Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Everything of importance has been said before by someone who did not discover it.”
How do I know?

I know Whitehead said this because J. Samuel Preus quotes him in an article about Spinoza. That’s not quite right, though: Preus doesn’t quote Whitehead, but quotes a quotation from Whitehead in a book by Robert Merton. And now here I am quoting a quotation of a quotation of a quotation (I think that covers it, but I’m dizzy).

Kinda confirms Whitehead’s point, which he probably learned from someone else anyway.

Yup. And I now know it because Leithart quoted a quotation of a quotation of a quotation. I won’t even say what that makes this post.

(Come on now, someone keep the party going!!!)

At some point, we’re going to get tired of commentary and start reading primary sources again. It’s inevitable.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Inevitable that we all start reading primary sources? If Whitehead’s right, why bother?


  2. Whitehead also said, “I have suffered a great deal from writers who have quoted this or that sentence of mine either out of its context or in juxtaposition to some incongruous matter which quite distorted my meaning, or destroyed it altogether.”

    So… watch out!


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