Could someone explain this quote ? I do understand the words used in this quote but I just do not really understand what exactly does it say..

One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear.

from: Human All-Too-Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

  • It is a quote by Nietzsche. In the book "Human, All Too Human" it is presented alone among a series of labelled sayings and short parables, this is labelled "General Standard". So, really, there isn't much context. Jul 3, 2015 at 22:36

3 Answers 3


One will rarely err = one will rarely make a mistake = one will usually be right/correct

to assume that extreme actions come from vanity

to assume that ordinary actions come from habit

to assume that mean actions come from fear.

(if xyz be ascribed to abc = if we ascribe xyz to abc = if we say that xyz is caused by abc)

  • 1
    It does not answer the question. OP understands the turn of speech and the words from this quote. The question is how you interpret this quote. Can you explain the idea in your own words?
    – user18856
    Jul 4, 2015 at 9:07
  • @AmD The OP doesn't seem to complain. If you have additional questions, I would be glad to answer them, but please specify that they are your own. I have used my own words in the answer (but if you don't believe me please feel free to flag it as plagiarism and let the moderators decide). As for the OP's question - it clearly says "explain"
    – Lucky
    Jul 4, 2015 at 11:05
  • You did not explain what Nietzsche's quote meant. So I am glad to announce, this downvote is for you -1 :-) .
    – user18856
    Jul 4, 2015 at 12:31
  • @AmD nice of you to own the downvote, many people don't. I disagree with your comments, but whatever makes you happy...
    – Lucky
    Jul 4, 2015 at 13:21

Nietzsche is suggesting that extreme actions derive not from a large personality but from vanity, a sense of inadequacy, the need to attract attention; ordinary actions come more often from habit than conviction and conscious decision; and, most interestingly, behind cruelty lies not aggressive strength but fear (also the primary emotion behind anger).


It is saying that doing wrong things mostly falls into three categories: things overdone, things that you always do, and things that were cruel. If you assign the blame not to your self, but to your emotions, such as pride, habit, and fear, it is saying that you can be held blameless (because everyone makes mistakes due to these emotions) and yet be completely untrustworthy at the same time.

It is better to attribute actions to yourself, even if they were wrong, and try to change them, putting them under your power, to make yourself more trustworthy.

This phrase is a little sarcastic, making fun of flighty people who can't take the blame for their own actions.

  • 1
    This is not what is being said at all. It is a comment on human nature and what are the typical drivers for certain actions. This whole thing about blaming yourself vs emotions, and trustworthiness, and "flighty" people has been pulled out of thin air.
    – Jim
    Jul 4, 2015 at 2:22

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