- Introduction: Fostering Quotational Excellence
- Misquotation: Improper Quoting, Sourcing, Context, Appropriation
- Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias
- Logic versus Fame: Formal Fallacy, Genetic Fallacy, Halo Effect
- Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion
- Classical Logic: Laws of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle
- Compromise and Subjectivity: Special Pleading and Relativist Fallacy
- Definition and Ramifications: Description, Scope and Corollaries
- Illustrated Quotations: Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes
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Dear Readers and Followers as well as Lovers and Collectors of Fine Quotes,
Quotations have long been a ubiquitous and indispensable facet of life, peppering our talks, texts and thoughts, and echoing our ideas, images and identities in manageable and memorable portions. They can be as enriching and gratifying in vividly colouring certain moments or events as herbs and spices in potently flavouring some dishes or cuisines. Like favourite tunes or beloved ditties, quotations can be recalled straightaway to spring into action or summoned routinely to press into service, thus imparting extra satisfactions to our emotional delight and creative fancy as well as offering further highlights to our narrative prowess and commentary talent. For instance, being a voracious learner and career educator specializing in evaluation, professional development and special education, and “dream[ing] of possibilities, opportunities, and conversations”, Sheila B Robinson speaks for many when she states that “[a] pithy quote can inspire us, compel us into action, challenge or confirm our thinking, and stimulate our conversations.” Quotations have even become convenient surrogates for our thoughts and utterances, as Lord Peter (Death Bredon) Wimsey, the fictional protagonist in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L Sayers (a prominent English crime writer and poet as well as a student of classical and modern languages), unreservedly proclaims: “I always have a quotation for everything — it saves original thinking.”
Hence, it is hardly surprising that we are (quite comfortable with being) surrounded by quotations in both fiction and reality. Yet, once in a while, in moments of clarity, we may come to the realization that quotations are akin to opinions or views in that we are quoting ourselves or others to make certain statements for various purposes and occasions. Rather unfortunately, the ways in which people routinely handle or dispense opinions and quotations (whether of their own or others) are fraught with numerous problems, most of which elude people’s awareness and acknowledgement, since the great majority of people are relatively deprived of intellectual and emotional guideposts to consistently steer an unsullied or impeccable course through the potentially treacherous woods and forests of quotational landscapes. Moreover, that a quotation purportedly resonates with one’s intention, objective, identity, conviction, principle, boundary or status (quo) may not constitute a reasonable basis or sufficient ground for the unadulterated acceptance of its validity and reliability. As elucidated later in considerable depth, humans have a strong tendency to automatically find certain statements and quotations more comfortable and appealing than others whilst glossing over detail, leaning on stereotype, and dismissing contradiction, especially in the absence of being serviced by a vigilant, critical and sceptical mind to ward off prejudice and preconception, let alone being stymied by outstanding ignorance and unconscious partiality. Indeed, it can be quite easy to fall for the charms of some statements and quotations (particularly when they match existing narrative, expectation or paradigm), and yet very hard to decode or unpack their fallacies. After all, people’s opinions and beliefs are based on not only their perceptions and predilections but also their cognitive biases and faulty reasonings, a great number of which come to be involved in how people routinely process statements and quotations in everyday life from all sources of information. This perennial condition often fundamentally restricts people’s ability to reach better judgements and decisions, whilst also gives people the false impression of being in control of, or in harmony with, their choice and understanding of statements and quotations, which can have significant, persistent and cumulative bearings on many aspects of people’s lives, as discussed in this post under the rubric of the Quotation Fallacy.
Via a series of analytical and multipronged approaches, this post seeks to uncover and explain a wide range of issues and problems arising from the Quotation Fallacy so that they can be identified and apprehended, if they are to be avoided, alleviated or eliminated successfully. Considering that a good quote can pointedly reflect or meaningfully project one’s worldview, attitude, intention or identity like a shining beacon or scintillating jewel, it does pays great dividends to quote well indeed. As the abbé Joseph Roux states: “A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool.”
More than mere fodders or fillers, quotations have truly become collectables, treasures and even arsenals in our intellectual, emotional and spiritual lives for a vast number of situations and purposes, thus functioning as the staples of our everyday interactions and transactions, whether casually or strategically. It is no wonder that quotations have come to be spoken, written, printed, recorded and illustrated both ad libitum and ad nauseam, manifesting in a great variety of forms and purposes such as verbal statements, status updates, social tweets, blog posts, personal flags, signature blocks, commercial billboards, customized messages and memorable catchphrases. Scarcely confined to the textual territory, quotations can exist just as well in creative oeuvres of the visual and sonic domains as distinct, repeatable components, whether they are borrowed straightforwardly or appropriated skilfully. According to Wikipedia: “A quotation can also refer to the repeated use of units of any other form of expression, especially parts of artistic works: elements of a painting, scenes from a movie or sections from a musical composition”, such as excerpts, samplings and paraphrases. In every practical sense, and for all intents and purposes, quotations are indispensable linking devices providing all and sundry with readymade ingredients, encapsulated ideas, potent expressions and fertile repertoires to draw inspirations from, and make connections amongst, works and peoples across diverse platforms, disciplines and cultures. Our manifold associations and relationships with quotes, or rather, our varied approaches and reactions to quotations, are introduced and elaborated enthusiastically at A Quiver Of Quotes:
We live by cultural conventions and social norms, by the promises we give and are given, by the rules of nature. When they are broken, we know, because we can quote the particular article of faith that has been broken.
“I said … ”
“You said … ”
“He said … She said … ”
“It said …”
But what makes a statement worth quoting?
That it conveys meaning or information, that it is memorable or ingenious, that it is pretty, pithy, or that it pierces the very heart of some—any—truth.
There are quotes, good quotes, and better ones. Their quality is defined by the influence they wield over the reader or listener. If they make you break out in goosebumps, or marvel at a turn of phrase, or think—they’re probably quotes that made you quiver inside for a moment. And those might be worth dissecting to see what lies at their core, what figure of speech, what trick of the linguistic trade.
For why not? Everyone who can use language, can also use it a bit more effectively. Crafting quotes is for writers and speakers, sure, but aren’t we all writers of our own lives and speakers of our own stories?
Somewhat ironically, the ubiquity of quotations is capable of betraying, confounding and obfuscating their importance as well as their costs. As useful and tempting as quotations can and have become in our lives and stories, we should neither be blasé nor blind towards the risks, threats, potentials and opportunities resulting from, or afforded by, quotations. There can be plenty of issues and caveats to uncover and heed whenever we make or partake in a quotation by reproducing a passage from a book or author, repeating a statement by a person, or citing a specified entity as the source of a statement. These issues and caveats are collectively identified and discussed in the Quotation Fallacy, a coinage of SoundEagle. Being as enjoyable to read as it is edifying to digest, the Quotation Fallacy can constitute excellent food for thought as well as a splendid guide for living a more examined life, as one proceeds to be a wiser and more discerning quoter who is capable of being sufficiently critical or appreciably methodical in recognizing and fostering quotational excellence. A decent understanding of the Quotation Fallacy can facilitate our acquiring the cognitive tools and intellectual acumen necessary to recognize the errors or defects propagated in quotations and statements from numerous sources, including the media, academia, luminaries, celebrities, politicians, stakeholders, advertisers, Internet users and bloggers. Even though our use of quotations may have started out of personal or professional interest and expression, the detailed explorations and analytical forays into the Quotation Fallacy facilitate much deeper insights into our many otherwise unexamined behavioural patterns and thinking styles involving various tacit assumptions and faulty reasonings, so that we can triangulate these insights with what we already know and do well to improve our experience and deployment of quotations, and to contribute to developing or practising a superior repertoire of fine quotes.
In addition, presented in style at the end of this post is a collection of potentially inspirational and thought-provoking quotes, chosen for you by SoundEagle.
Many quotes have reached us in the present from the distant past. For example, the first quote is a Chinese poem that has existed for more than one thousand years, and is available in several variations.
The first line of the poem, “疾風知勁草”, literally meaning “Strong wind knows tough grass”, has already existed as an idiom as early as 23 AD. It can be translated more freely into English as “The storm puts strong grass to the test”, meaning that one’s true colours are revealed after a severe or daunting test. The whole poem edifies us that only the strong and sincere can bear hardship and turmoil; and that only the wise, not the valiant, can know righteousness and cherish benevolence.
The second quote is not only as ancient as the Roman Empire but also indeterminate as to its true source. Even though it has been credited to Marcus Aurelius, a practitioner of Stoicism who became Roman emperor from 161 to 180AD, there are contentions as to its authenticity and authorship due to unresolved historical inconsistencies.
For those who are interested, please read Fabricated Marcus Aurelius Quote and Did Marcus Aurelius say “Live a good life”?. Perhaps one could indeed take George Mikes more seriously when the Hungarian-born British writer, journalist and humourist uttered: “I have made it a rule that whenever I say something stupid, I immediately attribute it to Dr Johnson, Marcus Aurelius or Dorothy Parker.”
Likewise, according to Wikipedia: “Many quotations are routinely incorrect or attributed to the wrong authors, and quotations from obscure or unknown writers are often attributed to far more famous writers. Examples of this are Winston Churchill, to whom many political quotations of uncertain origin are attributed, and Oscar Wilde, to whom anonymous humorous quotations are sometimes attributed.”
A misquotation refers to an act, instance or occasion of quoting a person or a source incorrectly or inaccurately; or of attributing a quotation to the wrong author or incorrect source. Misquotations can easily lead to quoting out of context (also called contextomy or quote mining) as a result of being misleading in the following ways, as outlined by Gary N Curtis in The Fallacy Files regarding familiar contextomies:
A contextomy is a quote that has been taken out of context in such a way as to create a misleading impression of its meaning. A “familiar contextomy” is a contextomy that finds its way repeatedly into print or conversation, usually to support a particular point.…
- Bogus Quotes: Quotes that have been fabricated and falsely attributed.
- Misattributions: Quotes attributed to the wrong person.
- Misquotes: Garbled quotes that are similar to what the quoted person actually said.
- Mistranslations: Quotes garbled in translation.
In general, it is not always possible to determine or evaluate the accuracy of the source of a quote and the contexts in which the quote is created and used by the author or by other people. This limitation remains valid even when one has the luxury of consulting a database of quotations or an encyclopedia of quotes, where misquotations, if present, can spread rapidly due to the large number of online users relying on the database or encyclopedia on a daily basis. Edmark M Law describes the predicament of ascertaining the authenticity of a quote’s origin in a comment addressed to SoundEagle as follows:
The origins of lots of quotations are difficult to pinpoint. People like to attribute clever quotes to Einstein, Twain, Wilde, etc. since this would look better than attributing them to some unknown nobody. Even authoritative sources like Oxford and Bartlett’s contain a large number of mistakes. Quote Investigator (a website) is rather good since it tries to track down the origin of the quotes they investigate. Unfortunately, I have also found some errors there.
The biggest source of misinformation regarding quotes (and their origins) today is, of course, the Internet. You can find a huge number of misquotations and misattributions in social media and “quotes” websites[.]
That’s why when I post quotes, I seldom use a “Quote” book or website as a reference. Normally, when I find an interesting passage from a book that I read, I’d quote it. Sometimes, when I see an interesting quote from a quote book, I try my best to find the original source. If I can’t find the original source, then I most likely won’t post it.
It is indeed a bitter irony that the supposed benefits conferred by the ascendency and convenience of the World Wide Web providing a vast digital information space containing documents and other web resources have also resulted in the dissemination of countless concocted materials and quoted texts of dubious origins and citations, such that the clear signals of quotations have become increasingly muddied by the noises of misquotations and sullied by the clamours of injudicious quotational deployments by a large number of Internet users. As a result, the authenticity, the original context and the true source of a quotation can no longer be automatically guaranteed or easily established unless one exercises further checks against multiple reputable sources, or by other dependable means of authentications, a few of which are suggested in Wikipedia as follows:
Common quotation sources
Famous quotations are frequently collected in books that are sometimes called quotation dictionaries or treasuries. Of these, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, The Yale Book of Quotations and The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases are considered among the most reliable and comprehensive sources. Diaries and calendars often include quotations for entertainment or inspirational purposes, and small, dedicated sections in newspapers and weekly magazines — with recent quotations by leading personalities on current topics — have also become commonplace.
Quotations and the Internet
Chiefly a text medium in the beginning, the World Wide Web gave rise to any number of personal quotation collections that continue to flourish, even though very few of them seem to facilitate accurate information or correct citation.…
The sheer bulk of online quotations, combined with more efficient search engines, has effectively made the Internet the world’s quotation storehouse, encompassing an unprecedented number of easily obtainable quotations. Though matters of accuracy still remain, features such as Amazon.com’s Search Inside the Book and Google Book Search may serve to alleviate such concerns.
In addition, it is highly prudent and beneficial to seek and read the source of a quotation to uncover how it is originally embedded in the author’s text or statement, so that one can acquire a good knowledge of the context out of which the quotation arises, in order to reduce the risk of quoting out of context and to increase the chance of achieving quotational excellence. For instance, instead of just quoting Henry David Thoreau’s statement “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” from a secondary source, one can visit any reliable source or the original publication to peruse at least the text surrounding the quotation, as shown below:
Longer quotations can be given titles to summarize or clarify their contents. As can be observed, if one were to use the much longer text above as a quotation, it is both possible and desirable to tease out the most salient phrase to be used as the title of the quotation, which in this case is .
Revealing more texts from original sources and deploying longer quotations have become all the more paramount in many cases, since the risks and temptations of quoting out of context have never been greater in modern times, considering the ease and flippancy with which quotations and statements can be tossed around in the mass media, public arenas, political platforms and contemporary discourses to support, defend, dismiss or distort a certain issue or argument, or to discredit the opponent of an argument (or any person for that matter in any situation) through false attribution or misrepresentation, as the following excerpt shows:
Quoting out of context (sometimes referred to as contextomy or quote mining) is an informal fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning. Contextomies may be both intentional, as well as accidental if someone misunderstands the meaning and omits something essential to clarifying it, thinking it to be non-essential.
Arguments based on this fallacy typically take two forms:
- As a straw man argument, it involves quoting an opponent out of context in order to misrepresent their position (typically to make it seem more simplistic or extreme) in order to make it easier to refute. It is common in politics.
- As an appeal to authority, it involves quoting an authority on the subject out of context, in order to misrepresent that authority as supporting some position.
The second form of argument, namely appealing to authority or committing an argument from authority (also called the argumentum ad verecundiam) based on the informal fallacy of quoting out of context, is both diagnostically discussed and critically analysed in this post under the heading Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion.
Overall, great care must be given to avoid misrepresenting the author of a quotation, and to prevent distorting or perverting the original meaning of a quotation through misquotation, misconception, misappropriation, misinterpretation, miscontextualization or misrepresentation. Nevertheless, in certain cases, it is possible to appropriate, recast or reinterpret a quotation in a new perspective or different light by the switching of rhetorical modes, the injection of some figure of speech (or rhetorical figure), the exploration of multiple meanings, and the use of certain stylistic devices, including but not limited to the deployment of metonymy, polysemy, synonymy, hyponymy and hypernymy as well as irony, metaphor, simile, synecdoche, ambiguity, allusion, imitation, parody and pastiche. For example, a well-known quotation such as “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” can be rather unassumingly but somewhat amusingly transformed into “One man’s meaty statement is another man’s quoted poison.”
Whether it would be easy or hard to find or cite the source of certain quotes, there exist other more important issues and considerations to be aware of than just those pertaining to misquotations. To begin with, there are valid and even compelling reasons for a discerning and reasonable person to conclude that, irrespective of the source and how a quote eventually comes to be known and used, the message of a quote (when correctly interpreted or understood) is more important than the messenger, whose public status, identity and fame or the lack thereof, as well as our knowledge and assumptions of them, plus the noise and travail of our existence and the hustle and bustle of our lives, can readily or even surreptitiously taint, usurp, prejudice or interfere with our reception and understanding of the message.
The highly subjective and fluid manner in which we arrive at what we consider to be something quotable is in itself a veritable source of enjoyment and a means of discovery. Apart from the mood and setting in which we find or settle ourselves, the tone, form, style and context of what is about to be quoted can have significant bearings on our perception and evaluation of its value and quality. As what is heard, said or read distils into quotations, it is inevitable that our certain emotions and experiences are being evoked, recalled or massaged, along with our existing biases and prevailing expectations, not to mention our longstanding propensities and eccentricities, and to say nothing of our outstanding passions, desires and sentiments. For some folks, the process of quoting or the action of conceiving quotations can become so resonant, engaging and purposeful that it is almost visceral and even transformative, as described vividly and imaginatively at A Quiver Of Quotes:
How are the quotes chosen?
I find them in the wild. More accurately, I venture into the wilderness of written words and let the quotes find me. (In my experience the quotes like to poke eyes, box guts, deliver spine shivers, and attach wings to the imagination — although, I’m told the latter isn’t an organ of the body, so scrap that if you’re pedantic.)
Let me drop one layer of metaphor and say that again.
I read a book or a magazine or an article, and when a string of words starts to quiver before my mind’s eye, I note it down. Quiver may seem like a strange word to describe the criterion I use, especially because it encompasses so many different phenomena: from the grammatical mistakes and confusing constructions that make my brain itch, to the funny that makes me laugh, to the enlightening that makes me go aha!, to the beautifully poetic that uplifts a soul I didn’t know I had (really?) and makes me want to sing aloud despite my congenital atonality. Also, whether a quote quivers or not is a matter of concentration, emotional balance, blood sugar content; not to mention experiences, foibles and quirks, inclinations and aversions. This is where I insert the disclaimer again: I’m not a professional linguist, I’m only human.
The disadvantage of this approach is that my source of quotes is as finite as I am (not as infinite as the internet, for example).
The advantage of this approach is that I possess a certain, if partial, context for each quote.
Even though how quotes come to life may often seem or feel to be a straightforward matter of placing some words between quotation marks or repeating certain statements verbally, the abovementioned fertile interactions and varied situations that we frequently find ourselves in, or surrender ourselves to, the very moments of encountering, choosing, forming or even extemporizing quotations, have amply demonstrated that the process of quoting or the action of conceiving quotations is open to various influences or interferences, insofar as the conception or creation of any quotation seldom originates from what can be categorically deemed as a rational affair, an objective engagement or a systematic procedure. Unlike computers, machines, robots, automata and artificial intelligence, we as humans are hardly ever equipped with a clear default, tidy reset, handy reboot or even expedient reprogramming for recalibrating our minds to a neutral position to free us from (the costs and effects incurred by) our emotional baggage and aftermath. Throughout the waking hours, we are continually carried along by many psychological processes, mental habits and internal states, which can influence our judgements and decisions by stealth. Given that people are responsive beings whose current emotions (such as joy, pleasure, empathy, trust, pride, confidence, surprise, hope, fear, anger, anxiety, contempt and other conscious experience) habitually influence their decisions, it would be quite difficult to avoid the affect heuristic, a rapid, involuntary emotional response, a kind of mental shortcut described in Wikipedia as “a subconscious process that shortens the decision-making process and allows people to function without having to complete an extensive search for information.” In other words, it is a simple, efficient rule that people often intuitively use to form judgements and make decisions such that “emotional response, or “affect” in psychological terms, plays a lead role”, insofar as the human mind is deemed to be a cognitive miser “due to the tendency of humans to think and solve problems in simpler and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and more effortful ways, regardless of intelligence.”
In addition to being adequately aware that our judgements and decisions can be readily coloured or influenced by our current emotional and psychological states, we must also be significantly vigilant against the many ways in which our emotions can be played or manipulated by the persuasiveness of certain quotations via their appeal to emotion, the scope, occurrence and ramifications of which are indeed considerable if not alarmingly common and frequent, as outlined in Wikipedia:
Appeal to emotion or argumentum ad passiones is a logical fallacy characterized by the manipulation of the recipient’s emotions in order to win an argument, especially in the absence of factual evidence. This kind of appeal to emotion is a type of red herring and encompasses several logical fallacies, including appeal to consequences, appeal to fear, appeal to flattery, appeal to pity, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite, and wishful thinking.
Instead of facts, persuasive language is used to develop the foundation of an appeal to emotion-based argument. Thus, the validity of the premises that establish such an argument does not prove to be verifiable.
Appeals to emotion are intended to draw inward feelings from the acquirer of the information. And in turn, the acquirer of the information is intended to be convinced that the statements that were presented in the fallacious argument are true; solely on the basis that the statements may induce emotional stimulation such as fear, pity and joy. Though these emotions may be provoked by an appeal to emotion fallacy, effectively winning the argument, substantial proof of the argument is not offered, and the argument’s premises remain invalid.
Adding to the all too common pitfalls or quandaries of being trapped or seduced by various forms of appeal to emotion is emotional reasoning, yet another consequence of people (falling into the habit of) being creatures of emotion as they reason about certain situations through their emotional lenses and thus come to some distorted views or conclusions about those situations based on their feelings or emotional states, as summarized by Wikipedia:
Emotional reasoning is a cognitive process by which a person concludes that his/her emotional reaction proves something is true, regardless of the observed evidence. For example, even though a spouse has shown only devotion, a person using emotional reasoning might conclude, “I know my spouse is being unfaithful because I feel jealous.”
Emotional reasoning amplifies the effects of other cognitive distortions. For example, a test-taker may feel insecure about their understanding of the material even though they are perfectly capable of answering the questions. If he (or she) acts on his insecurity about failing the written test he might assume that he misunderstands the material and therefore might guess answers randomly, causing his own failure in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Furthermore, people are at the mercy of attribute substitution, which happens when they have “to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic attribute” or stereotype. It is a psychological process that lies beneath a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. Overall, people characteristically commit or experience attribution bias:
In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately reflect reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.
Attribution bias is very closely related to self-attribution bias, another long-established concept in psychological research dealing with the common phenomenon of people attributing successful outcomes to their own skills, endeavours, capacities or acumens, and unsuccessful outcomes to factors beyond their control. People are prone to self-attribution bias because of their tendency to ascribe successes to their own character, personal skills or innate aspects such as talent or foresight, but to ascribe failures to external factors, unforeseen circumstances, others’ behaviours or outside influences, blaming luck, team, trends or confounding factors for derailing their goal or progress. In other words, self-attribution bias is a cognitive phenomenon in which people attribute successes or positive events to dispositional factors and failures or negative events to situational factors. The upshot of self-attribution bias is that people are more inclined to tout, inflate or overestimate their achievements or positive attributes, but to deflect, ignore, minimize or underestimate their shortcomings or negative attributes; they become overly enthusiastic about positive feedback or praises, and unnecessarily dismissive of negative feedback or criticisms. In attempting to uphold dignity, retain pride, preserve ego, boost self-image or affirm self-esteem, people often defend, justify or rationalize certain outcomes through cognitive biases, perceptual distortions and psychological illusions, becoming more proud, vain, rigid, defensive, complacent, indifferent, irrational or recalcitrant, and thus rendering themselves much more likely to err in judgement and decision-making to the detriment of achieving considerably and consistently more desirable, holistic, optimum or superior outcomes. Self-attribution bias is also known as self-serving bias as follows:
A self-serving bias is any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner. It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors. When individuals reject the validity of negative feedback, focus on their strengths and achievements but overlook their faults and failures, or take more responsibility for their group’s work than they give to other members, they are protecting their ego from threat and injury. These cognitive and perceptual tendencies perpetuate illusions and error, but they also serve the self’s need for esteem. For example, a student who attributes earning a good grade on an exam to their own intelligence and preparation but attributes earning a poor grade to the teacher’s poor teaching ability or unfair test questions might be exhibiting the self-serving bias. Studies have shown that similar attributions are made in various situations, such as the workplace, interpersonal relationships, sports, and consumer decisions.
Both motivational processes (i.e. self-enhancement, self-presentation) and cognitive processes (i.e. locus of control, self-esteem) influence the self-serving bias. There are both cross-cultural (i.e. individualistic and collectivistic culture differences) and special clinical population (i.e. depression) considerations within the bias.…
For example, the myth of the statement or quotation “If I can do it then anybody can.” is perpetuated by similar mental predispositions or cognitive biases, insofar as people tend to evaluate situations based on their assessments, experiences and outcomes of their own prevailing circumstances. The myth is also rooted in the fact that people can have a strong tendency or proclivity to overestimate the ability and autonomy of the individual, and to underestimate the role and influence of the social. Those who are enticed or charmed by the preconceived notion “If I can do it then anybody can.” would have ignored that the structural nature of inequality, the systemic nature of social organization, the influential sphere of sociopolitical ideology, the bargaining power of socioeconomic status, the social relations to the means of production, the transactional advantages of social capital, the symbolic commands of cultural capital, and the pervading effects of social stratification, let alone the perennial issues of race, age and gender, can create advantages for some individuals and disadvantages for others, and thus can be the underlying causes of an individual’s success or failure regardless of how hard the person works.
The tentacles of differential advantage, cumulative dominance, runaway polarization and rampant inequality can penetrate even what are purportedly or supposedly meritocratic spheres of life, including science and academia, thus furnishing dramatically more opportunities, recognitions and resources for those who are already well-established in their respective fields, as abbreviated in the following chosen and concatenated excerpts from Wikipedia:
The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, described in sociology, is a phenomenon sometimes summarized by the adage that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The concept is applicable to matters of fame or status, but may also be applied literally to cumulative advantage of economic capital.
In the sociology of science, “Matthew effect” was a term coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how, among other things, eminent scientists will often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar; it also means that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous. For example, a prize will almost always be awarded to the most senior researcher involved in a project, even if all the work was done by a graduate student. This was later formulated by Stephen Stigler as Stigler’s law of eponymy – “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer” – with Stigler explicitly naming Merton as the true discoverer, making his “law” an example of itself.
Merton furthermore argued that in the scientific community the Matthew effect reaches beyond simple reputation to influence the wider communication system, playing a part in social selection processes and resulting in a concentration of resources and talent. He gave as an example the disproportionate visibility given to articles from acknowledged authors, at the expense of equally valid or superior articles written by unknown authors. He also noted that the concentration of attention on eminent individuals can lead to an increase in their self-assurance, pushing them to perform research in important but risky problem areas.
In science, dramatic differences in the productivity may be explained by three phenomena: sacred spark, cumulative advantage, and search costs minimization by journal editors. The sacred spark paradigm suggests that scientists differ in their initial abilities, talent, skills, persistence, work habits, etc. that provide particular individuals with an early advantage. These factors have a multiplicative effect which helps these scholars [to] succeed later. The cumulative advantage model argues that an initial success helps a researcher [to] gain access to resources (e.g., teaching release, best graduate students, funding, facilities, etc.), which in turn results in further success. Search costs minimization by journal editors takes place when editors try to save time and effort by consciously or subconsciously selecting articles from well-known scholars. Whereas the exact mechanism underlying these phenomena is yet unknown, it is documented that a minority of all academics produce the most research output and attract the most citations.
There is always the risk or trap of being so seduced by the glory and accolade heaped upon those who are successful, triumphant or idolized that one ceases to think critically about the deeper implications of an innocently sounding statement or quotation that is as simple, promising and exuberant as “If I can do it then anybody can.”. This lack of critical mindset, faculty or attitude can readily lead one to latch onto a sanguine outlook or feel-good moral position that neglects or negates one’s personal responsibility to make sense of, and account for, the relevant history, contexts and contents as well as the moral, social and political bearings and principles pertinent or peculiar to tall and shining achievements. Overly optimistic beliefs as typified by the statement or quotation “If I can do it then anybody can.” may also be a sign or symptom of survivorship bias or survival bias, which is a fallacy of focusing on the people (or things) that succeed or prosper in some selection process, whilst disregarding those that fail or flop due to their lack of support, resource, visibility, fame, renown, honour or recognition. This form of bias can produce significant blinkers in people’s perceptions and conceptions of success and failure.
Some of the most salient and revealing examples of people disproportionately looking up to, believing in, or concentrating on, those with tall and shining achievements can be exemplified by the so-called “Horatio Alger myth” or “rags to riches”, in which persons of impoverished origins seemingly ascend to middle-class prosperity or even upper-class affluence from humble backgrounds or abject poverties through sheer determination and hard work, though often what ultimately changes their fates and facilitates their emancipations is actually some extraordinary act of redemption, bravery, courage or honesty, certain chance encounter or arranged meeting with a benefactor, influencer, impresario or luminary, and/or a particular set of people, events, happenstances or circumstances, that not only engender the substantive forces and resources required for achieving unstinting liberation and thoroughgoing ascension to eminence, but also sustain such dramatic socioeconomic transformation in the lives of such persons. The ramifications of such myths promulgated by many highly celebrated stories, whether real or fictional, can be far-reaching insofar as the stories deeply entrench certain cultural stereotypes and highly elevate specific life trajectories, whilst they obfuscate, supplant, suppress, usurp or subvert critical social issues and moral matters with romanticized visions of success, mythologized tales of prosperity, legendary retelling of the golden age, or unrealistic archetypes of fame and fortune, whilst emphasizing or even enshrining the narratives of the victorious and the authorities of the jubilant, some of which can also be considered as exemplars of the monomyth or hero’s journey. For instance:
Rags to riches refers to any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth, and in some cases from absolute obscurity to heights of fame — sometimes instantly. This is a common archetype in literature and popular culture (for example, the writings of Horatio Alger, Jr. and recently J. K. Rowling).
The concept of “Rags to riches” has been criticised by social reformers, revolutionaries, essayists and statisticians, who argue that only a handful of exceptionally capable and/or mainly lucky persons are actually able to travel the “rags to riches” road, being the great publicity given to such cases causes a natural survivorship bias illusion, which help [to] keep the masses of the working class and the working poor in line, preventing them from agitating for an overall collective change in the direction of social equality.
The abovementioned criticism is valid and defensible insofar as the underlying picture or concealed reality beneath such myths is a far cry from something openly inspiring and galvanizing towards achieving some wholesale social change for the good of many instead of just a lucky few or an exceptional minority, and for genuinely initiating and sustaining fundamental or widespread social change for the betterment of all and sundry. Nostalgia and mythology can indeed interact and entangle with the popular beliefs, common narratives, received wisdoms and putative legends of our times through the dynamics of cultural reproductions and social constructions. In other words, nostalgia and mythology can function like social narcotics, rendering many contemporary issues as well as certain past events and recorded histories less pitched, contentious, disputable or problematic than they really are or have been, especially when they have been fermented by survivorship bias or survival bias, which, for better or worse, further reinforces the allure of such myths, and thus perpetuates the legitimacy of their concomitant genres, stories and characters, considering how exuberant, promising and optimistic the cultural phenomena, social aspirations, and collectively held beliefs generated by such myths can become in popular media and contemporary societies, as well as in various exhortations, slogans, manifestos, catchphrases and quotations resulting from such myths.
Moreover, the distorted views or beliefs commonly encountered in people’s ignorance, misunderstanding or underestimation of prominent factors in their social upbringing and systemic socialization practices with respect to how people justify or rationalize the outcomes of their efforts or achievements are also the result of people succumbing to the cognitive processes of motivated reasoning, which is a sort of inferred strategy of justification and a kind of implicit regulation of emotion, in which people’s attitudes, decisions, deliberations and judgements are seldom neutral but often motivated by beliefs and outcomes. People often so desire to maintain or achieve these beliefs and outcomes that their thought processes favour, emphasize or gravitate towards those attitudes, decisions, deliberations and judgements that seek or amplify positive emotional states and avoid or attenuate negative emotional states as a way to dissolve mental discomfort or circumvent psychological stress known in the field of behavioural science as cognitive dissonance. The crux of motivated reasoning is therefore rooted in the tacit connections between emotions and biases, which can cast considerable impacts and raise serious ramifications in both the reliability and validity of judgement and decision-making. Some of these issues are summarized by Wikipedia as follows:
Motivated reasoning is an emotion-biased decision-making phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology. This term describes the role of motivation in cognitive processes such as decision-making and attitude change in a number of paradigms, including:
- Cognitive dissonance reduction
- Beliefs about others on whom one’s own outcomes depend
- Evaluation of evidence related to one’s own outcomes
The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”. This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives”.
All in all, in being more aware of the tacit connections between emotions and biases with respect to our choice of, and response towards, quotations, we shall do very well in achieving higher quotational excellence by guarding against the traps and pitfalls or the downsides and drawbacks of affect heuristic, appeal to emotion, emotional reasoning, attribute substitution, heuristic, stereotype, attribution bias, survivorship bias or survival bias, motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance.
Being active members of a highly gregarious and communicative species, we are often content with our many assumptions about other people and their endeavours based on their social status and physical attributes. All too often, if the messenger is known to be famous or deemed to be authoritative, we are far more likely to defer our better judgement, surrender our common sense, forsake our suspicion, suspend our scepticism, relinquish our intellectual autonomy, disregard the yardstick of logic, or throw caution to the wind through our admiration of, or alliance with, the messenger, believing that our use of such a quote and the eminence of its originator will automatically, inevitably or categorically impart significant credence and meaning to our own position, purpose and perspective. Lorenzo Pasqualis warns us about famous quotes and logical fallacies as follows. Originated from the story of Sherlock Holmes, the renowned quotation “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” typifies a Holmesian fallacy (also called Sherlock Holmes fallacy or process-of-elimination fallacy), which is a formal fallacy (also known as logical fallacy or deductive fallacy) that occurs when a certain explanation is believed to be true by claiming that alternative explanations are impossible without actually establishing the means or facts to rule them out exhaustively.
Logical fallacies will show their ugly head in dialog during your career in tech, and life in general. Do not let that go! It will distort reality and introduce contradictions to supposedly logical arguments. People regularly repeat phrases and quotes as unquestionable truths, because some famous person said them in the past. Such phrases sound smart and are attached to famous names that we would not dare to question. People repeat those phrases because we are used to them, and we assume them to be true.
…a quote by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…has a logical fallacy:
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
When you hear someone quote this monstrosity, don’t let it go! It is a logical fallacy, and it is simply wrong. Just because Arthur Conan Doyle was a “Sir” and wrote books about a smart detective, it does not mean he was right all the time.…Once you eliminate the impossible, what remains is “not impossible”, which simply means “possible”. If something is possible it does not mean that it is true, nor likely. It simply means that there is a non-zero chance of it being true, not a certainty.
Logically correct statements, sometimes don’t sound as smart as similar fallacies
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should have stated the principle as follows:
“Once you eliminate everything that is not the truth, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
It is quite ironic, if not downright unfortunate, that quotations that are logically true may appear to be less clever, appealing, insightful or intelligent than those that are logically flawed. Falling into such a trap and being somewhat fooled or misled by apparently canny, percipient, sagacious and thought-provoking quotations notwithstanding, in willingly assuming famous quotations to be true or valid on account of their provenances without bothering to examine them for harbouring formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies), we fail to assess the phrases and quotations on their respective merits, and thus simultaneously succumb to the genetic fallacy (also called the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue), which “is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context”, and to the halo effect, a form of cognitive bias and a specific type of confirmation bias, in which our overall impression of a famous person influences not only our thoughts and feelings about the person’s character or attributes, but also our opinions and assessments of the person’s writing or saying in quotations. Indeed, it is all too easy to use famous quotations as shields, excuses, pretexts or justifications to bolster a particular defence or standpoint, to reinforce certain kind of belief or reasoning, to relax the reins on our follies or shortcomings, and to counter any qualms that we might have about specific acts or issues.
On the flip side, the relevance or significance of a quotation can be readily disparaged or tarnished by a mere reference to an infamous person, whose credibility or character is questionable. As a result, we run a great risk of dismissing any intrinsic value of the quotation summarily, unfairly or indiscriminately.
As mentioned, the act of using or even just reading famous quotes can readily or unknowingly cause one to fall into the troubled catchments of formal fallacies (also called logical fallacies or deductive fallacies), genetic fallacy (also called the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue), and halo effect, especially when one tries to appeal to authority or commit an argument from authority (also called the argumentum ad verecundiam), in which the support of a professed expert or claimed authority is deployed as evidence for the conclusion of an argument or a quotation, on the basis that an expert knows better and that the reader or audience should conform to the expert’s opinion or assessment. Also rooted in cognitive biases, such an argument presented as statement(s) or quotation(s) is defeasible and thus in principle is open to valid objection, forfeiture, annulment or revision, since it is a sort of reasoning that is rationally compelling but deductively invalid, and since it is a contingent statement, which only amounts to a specific type of non-demonstrative reasoning without a full, complete or final demonstration of a claim, in which fallibility and corrigibility of a conclusion are acknowledged. Whilst appeal to authority or argument from authority is a familiar fallacy, it is a valid inductive argument that can be cogently maintained or effectively deployed when all parties of a discussion agree on the reliability of the authority in the given context.
In general, an appeal to authority or argument from authority by way of quoting a famous person, expert or authority should only be used when the case or context of an argument or quotation has sufficient validity and reliability, if one were to avoid being tarnished or led astray by the authority bias, which is the tendency of an individual or group not only to impute more validity or attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authoritative figure, imposing icon, respected dignitary or reputable celebrity (even when the opinion is unrelated to the content of the case or quotation), but also to be significantly more influenced by the opinion to the detriment of retaining effective autonomy in forming judgements and making decisions. As a matter of fact, the authority bias is another precipitous tendency, involuntary emotional response or mental shortcut described as follows in Wikipedia as the result of informal means of social control through internalization of norms, values and ideologies by the process of socialization, such that an individual normally equipped with very wide range of behavioural repertoires and potentialities is led to develop behaviours confined to the much narrower range of what is acceptable or tolerable to the dominant group standards, what is urged or boosted under social pressures, and what is encouraged or emboldened by social conformities.
In any society, a diverse and widely accepted system of authority allows the development of sophisticated structures for the production of resources, trade, expansion and social control. Since the opposite is anarchy, we are all trained from birth to believe that obedience to authority is right. Notions of submission and loyalty to legitimate rule of others are accorded values in schools, the law, the military and in political systems. The strength of the bias to obey a legitimate authority figure comes from systemic socialization practices designed to instill in people the perception that such obedience constitutes correct behavior. Different societies vary the terms of this dimension. As we grow up, we learn that it benefits us to obey the dictates of genuine authority figures because such individuals usually possess higher degrees of knowledge, wisdom and power. Consequently, deference to authority can occur in a mindless fashion as a kind of decision-making short cut.
For those who prefer ingesting something short and sweet to digesting the long and full discussion above, the fallacy of quoting an authority can be summed up with three one-sentence paragraphs located in the middle of Mark Reijman’s article entitled “Don’t fall for the authority bias” as follows:
Remember that authority typically only applies to a narrow field.
For example, it doesn’t make sense to invoke a quote from Einstein on religion, as his expertise was in physics!
Always look at the strength of the argument, not the person behind it.
Hence, one should ascertain that an alleged authority is not only reasonably fit to function or adjudicate in an area of their expertise, but also reasonably focussed on facts relevant to the argument, discussion or quotation, so as to guard against any appeal to, or argument from, false or unqualified authority.
In a comment addressed to SoundEagle, Keith, who is a client manager for a professional consulting firm, and also a blogger providing a source of “[i]ndependent views from someone who offers some historical context”, concedes a similar point about the author of a quote playing a part in our reception or attitude towards the quote: “we have to guard against author bias. Sometimes, we may like a quote and then like it more when we discover the author. It also feeds part of our ego to be able to cite Mark Twain or Confucious [sic].”
Therefore, adding even more caveats to using quotes is the ever-present author bias, which, according to Writing@CSU | The Writing Studio, an open-access, educational website supported by Colorado State University, “can carry an understated or implied judgment … reflect[ing] an author’s bias or preference for one side of an issue over another”, not to mention that an author’s opinion, agenda or subjectivity can significantly affect the content or discussion of an issue. Given that the opinions and backgrounds of different authors will have significantly different bearings on what, how and why certain issues or subject matters are selected and approached, one should be mindful of the underlying assumptions, patterns, paradigms, propagandas and the like, which invariably accompany authors publishing their oeuvres in any medium or format, even something as factual as an academic article from a reputable and long-established source such as a journal or encyclopaedia, let alone those not generally regarded as trustworthy sources, much less those resembling opinion pieces giving little or no citations.
If possible, one should gather and examine the opinions or findings of multiple authors to reveal or review whether they are consistent or divergent, to learn about cross-fertilizations in collaborative works or edited volumes, to discover or identify confluences of data or views, and to have a sense of the interconnections of disciplines and knowledges, since many findings and techniques across distinct domains are variously based or founded on (the (re)organizations or (re)contextualization of) existing data, concepts, ideas, models, theories, archetypes, narratives, rules, codes, lexicons, grammars, logics, syntaxes, equations, derivations, abstractions, generalizations, classifications, quantifications, measurements, instrument(ation)s, interdisciplinarity and so on in vastly interconnected fashions, and have been reliably used or referenced for a long time. Regardless of the level of consensus amongst authors, the cumulative achievements, benefits and synergies resulting from the convergence of evidences and efforts from authors of different disciplines and persuasions can be just as illuminating in their magnitude and diversity as the competitions, animosities and adversities resulting from the divergence of authors’ personalities, approaches, convictions and circumstances.
By extension, one should always establish the validity and reliability of authors’ claims by triangulation using multiple methods or multiple types and sources of information, and should never categorically trust unusual or unconfirmed information from only one or a few sources, especially when (the tasks of assessing or establishing) the authenticity, validity and reliability of those claims and sources are so specialized, conflated or complicated as to be very difficult for laypersons lacking appropriate expert training or professional acumens to gauge or understand. Borrowing the wisdom of Winston Churchill: “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.” Furthermore, in an age where misinformation and falsehoods abound on various digital media and communications channels, and where authors and agents with dubious credentials and spurious claims are free to disseminate any news or contents created to promote agendas and profits, or to propel fads and followings, it would also be highly prudent to be aware of authors’ associations and funding sources as well as authors’ elisions of evidence and evasions of counterarguments.
In examining multiple sources of information from different authors, one must refrain from cherry picking data and ignoring contrary evidences, so that one may obtain not only reasonable exposure to contrasting viewpoints or perspectives, but also the possibility of evaluating and changing one’s standpoints, approaches and behaviours, regardless of how entrenched they might have been. After all, it is important for, and also courageous and admirable of, all of us to confront sensitive and polarizing issues amidst social prejudice, ignorance and bigotry, to have lived an examined life, to be inquisitive and open-minded, and to be watchful and punctilious of why and how we quote any authority or any author, and what we quote from their work.
Moreover, instead of just putting one’s faith in quoting an authority or author to illustrate a point, demonstrate an idea or deliver an opinion, one will be more satisfyingly, if not more authoritatively, poised to acquire and impart knowledge first-hand and reliably, should one be willing to carry out due diligence in exploring areas of interest by conducting some (background) research into the subject matter(s) in question, and then to present the findings by quoting oneself, or quoting from the horse’s mouth. As Emilio J D’Alise summarizes in a comment addressed to SoundEagle, “rather than rely on the intellectual laziness of pressing other people’s words into one’s service, it would behoove a person to formulate their own opinions based on research and the gained understanding of a given subject and then present not only said opinion, but the reasoned path one traveled in reaching it, and do so in their own words” whilst being aware “of various fallacies and guarding against both employing them in support of one’s own argument and in accepting them as having value when offered up by others.”
Providing expert demonstrations by means of quotational evidences, illustrative quotations, and arguments via quotations is an indispensable aspect of lexicographical traditions, canonical texts, comprehensive anthologies, expansive encyclopaedias, scholarly publications and other authoritative sources, as they contain numerous empirical data in the form of quotations to exhibit or explicate particular usages and validities of their respective domains and subject matters. For example, the usefulness of dictionaries is vastly enhanced by the inclusion of demonstrative quotations of how certain words or expressions have been defined and deployed by various writers, literary sources and textual media. Even judicial, journalistic, forensic and exploratory investigations must rely on the veracity of quotations to build or (re)construct cases. Unfortunately and exasperatingly, the validity and reliability of quotations can also be easily abused, hijacked or undermined through egregious cases of misquotation, misconception, misappropriation, misinterpretation, miscontextualization, misrepresentation or falsification to give the illusion of authority or expert endorsement. For instance, the case of misquotation can often be attributed to false attribution, as indicated by the following excerpt from Wikipedia:
False attribution can refer to:
- Misattribution in general, when a quotation or work is accidentally, traditionally, or based on bad information attributed to the wrong person or group
- A specific fallacy where an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased, or fabricated source in support of an argument.
The fallacy of false attribution is a type of appeal to authority, where the proponent either hides or puffs up the credentials or credibility of the source to enhance an argument.
A version of false attribution is where a fraudulent advocate goes so far as to fabricate a source, such as creating a fake website, in order to support a claim. For example, the “Levitt Institute” was a fake organisation created in 2009 solely for the purposes of (successfully) fooling the Australian media into reporting that Sydney was Australia’s most naive city.
A contextomy (taking a quote out of context) is a type of false attribution.
Incorrect identification of source
Another particular case of misattribution is the Matthew effect [of accumulated advantage]: a quotation is often attributed to someone more famous than the real author. This leads the quotation to be more famous, but the real author to be forgotten (see also: obliteration by incorporation).
In Jewish biblical studies, an entire group of falsely-attributed books is known as the pseudepigrapha.
Such misattributions may originate as a sort of fallacious argument, if use of the quotation is meant to be persuasive, and attachment to a more famous person (whether intentionally or through misremembering) would lend it more authority.
Those who would like to cultivate or improve their ability to winnow quotational truth from falsehood may consult the following slightly adapted Quotation Checklist provided by Michael Hopkins in Quotations and Misquotations from The TalkOrigins Archive with respect to being heedful and critical of the fallacy of arguments via quotations as well as misquotation and appeal to authority or argument from authority:
One of the favorite tactics of evolution deniers and other pseudoscientists is to use numerous quotations to make their case. For many people the use of quote after quote makes a very persuasive argument.… The[ir] use of quotations often is a fallacy of argument from authority, selective quotation may be occurring, the quotations are often out-of-date, the quoted authorities are often not appropriate authorities, evolution deniers are sometimes not honest in representing who the people [whom] they quote are, and many of the quotations are misquotations.…
To sum up, when [such people] provide quotations many questions need to be asked[,] including:
- Is the quote itself accurate?
- Do the preceding and following passages change the meaning of the quote?
- Does the quoter use the key terms in the same way as the quoted person?
- What is the quoted person’s actual opinion on the point in question?
- Who was the quoted person addressing?
- Is the quote out-of-date?
- Who is the quoted person?
- Is the quoted person a relevant authority to the issue at hand?
- What do other relevant authorities think?
- Is the quote from a popular source or from the primary peer-reviewed literature?
- Is the quoted person actually correct?
May we always be adequately mindful of both authority bias and author bias to attain a significant degree of intellectual autonomy, if not dispassionate objectivity. A timely reminder in the form of a pithy article entitled “Contrary to Reason” by George (Joshua Richard) Monbiot, a writer, investigative journalist, zoologist, environmentalist and political activist, alerts us to the constant assaults on reason, intellect and integrity as well as the dilutions of idea and substance, which are brazenly stoked by the chronic inducements of consumerist ethos, pop culture and tabloid mentality in the unrelenting cult of celebrity and hero-worship saturating the mass media and contemporary living:
One of the curiosities of our age is the way in which celebrity culture comes to dominate every aspect of public life. Even the review pages of the newspapers sometimes look like a highfalutin version of gossip magazines. Were we to judge them by the maxim “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”, they would not emerge well. Biography dominates, ideas often seem to come last. Brilliant writers like Sylvia Plath become better known for their lives than their work: turning her into the Princess Diana of literature does neither her nor her readers any favours.
Even when ideas are given prominence, they no longer have standing in their own right; their salience depends on their authorship. Take, for example, the psychology professor Steven Pinker, who attracts the kind of breathless adulation that would seem more appropriate in the pages of Hello magazine.
Whilst it may appear to be neat and convenient to rely on aspects of an author’s identity or background such as their personal traits, career profiles or biographical attributes, including age, gender, religion, ethnicity, psychology, social status, professional achievements, political views and historical context, to distil relevance, pinpoint validity or extract meaning from the author’s work or quote, such knowledge about, or profiling of, the author may unduly influence or constrain one’s ability to limit or transcend what one has inferred from such identity and background information, which can lead to interpretive tyranny and other distortions caused by attribution bias, motivated reasoning, stereotype and survivorship bias or survival bias, as well as formal fallacies, genetic fallacy and halo effect in conjunction with authority bias and author bias, thereby frustrating one’s effort to be open-minded and unprejudiced towards the author’s writing or statement, regardless of its form and purpose, as well as irrespective of how it is quoted.
For these reasons, the Illustrated Quotations showing Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes at the end of this post are allowed to stand alone with their full weights and implications carried by their contents alone, which readers and followers can appreciate without prior knowledge or preconception of the quotes’ creators. Moreover, these quotes have been chosen on the basis of their heuristic potentials and edificatory strengths as well as their veracity and validity.
Closer examination, deeper assessment and better reasoning have been applied in the process of selecting suitable quotes for inclusion as a collection here, given that quotes can come in many forms and flavours. SoundEagle has had to be vigilant and to realize that numerous quotes are characteristically subjective, biased, one-sided, tendentious or even invidious, if not significantly flawed, fallacious, specious or spurious. Fortunately, quotes can often be better understood or critiqued via analysis, comparison, logic, scoping and contextualization so that their limitations, idiosyncrasies or inconsistencies could be uncovered.
For instance, what might first appear to be very persuasive and highly sensible quotes could be inescapably self-contradictory, meaning that one can find quotes that are apparently reasonable on their own but are at odds with each other when put side by side, or when examined from other perspective(s). At the very least, one needs to concede the validity of the law of noncontradiction, which dictates that contradictory quotes or conflicting statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time (‘Nothing can both be and not be’), as well as the law of excluded middle, which mandates that for any proposition, either that proposition is true or its negation is true (‘Everything must either be or not be’). In short, some quotes that people use or encounter daily are quite circumscribed in their validities and reliabilities. Upon applying careful inspection and higher-level scrutiny, they can be revealed to be far from universally true and/or comprehensively applicable.
🥩💬️ One man’s meaty statement is another man’s quoted poison. ⚗️💬
Of course, one can always retort or argue, by special pleading or committing the relativist fallacy (also called the subjectivist fallacy), that specific quotes are “special cases” beyond scrutiny or immune to analysis; that some quotes are true for one person but not true for someone else; that particular quotes are always at the outer fringes of consensus or comprehension; that certain quotes are exceptions to generally accepted rules or principles even in the absence of reasonable explanations or valid justifications; that any statement by any person can be cited or quoted against any other statement on the basis that every statement counts and every statement is open to interpretation or creative license; that all quotes have their places in the (grand) scheme of things whether or not they are problematic, ambiguous, sensible, engaging, meaningful, logical, moral(istic), provocative, consequential, prejudicial, prejudiced, or otherwise; that “a text is … a multi-dimensional space … a tissue [or fabric] of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture”, as opined by Roland Barthes; that the meanings and currencies of quotes are always fluctuating as a result of being conditioned by culture and history, and thus are subject to biases and misinterpretations, even if rationality can be consistently strengthened or appealed to; that a widely (up)held but unproven “truth” of a quote replete or imbued with a rich history of philosophical, metaphysical or theoretical interpretations may lose its intellectual value, introspective potential or spiritual potency by the time research has reduced it to a mere fact verified but removed from its sociocultural context; that the relevance and quality of quotes are fundamentally filtered and moulded by class structures, social stratifications, cultural reproductions and communication frameworks, and therefore cannot be unified neatly, explained fairly or understood impartially in any centralizing perspective or intellectual stance; that various quotes and their significances are rooted in social constructivism, social constructionism and symbolic interactionism to the extent that all quotations are socially manufactured viewpoints and historically embedded extracts arising from the active, creative, subjective, strategic and intentional aspects of human beings, agencies and constructive potentials, and therefore are neither products of pure observations nor representations of objective realities; that the validities of quotes are inescapably constrained by, or contingent upon, contemporary modes of thought, standards of reasoning, epistemic principles, theoretical perspectives, ideological standpoints, leading paradigms, social conventions, cultural traditions, moral ideals and the like, which necessitate a postmodernist “attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward grand narratives, ideologies, and various tenets of universalism, including objective notions of reason, human nature, social progress, moral universalism, absolute truth, and objective reality”; and that many quotes are not so much amenable (contextually, semantically, symbolically, metaphorically, stylistically, idiomatically, thematically, philosophically or otherwise) to any positivist-empiricist conception of science, mathematics, reason, logic or the laws of physics as they are to the pragmatic, utilitarian, emotional, psychological, existential, phenomenological, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of life, let alone the ontological and epistemological aspects of being and becoming.
Nevertheless, all things being equal, any quote that can also possess or exhibit scientific, mathematical, empirical and/or logical validity or truth will tend to be more reliable, abiding, cogent, authentic, compelling, defensible, comprehensive and/or universal. However, if (one were to believe or insist that) scientific truth, or any truth for that matter, is merely one sort of truth and therefore not to be singularly believed, especially privileged or taken for granted, and if everything is a matter of opinion or view relative to differences or divergences in perception and consideration, then there can be no universal, objective truth or logical yardstick. Instead, each viewpoint holds its own truth or validity. Hilary Whitehall Putnam, an American philosopher, mathematician and computer scientist with significant contributions to philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science, warns that those who adopt certain forms of relativism put themselves in a highly compromised and untenable position in which it is impossible to believe or admit that one is in error, since if there is no truth beyond one’s belief or opinion that something is true, then one cannot hold one’s beliefs or opinions to be false or mistaken, not to mention that relativizing truth to individuals demolishes the distinction between truth and belief.
Therefore, whether or not one comes to realize that many people, rightly or wrongly, often believe that they have found or acquired the(ir) truth or answer, one should critically beware of rampant relativism regardless of whether there is indeed right or wrong in matters of belief or opinion, and irrespective of why and how one could or should adjudicate such matters by way of, and to arrive at, dispassionate objectivity, transcendent wisdom, profound consilience or perspicacious erudition.
SoundEagle would like to encapsulate all of the abovementioned issues as well as the ensuing matters by coining a brand new term:
The Quotation Fallacy can be defined as any error or defect that weakens the construction, interpretation or treatment of a quotation as a consequence of invalid or faulty reasoning; intentional manipulation or misrepresentation; unintentional carelessness or ignorance; misleading notion or view; and mistaken belief or attribution.
Overall, the cognitive and social influences on forming judgements and making decisions in relation to interpreting and using quotations are far-reaching. Given that quotes are so often tossed around conversations, sprinkled in writings, and endlessly circulated in social media, the Quotation Fallacy is indeed very pervasive in everyday life and its concomitant human interactions, to the extent that people routinely and unintentionally commit this fallacy with impunity by being inadequately cognizant of, or accountable to, the effects and ramifications resulting from their desire to appropriate, perpetuate or reinforce particular views, sentiments or ideologies associated with certain quotes, which they render as status updates, social tweets, blog posts, personal flags, signature blocks, customized messages or memorable catchphrases to invoke inspirations or philosophical thoughts, and which they conscript as neologisms, truisms, dictums, epigrams, mottos, axioms, proverbs, mantras, slogans or manifestos to mobilize opinions, influence social dynamics, alter social discourses or bend social outcomes in countless situations, including those involving the media, academia, luminaries, celebrities, politicians, stakeholders, advertisers, Internet users and bloggers. The Quotation Fallacy is thus as unrelentingly unavoidable as quotations are undeniably indispensable, given the main reasons for using quotations as summarized below:
Quotations are used for a variety of reasons: to illuminate the meaning or to support the arguments of the work in which it is being quoted, to provide direct information about the work being quoted (whether in order to discuss it, positively or negatively), to pay homage to the original work or author, to make the user of the quotation seem well-read, and/or to comply with copyright law. Quotations are also commonly printed as a means of inspiration and to invoke philosophical thoughts from the reader. Pragmatically speaking, quotations can also be used as language games (in the Wittgensteinian sense of the term) to manipulate social order and the structure of society.
In the Quotation Fallacy, the causes, effects and ramifications of misusing, misjudging or misinterpreting quotes, however invisible, unchecked and unacknowledged they may have been, can also include those arising from availability heuristic, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism, animistic fallacy, pathetic fallacy, reification (also known as concretism, hypostatization or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness), confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias), bandwagon effect, false-consensus effect (or false-consensus bias), overconfidence effect, selective perception, selective exposure, Semmelweis reflex (or Semmelweis effect), anchoring (or focalism), conservatism (or conservatism bias), reactance, anecdotal evidence, Texas sharpshooter fallacy, illusory correlation, irrelevant conclusion (also known as ignoratio elenchi, false conclusion or missing the point), faulty generalization, hasty generalization, jumping to conclusions (officially the jumping conclusion bias, and also called the inference-observation confusion), fallacy of the single cause (also called complex cause, causal oversimplification, causal reductionism or reduction fallacy), implicit stereotype, fundamental attribution error (also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect), group attribution error, subjective validation (also known as personal validation effect), self-deception, self-serving bias (also called self-attribution bias), optimism bias (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism), pessimism bias, positivity bias, negativity bias, hindsight bias (also called the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism), belief bias, belief perseverance, illusory truth effect (also known as the truth effect, the illusion-of-truth effect, the reiteration effect, the validity effect, and the frequency-validity relationship), illusion of validity, outcome bias, choice-supportive bias (or post-purchase rationalization), historian’s fallacy, strawman fallacy, quoting out of context (also known as contextomy or quote mining), cherry picking (also called suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence), begging the question, circular reasoning, Bulverism, prooftexting, association fallacy (including guilt by association and honour by association), fallacy of illicit transference (including fallacy of composition and fallacy of division), slippery slope argument, continuum fallacy, splitting (also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking), argument from ignorance (also known as appeal to ignorance, or argumentum ad ignorantiam), false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, or black-or-white fallacy), false analogy, divine fallacy (also known as argument from incredulity or personal incredulity), moralistic fallacy and naturalistic fallacy. Some of these can be found in the following Cognitive Bias Codex.
In short, the abovementioned heuristics, effects, biases, tendencies and fallacies stem from simple, intuitive, efficient rules, measures or schemas that people routinely use to judge and decide, insofar as they are mental shortcuts that largely involve concentrating on one facet of a complex problem and ignoring others, whilst filtering or filling the details with assumptions, approximations, constructs, prejudices, stereotypes and generalities that gel with people’s existing mental models. In other words, people characteristically fail to account for complexity and succumb to cognitive biases since their perception of reality and understanding of the world comprise a small, narrow and ineludibly unrepresentative set of observations. As a result, people tend to gravitate towards the quicker, simpler, familiar, stereotyped or expected rather than the more important, challenging, complicated, unaccustomed or unpredictable, even if the latter ultimately results in better outcomes and processes, superior judgements and decisions, or worthier expenditures of time and resources. Consequently, whilst these rules or mental strategies may suffice under most circumstances, they can often lead people to commit systematic deviations from logic, probability, rationality, or even decency and morality, causing various errors in judgements and decisions. These errors can detrimentally affect not only people’s choices in quotations but also their choices in matters like valuing a house, marrying a spouse, evaluating a person, appraising a situation, choosing an investment, or determining the outcome of a legal case.
In excogitation, cerebration and intellection we shall find daily wisdom in fine quotations. Philosophy, cognitive science, logical inquiries, sound reasonings and self-appraisals can show us the pitfalls and misconceptions in not only how we live, choose, think and write but also how we quote. In conclusion, whilst we invariably gravitate towards choosing only certain quotations for their potency in representing, accentuating or validating our personalities, identities and beliefs so as to uphold or disseminate preferred views and favoured ideas, we should be aware that our opinions or reasonings involved in the selection and judgement of quotations can be imperfect and prone to the Quotation Fallacy.
Without further delay, SoundEagle hereby invites you to relish the following quotes in the hope that you will be much more careful when seeing, hearing or using quotes, even in the case of the most familiar or accepted kinds, so that you can consistently approach them with more reservations and deeper understanding, but with fewer encumbrances and misconceptions of any kind, including the sorts of mistakes in reasoning that arise from, or result in, the mishandling of the content and context of any quotation.
- Introduction: Fostering Quotational Excellence
- Misquotation: Improper Quoting, Sourcing, Context, Appropriation
- Emotions and Biases: Affect Heuristic, Stereotype, Attribution Bias
- Logic versus Fame: Formal Fallacy, Genetic Fallacy, Halo Effect
- Authority Bias and Author Bias: Expert Influence, Creator Persuasion
- Classical Logic: Laws of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle
- Compromise and Subjectivity: Special Pleading and Relativist Fallacy
- Definition and Ramifications: Description, Scope and Corollaries
- Illustrated Quotations: Inspirational and Thought-Provoking Quotes
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