Quotations about   stupidity

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Some people idealize force and pull it into the foreground and worship it, instead of keeping it in the background as long as possible. I think they make a mistake, and I think that their opposites, the mystics, err even more when they declare that force does not exist. I believe that it exists, and that one of our jobs is to prevent it from getting out of its box. It gets out sooner or later, and then it destroys us and all the lovely things which we have made. But it is not out all the time, for the fortunate reason that the strong are so stupid.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
Added on 4-Sep-19 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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If you attack Stupidity, you attack an entrenched interest with friends in government and every walk of public life, and you will make small progress against it.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) Canadian author, editor, publisher
The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949)
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Added on 8-Sep-17 | Last updated 8-Sep-17
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That sort of thing wears thin — for when one’s cynicism becomes perfect and absolute, there’s no longer anything amusing in the stupidity and hypocrisy of the herd. It is all to be expected — what else could human nature produce? — so irony annuls itself by means of its own victories!

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) American fabulist [Howard Phillips Lovecraft]
Letter to August W. Derleth (Jan 1928)

Regarding Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary.
Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“On Stupidity” (1942)
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Added on 30-Mar-17 | Last updated 30-Mar-17
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The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“On Stupidity” (1942)
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Added on 22-Mar-17 | Last updated 22-Mar-17
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Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“On Stupidity” (1942)
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Added on 15-Mar-17 | Last updated 15-Mar-17
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Alexia was quite disgusted with her sister. To be stupid was one thing; to be stupid and evil yielded up untidy consequences.

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Heartless (2011)
Added on 29-Sep-16 | Last updated 29-Sep-16
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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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Added on 21-Jul-16 | Last updated 21-Jul-16
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“Violence,” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“Bridle and Saddle,” Astounding (Jun 1942)

Retitled "The Mayors" in Foundation (1951). The phrase appears multiple times in the story. See Johnson.
Added on 21-Jun-16 | Last updated 21-Jun-16
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It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

Mencken - dull man who is sure - wist_info quote

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“The National Letters,” Prejudices: Second Series (1920)
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Added on 2-May-16 | Last updated 2-May-16
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It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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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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When my friend does something stupid, he is just my friend doing something stupid. When I do something stupid, I have deeply betrayed myself.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
Added on 13-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-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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Most people won’t learn even by experience, Ira. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
Added on 5-May-15 | Last updated 5-May-15
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In public affairs, stupidity is more dangerous than knavery.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
The New Freedom, ch. 3 (1913)
Added on 19-Mar-15 | Last updated 19-Mar-15
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Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 6 (1891)
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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The stupid you have always with you.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Journal (13 Feb 1860)
Added on 5-Mar-15 | Last updated 5-Mar-15
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The worst thing about stupidity is its insistency.

Other Authors and Sources
“Sam’s Despair,” in John Peers, comp., 1,001 Logical Laws (1979)
Added on 19-Feb-15 | Last updated 19-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)
Added on 5-Feb-15 | Last updated 5-Feb-15
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It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than ourselves. We love them at once for being so.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) English writer, humorist [Jerome Klapka Jerome]
“On Cats and dogs,” The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1892)
Added on 1-Jan-15 | Last updated 1-Jan-15
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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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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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With Stupidity and sound Digestion man may front much.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
Sartor Resartus, 2.7 (1835)
Added on 4-Dec-14 | Last updated 4-Dec-14
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When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though the war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Plague (1947)
Added on 24-Nov-14 | Last updated 24-Nov-14
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Stupidity … is nature’s favorite resource for preserving steadiness of conduct and consistency of opinion.

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) British businessman, essayist, journalist
Letter to London Inquirer (1851)
Added on 20-Nov-14 | Last updated 20-Nov-14
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Evil isn’t the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it’s a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
(Attributed)

Often cited to the short story "Vignette" (also known as "Publicity and Advertising"), but not found there.
Added on 18-Nov-14 | Last updated 18-Nov-14
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There’s a fine line between audacity and idiocy.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat (2009)
Added on 21-Oct-14 | Last updated 21-Oct-14
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It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, “Maxims for Revolutionists: Stray Sayings” (1903)
Added on 30-Jul-14 | Last updated 30-Jul-14
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How can anyone keep other people from doing stupid things? Humans are good at doing stupid things. It’s one of our talents, and one we like to exercise frequently.

John G. Hemry (contemp.) American naval officer, author [pseud. Jack Campbell]
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught (2011)
Added on 2-Jul-14 | Last updated 2-Jul-14
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Ira, age does not bring wisdom. Often it merely changes simple stupidity into arrogant conceit.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough For Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
Added on 18-Apr-13 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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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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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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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).
Added on 17-Dec-08 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain.

[Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens]

Schiller - against stupidity the gods themselves - wist_info quote

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) German poet, playwright, critic [Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller]
The Maid of Orleans [Die Jungfrau von Orleans], Act III, sc. vi (1801) [tr. Swanwick]

Alt. trans:

  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves labor in vain."
  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves fight unvictorious."
  • "Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain."
  • "With stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
  • "With stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."
Added on 5-Jun-08 | Last updated 25-Feb-16
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For the American people are a very generous people and will forgive almost any weakness, with the possible exception of stupidity.

Will Rogers (1879-1935) American humorist
The Illiterate Digest, “Another Hot Confession in the Oil Scandal” (1924)
Added on 21-Jul-07 | Last updated 5-Feb-15
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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.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Aug-14
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Too much positive is either scared or stupid or both. Reality is uncertain.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Early Autumn (1981)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Mar-17
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Rascality has limits; stupidity has not.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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