Quotations about   change of mind

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No,
it’s no disgrace for a man, even a wise man,
to learn many things and not to be too rigid.
You’ve seen trees by a raging winter torrent,
how many sway with the flood and salvage every twig,
but not the stubborn — they’re ripped out, roots and all.

[ἀλλ᾽ ἄνδρα, κεἴ τις ᾖ σοφός, τὸ μανθάνειν
πόλλ᾽, αἰσχρὸν οὐδὲν καὶ τὸ μὴ τείνειν ἄγαν.
ὁρᾷς παρὰ ῥείθροισι χειμάρροις ὅσα
δένδρων ὑπείκει, κλῶνας ὡς ἐκσῴζεται,
τὰ δ᾽ ἀντιτείνοντ᾽ αὐτόπρεμν᾽ ἀπόλλυται.]

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, l. 710ff [Haemon] (441 BC) [tr. Fagles (1982), l. 794ff]
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Ancient Greek. Alternate translations:

But that a man, how wise soe'er, should learn
In many things and slack his stubborn will,
This is no derogation. When the streams
Are swollen by mountain-torrents, thou hast seen
That all the trees wich bend them to the flood
Preserve their branches from the angry current,
While those which stem it perish root and branch.
[tr. Donaldson (1848)]

The wisest man will let himself be swayed
By others' wisdom and relax in time.
See how the trees beside a stream in flood
Save, if they yield to force, each spray unharmed,
But by resisting perish root and branch.
[tr. Campbell (1873)]

'Tis no disgrace even to the wise to learn
And lend an ear to reason. You may see
The plant that yields where torrent waters flow
Saves every little twig, when the stout tree
Is torn away and dies.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

No, even when a man is wise, it brings him no shame to learn many things, and not to be too rigid. You see how the trees that stand beside the torrential streams created by a winter storm yield to it and save their branches, while the stiff and rigid perish root and all?
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

True wisdom will be ever glad to learn,
And not too fond of power. Observe the trees,
That bend to wintry torrents, how their boughs
Unhurt remain; while those that brave the storm,
Uprooted torn, shall wither and decay.
[tr. Werner (1892)]

No, though a man be wise, 'tis no shame for him to learn many things, and to bend in season. Seest thou, beside the wintry torrent's course, how the trees that yield to it save every twig, while the stiff-necked perish root and branch?
[tr. Jebb (1917)]

It is not reason never to yield to reason!
In flood time you can see how some trees bend,
And because they bend, even their twigs are safe,
While stubborn trees are torn up, roots and all
[tr. Fitts/Fitzgerald (1939), l. 570ff]

It is no weakness for the wisest man
To learn when he is wrong, know when to yield.
So, on the margin of a flooded river
Trees bending to the torrent live unbroken,
While those that strain against it are snapped off.
[tr. Watling (1947), l. 608ff]

A man, though wise, should never be ashamed
of learning more, and must unbend his mind.
Have you not seen the trees beside the torrent,
the ones that bend them saving every leaf,
while the resistant perish root and branch?
[tr. Wyckoff (1954)]

There's no disgrace, even if one is wise,
In learning more, and knowing when to yield.
See how the trees that grow beside a torrent
Preserve their branches, if they bend; the others,
Those that resist, are torn out, root and branch.
[tr. Kitto (1962)]

But a wise man can learn a lot and never be ashamed;
He knows he does not have to be rigid and close-hauled.
You've seen trees tossed by a torrent in a flash flood:
If they bend, they're saved, and every twig survives,
But if they stiffen up, they're washed out from the roots.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

But for a man, even if he is wise, to go on learning
many things and not to be drawn too taut is no shame.
You see how along streams swollen from winter floods
some trees yield and save their twigs,
but others resist and perish, root and branch.
[tr. Tyrell/Bennett (2002)]

On the contrary, it is no shame for even a wise man to continue learning. Nor should a man be obstinate. One can see the trees on the heavy river-banks. Those that bend with the rushing current, survive, whereas those bent against it are torn, roots and all.
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

For any man,
even if he’s wise, there’s nothing shameful
in learning many things, staying flexible.
You notice how in winter floods the trees
which bend before the storm preserve their twigs.
The ones who stand against it are destroyed,
root and branch.
[tr. Johnston (2005), l. 804ff]

No, it's no disgrace for a man, even a wise man, to learn many things and not to be too rigid. You see how, in the winter storms, the trees yield that save even their twigs, but those who oppose it are destroyed root and branch.
[tr. Thomas (2005)]
Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 9-May-21
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We sometimes find ourselves changing our minds without any resistance or heavy emotion, but if we are told that we are wrong we resent the imputation and harden our hearts. We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem which is threatened.

James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) American historian and educator
The Mind in the Making, ch. 4 “Rationalizing” (1921)
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Added on 6-Oct-20 | Last updated 6-Oct-20
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Every fool is fully convinced, and every one fully persuaded is a fool: the more erroneous his judgment, the more firmly he holds it.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], #183 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
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Added on 13-Mar-20 | Last updated 13-Mar-20
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Your minds that once did stand erect and strong,
What madness swerves them from their wonted course?

[Quo vobis mentes, rectae quae stare solebant
Antehac, dementis sese flexere viai?]

Quintus Ennius (239-169 BC) Roman poet, writer
Fragment
    (Source)

Quoted by Cicero in De Senectute, ch. 4, v. 14, vi. 16 [trans. Falconer]
Added on 30-Jan-20 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Everybody’s Political What’s What? (1950 ed.)
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Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 27-Jul-17
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No well-informed person has declared a change of opinion to be inconstancy.

[Nemo doctus unquam mutationem consilii inconstantiam dixit esse.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Epistulae ad Atticum, Book 16, Letter 7 (59-54 BC)

Alt. trans.: No philosopher ever yet -- and there has been a great deal written upon the subject -- defined a mere change of plan as vacillation. [Nemo doctus umquam (multa autem de hoc genere scripta sunt) mutationem consili inconstantiam dixit esse.]

Often mis-cited as Letter 8.
Added on 13-Jul-17 | Last updated 18-Jul-17
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Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
Of Human Bondage, ch. 39 (1915)
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Added on 15-Jun-17 | Last updated 15-Jun-17
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Men run out of one superstition into an opposite superstition.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Scholar,” Lectures and Biographical Sketches (1883)
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Added on 19-May-17 | Last updated 19-May-17
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The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Preface (1936)
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Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
(Attributed)

Reply to a criticism of having changed his position on monetary policy. Quoted in Paul Samuelson, "The Keynes Centenary" The Economist, Vol. 287 (1983), but possibly apocryphal (see here).

Variants:
  • "When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?"
  • "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
  • "When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?"
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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He who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler # 6 (7 Apr 1750)
Added on 29-Sep-16 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today may have wished to live had he waited a week.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Cato” (1764)
Added on 12-Sep-16 | Last updated 12-Sep-16
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Change your opinions, keep to your principles;
change your leaves, keep intact your roots.

Hugo - keep intact your roots - wist_info quote

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography (1907) [tr. O’Rourke]
Added on 8-Sep-16 | Last updated 8-Sep-16
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Don’t commit suicide, because you might change your mind two weeks later.

Art Buchwald (1925-2007) American humorist, columnist
Leaving Home (1995)

A personal mantra Buchwald used to combat his intermittent depression. Possibly borrowed from Voltaire.
Added on 1-Aug-16 | Last updated 12-Sep-16
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Life is not a static thing. The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, who can’t, and those in cemeteries.

Everett Dirksen (1896-1969) American politician
(Attributed)
Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 3-Sep-15 | Last updated 3-Sep-15
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‘Yes,’ I answered you last night;
‘No,’ this morning, sir, I say.
Colors seen by candle-light,
Will not look the same by day.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) English poet
“The Lady’s ‘Yes'”, st. 1 (1844)
Added on 2-May-13 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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A man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

William Blake (1757-1827) English poet, mystic, artist
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “A Memorable Fancy” (1790)
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Added on 29-May-09 | Last updated 15-Jun-17
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Opinions are made to be changed — or how is truth to be got at?

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Letter to John Murray (9 May 1818)
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It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same moment. There never yet was any truth or any principle so irresistibly obvious that all men believed it at once.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
“Dissertation on the First Principles of Government” (Jul 1795)

Source essay
Added on 29-Aug-07 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971)
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(also called "Galbraith's Law")
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-May-21
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Persistence in a single view has never been regarded as a merit in political leaders.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Epistulae ad Familiares, 1.9.21
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If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.

Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) American humorist and illustrator
(Attributed)

Common paraphrase. In Look Eleven Years Younger (1937), Burgess gives two versions of the quotation:
  • "When you find you haven’t discarded a major opinion for years, or acquired a new one, you should stop and investigate to see if you’re not growing senile."
  • "If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one investigate and see if you’re not growing senile."
See for more discussion.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-Apr-16
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Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838)
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With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon-balls and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
Common Sense (14 Feb 1776)

Source essay
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