The blind leading the blind
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"The blind leading the blind" is an idiom and a metaphor in the form of a parallel phrase, it is used to describe a situation where a person who knows nothing is getting advice and help from another person who knows almost nothing. It can be traced back to the Upanishads, which were written between 800 BCE and 200 BCE.
Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly, like blind led by the blind.
Suppose there were a row of blind men, each holding on to the one in front of him: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see. In the same way, the statement of the Brahmans turns out to be a row of blind men, as it were: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see.— Canki Sutta (MN 95)
"Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."— Matthew 15:13-14
Sextus Empiricus (160 – 210CE) compares ignorant teachers and blind guides in Outlines of Scepticism:
"Nor does the non-expert teach the non-expert - any more than the blind can lead the blind."
The phrase appears in Adagia, an annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, compiled during the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. The first edition, titled Collectanea Adagiorum, was published in Paris in 1500 CE.
Perhaps the most famous artistic depiction of the phrase is Pieter Bruegel's The Blind Leading the Blind. The distemper on canvas painting was completed in 1568, and is currently in the collection of the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.
References in popular culture
In a notable episode of Sex and the City Samantha tells Carrie that giving her advice is like 'the blind leading the blind'.
The song "Ego Tripp" by Mushroomhead includes the lyrics, "as the blind lead the blind on a crusade for sight."
The song "Disconnected" by Keane includes the lyrics, "We walk in circles, the blind leading the blind."
"Blind Leading the Blind" is a song by Mumford & Sons. It was released on October 23, 2019
- "What does 'Blind leading the blind' mean? - Idiom Definition". UsingEnglish.com. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
- "Meaning of the phrase blind leading the blind at dictionary.cambridge.org".
- Gary Martin. "'The blind leading the blind' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
- Juan Mascaró (tr), The Upanishads, Penguin Classics, 1965, ISBN 0-14-044163-8, p. 58.
- Canki Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 95) Archived 2017-05-27 at the Wayback Machine, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- Sullivan, Margaret A. (September 1991). "Bruegel's Proverbs: Art and Audience in the Northern Renaissance". The Art Bulletin. College Art Association. 73 (3): 431–466, 463. doi:10.2307/3045815. JSTOR 3045815.
- Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism (tr. J Annas and J Barnes), Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-521-77809-1, book III: 259
- Proverbs taken chiefly from the Adagia (1814)
- Media related to The Blind Leading the Blind at Wikimedia Commons