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

Paul Frank paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU
Sun Nov 7 16:05:56 UTC 2010

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:"ç”Ÿè€ŒçŸ¥ä¹‹è€…ï¼Œä¸ ä¹Ÿï¼›å­¸è€ŒçŸ¥ä¹‹è€…ï¼Œæ¬¡ä¹Ÿï¼›å›°è€Œå­¸ä¹‹ï¼Œåˆå…¶æ¬¡ä¹Ÿï¼›å›°è€Œä¸å­¸ï¼Œæ°‘æ–¯ç‚ºä¸‹çŸ£ã€‚"


Paul Frank
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

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