Quote source? "You cannot rationally argue out..."

“You cannot rationally argue out what wasn’t rationally argued in”.

I am trying to identify where this quotation comes from. Google doesn’t know, and the quotation websites I have searched also don’t seem to help. Once or twice online I have said I think it came from George Bernard Shaw, but I have never been able to track down a cite, so I could be wrong.

Can you help solve this mystery?

I think the quote is actually “you cannot reason a man out of a position he didn’t reason himself into”. Where I’m seeing a source for it, it seems to be Benjamin Franklin.

EDIT: On looking further, I’m also seeing attributions to Jonathan Swift.

…And, looking further, I’m also seeing attributions to “Thomas Swift” (probably an error for Jonathan Swift), and a fellow named John Beaderstadt, who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and is thus probably someone modern appropriating the quote from whomever said it.

It was me. I was the first to use it, under slightly different wording. “You cannot reason a man out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.”

First used in about 1995, in my sigs on the old AOL board.

Wait, are you serious? You actually coined it? I did see a lot of references to you in my search, but I figured it had to be older.


I’m rather proud that something I came up with is now being attributed to Swift and Franklin. Al I need is an H. L. Mencken or Mark Twain for the trifecta.

Dr. Fidelius may well have written what he wrote when he says he wrote it. But I saw the quote I referred to in a printed book earlier than 1995. Great minds think alike?

Do you know what the book was, then? That might help to track it down.

I’ve sent off an email to Fred Shapiro, the quotemaster from the American Dialect Society. Perhaps Dr. Fidelius is indeed the originator. We’ll see.


Parse error.

Google Books tell us that appears attributed to Swift in print at least as early as 1972 and to “Dr. Johnson” in 1914

“Dr. Johnson” is surely a reference to Samuel Johnson.

I’m finding this quote attributed to Sidney Smith (1771-1845):

“Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.”

It is attributed to him as early as 1877 in The New Dictionary of Thought, a book of quotations by Tryon Edwards.

Chronos: Yes, obviously, that would help tremendously, but I don’t remember.

Capybara: Is your second link, ‘1914’, correct? When I click on it I don’t see any ref to Dr. Johnson.

Colibri: That’s a great find. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see the source that you’re quoting from, but the book I saw might well have been recycling a paraphrased version of your cited source. I am reasonably confident that the version I saw was as quoted in the OP, or very close, because that’s the sort of thing I’m good at remembering and I wouldn’t/couldn’t have just made up such elegant wording. But it could have been someone’s elegant paraphrase of a source such as the one you have discovered.

Thanks to all for your efforts so far.

Edwards’ book (which has appeared under various titles (including A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being A Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors, Both Ancient and Modern), appears to have been very popular, and to have gone through many editions in the 19th and 20th Centuries, with the most recent edition having been issued in 2007. Given the similarity of the quote, and the popularity of the source, I would guess that later versions are most likely paraphrases of this one (knowingly or unknowingly). There remains the possibility that Sidney Smith (if Edwards is correct in citing him as the source) could have paraphrased an earlier author.

I just heard this quote and loved it. Jumped online to see where Swift said it… and AARGH another case of people randomly using quotation marks and attributions. Thank you all for trying to clear the confusion. I found two quotes on Google books from “Dean Swift” in 1852. "Dean Swift said, with the utmost truth, that “it is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing which he was never reasoned into.” " Would “Dean” be in the scholarly sense, and someone at the time would have assumed Jonathan? Or Sydney? I am forcing myself to step away from the computer and not search anymore tonight.

Johnathan Swift was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, apparently from about 1714 until his death in 1745, and was in earlier days referred to as “Dean Swift” in consequence.