This quote has been attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, for example, at goodreads.com.

"By seeking and blundering we learn."

I would appreciate seeing the original German.

1 Answer 1


A quick search yielded two relevant results:

  1. Auch ist das Suchen und Irren gut, denn durch Suchen und Irren lernt man. (Goethe, J. W., Gespräche. Mit Johann Peter Eckermann u.a., 1. Mai 1825)
  2. Irrend lernt man. (Goethe, J. W., Briefe. An August von Goethe, 14. Januar 1814)
  • 2
    Ich häng mal die Quelle auf. aphorismen.de/…
    – Dan
    Sep 26, 2019 at 11:42
  • 1
    @Joseph O'Rourke: "Irren" has two meanings - 1. to err, to make a mistake, and 2. to wander (without aim or orientation) - usually in the form "umherirren". The proximity to "Suchen" implies that Goethe went for the second meaning, and "blundering" seems like a reasonable translation. Sep 26, 2019 at 12:33
  • 4
    @JosephO'Rourke I would not consider it a reasonable translation. I am not a native English speaker, but my gut feeling would connote a kind of carelessness or foolishness in 'blunder', while 'sich irren' is a rather neutral description of being wrong. I would rather have translated the quote with 'By seeking and being mistaken, we learn.'
    – jarnbjo
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:36
  • 1
  • 1
    @Joseph, „seeking“ isn’t pithy either and we’re fine with it. The problem with blunder is that it includes a sense of carelessness that’s not in the original. It also doesn’t respect the connotation of going amiss, which forms the contrast to seek. In my eyes, (to) err matches best: it’s rare enough to be pithy and combines the original meanings of being wrong and lost best.
    – Florian
    Sep 28, 2019 at 9:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.