I want to verify this:

Aristotle always said, a long time ago, that when you put a message on a blank slate, that first message is critical,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview on Tuesday. “When you want to rechannel a message, it’s always a problem.”
Amid Virus Surge, Republicans Abruptly Urge Masks Despite Trump’s Resistance, The New York Times, 1 July 2020.

Since it was an interview, it's reasonable to believe it's an imprecise quote.

Question: Did Aristotle say words to the effect of "when you put a message on a blank slate, that first message is critical"?

Searching for Aristotle blank slate gives Tabula rasa ("individuals are born without built-in mental content, and, therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception") which is somewhat related and attributed to Aristotle. However, the above quote "the first message on a blank slate is critical" seems distinct from an "initially blank mind".


1 Answer 1


I've googled in http://classics.mit.edu. The search ("blank slate" site:classics.mit.edu) give zero hits.

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    That's not too helpful because OP acknowledges that Redfield's allusion may be a paraphrase, so it may not contain those exact words. Wording could also vary between translations, e.g. the translation cited on Wikipedia which has "a writing tablet on which nothing written in actuality is present". Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 12:46
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    @NateEldredge Indeed. But then nothing else close to the quote will turn up. I dabbled with the idea that an A here would probably have to explain what Aristotle meant with the metaphor, proving that its usage here is incompatible with the model later philosophers developed (Locke) which informs the quote (which then conflates this with all sorts of psychological concepts). "…thinking is in a certain way the object of thought in terms of potential, but in reality none is until it thinks? It must be like a slate on which nothing is really inscribed. This is exactly the case with thinking." Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 13:26
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    @NateEldredge, true. But similar searches can be done. The "site:classics.mit.edu" limits the search to classic authors. Reducing the noise is good. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 14:06

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