A writer from National Geographic has contacted me with a question, and I wonder if anyone out there has a better answer than I have so far come up with. She is working on an article that uses a quote widely attributed to Confucius, and wants to confirm the attribution. It is: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” One source that I found on-line suggests that this is based on Analects 16:19 (“孔子曰：「生而知之者，上也；學而知之者，次也；困而學之，又其次也。困而不學，民斯為下矣！」”; ctext here.). This is indeed a listing of three ways of acquiring understanding or wisdom, but the rest doesn’t match very well.
Does anyone have any ideas? There are tons of Confucius quotations in other texts, and maybe this is one of them? Or maybe a loose/early version of that Analects passage? The writer’s deadline is 2pm EST tomorrow! Thanks for any help, which I will pass on.