Quotations by Godwin, William


Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new occasions and temptations for the commission of it.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, “Summary of Principles” 2.4 (1793)
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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Every man has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbors. This right flows from the very nature of man. First, all men are fallible: no man can be justified in setting up his judgment as a standard for others. We have no infallible judge of controversies; each man in his own apprehension is right in his decisions; and we can find no satisfactory mode of adjusting their jarring pretensions. If every one be desirous of imposing his sense upon others, it will at last come to be a controversy, not of reason, but of force.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 6, ch. 1 (1793)
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To conceive that compulsion and punishment are the proper means of reformation, is the sentiment of a barbarian; civilisation and science are calculated to explode so ferocious an idea. It was once universally admitted and approved; it is now necessarily upon the decline. Punishment must either ultimately succeed in imposing the sentiments it is employed to inculcate, upon the mind of the sufferer, or it must forcibly alienate him against them. The last of these can never be the intention of its employer, or have a tendency to justify its application. […] Yet to alienate the mind of the sufferer, from the individual that punishes, and from the sentiments he entertains, is perhaps the most common effect of punishment.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 7, ch. 5 (1793)
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The proper method for hastening the decay of error is not by brute force, or by regulation which is one of the classes of force, to endeavor to reduce men to intellectual uniformity, but on the contrary by teaching every man to think for himself.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. 2, bk. 8, ch. 6 “Of the Enjoyment of Liberty” (1793)
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As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
The Enquirer, Essay 15 “Of Choice in Reading” (1797)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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