Quotations about   error

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Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.

[Success doesn’t consist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the second time.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Molassis Kandy” (1874)
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More discussion of this quotation here.
Added on 5-May-19 | Last updated 5-May-19
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A peacefulness follows any decision, even the wrong one.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
(Attributed)
Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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An opinion, right or wrong, can never constitute a moral offense, nor be in itself a moral obligation. It may be mistaken; it may involve an absurdity, or a contradiction. It is a truth; or it is an error: it can never be a crime or a virtue.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Few Days in Athens, Vol. 2, ch. 14 (1822)
Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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Remember, too, that you have the right to make mistakes. Exercise it. Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 4 (1988)
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Added on 9-Apr-18 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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DAVE BOWMAN: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL 9000: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 20-Mar-18 | Last updated 20-Mar-18
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HAL9000: The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 12-Dec-17 | Last updated 12-Dec-17
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The proper method for hastening the decay of error is not by brute force, or by regulation which is one of the classes of force, to endeavor to reduce men to intellectual uniformity, but on the contrary by teaching every man to think for himself.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 8, ch. 6 “Of the Enjoyment of Liberty” (1793)
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Added on 7-Sep-17 | Last updated 7-Sep-17
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Man has no greater enemy than himself. I have acted contrary to my sentiments and inclination; throughout our whole lives we do what we never intended, and what we proposed to do, we leave undone.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) Italian scholar and poet [a.k.a. Petrarch]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Quoted in Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, An Examination of the Advantages of Solitude and of Its Operations, ch. 5 (1783) [tr. F.S. (1808)].
Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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For my own part, I consider the best and most finished type of man to be the person who is always ready to make allowances for others, on the ground that never a day passes without his being in fault himself, yet who keeps as clear of faults as if he never pardoned them in others.

[Atque ego optimum et emendatissimum existimo, qui ceteris ita ignoscit, tamquam ipse cotidie peccet, ita peccatis abstinet tamquam nemini ignoscat.]

Pliny the Younger (c. 61-c. 113) Roman politician, writer [Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus]
Epistles [Epistulae], Book 8, Letter 22 “To Geminus” [tr. J.B.Firth (1900)]
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Alt. trans.: "The highest of characters, in my estimation, is his, who is as ready to pardon the moral errors of mankind, as if he were every day guilty of some himself; and at the same time as cautious of committing a fault as if he never forgave one."
Added on 22-Aug-17 | Last updated 22-Aug-17
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No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.

Other Authors and Sources
Turkish proverb
Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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Though I’ve never understood how God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion by faith — it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.

Robert A. Heinlein (1909-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, ch. 13 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "original uncut" edition (1960, published 1991), this is given as: "I've never been able to understand 'faith' myself, nor to see how a just God could expect his creatures to pick the one true religion out of an infinitude of false ones -- by faith alone. It strikes me as a sloppy way to run an organization, whether a universe or a smaller one."
Added on 7-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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There is no harm in being sometimes wrong — especially if one is promptly found out.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
“Alfred Marshall,” The Economic Journal (Sep 1924)
Added on 1-Mar-17 | Last updated 1-Mar-17
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Nature is more subtle, more deeply intertwined and more strangely integrated than any of our pictures of her — than any of our errors. It is not merely that our pictures are not full enough; each of our pictures in the end turns out to be so basically mistaken that the marvel is that it worked at all.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 4 “The Abacus and the Rose” (1956)
Added on 26-Dec-16 | Last updated 26-Dec-16
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He who is mistaken in an action which he sincerely believes to be right may be an enemy, but retains our esteem.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
The Mysterious Island (1874)
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Added on 19-Aug-16 | Last updated 19-Aug-16
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We make ourselves miserable by first closing ourselves off from reality and then collecting this and that in an attempt to make ourselves happy by possessing happiness. But happiness is not something I have, it is something I myself want to be. Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.

Corless - taping sandwiches - wist_info quote

Roger J. Corless (1938–2007) Anglo-American religious academic, Buddhist scholar, ecumenicist
Vision of Buddhism: the Space Under the Tree (1989)

The last sentence is frequently misattributed to George Carlin (with "your body").
Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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It is a good thing to learn caution by the misfortunes of others.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
(Attributed)

Cited by Sir Richard Steele, The Guardian, #147 (29 Aug 1713).
Added on 21-Jun-16 | Last updated 21-Jun-16
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The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) American lawyer, statesman, politician, orator
Speech, National Democratic Convention, Chicago (1896)
Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (b. 1946) American politician, US President (1993-2001)
Speech to students during the 1992 US Presidential campaign
Added on 2-Jun-16 | Last updated 2-Jun-16
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Often the fear of one evil leads us into a worse.

[Souvent la peur d’un mal nous conduit dans un pire.]

Boileau-Despereaux - fear of one evil - wist_info quote

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 1, l. 64 (1674)
Added on 4-May-16 | Last updated 4-May-16
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The folly which we might have ourselves committed is the one which we are least ready to pardon in another.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #85 (1886)
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Added on 28-Mar-16 | Last updated 28-Mar-16
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Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.

[La science, mon garçon, est faite d’erreurs, mais d’erreurs qu’il est bon de commettre, car elles mènent peu à peu à la vérité.]

Verne - science and error - wist_info quote

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 31 (1864) [tr. Malleson (1877)]
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Alt. trans.: "Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
Added on 4-Mar-16 | Last updated 10-Mar-16
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If a man makes a slip, admonish him gently and show him his mistake. If you fail to convince him, blame yourself, or else blame nobody.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 10, #4
Added on 1-Mar-16 | Last updated 1-Mar-16
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That’s not a nuts thing, that’s a “humans hate to admit error even as they stand there, black and smoldering, with the stub of a cigarette in one hand, in the middle of a wide crater containing them and the remains of a sign that once read ‘DANGER: VOLATILE EXPLOSIVES'” thing. It’s pretty universal.

James Nicoll (b. 1961) Canadian reviewer, editor
“Proposal for a new FAQ or two,” rec.arts.sf.written, Usenet (10 Jun 2005)
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Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-16
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Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Virginibus Puerisque, ch. 2 “Crabbed Age and Youth” (1881)
Added on 24-Feb-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-16
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None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowledge himself in error.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Nov 1738)
Added on 12-Feb-16 | Last updated 12-Feb-16
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The dictionaries should get with it; in pronunciation and ultimately in usage, when enough of us are wrong, we’re right.

Safire - wrong right - wist_info quote

William Safire (1929-2009) American author, columnist, journalist, speechwriter
Language Maven Strikes Again, “Drudgery It Ain’t” (1990)
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Often paraphrased: "The thing about language is that, when enough of us are wrong, we're right."
Added on 18-Dec-15 | Last updated 18-Dec-15
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Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.

Atwood - stupidity evil - wist_info quote

Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian writer, literary critic, environmental activist
Surfacing, ch. 3 (1972)
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Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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ANDREA: The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set some limit on infinite error.
Brecht - science and infinite error - wist_info

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
Life of Galileo [Leben des Galilei], sc. 13 (1939)
Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
Added on 21-Oct-15 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
Added on 16-Oct-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, ch. 19 [ed. Festing-Jones] (1907)
Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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There is (usually) no crime in performing a jerk maneuver, or acting like a jerk. Everyone can, and has, acted like a jerk from time to time. It’s a regrettable but natural part of the human experience. But most people have the good sense to understand that acting like a jerk should not be a lifestyle choice, and that if you make it one, people will respond to you based on your choices.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
“Being a Jerk About the Hugos: Not as Effective a Strategy as You Might Think”, Whatever (blog) (24 Aug 2015)
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Added on 14-Sep-15 | Last updated 14-Sep-15
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People see the wrongness in an idea much quicker that the rightness.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 21-Aug-15 | Last updated 21-Aug-15
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By no means is the natural order of things fashioned for us by a divine agency: so greatly do the imperfections with which it has been endowed stand out.

[Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam
naturam rerum: tanta stat praedita culpa]

Lucretius (c. 100-c. 55 BC) Roman poet [Titus Luretius Carus]
De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things], Book 5, l. 198-9
Added on 6-Aug-15 | Last updated 18-Apr-16
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There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Guardian (28 Jul 1989)
Added on 24-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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There is something to be said for every error; but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Illustrated London News (25 April 1931)
Added on 13-May-15 | Last updated 13-May-15
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Honest error is to be pitied, not ridiculed.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (16 Feb 1748)
Added on 9-Mar-15 | Last updated 9-Mar-15
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Like many men of genius, he could not understand why things obvious to him should not be so at once to other people, and found it easier to believe that they were corrupt than that they could be so stupid.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Apple Cart, Preface (1928)
Added on 26-Feb-15 | Last updated 26-Feb-15
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If you look at automata which have been built by men or which exist in nature you will very frequently notice that their structure is controlled to a much larger extent by the manner in which they might fail and by the (more or less effective) precautionary measures which have been taken against their failure. And to say that they are precautions against failure is to overstate the case, to use an optimistic terminology which is completely alien to the subject. Rather than precautions against failure, they are arrangements by which it is attempted to achieve a state where at least a majority of all failures will not be lethal. There can be no question of eliminating failures or of completely paralyzing the effects of failures. All we can try to do is to arrange an automaton so that in the vast majority of failures it can continue to operate. These arrangements give palliatives of failures, not cures. Most of the arrangements of artificial and natural automata and the principles involved therein are of this sort.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath
Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, Lecture 3 “Statistical Theories of Information”
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Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which is was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth [Voyage au centre de la Terre], ch. 30 [Liedenbrock] (1864)
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Alt. trans.: "Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
Added on 30-Dec-14 | Last updated 30-Dec-14
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If you leap into a Well, Providence is not bound to fetch you out.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2975 (1732)
Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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If the first button of one’s coat is wrongly buttoned, all the rest will be crooked.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) Italian philosopher
(Attributed)
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Attributed in John Emerich & Edward Dalberg, The Cambridge Modern History (1904).
Added on 8-Dec-14 | Last updated 8-Dec-14
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Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.

Antisthenes (c. 445 - c. 365 BC) Greek Cynic philosopher
In Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, VI, xii
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Success in war, like charity in religion, covers a multitude of sins.

William Napier (1785-1860) Irish soldier and military historian
History of the War in the Peninsula, Vol. 5, Book 25, ch. 2 (1837)
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Added on 18-Nov-14 | Last updated 18-Nov-14
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The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong.

Georges Bidault (1899-1983) French politician, diplomat
In The Observer (15 Jul 1962)
Added on 11-Nov-14 | Last updated 11-Nov-14
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Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it: and as he is generally much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
The Traveller: Or, A Prospect of Society (1764)
Added on 7-Aug-14 | Last updated 7-Aug-14
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The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines — so they should go as far as possible from home to build their first buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) American architect, interior designer, writer, educator [b. Frank Lincoln Wright]
“Frank Lloyd Wright Talks of His Art,” New York Times Magazine (4 Oct 1953)
Added on 25-Sep-12 | Last updated 9-Jan-14
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When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
(Misttributed)
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Often attributed directly to King, he prefaced it, in Why We Can't Wait (1964), with "Someone once wrote ..."
Added on 10-Aug-12 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. […] We are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until “justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting, Hold Street Baptist Church, Montgomery (5 Dec 1955)

Quotation is from the Bible, Amos 5:24.
Added on 16-Mar-12 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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War is the unfolding of miscalculations.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
The Guns of August (1962)

In Stilwell and the American Experience in China (1970), she gave this as "History is the unfolding of miscalculations."
Added on 26-Jul-11 | Last updated 23-Jun-15
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It iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

[It is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Sollum Thoughts” (1874)
Added on 26-Jan-11 | Last updated 10-Feb-14
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Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 4 Jul 1898 [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 8-Feb-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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And I have again observed, my dear friend, in this trifling affair, that misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.

[Und ich habe, mein Lieber, wieder bei diesem kleinen Geschäft gefunden, dass Missverständnisse und Trägheit vielleicht mehr Irrungen in der Welt machen als List und Bosheit. Wenigstens sind die beiden letzteren gewiss seltener.] 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers [The Sorrows of Young Werther], “Letter from May 4th” (1774)

Alt. trans.: "Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent."
Added on 29-Jan-09 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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We too often forget that not only is there “a soul of goodness in things evil,” but very generally also, a soul of truth in things erroneous.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) English philosopher, naturalist
First Principles, Pt. I “The Unknowable,” ch. 1 “Religion and Science”” (1862)
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Quoting Shakespeare.
Added on 3-Dec-08 | Last updated 9-Apr-18
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Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.

Other Authors and Sources
Peter T. McIntyre
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Apr-14
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