Quotations about   ignorance

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Americans’ lack of passion for history is well known. History may not quite be bunk, as Henry Ford suggested, but there’s no denying that, as a people, we sustain a passionate concentration on the present and the future. Backward is just not a natural direction for Americans to look — historical ignorance remains a national characteristic.

Larry McMurtry (b. 1936) American novelist, essayist, bookseller, screenwriter
Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846–1890 (2005)
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Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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Although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (1945)
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Added on 3-Aug-18 | Last updated 3-Aug-18
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One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
(Attributed)
Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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I ask you not to hate people who treat you badly. … This is easier to write than it is to live but there are ignorant people. Only a few are truly malicious. Hate is a poison. It can spread through your system. Forgive them if you can. Forget them if you must.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Interview in OutSmart magazine (Jan 1998)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967)
Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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Ever see a bird hurt itself by flying into a glass window? The bird is not stupid; he simply did not have all the data.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
The Puppet Masters (1951)
Added on 3-Nov-17 | Last updated 3-Nov-17
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Some people are just better than others at noticing things that don’t align with their concern, and Mum and Dad are simply oblivious to elves, vampires, vegans, and other esoteric manifestations of modernity.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 12 (2016)
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Added on 5-Sep-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Impossibilities are merely things of which we have not learned, or which we do not wish to happen.

Charles Chesnutt (1858-1932) American author, essayist, civil rights activist, lawyer
The Marrow of Tradition (1901)
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Added on 31-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Course of Love, “Irreconcilable Desires” (2016)
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Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Jane Eyre, ch. 29 (1847)
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Added on 30-Jun-17 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ch. 17 (1969)
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Added on 20-Jun-17 | Last updated 20-Jun-17
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I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 6, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone — that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized — though I should not like to be put to giving names — but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history. They are ignorant, they are dishonest, they are cowardly, they are ignoble. They know little if anything that is worth knowing, and there is not the slightest sign of a natural desire among them to increase their knowledge.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Homo Neandertalensis,” Baltimore Evening Sun (29 Jun 1925)
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Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 56 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 6-Apr-17 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Colonel Charles Yancy (6 Jan 1816)
Added on 20-Mar-17 | Last updated 20-Mar-17
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We, or at least I, can have no conception of human life and human thought in a hundred years or fifty years. Perhaps my greatest wisdom is the knowledge that I do not know. The sad ones are those who waste their energy in trying to hold it back, for they can only feel bitterness in loss and no joy in gain.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
Travels With Charley: In Search of America, Part 2 (1962)
Added on 23-Feb-17 | Last updated 23-Feb-17
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Jenneth turned a blind eye to his part in their incipient suffering, a privilege that came with never really having suffered.

Emily Kate (E. K.) Johnston (contemp.) Canadian author
Ahsoka (2016)
Added on 20-Feb-17 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united. Their weapons are keen-honed, and they use them with skill. They will press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges. I am sorry: But that is how I see it.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
A Canticle for Leibowitz, “Fiat Lux,” ch. 20 (1959)
Added on 25-Jan-17 | Last updated 25-Jan-17
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It’s innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn’t.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
Added on 22-Aug-16 | Last updated 22-Aug-16
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Carelessness does more harm than a want of knowledge.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
(Attributed)
Added on 11-Jun-16 | Last updated 11-Jun-16
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“Men, Pencroft, however learned they may be, can never change anything of the cosmographical order established by God Himself.”

“And yet,” added Pencroft, “the world is very learned. What a big book, captain, might be made with all that is known!”

“And what a much bigger book still with all that is not known!” answered Harding.

[Les hommes, Pencroff, si savants qu’ils puissent être, ne pourront jamais changer quoi que ce soit à l’ordre cosmographique établi par Dieu même.
— Et pourtant, ajouta Pencroff, qui montra une certaine difficulté à se résigner, le monde est bien savant! Quel gros livre, monsieur Cyrus, on ferait avec tout ce qu’on sait!
— Et quel plus gros livre encore avec tout ce qu’on ne sait pas, répondit Cyrus Smith.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
The Mysterious Island, Part 3, ch. 14 (1874)
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Added on 27-May-16 | Last updated 27-May-16
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Ignorance might be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse.

Gervais - ignorant - wist_info quote

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (13 Oct 2013)
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Added on 18-Feb-16 | Last updated 18-Feb-16
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The good may prove to be a hidden form of evil. The evil may prove to be a new and not yet recognized form of the good.

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874-1948) Russian religious and political philosopher
The Destiny of Man, 2.4.1 (1931) [tr. Duddington (1955)]
Added on 29-Dec-15 | Last updated 29-Dec-15
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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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It is better to be a beggar than ignorant; for a beggar only wants money, but an ignorant person wants humanity.

Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435 – c. 356 BC) Cyrenaic philosopher, Hedonist
(Attributed)
Added on 12-Jun-15 | Last updated 12-Jun-15
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We have two classes of forecasters: those who don’t know and those who know they don’t know.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
(Attributed)

Variants:
  • There are two classes of people who tell what is going to happen in the future: Those who don't know, and those who don't know they don't know.
  • You can divide the world into those who don't know and those who don't know they don't know.
  • There are those who don't know, and there are those who don't know they don't know.
  • We have two kinds of forecasters: Those who don't know ... and those who don't know they don't know.
  • There are two kinds of economists: those who don't know the future, and those who don't know they don't know.
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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You know I’ve noticed a certain anti-intellectualism going around this country ever since around 1980, coincidentally enough. I was in Nashville, Tennessee last weekend and after the show I went to a Waffle House, and I’m sitting there and I’m eating and reading a book. I don’t know anybody, I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book. This waitress comes over to me (mocks chewing gum) “What you readin’ for?” Wow, I’ve never been asked that; not “What am I reading,” “What am I reading for?” Well, goddammit, you stumped me. I guess I read for a lot of reasons — the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress. Yeah, that would be pretty high on the list. Then this trucker in the booth next to me gets up, stands over me and says [mocks Southern drawl] “Well, looks like we got ourselves a readah.” What the fuck’s going on? It’s like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George costume or something. Am I stepping out of some intellectual closet here? I read, there I said it. I feel better.

Bill Hicks (1961-1994) American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, musician [William Melvin "Bill" Hicks]
Sane Man (1989)
Added on 20-Feb-15 | Last updated 20-Feb-15
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There is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get him off the thing he was educated in.

Will Rogers (1879-1935) American humorist
Weekly column (5 Jul 1931)
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Stupidity often saves a man from going mad.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, ch. 2 (1858)
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. There can be no true goodness, nor true love, without the utmost clear-sightedness.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Plague (1947)
Added on 1-Dec-14 | Last updated 1-Dec-14
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Selective ignorance, a cornerstone of child rearing. You don’t put kids under surveillance: it might frighten you. Parents should sit tall in the saddle and look upon their troops with a noble and benevolent and extremely nearsighted gaze.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
Leaving Home? (1987)
Added on 16-Oct-14 | Last updated 16-Oct-14
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An eagerness and zeal for dispute on every subject, and with every one, shows great self-sufficiency, that never-failing sign of great self-ignorance.

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) British statesman, orator [1st Earl of Chatham]
Correspondence of William Pitt, vol 4 (1840) [ed. Taylor and Pringle]
Added on 22-Aug-14 | Last updated 22-Aug-14
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Nothing is worse than active ignorance.

[Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Maximen und Reflexionen

In Frederick Ungar, ed., Goethe’s World View Presented in His Reflections and Maxims (1963).
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There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“A Cult of Ignorance,” Newsweek (21 Jan 1980)
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More on this quotation here and here.
Added on 31-Dec-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

First attributed to Twain in 1945, but not found in his works. Earliest appearances of the quote date back to 1910, but are unattributed. It's often attributed to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), but she didn't say it until 1966. See here for more information.Variants:
  • "Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can? [Original form.]
  • "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read." ["Dear Abby", 19 Oct 1966]
  • "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
Added on 13-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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All things […] are best to those who know no better.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
Prose Observations, “Ignorance” [ed. de Quehen (1979)]
Added on 10-Dec-12 | Last updated 13-Apr-15
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Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee,
That wilfully will nother heare nor see?

[Who is so deaf, or so blind, as is he,
That willfully will neither hear nor see?]

John Heywood (1497?-1580?) English playwright and epigrammist
Dialogue of Proverbes, Part 2, ch. 9 (1546)
Added on 22-Jun-11 | Last updated 5-Jan-16
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That is just the way with some people.  They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch. 1 (1884)
Added on 3-May-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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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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Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Strength to Love, ch. 4 (1963)
Added on 13-May-10 | Last updated 23-Jul-14
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When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

Not found in Twain's writing.  He was 11 when his father died.

Added on 18-Mar-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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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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TECMESSA: Ignorant men
Don’t know what good they hold in their hands until
They’ve flung it away.

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Ajax, l. 964 [tr. Moore (1959)]

Alt trans.:
  • “Men of perverse opinion do not know / The excellence of what is in their hands, / Till some one dash it from them.” [George Young (1888)]
  • "Men of ill judgement oft ignore the good / That lies within their hands, till they have lost it."
  • "For those who are base in judgement do not know the good they hold in their hands until they cast it off."
Added on 2-Jun-08 | Last updated 17-Aug-16
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You know, Percy, everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.

Will Rogers (1879-1935) American humorist
“Defending My Soup Plate Position,” The Illiterate Digest (1924)

A common catch phrase by Rogers. Also quoted in the New York Times (31 Aug 1924).
Added on 23-May-08 | Last updated 29-May-17
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I do now remember a saying,
‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man
knows himself to be a fool.’

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 5, sc. 1, l. 31 [Touchstone] (1599)
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 20-May-16
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The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician
Montreal Medical Journal (1902)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Innocents Abroad, Conclusion (1869)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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We, ignorant of ourselves,
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good; so we find profit by losing of our prayers.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, sc. 1, l. 5
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What is the first business of one who studies philosophy? To part with self-conceit. For it is impossible for any one to begin to learn what he thinks that he already knows.

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, ch. 17, “How To Apply General Principles to Particular Cases” (c. AD 101-108)

Alt. trans.: "It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he thinks he knows." [tr. Long (1890)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-May-14
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There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.

[Es ist nichts schrecklicher als eine tätige Unwissenheit.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-May-14
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A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
To Jerusalem and Back (1976)
    (Source)
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I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Life on the Mississippi, ch. 6 (1883)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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