Telling lies #14: False Attribution

Aristotle.jpg

So you want to say something, but you are not sure if anyone will take to it.  Make your point stronger by attributing it as a quote to a famous philosopher.  There is a version doing the rounds at the moment.  We are told that Aristotle said ” It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”.

Sounds legit.  Paste it onto a photo of a statue of a dude with a beard and who is going to question the source?  Like, you would need some anally retentive scholar with a fluent knowledge of ancient Greek to question the attribution.  Somebody like this perhaps:  Sententiae Antiquae

What did Aristotle really say? for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it

Not so catchy is it?  In fact that makes it look like you would have to actually read Nicomachean Ethics to understand what Aristotle is actually arguing.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  So the mis-quote is retweeted, printed and hung up in the workplace as a motivational poster.

The lie part creeps in when the person promulgating the quote has an agenda.  They are trying to influence circumstances and they are greasing the path to their goal by intentionally creating or using false quotes, or by the lesser crime of reattributing a useful quote from someone obscure or unpopular to someone who carries gravitas.

“Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” is a snappy book title from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich but it sounds much better if you put it in the mouth Marilyn Monroe.  Most of the good quotes are from literary people and only people who read books have heard of them.  Just re-attribute to someone who is popular with your audience.

Finally… if my photo above is annoying you I can confirm that is not Aristotle.  It is a bust ATTRIBUTED to Hadrian.  But maybe it’s just some random dude who liked the Hadrianic hairdo.

 

 

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