Today’s Quote, Via Jonathan Swift: ‘It Is Useless To Attempt To Reason A Man Out Of A Thing He Was Never Reasoned Into’

The great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was, of course, not thinking of climate science deniers when he wrote:

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

This is of a kind with the Upton Sinclair quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

And this is not entirely dissimilar to the quote widely attributed to Mark Twain (as Al Gore does in An Inconvenient Truth): “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” But there appears to be no actual evidence Twain ever said it or something close to it. Who actually said it first remains something of a mystery.


Finally, and only partially unrelated, we have my favorite Swift quote, which I use to begin the discussion of the figure of speech “Enigma” in my book Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga:

There are certain common privileges of a writer, the benefit whereof, I hope, there will be no reason to doubt; particularly, that where I am not understood, it shall be concluded, that something very useful and profound is couched underneath; and again, that whatever word or sentence is printed in a different character, shall be judged to contain something extraordinary either of wit or sublime.

I do hope you will hold me to that same standard!