Letter in Skeptic magazine, V.9 No. 3 (2002), p.18

In Skeptic V. 9 No. 2 (2002), p. 29, you attribute the following quotation to Arthur Schopenhauer:

"All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

Despite much effort, including consulting two Schopenhauer scholars, I have not been able to find this exact quotation in any of Schopenhauer's writings. Apparently Schopenhauer never said it.

He did, however, say something roughly along those lines, in the preface to the first edition of his 1818 book, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung . In E. F. J. Payne's English translation his remark reads:

"To truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial."

So what is the original source of the quotation you printed? I don't know for sure, but it appears in a 1981 New York Times interview with author Edward Packard and a popular book of quotations, The Harper Book of Quotations , both times attributed to Schopenhauer. It is extremely popular, quoted in many newspaper articles and Internet web sites, and is proffered in support of discredited claims about acupuncture, repressed memory, Holocaust denial, or the dangers of vaccination. It was even cited in a 1989 opinion in a Florida court case!

Over the last few years, I have documented the existence of similar quotations about the stages of truth by George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Henry Huxley, Karl Ernst von Baer, John A. Zahm, William James, Elbert Hubbard, J. B. S. Haldane, Arthur C. Clarke, Adrienne Zihlman, John Barrow, and Dean Radin.

Analogous remarks have also been attributed to Louis Agassiz, William Whewell, Gustave Le Bon, Montaigne, and Charles Kettering but I have not yet been able to verify these.

The moral is that we should be skeptical, even concerning quotes about skepticism!

Jeffrey Shallit
Department of Computer Science
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1