Quotations about   agency

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Half humanity was here in this lean dark girl beside him, and that half of humanity had its right to reason, determine and meddle, no less than the male half. After all, they were equally responsible for humankind continuing. There was not an archbishop or an abbot in the world who had not had a flesh and blood mother, and come of a passionate coupling.

Ellis Peters
Ellis Peters (1913-1995) English writer, translator [pseud. of Edith Mary Pargeter, who also wrote under the names John Redfern, Jolyon Carr, Peter Benedict]
The Holy Thief, ch. 11 (1992)
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Added on 13-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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Kiva considered that she might be developing a thing for Fundapellonan, which on one hand would be a very not-Kiva thing to do, but on the other hand who gave a fuck if it was “not-Kiva,” because she wasn’t some fucking fictional character destined to do whatever some goddamn hack wanted her to do.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The Consuming Fire (2018)
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Added on 20-May-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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Here is the crisis of the times as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policies, but we don’t talk about what democracy means — what it bestows on us — the revolutionary idea that it isn’t just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.

Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers (b. 1934) American journalist and public commentator
“The Power of Democracy,” speech, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, New York City (7 Feb 2007)
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Accepting the Frank E. Taplin, Jr. Public Intellectual Award. Reprinted in Bill Moyers, Moyers on Democracy (2008).
Added on 15-Mar-22 | Last updated 15-Mar-22
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For behind the unwillingness to judge lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done. The moment moral issues are raised, even in passing, he who raises them will be confronted with this frightful lack of self-confidence and hence of pride, and also with a kind of mock-modesty that in saying, Who am I to judge? actually means We’re all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend that they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites, and in either case should leave us alone.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” (1964)
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Added on 29-Oct-20 | Last updated 29-Oct-20
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DEXTER: I’d rather do something and make a mistake, than be frightened into doing nothing. That’s the problem back home. Folks have been conned into thinking they can’t change the world. Have to accept what is. I’ll tell you something, my friends, the world is changing every day. The only question is, who’s doing it?

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×20 “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” (14 Oct 1996)

See Straczynski.
Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 14-Feb-22
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It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Essays, “Of Great Place” (1625)
Added on 8-Sep-16 | Last updated 8-Sep-16
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General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle,” in “From a German War Primer,” The Svendborg Poems (1939) [tr. Baxandall]
Added on 7-Jan-16 | Last updated 26-Mar-21
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General, your tank
is a powerful vehicle
it smashes down forests
and crushes a hundred men.
but it has one defect:
it needs a driver.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle,” in “From a German War Primer,” The Svendborg Poems (1939) [tr. Baxandall]
Added on 10-Dec-15 | Last updated 26-Mar-21
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Therefore virtue also depends on ourselves. And so also does vice. For where we are free to act we are also free to refrain from acting, and where we are able to say No we are also able to say Yes; if therefore we are responsible for doing a thing when to do it is right, we are also responsible for not doing it when not to do it is wrong, and if we are responsible for rightly not doing a thing, we are also responsible for wrongly doing it. But if it is in our power to do and to refrain from doing right and wrong, and if, as we saw, being good or bad is doing right or wrong, it consequently depends on us whether we are virtuous or vicious.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 3, ch. 5 (3.5) / 1113b (c. 325 BC) [tr. Rackham (1934)]
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Source of the common summary, "What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do." Alternate translations:

Virtue is in our power. And so too is Vice: because wherever it is in our power to do it is also in our power to forbear doing, and vice versâ: therefore if the doing (being in a given case creditable) is in our power, so too is the forbearing (which is in the same case discreditable), and vice versâ. But if it is in our power to do and to forbear doing what is creditable or the contrary, and these respectively constitute the being good or bad, then the being good or vicious characters is in our power.
[tr. Chase (1847), ch. 7]

Virtue is in our own power, and, by parity of reasoning, so is vice. For where it is in our power to do a thing, it is equally in our power to abstain from doing it; where refusal is in our power, assent is equally so. So that, if to do such or such a thing, which is noble, be in our power, to abstain from it, which is disgraceful, will be equally in our power; and ift0o abstain from doing such or such a thing, which is noble, be in our power, then to do it, which is disgraceful, will be equally in our power. And if, in a word, it be in our power to do what is noble and what is disgraceful, it is equally in our power not to do it. Or in other words, it is in our power to be good men or bad. It rests, then, with ourselves whether we are to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Williams (1869)]

Virtue and vice are both alike in our own power; for where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power to refrain from acting, and where it is our power to refrain from acting, it is also in our power to act. Hence if it is in our power to act when action is noble, it will also be in our power to refrain from acting when inaction is shameful, and if it is our power to refrain from acting when inaction is noble, it will also be in our power to act when action is shameful. But if it is in our power to do, and likewise not to do, what is noble and shameful, and if so to act or not to act is as we have seen to be good or bad, it follows that it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Welldon (1892), ch. 7]

Therefore virtue depends upon ourselves: and vice likewise. For where it lies with us to do, it lies with us not to do. Where we can say no, we can say yes. If then the doing a deed, which is noble, lies with us, the not doing it, which is disgraceful, lies with us; and if the not doing, which is noble, lies with us, the doing, which is disgraceful, also lies with us. But if the doing and likewise the not doing of noble or base deeds lies with us, and if this is, as we found, identical with being good or bad, then it follows that it lies with us to be worthy or worthless men.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

Therefore virtue also is in our own power, and so too vice. For where it is in our power to act it is also in our power not to act, and vice versa; so that, if to act, where this is noble, is in our power, not to act, which will be base, will also be in our power, and if not to act, where this is noble, is in our power, to act, which will be base, will also be in our power. Now if it is in our power to do noble or base acts, and likewise in our power not to do them, and this was what being good or bad meant, then it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

Virtue too is up to us, then, and similarly, vice. For where acting is up to us, so is not acting, and where saying "No" is up to us, so is saying "Yes." Hence if acting, when it is noble, is up to us, not acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. And if not acting, when it is noble, is up to us, acting, when it is shameful, will also be up to us. But if doing noble actions or doing shameful ones is up to us, and similarly, also not doing them (which is what being good people and being bad people consisted in), then being decent or base will be up to us.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

So virtue, too, is in our power, and also vice for a similar reason. For where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where it is in our power not to act, it is also in our power to act; so if to act, when it is noble, is in our power, then also not to act, which would then be disgraceful, would be in our power, and if not to act, when it is noble, is in our power, then also to act, which would then be disgraceful, would be in our power. If it is in our power, then, to do what is noble or disgraceful, and likewise not to do what is noble or disgraceful, and to act or not to act nobly or disgracefully, as stated earlier, is to be good or bad, then it is our power to be good or bad men.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

Therefore virtue lies in our power, and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where we can refuse we can also also comply. So if is in our power to do a thing when it is right, it will also be in our power not to do it when it is wrong; and if it is in our power not to do it when it is right, it will also be in our power to do it when it is wrong. And if it is in our power to do right and wrong, and similarly not to do them; and if, as we saw, doing right or wrong is the essence of being good or bad, it follows that it is in our power to be decent or worthless.
[tr. Thomson/Tredennick (1976)]

Virtue, then, is in our power, and so is vice. Where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act, and where saying "No" is in our power, so is saying "Yes" so that if it is in our power to act when it would be noble, it will also be in our power not to act when it would be shameful, and if it is in our power not to act when it would be noble, it will also be in our power to act when it would be shameful. Now if it is in our power to do noble and shameful actions, and the same goes for not doing them, and if, as we saw, being good and bad consists in this, then it is in our power to be good or bad.
[tr. Crisp (2000)]

Added on 14-Jan-14 | Last updated 1-Feb-22
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Nature is neutral. Man has wrested from nature the power to make the world a desert or to make the desert bloom. There is no evil in the atom; only in men’s souls.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
Speech, Hartford, Connecticut (18 Sep 1952)
Added on 24-Aug-09 | Last updated 25-Nov-14
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It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Henley - master of my fate - wist_info quote

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) English poet, critic, editor
“Invictus” (1875)
Added on 15-Jul-09 | Last updated 12-Feb-16
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