fruit in the other thread is the third time today I've seen the subject quote, glad it prompted me to search.
 

MikeC

Closed Account
Whether you be a genius or not - to fulfill these 3 stages you first need to have something that is actually true.

Bozo is/was/will be, after all, a comic genius :)
 

Apogej

Member
Three stages of truth have nothing to do with Schopenhauer. This famous truth came from greatest peacemaker ever:;

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Mahatma Gandhi
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Three stages of truth have nothing to do with Schopenhauer. This famous truth came from greatest peacemaker ever:;

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Mahatma Gandhi

  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
    • Describing the stages of a winning strategy of nonviolent activism. There is no record of Gandhi saying this. A close variant of the quotation first appears in a 1918 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein:
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.
In Freedom's Battle (1922), Gandhi wrote this:
  • Unfortunately for His Excellency the movement is likely to grow with ridicule as it is certain to flourish on repression. No vital movement can be killed except by the impatience, ignorance or laziness of its authors. A movement cannot be 'insane' that is conducted by men of action as I claim the members of the Non-co-operation Committee are. … Ridicule is like repression. Both give place to respect when they fail to produce the intended effect. … It will be admitted that non-co-operation has passed the stage [of] ridicule. Whether it will now be met by repression or respect remains to be seen. … But the testing time has now arrived. In a civilized country when ridicule fails to kill a movement it begins to command respect.
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https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi#Disputed
 

Herman Aven

Member

The oldest quote which I have been able to find that suggests truth goes through several stages is due to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788{1860), who wrote in 1818 [29]

Der Wahrheit ist allerzeit nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden, zwischen den beiden langen ZeitrÄaumen, wo sie als Paradox verdammt und als Trivial gering geschÄatzt wird.


which is translated as follows:


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.

[29, Preface to the First Edition, p. xxv]
Content from External Source
That translation leaves a lot to be desired. A better one which keeps logic, flow and meaning intact will follow. Keep in mind that translating languages just literary will often not keep the many inferences intact which for a native speaker are implicit but might have to be more explicit in a translation for a broader audience.

The truth is always destined to have only one brief victory parade between two long time spans in which it's first being condemned as paradoxical and then belittled as trivial.​

The attribution therefore is not literal but paraphrastic. While it's not clear why that has happened, the basic meaning has been left intact while the interesting emphasis of the shortness of the middle stage disappeared. So it would be indeed good to reintroduce the original text again.
 

skephu

Senior Member.
Usually when you debunk the source of a quotation, people will reply "ok, he may not have said it, but it's true anyway".
 
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