Quotations about:
    popular opinion


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To found the reward for virtuous actions on the approval of others is to choose too uncertain and shaky a foundation. Especially in an age as corrupt and ignorant as this, the good opinion of the people is a dishonor. Whom can you trust to see what is praiseworthy?
 
[De fonder la recompence des actions vertueuses, sur l’approbation d’autruy, c’est prendre un trop incertain et trouble fondement, signamment en un siecle corrompu et ignorant, comme cettuy cy la bonne estime du peuple est injurieuse. A qui vous fiez vous, de veoir ce qui est louable?]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
Essays, Book 3, ch. 2 “Of Repentence [Du Repentir]” (1586) (3.2) (1595) [tr. Frame (1943)]
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This essay first appeared in the 1588 ed. The second sentence/phrase (on the age being so corrupt) and following were added for the 1595 ed.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

To ground the recompence of vertuous actions, upon the approbation of others, is to undertake a most uncertaine or troubled foundation, namely in an age so corrupt and times so ignorant, as this is: the vulgar peoples good opinion is injurious. Whom trust you in seeing what is commendable?
[tr. Florio (1603)]

To ground the Recompence of virtuous Actions upon the Approbation of others, is too uncertain and unsafe a Foundation; especially in so corrupt and ignorant an Age as this, the good Opinion of the Vulgar is injurious. Upon whom do you relie to shew you what is recommendable?
[tr. Cotton (1686)]

To ground the recompense of virtuous actions upon the approbation of others is too uncertain and unsafe a foundation, especially in so corrupt and ignorant an age as this, wherein the good opinion of the vulgar is injurious: upon whom do you rely to show you what is recommendable?
[tr. Cotton/Hazlitt (1877)]

To base the reward of virtuous actions on the approbation of others is to choose a too uncertain and obscure foundation. Especially in a corrupt and ignorant age like this, the good opinion of the vulgar is offensive; to whom do you trust to perceive what is praiseworthy?
[tr. Ives (1925)]

Basing the recompense of virtuous deeds on another’s approbation is to accept too uncertain and confused a foundation -- especially since in a corrupt and ignorant period like our own to be in good esteem with the masses is an insult: whom would you trust to recognize what was worthy of praise!
[tr. Screech (1987)]

 
Added on 17-Apr-24 | Last updated 17-Apr-24
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I speak what appears to me the general opinion; and where an opinion is general, it is usually correct.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English author
Mansfield Park, ch. 11 [Mary Crawford] (1814)
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Added on 10-Oct-22 | Last updated 10-Oct-22
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For a truth, once established by proof, does neither gain force nor certainty by the consent of all scholars, nor lose by the general dissent.

Maimonides
Maimonides (1135-1204) Spanish Jewish philosopher, scholar, astronomer, physician [Moses ben Maimon, Rambam, רמב״ם]
Guide for the Perplexed, Part 2, ch. 15 (c. 1190) [tr. Friedlander (1885)]
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Alternate translation:

For when something has been demonstrated, the correctness of the matter is not increased and certainty regarding it is not strengthened by the consensus of all men of knowledge with regard to it. Nor could its correctness be diminished and certainty regarding it be weakened even if all the people on earth disagreed with it.
[tr. Pines (1963)]

 
Added on 14-Jul-22 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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Free yourself from common foolishness. This requires a special sort of sanity. Common foolishness is authorized by custom, and some people who resisted the ignorance of individuals were unable to resist that of the multitude.

[Librarse de las necedades comunes. Es cordura bien especial. Están muy validas por lo introducido, y algunos, que no se rindieron a la ignorancia particular, no supieron escaparse de la común.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 209 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]
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(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

Not to imitate the folly of others is an effect of rare wisedome; for whatever is introduced by example and custome, is of great force. Some who have guarded against particular ignorance, have not been able to avoid the general.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

Keep yourself free from common Follies. This is a special stroke of policy. They are of special power because they are general, so that many who would not be led away by any individual folly cannot escape the universal failing.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

To keep free from the popular inanities, marks especially good sense. They are highly esteemed because so well introduced, and many a man who could not be trapped by some particular stupidity could not except the general.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

 
Added on 21-Jun-22 | Last updated 19-Dec-22
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The rule which should guide us in such cases is simple and obvious enough: that the aggregate testimony of our neighbours is subject to the same conditions as the testimony of any one of them. Namely, we have no right to believe a thing true because everybody says so unless there are good grounds for believing that some one person at least has the means of knowing what is true, and is speaking the truth so far as he knows it. However many nations and generations of men are brought into the witness-box, they cannot testify to anything which they do not know. Every man who has accepted the statement from somebody else, without himself testing and verifying it, is out of court; his word is worth nothing at all. And when we get back at last to the true birth and beginning of the statement, two serious questions must be disposed of in regard to him who first made it: was he mistaken in thinking that he knew about this matter, or was he lying?

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 24-Jan-20 | Last updated 24-Jan-20
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There’s a brave fellow! There’s a man of pluck!
A man who’s not afraid to say his say,
Though a whole town’s against him.

Longfellow - brave pluck - wist_info quote

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
John Endicott, Act 2, sc. 2 (1868)
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Added on 8-Jan-16 | Last updated 8-Jan-16
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It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
The Conduct of the Allies (1711)
 
Added on 5-Nov-15 | Last updated 5-Nov-15
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Civil liberties had their origin and must find their ultimate guaranty in the faith of the people. If that faith should be lost, five or nine men in Washington could not long supply its want.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
Douglas v. Jeannette 319 U.S. 157, 181 (1943) [concurring]
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Added on 9-Feb-12 | Last updated 5-Jun-23
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First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” (1859)
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Added on 4-Aug-10 | Last updated 19-Oct-23
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Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Churchill - democracy - wist_info

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
Speech, House of Commons (11 Nov 1947)
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See Inge.
 
Added on 17-Aug-07 | Last updated 4-Jan-22
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Man prefers to believe what he wants to be true. He rejects what is difficult because he is too impatient to make the investigation; he rejects sensible ideas, because they limit his hopes; he rejects the deeper truths of nature because of superstition; he rejects the light of experience, because he is arrogant and fastidious, believing that the mind should not be seen to be spending its time on mean, unstable things; and he rejects anything unorthodox because of common opinion. In short, emotion marks and stains the understanding in countless ways which are sometimes impossible to perceive.

[Quod enim mavult homo verum esse, id potius credit. Rejicit itaque difficilia, ob inquirendi impatientiam; sobria, quia coarctant spem; altiora naturae, propter superstitionem; lumen experientiae, propter arrogantiam et fastum, ne videatur mens versari in vilibus et fluxis; paradoxa, propter opinionem vulgi; denique innumeris modis, iisque interdum imperceptibilibus, affectus intellectum imbuit et inficit.]

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Instauratio Magna [The Great Instauration], Part 2 “Novum Organum [The New Organon],” Book 1, Aphorism # 49 (1620) [tr. Silverthorne (2000)]
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See Demosthenes.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For man always believes more readily that which he prefers. He, therefore, rejects difficulties for want of patience in investigation; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths of nature, from superstition; the light of experiment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should appear to be occupied with common and varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar; in short, his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways.
[tr. Wood (1831)]

For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding.
[tr. Spedding (1858)]

For man more readily believes what he wishes to be true. And so it rejects difficult things, from impatience of inquiry; -- sober things, because they narrow hope; -- the deeper thigns of Nature, from superstition; -- the light of experience, from arrogance and disdain, lest the mind should seem to be occupied with worthless and changing matters; -- paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar: -- in short, the affections enter and corrupt the intellect in innumerable ways, and these sometimes imperceptible.
[tr. Johnson (1859)]

For a man is more likely to believe something if he would like it to be true. Therefore he rejects

  • difficult things because he hasn’t the patience to research them,
  • sober and prudent things because they narrow hope,
  • the deeper things of nature, from superstition,
  • the light that experiments can cast, from arrogance and pride (not wanting people to think his mind was occupied with trivial things),
  • surprising truths, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar.
In short, there are countless ways in which, sometimes imperceptibly, a person’s likings colour and infect his intellect.
[tr. Bennett (2017)]

 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-May-24
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Virtue has never been as respectable as money.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Innocents Abroad, ch. 23 (1869)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The opinion of ten thousand men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Mar-21
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When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Fantasy & Science Fiction (in answer to Clarke’s First Law) (1977)

See Clarke.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Sep-15
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