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Thumbnail of Marcus Tullius Cicero (source)
Marcus Tullius Cicero
(3 Jan 106 B.C. - 7 Dec 43 B.C.)

Roman philosopher and statesman who is noted for his exceptional skills in oratory, which began early with a career in law. He introduced Greek philosophy to ancient Rome through his treatises based on Plato, Aristotle, and others. Fifty-eight of his orations and more than nine hundred of his letters have survived, giving one of the clearest pictures of his personality of any Roman.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
“A mind without instruction”

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 400 px)

“A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation. ”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Tusculan Disputations

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The subject quote (above) comes in a passage from Tusculan Disputations, in which Marcus Cicero defends philosophers, when questioned about poor examples among them. In the form above, the quote is found in a number of books of quotations.

To see the quote more in context, here is a longer extract, showing the way J.E. King translated the passage (1927):

“…not all cultivated fields are productive, and the dictum of Accius is false:

Though placed in poorer soil good seed can yet
Of its own nature bear a shining crop,

and in the same way not all educated minds bear fruit. Moreover, to continue the same comparison, just as a field, however good the ground, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the soul cannot be productive without teaching. So true it is that the one without the other is ineffective. Now the cultivation of the soul is philosophy; this pulls out vices by the roots and makes souls fit for the reception of seed, and commits to the soul and, as we may say, sows in it seed of a kind to bear the richest fruit.”1

This can be compared with the translation by Andrew P. Peabody (1886):

“…for as all cultivated fields are not harvest-yielding, and as there is no truth in what Attius says,—

‘Though seed be sown on unpropitious soil,
It springs and ripens by its innate virtue,’

so all cultivated minds do not bear fruit. To continue the figure: as a field, though fertile, cannot yield a harvest without cultivation, no more can the mind without learning; thus each is feeble without the other. But philosophy is the culture of the soul. It draws out vices by the root, prepares the mind to receive seed, and commits to it, and, so to speak, sows in it what, when grown, may bear the most abundant fruit.”2

Yet another translator, Charles Duke Yonge, puts it this way:

“…for as all the fields which are cultivated are not fruitful, (and this sentiment of Accius is false, and asserted without any foundation,

The ground you sow on, is of small avail;
To yield a crop good seed can never fail:)

it is not every mind which has been properly cultivated that produces fruit; — and to go on with the comparison, as a field, although it may be naturally fruitful cannot produce a crop, without dressing, so neither can the mind, without education; such is the weakness of either without the other. Whereas philosophy is the culture of the mind: this it is which plucks up vices by the roots; prepares the mind for the receiving of seeds, commits them to it, or, as I may say, sows them, in the hope that, when come to maturity, they may produce a plentiful harvest.”3

For those readers wishing to read Cicero’s words in the original Latin:

“…nam ut agri non omnes frugiferi sunt, qui coluntur, falsumque illud Accii:

Probae etsi in segetem sunt deteriorem datae
Fruges, tamen ipsae suapte natura enitent,

sic animi non omnes culti fructum ferunt. Atque, ut in eodem simili verser, ut ager quamvis fertilis sine cultura fructuosus esse non potest, sic sine doctrina animus. Ita est utraque res sine altera debilis. Cultura autem animi philosophia est: haec extrahit vitia radicitus et praeparat animos ad satus accipiendos eaque mandat iis et, ut ita dicam, serit, quae adulta fructus uberrimos ferant.”1

1 J.E. King (trans.), Cicero: Tusculan Disputations (1927, 1960), Vol. 9, Book II, 159. (source)
2 Andrew P. Peabody (trans.), Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations (1886), Book II, 96. (source)
3 Charles Duke Yonge(trans.), The Tusculan Disputations: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Book II. (source)

In Hannis Taylor and Mary Lillie Taylor Hunt, Cicero: a Sketch of His Life and Works (2nd Ed., 1918), 597. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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