Quotations about   intelligence

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Think of all the smart people who are made stupid by flaws of character. The finest watch isn’t fine long when used as a hammer.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, #19 (Spring 1999)
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There be some that will grant you precedence in good luck or good temper but none in good sense, least of all a prince; for good sense is a royal prerogative, any claim to that is a case of lèse-majesté.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 7 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
    (Source)

Alternate translation:

Most people do not mind being surpassed in good fortune, character, or temperament, but no one, especially not a sovereign, likes to be surpassed in intelligence. For this is the king of attributes, and any crime against it is lèse-majesté.
[tr. Maurer (1992)]
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Men who don’t like girls with brains don’t like girls.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
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Originally published in McLaughlin's "The Neurotic's Notebook" column in The Atlantic, some time in 1965.
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Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
(Spurious)

Sometimes quoted without the initial "Those".

The citationless attribution of this quip to Asimov cannot be traced back further than 2001, several years after his death. The earliest version found is a filler item in The Saturday Evening Post (6 May 1961), attributed to humor columnist Harold Coffin: "The fellow who thinks he knows it all is especially annoying to those of us who do."

More discussion here: The Fellow Who Thinks He Knows It All Is Especially Annoying To Those of Us Who Do – Quote Investigator.
Added on 16-Sep-21 | Last updated 16-Sep-21
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Man forgives woman anything save the wit to outwit him.

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Minna Antrim (1861-1950) American epigrammatist, writer
Naked Truth and Veiled Allusions (1901)
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Civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Parable of the Sower, ch. 10 (1993)
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Censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion, incapable, that is, of doing an honest or intelligent job.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
Freedom, Loyalty and Dissent (1954)
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Perhaps the hardest thing for humans to do is to imagine the world as it is imagined by others. We tend to confuse acting in accordance with the goals and values of the society in which we live with rationality; we tend to confuse intelligence with thinking in accordance with those goals and values. And, of course, we are always inclined to see events as predetermined — and we are almost always wrong.

Masha Gessen (b. 1967) Russian-American journalist, author, translator, activist
“The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments,” The New Yorker (20 Feb 2018)
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Man the master, ingenious past all measure,
past all dreams the skills within his grasp —
   he forges on, now to destruction,
now again to greatness. When he weaves in
the laws of the land, and the justice of the gods
that bind his oaths together
   he and his city rise high —
      but the city casts out
that man who weds himself to inhumanity
thanks to reckless daring. Never share my hearth,
never think my thoughts, whoever does such things.

[σοφόν τι τὸ μηχανόεν τέχνας ὑπὲρ ἐλπίδ᾽ ἔχων
τοτὲ μὲν κακόν, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐσθλὸν ἕρπει,
νόμους γεραίρων χθονὸς θεῶν τ᾽ ἔνορκον δίκαν,
370ὑψίπολις: ἄπολις ὅτῳ τὸ μὴ καλὸν
ξύνεστι τόλμας χάριν. μήτ᾽ ἐμοὶ παρέστιος
γένοιτο μήτ᾽ ἴσον φρονῶν ὃς τάδ᾽ ἔρδει.]

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, l. 365ff, Stasimon 1, Antistrophe 2 [Chorus] (441 BC) [tr. Fagles (1982)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Wise in his craft of art
Beyond the bounds of expectation,
The while to good he goes, the while to evil.
Honouring his country's laws and heaven's oathbound right,
High is he in the state!
But cityless is he with whom inherent baseness dwells;
When boldness dares so much,
No seat by me at festive hearth,
No seat by me in sect or party,
For him that sinneth!
[tr. Donaldson (1848)]

Passing the wildest flight thought are the cunning and skill,
That guide man now to the light, but now to counsels of ill.
If he honors the laws of the land, and reveres the Gods of the State
Proudly his city shall stand; but a cityless outcast I rate
Whoso bold in his pride from the path of right doth depart;
Ne'er may I sit by his side, or share the thoughts of his heart.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

Inventive beyond wildest hope, endowed with boundless skill,
One while he moves toward evil, and one while toward good,
According as he loves his land and fears the Gods above.
Weaving the laws into his life and steadfast oath of Heaven,
High in the State he moves but outcast he,
Who hugs dishonour to his heart and follows paths of crime
Ne'er may he come beneath my roof, nor think like thoughts with me.v [tr. Campbell (1873)]

Possessing resourceful skill, a subtlety beyond expectation he moves now to evil, now to good. When he honors the laws of the land and the justice of the gods to which he is bound by oath, his city prospers. But banned from his city is he who, thanks to his rashness, couples with disgrace. Never may he share my home, never think my thoughts, who does these things!
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

Cunning beyond fancy's dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. Never may he share my hearth, never think my thoughts, who doth these things!
[tr. Jebb (1917)]

O clear intelligence, force beyond all measure!
O fate of man, working both good and evil!
When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands!
When the laws are broken, what of his city then?
Never may the anarchic man find rest at my hearth,
Never be it said that my thoughts are his thoughts.
[tr. Fitts/Fitzgerald (1939), l. 285ff]

O wondrous subtlety of man, that draws
To good or evil ways! Great honor is given
And power to him who upholdeth his country’s laws
And the justice of heaven.
But he that, too rashly daring, walks in sin
In solitary pride to his life’s end.
At door of mine shall never enter in
To call me friend.
[tr. Watling (1947)]

Clever beyond all dreams
the inventive crat that he has
which may drive him one time or another to well or ill.
When he honors the laws of the land and the gods' sworn right
high indeed is his city; but stateless is the man
who dares to dwell with dishonor. Not by my fire,
never to share my thoughts, who does these things.
[tr. Wyckoff (1954)]

Surpassing belief, the device and
Cunning that Man has attained,
And it bringeth him now to evil, now to good.
If he observe Law, and tread
The righteous path God ordained,
Honored is he; dishonored, the man whose reckless heart
Shall make him join hands with sin:
May I not think like him,
Nor may such an impious man
Dwell in my house.
[tr. Kitto (1962)]

He has cunning contrivance,
Skill surpassing hope,
And so he slithers into wickedness sometimes,
Other times into doing good.
If he honors the law of the land
And the oath-bound justice of the gods,
Then his city shall stand high.
But no city for him if he turns shameless out of daring.
He will be no guest of mine,
He will never share my thoughts,
If he goes wrong.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

Possessing a means of invention, a skillfulness beyond expectation,
now toward evil he moves, now toward good.
By integrating the laws of the earth
and justice under oath sworn to the gods,
he is lofty of city. Citiless is the man with whom ignobility
because of his daring dwells.
May he never reside at my hearth
or think like me,
whoever does such things.
[tr. Tyrell/Bennett (2002)]

And though his wisdom is great in discovery -- wisdom beyond all imaginings!
Yet one minute it turns to ill the next again to good.
But whoever honours the laws of his land and his sworn oaths to the gods, he’ll bring glory to his city.
The arrogant man, on the other hand, the man who strays from the righteous path is lost to his city. Let that man never stay under the same roof as me or even be acquainted by me!
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

The qualities of his inventive skills
bring arts beyond his dreams and lead him on,
sometimes to evil and sometimes to good.
If he treats his country’s laws with due respect
and honours justice by swearing on the gods,
he wins high honours in his city.
But when he grows bold and turns to evil,
then he has no city. A man like that --
let him not share my home or know my mind.
[tr. Johnston (2005), l. 415ff]

With clever creativity beyond expectation, he moves now to evil, now to good. The one who observes the laws of the land and justice, our compat with the gods, is honored in the city, but there is no city for one who participates in what is wrong for the sake of daring. Let him not share my hearth, nor let me share his ideas who had done these things.
[tr. Thomas (2005)]

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I been readin’ ’bout how maybe they is planets peopled by folks with ad-vanced brains. On the other hand, maybe we got the most brains … maybe our intellects is the universe’s most ad-vanced. Either way, it’s a mighty soberin’ thought.

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) American animator and cartoonist [Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr.]
“Pogo” [Porky Pine] (20 Jun 1959)

Often paraphrased: "Thar’s only two possibilities: Thar is life out there in the universe which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought."

More information:
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This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) English intellectual, polemicist, socio-political critic
“David Mamet’s Right-Wing Conversion,” New York Times (17 Jun 2011)
    (Source)

Reviewing David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.
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Men have made an idol of luck as an excuse for their own thoughtlessness. Luck seldom measures swords with wisdom. Most things in life quick wit and sharp vision can set right.

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 119 (Diels) [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
    (Source)

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:

  • "Men have fashioned an image of Chance as an excuse for their own stupidity. For Chance rarely conflicts with intelligence, and most things in life can be set in order by an intelligent sharpsightedness." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "Men fashioned the image of chance as an excuse for their own thoughtlessness; for chance rarely fights with wisdom, and a man of intelligence will, by foresight, set straight most things in his life." [tr. Barnes (1987)]
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Many much-learned men have no intelligence.

[Πολλοὶ πολυμαθέες νοῦν οὐκ ἔχουσιν.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 64 (Diels) [tr. Freeman (1948)]
    (Source)

Diels citation "64. (190 N.) DEMOKRATES. 29."; collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium III, 4, 81. 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:

  • "There are many who know many things, yet are lacking in wisdom." [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
  • "Many who have learned much possess no sense." [tr. Barnes (1987)]
  • "Many who have learned a lot do not have a mind." [tr. @sentantiq (2018)]
  • "Many, though widely read, possess no sense." [Source]
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We’re here to use our intelligence, yes, but that ain’t everything. It’s our duty to see through things, but also to see things through. Or I’ll put it another way. We’re not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.

Peter De Vries (1910-1993) American editor, novelist, satirist
Let Me Count the Ways (1965)
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This is an example of what those who have studied history well know: When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare (1970)

On Falstaff in Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1, Act 1, sc. 1 (1587).
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It is a mark of genius not to astonish but to be astonished.

Aubrey Menen (1912-1989) English writer
The Prevalence of Witches, ch. 4 (1947)
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Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Italian proverb

Also noted as a Jewish or Yiddish proverb.

This is also often cited to Sally Koslow, Little Pink Slips, ch. 5 (2007); it appears there as ""Many complain of their looks, few of their brains," but is described as an unoriginal needlepoint on a pillow cover.

See also La Rochefoucauld for a similar construction.
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Intelligence recognizes what has happened. Genius recognizes what will happen.

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
(Attributed)
Added on 10-Jun-20 | Last updated 10-Jun-20
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It takes a lot of things to prove you are smart, but only one thing to prove you are ignorant.

Don Herold (1889-1966) American humorist, cartoonist, author
So Human (1924)
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I have no time to scold, and I learned thirty years ago it was foolish to scold. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact God has not seen fit to distribute evenly the gift of intelligence.

John Wanamaker (1838-1922) American merchant, marketer, philanthropist, Postmaster General
Quoted in Herbert Adams Gibbons, John Wanamaker, Vol. 2 (1926)
    (Source)

Variant paraphrase: "It's foolish to scold people. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact that God didn't see fit to distribute brains equally."
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I divide my officers into four classes: the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord (1878-1943) German general
(Attributed)

Possibly apocryphal. Quoted (unconfirmed) in Horst Poller, Bewältigte Vergangenheit. Das 20. Jahrhundert, erlebt, erlitten, gestaltet [Conquered Past. The 20th century, witnessed, endured, shaped] (2010). Sometimes cited to Truppenführung [Troop Leading] (1933), the German Army Field Manual, but not found there. Also attributed to Erich von Manstein.
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“We canna just rush in, ye ken.”

A big bearded Feegle raised his hand. “Point ‘o order, Big Man. Ye can just rush in. We always just rush in.”

“Aye, Big Yan, point well made. But ye gotta know where ye’re just gonna rush in. Ye cannae just rush in anywhere. It looks bad, havin’ to rush oout again straight awa’.”

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Wee Free Men, ch. 5 (2003)
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O’Brien knew everything. A thousand times better than Winston, he knew what the world was really like, in what degradation the mass of human beings lived and by what lies and barbarities the Party kept them there. He had understood it all, weighed it all, and it made no difference: all was justified by the ultimate purpose. What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
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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)
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No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
The War of the Worlds, Book 1, ch. 1 (1898)
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When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
The Left Hand of Darkness, ch. 3 (1969)
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We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and everywhere can sleep safely in their beds at night.

John le Carré (1931-2020) English novelist, intelligence officer [pseud. of David Moore Cornwell]
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, ch. 2 (1963)
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As the man put it: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Any sufficiently advanced alien intelligence is indistinguishable from God — the angry monotheistic sadist subtype. And the elder ones … aren’t friendly. (See? I told you I’d rather be an atheist!)

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Fuller Memorandum (2010)

See Clarke. .
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The exact measure of the progress of civilization is the degree in which the intelligence of the common mind has prevailed over wealth and brute force.

George Bancroft (1800-1891) American historian, statesman, education reformer
Speech, Adelphi Society, Liamstown College (Aug 1835)
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Lady Linette had warned them of this. “Try not to think it glamorous, ladies. Intelligencer work is nine-tenths discontented ennui, and one-tenth abject terror. Rather like falling in love.”

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Waistcoats & Weaponry (2014)
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She hung up and I set out the chess board. I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armour, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) American novelist
The Long Goodbye, ch. 24 (1953)
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Some of you are really smart. You know who you are.

Some of you are really thick. Unfortunately, you don’t know who you are.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (20 Jan 2013)
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It was not the absence of intelligence which led us into trouble but our unwillingness to draw unpleasant conclusions from it.

H. A. de Weerd (1902-1979) American military historian, author [Harvey Arthur de Weerd]
“Strategic Surprise in the Korean War,” Orbis (1962)

On the US decision in 1950 to call China's bluff by advancing above the 38th parallel.
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I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.

A. A. Milne (1882-1956) English poet and playwright [Alan Alexander Milne]
Winnie-the-Pooh, ch. 4 (1926)
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There is a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to the gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women … recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution, and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man.

Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) German psychologist
Revue d’Anthropologie (1879)
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I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consultin’ with the rain;
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’,
If I only had a brain.

E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (1896-1981) American lyricist [Edgar Yipsel Harburg, b. Isidore Hochberg]
“If I Only Had a Brain,” The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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Even a feeble-minded man wants to be like other men.

Daniel F. Keyes (1927-2014) American author
Flowers for Algernon (novel) (1966)
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The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Jingo (1997)
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One of the functions of intelligence is to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely to intelligence.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Transformations of Man, 7.1 (1956)
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You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. … Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat’s meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Texts and Pretexts, “Amor Fati” (1932)
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When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
(Attributed)

Quoted by his student, Harold S. Kushner, in When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough (1986). The following variant is attributed (without citation) to Milton Steinberg and Oscar Wilde: "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am older, I admire kind people.
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There must be either a predestined Necessity and inviolable plan, or a gracious Providence, or a chaos without design or director. If then there be an inevitable Necessity, why kick against the pricks? If a Providence that is ready to be gracious, render thyself worthy of divine succour. But if a chaos without guide, congratulate thyself that amid such a surging sea thou hast a guiding Reason.

[Ἤτοι ἀνάγκη εἱμαρμένης καὶ ἀπαράβατος τάξις ἢ πρόνοια ἱλάσιμος ἢ φυρμὸς εἰκαιότητος ἀπροστάτητος. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἀπαράβατος ἀνάγκη, τί ἀντιτείνεις; εἰ δὲ πρόνοια ἐπιδεχομένη τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι, ἄξιον σαυτὸν ποίησον τῆς ἐκ τοῦ θείου βοηθείας. εἰ δὲ φυρμὸς ἀνηγεμόνευτος, ἀσμένιζε ὅτι ἐν τοιούτῳ κλύδωνι αὐτὸς ἔχεις ἐν σαυτῷ τινα νοῦν ἡγεμονικόν.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 12, #14 [tr. Haines (1916)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Either fate, (and that either an absolute necessity, and unavoidable decree; or a placable and flexible Providence) or all is a mere casual confusion, void of all order and government. If an absolute and unavoidable necessity, why doest thou resist? If a placable and exorable Providence, make thyself worthy of the divine help and assistance. If all be a mere confusion without any moderator, or governor, then hast thou reason to congratulate thyself; that in such a general flood of confusion thou thyself hast obtained a reasonable faculty, whereby thou mayest govern thine own life and actions.
[tr. Casaubon (1634), #11]

Either the Order of Things are fixed by irrevocable Fate, or Providence may be worked into Compassion, or else the World Floats at Raondom without any Steerage. Now if nature lies under immovable Necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of Providence is to be gained, qualify your self for the Divine Assistance: But if Chance, and Confusion carry it, and no body sits at the Helm; be you contented and Ride out the Storm patiently, for you have a Governor within you , though the World has none.
[tr. Collier (1701)]

Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director. If then there is an invincible necessity, why dost thou resist? But if there is a providence which allows itself to be propitiated, make thyself worthy of the help of the divinity. But if there is a confusion without a governor, be content that in such a tempest thou hast in thyself a certain ruling intelligence.
[tr. Long (1862)]

Either the order of things is fixed by irrevocable fate, or providence may be worked into compassion, or else the world floats at random without any steerage. Now if nature lies under an immovable necessity, to what purpose should you struggle against it? If the favor of providence is to be gained, qualify yourself for divine assistance; but if chance and confusion prevail, be you contented that in such a storm you have a governing intelligence within you.
[tr. Zimmern (1887)]

Either the Necessity of destiny and an order none may transgress, or Providence that hears intercession, or an ungoverned welter without a purpose. If then a Necessity which none may transgress, why do you resist? If a Providence admitting intercession, make yourself worthy of assistance from the Godhead. If an undirected welter, be glad that in so great a flood of waves you have yourself within you a directing mind.
[tr. Farquharson (1944)]

Fatal necessity, and inescapable order. Or benevolent Providence. Or confusion -- random and undirected. If it's an inescapable necessity, why resist it? If it's Providence, admits of being worshipped, then try to be worthy of God's aid. If it's confusion and anarchy, then be grateful that on this raging sea you have a mind to guide you.
[tr. Hays (2003)]

Either predetermined necessity and unalterable cosmic order, or a gracious providence, or a chaotic ungoverned mixture. If a predetermined necessity, why do you resist? If it is a gracious Providence that can hear our prayers, then make yourself worthy of divine assistance. If a chaotic ungoverned mixture, be satisfied that in the midst of this storm, you have within yourself a mind whose nature it is to govern and command.
[tr. Needleman/Piazza (2008)]

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It is man’s intelligence that makes him so often behave more stupidly than the beasts. … Man is impelled to invent theories to account for what happens in the world. Unfortunately, he is not quite intelligent enough, in most cases, to find correct explanations. So that when he acts on his theories, he behaves very often like a lunatic. Thus, no animal is clever enough, when there is a drought, to imagine that the rain is being withheld by evil spirits, or as punishment for its transgressions. Therefore you never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. No horse, for example would kill one of its foals to make the wind change direction. Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat’s meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, intelligent enough.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Texts and Pretexts (1932)
    (Source)
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Not clamour, but love,
Not rumour but dedication,
Not violence but intelligence
Sings in the ear of God.

[Non clamor, sed amor,
non vox, sed votum,
non cordula, sed cor
cantat in aure Dei]

Thomas of Celano
Thomas of Celano (c.1200 - c.1265) Italian friar, poet, hagiographer [Tommaso da Celano]
(Attributed)

A similar phrase -- "Not the voice but the deed, not the music of the heart but the heart, not noise but love sings in the ear of God" -- is attributed to Jordanus de Saxonia, an Augustinian hermit born in Quedlinburg in 1299.
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There is nobody so irritating as somebody with less intelligence and more sense than we have.

Don Herold (1889-1966) American humorist, cartoonist, author
So Human, “Shetland Ponies vs. Autos,” epigraph (1924)
    (Source)
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Know the enemy, know yourself; in a hundred battles you will not be in peril.

Sun-Tzu (fl. 6th C. AD) Chinese general and philosopher [a.k.a. Sun Wu]
The Art of War, “Offensive Strategy” (31) [tr. S. Griffith (1963)]

Alt trans:
  • "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." [cited  ch. 3, last sentence.]
  • "If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."
  • "Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time."
  • "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
  • Literal translation: "Know [the] other, know [the] self, hundred battles without danger; not knowing [the] other but know [the] self, one win one loss; not knowing [the] other, not knowing [the] self, every battle must [be] lost."
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In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity.

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) German politician
(Attributed)

Quoted by Dean Atchison in Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, ch. 11 (1965).
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Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
Peter’s Almanac, entry for 24 Sep. (1982).
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Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one. If you are asked what o’clock it is, tell it; but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (22 Feb 1748)
    (Source)
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One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not.

[Une chose qui m’humilie profondément est de voir que le génie humain a des limites, quand la bêtise humaine n’en a pas.]

Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824-1895) French writer and dramatist
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Earliest attribution is in the Great Universal Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century [Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle], Vol. 2, "Stupidity [Bêtise]" (c. 1865) 

Attributed to a wide variety of individuals, including (spuriously) to Albert Einstein.

Variants:

  • "What distresses me is to see that human genius has limitations, and human stupidity has none."
  • "How despairing it is to see that human genius has limitations, while human stupidity has none."
  • "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."
  • "Human genius has its limits, but stupidity does not."
  • "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped." (Elbert Hubbard, ed., The Philistine, title epigraph (Sep 1906)

See here for more discussion.

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It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode] (1637)
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Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
Review of A Coat of Many Colours: Occasional Essays by Herbert Read, Poetry Quarterly (Winter 1945)
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