One finds all over the web the words attributed to Aristotle "The more you know, the more you know you don't know." Can that be right? It sounds a bit adorable for Aristotle, and the citations are always simply to Aristotle, with no work cited.

Did he say something close to this? Where?

  • 3
    Sounds more like a restatement of what Plato's Socrates says in Apology but ... – virmaior Sep 28 '17 at 23:50

If you view Aristotle's "Metaphysics" at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.mb.txt and search for the word "know" (including words with "know" n them), you will see that he strongly suggests it several times, though not as a direct quote, at least not in this translation. Perhaps the most relevant paragraph:

"Some of the sensible substances are generally admitted to be substances, so that we must look first among these. For it is an advantage to advance to that which is more knowable. For learning proceeds for all in this way-through that which is less knowable by nature to that which is more knowable; and just as in conduct our task is to start from what is good for each and make what is without qualification good good for each, so it is our task to start from what is more knowable to oneself and make what is knowable by nature knowable to oneself. Now what is knowable and primary for particular sets of people is often knowable to a very small extent, and has little or nothing of reality. But yet one must start from that which is barely knowable but knowable to oneself, and try to know what is knowable without qualification, passing, as has been said, by way of those very things which one does know."

The point he's making is the opposite of what the quotation suggests: Aristotle believes that all things are knowable, but, in a specific individual's journey towards complete knowledge, there will be times that new knowledge shows there are more things to learn.

The last instance of 'know' occurs in a somewhat weak sentence "But evidently in a sense knowledge is universal, and in a sense it is not."


I found cites, though nothing specific, to Socrates, Lao-Tse, George Bernard Shaw, and Aristotle. I did some word searches in the works reprinted at Project Gutenberg. But nothing helpful.

My best guess: the original quote has become so corrupted over time that searches for a source will produce everyone and no one.


Isn't this quote atributed to Einstein? Probably derived from Socrates quote: I know that all I know is that I do not know anything.

  • I think that message is supposed to come from the Oracle at Delphi, but said about Socrates. I'm not sure it's the same message that I asked about, though. It depends, of course, on what words we fill in at the ellipsis, but I thought the original quote meant that as we learn more we realize better our shortcomings, not that we know nothing at all. – Chaim Apr 17 '18 at 13:35

I find that there is no such thing as originality because all wise ideas and adages may have been thought about already by not only one person but also by many over a period of time. Because insights could ring a loud bell for the universality of certain truths embodied in them, scholars would tend to work out on them on a more structured and popular mode than for those who may have thought about them originally.

The issue here is who may have succeeded in popularizing a certain quote or who may have constructed a certain profound insight in an intellectually terse but most striking formulation?

Since Socrates came ahead of Plato and Aristotle, the quote at issue here may have really begun with Socrates.

  • The question is whether Aristotle said it or not, not who said it first, but I agree that it may have been said by many people. – Frank Hubeny Apr 19 at 1:13

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