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Take the pulse of the matter. Many see the trees but not the forest, or bark up the wrong tree, speaking endlessly, reasoning uselessly, without getting to the heart of the matter. They go round and round, tiring themselves and us, and never get to what is important. This happens to people with confused minds who do not know how to clear away the brambles. They waste time and patience on what it would be better to leave alone, and later there is no time for what they left.

[Vanse muchos o por las ramas de un inútil discurrir, o por las hojas de una cansada verbosidad, sin topar con la sustancia del caso. Dan cien vueltas rodeando un punto, cansándose y cansando, y nunca llegan al centro de la importancia. Procede de entendimientos confusos, que no se saben desembarazar. Gastan el tiempo y la paciencia en lo que habían de dejar, y después no la hay para lo que dejaron.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 136 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]
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(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translation:

So you feel the pulse of affairs. Many lose their way either in the ramifications of useless discussion or in the brushwood of wearisome verbosity without ever realising the real matter at issue. They go over a single point a hundred times wearying themselves and others and yet never touch the all important centre of affairs. This comes from a confusion of mind from which they cannot extricate themselves. They waste time and patience on matters they should leave alone and cannot spare them afterwards for what they have left alone.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 14-Mar-22
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It is hardly in human nature that a man should quite accurately gauge the limits of his own insight; but it is the duty of those who profit by his work to consider carefully where he may have been carried beyond it. If we must needs embalm his possible errors along with his solid achievements, and use his authority as an excuse for believing what he cannot have known, we make of his goodness an occasion to sin.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 2 “The Weight of Authority,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 13-Dec-21 | Last updated 13-Dec-21
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Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails.

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) American minister, academic, author
An Altar in the World, ch. 2 (2009)
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Added on 13-Aug-21 | Last updated 13-Aug-21
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The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship?

William McFee (1881-1966) English writer
(Attributed)
Added on 25-Jun-21 | Last updated 25-Jun-21
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You are astonished to find yourself the butt of so much calumny, opposition, indifference and ill-will. You will be more so and have more of it; it is the reward of the good and the beautiful: one may calculate the value of a man from the number of his critics and the importance of a work by the evil said of it.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French writer, novelist
Letter to Louise Colet (14 Jun 1853) [tr. Hannigan (1896)]
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Alternate translation: "You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it." [Source]
Added on 10-Jun-21 | Last updated 10-Jun-21
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You can tell the man who rings true from the man who rings false, not by his deeds alone, but also by his desires.

[Δόκιμος ἀνὴρ καὶ ἀδόκιμος οὐκ ἐξ ὧν πράσσει μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐξ ὧν βούλεται.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 68 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
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Diels citation "68. (40 N.) DEMOKRATES. 33." Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "A man is approved or rejected not only by what he doth, but by what he wills." [Hammond (1845)]
  • "The worthy and the unworthy man are to be known not only by their actions, but also their wishes." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "One of esteem and one without it do not only act for different reasons but they desire for different reasons too." [tr. @sententiq (2018), fr. 67]
  • "Accomplished or unaccomplished we shall call a man not only from what he does but from what he desires, too." [Source]
  • "The worthy and unworthy are known not only by their deeds, but also by their desires." [Source]
Added on 2-Mar-21 | Last updated 11-May-21
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A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 7:18–20 (KJV)

    Alt. trans.:
  • "A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. And any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do." (GNT)
  • "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits." (NRSV)
Added on 17-Aug-18 | Last updated 17-Aug-18
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We readily inquire, “Does he know Greek or Latin?” “Can he write poetry and prose?” But what matters most is what we put last: “Has he become better and wiser?” We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best.

[Nous nous enquerons volontiers: “Sçait-il du Gre ou du Latin? Estriil en vers ou en prose?” Mais sìl est devenu ou plus advisé, c’estoit le principal, et c’est ce qui demeure derrier. Il falloit sènquerir qui est mieux sçavant, non qui est plus sçavant.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
The Complete Essays, I:25 “On Schoolmasters [Du pédantisme]”
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Added on 30-Oct-17 | Last updated 30-Oct-17
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Don’t express your ideas too clearly. Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what they do not.

[No allanarse sobrado en el concepto. Los más no estiman lo que entienden, lo que no perciben lo veneran. Las cosas, para que se estiman, han de costar; será celebrado cuando no fuese entendido.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 253 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1982)]

Alt. trans.: "Do not Explain overmuch. Most men do not esteem what they understand, and venerate what they do not see. ... Many praise a thing without being able to tell why, if asked. The reason is that they venerate the unknown as a mystery, and praise it because they hear it praised." [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 4-Apr-22
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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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I would give the broad sweep of the First Amendment full support. I have the same confidence in the ability of our people to reject noxious literature as I have in their capacity to sort out the true from the false in theology, economics, or any other field.

William O. Douglas (1898-1980) US Supreme Court justice (1939-75)
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 514, dissenting opinion (1957)
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Added on 17-Oct-05 | Last updated 29-Jul-21
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I have no use for the strictures of You must. You must not.

[無可無不可]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [Lúnyǔ, 论语], Book 18, verse 8 (18.8.5) (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Hinton (1998)]
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(Source (Chinese)). Alternate translations:

I have no course for which I am predetermined, and no course against which I am predetermined.
[tr. Legge (1861)]

I will take no liberties, I will have no curtailing of my liberty.
[tr. Jennings (1895); in the footnote he gives a more raw translation, "Without possibilities (or freedom to act) -- without impossibilities"]

With me there is no inflexible "thou shalt" or 'thou shalt not."
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

I have no categoric can and cannot.
[tr. Pound (1933)]

I have no "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not."
[tr. Waley (1938)]

I have no preconceptions about the permissible and the impermissible.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

I avoid saying what should or should not be done.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

I follow no rigid prescriptions on what should, or should not, be done.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

I have not any stubborn positiveness or negation.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998)]

I do not have presuppositions as to what may and may not be done.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

I have no "may" and no "may not."
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

I have no preconceptions about what one can or cannot do.
[tr. Annping Chin (2014)]

This may be the source of Lin-Yutang, ed. The Wisdom of Confucius (1938):

The superior man goes through his life without any one preconceived course of action or any taboo. He merely decides for the moment what is the right thing to do.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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No individual or group will be judged by whether they come up to or fall short of some fixed result, but by the direction in which they are moving. The band mans is the man who no matter how good he has been is beginning to deteriorate, to grow less good. The good man in the man who no matter how morally unworthy he has been is moving to become better. Such a conception makes one severe in judging himself and humane in judging others.

John Dewey (1859-1952) American teacher and philosopher
Reconstruction in Philosophy, ch. 7 “Moral Reconstruction” (1919)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Dec-20
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It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
(Spurious)

First attributed to Aristotle in Lowell L. Bennion, Religion and the Pursuit of Truth (1959). Unfound as such.

Sometimes thought (though I feel it's a bit of a stretch) a misinterpretation of Nicomachean Ethics 1.3.4 (1094b): "For it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it."

More discussion of this quotation:
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Mar-22
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To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Eva Young
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Nov-21
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