Quote: By three methods we may learn wisdom (attrib Confucius 1893)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 11 00:53:00 UTC 2010

Many thanks to all the respondents on this thread. Special thanks to
Paul Frank for locating the translation by Roger Ames and Henry
Rosemont, Jr. of Analects 16:9 by Confucius. Wonderful. Thanks to
Wilson Gray and Dan Goncharoff for the meta quotes about knowing. Here
is another quote attributed to Confucius I came across while searching

Cite: 1898 October, St. Louis clinique: a monthly journal of clinical
medicine and surgery, College Work: Introductory Lecture to the Course
of 98 and 99 by William Porter, Page 568, Volume 11, St. Louis,

Confucius, it is said, left this dictum: "To know that you know what
you know, and to know that you do not know what you do not know, is
It is not so much learned theorists that we need as it is wise practitioners.



On Sun, Nov 7, 2010 at 11:05 AM, Paul Frank <paulfrank at post.harvard.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Paul Frank <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â Re: Quote: By three methods we may learn wisdom (attrib Confucius
> Â  Â  Â  Â  Â  Â  Â 1893)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Hi Garson,
> To me this looks like a paraphrase of the Analects 16:9, which D.C.
> Lau (The Analects, Penguin, 1979, p. 140) translated as follows:
> Confucius said: "Those who are born with knowledge are the highest.
> Next come those who attain knowledge through study. Next again come
> those who turn to study after having been vexed by difficulties. The
> common people, in so far as they make no effort to study even after
> having been vexed by difficulties, are the lowest."
> For my money, a better translation of this difficult passage is by
> Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr., The Analects of Confucius: A
> Philosophical Translation, Ballantine/Random House, 1998, p. 199:
> "Knowledge acquired through a natural propensity for it is its highest
> level; knowledge acquired through study is the next highest; something
> learned in response to difficulties encountered is again the next
> highest. But those among the common people who do not learn even when
> vexed with difficulties--they are at the bottom of the heap."
> And here's the Chinese original (which sounds a lot better than these
> two translations):
> 孔子曰:"生而知之者,�¸ 也;學而知之者,次也;困而學之,又其次也;困而不學,民斯為下矣。"
> Cheers,
> Paul
> Paul Frank
> Translator
> Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
> Espace de l'Europe 16
> Neuchâtel, Switzerland
> paulfrank at bfs.admin.ch
> paulfrank at post.harvard.edu
> On Sun, Nov 7, 2010 at 4:29 PM, Garson O'Toole
> <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Confucius is a quote magnet or flypaper figure in the world of
>> aphorisms. I have been asked about a saying attributed to Confucius
>> and the earliest cite I have located is dated 1893:
>> Cite: 1893, "Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English
>> and Foreign Sources", Selected and Compiled by James Wood, Page 34,
>> Frederick Warne and Co., London and New York. (Google Books full view)
>> By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is
>> the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third, by
>> experience, which is the bitterest. Confucius.
>> http://books.google.com/books?id=Zf83AAAAIAAJ&q=%22three+methods%22#v=snippet&
>> Knowing when an expression crosses over into the English language is
>> valuable I think, and the tools I use can help to answer that
>> question. But it is a circumscribed form of knowledge. Any feedback
>> about this quote from list members would be welcome, e.g., further
>> antedatings in English, a possible source text in Chinese, and other
>> ideas about how the maxim was constructed. I think this is on topic
>> because the saying might be an English proverb or amalgamation in
>> disguise.
>> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list