Quotations about   authority

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Be not afraid! In admitting a creator, refuse not to examine his creation; and take not the assertions of creatures like yourselves, in place of the evidence of your senses and the conviction of your understanding.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 3, “Of the more Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge” (1829)
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Added on 20-Sep-19 | Last updated 20-Sep-19
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I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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On the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban school-led prayer.
Added on 5-May-19 | Last updated 5-May-19
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To be vested with enormous authority is a fine thing; but to have the onlooking world consent to it is a finer.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, ch. 8 “The Boss” (1889)
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In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the Bible was: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Nowadays, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose truth whatever suits our own prejudices.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Unpopular Essays (1950)

Quoting Exodus 22:18.
Added on 13-Nov-18 | Last updated 13-Nov-18
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A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Remark to Jost Winteler (8 Jul 1901), in Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 1 (1987) [tr. Beck]
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Added on 6-Nov-18 | Last updated 6-Nov-18
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With great power there must also come — great responsibility!

lee-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-wist_info-quote

Stan Lee (b. 1922) American comic-book writer, publisher, media personality [b. Stanley Martin Lieber]
Amazing Fantasy (Aug 1962)

Used in the original Spider-Man story.
Added on 20-Jan-17 | Last updated 20-Jan-17
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The weakness of the child is that it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives, and because of its credulity other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Such, Such Were The Joys…” (1952)
Added on 20-Dec-16 | Last updated 20-Dec-16
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In effect what Luther said in 1517 was that we may appeal to a demonstrable work of God, the Bible, to override any established authority. The Scientific Revolution begins when Nicolaus Copernicus implied the bolder proposition that there is another work of God to which we may appeal even beyond this: the great work of nature. No absolute statement is allowed to be out of reach of the test, that its consequence must conform to the facts of nature.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Science and Human Values, Part 2 “The Habit of Truth”, §11 (1956)
Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Intellect,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 11-Nov-16 | Last updated 11-Nov-16
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Wherever there is authority, there is a natural inclination to disobedience.

haliburton-natural-inclination-to-disobedience-wist_info-quote

Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) Canadian politician, judge, humorist
Sam Slick’s Wise Saws and Modern Instances (1853)
Added on 18-Oct-16 | Last updated 18-Oct-16
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You can lead an organization through persuasion or formal edict. I have never found the arbitrary use of authority to control an organization either effective or, for that matter, personally interesting. If you cannot persuade your colleagues of the correctness of your position, it is probably worthwhile to rethink your own.

Greenspan - persuasion or edict - wist_info quote

Alan Greenspan (b. 1926) American economist, bureaucrat
“Federal Reserve’s Chairman Blends Eye for Politics with Economic Skills,” New York Times (26 Jul 1990)
Added on 8-Feb-16 | Last updated 8-Feb-16
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Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority. A commander of a regiment is not necessarily a leader. He has all of the appurtenances of power given by a set of Army regulations by which he can compel unified action. He can say to a body such as this, “Rise,” and “Sit down.” You do it exactly. But that is not leadership.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Conference of the Society for Personnel Administration (12 May 1954)
Added on 27-Aug-15 | Last updated 27-Aug-15
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The arguments start when religious values are used to support positions which would impose on other people restrictions they find unacceptable. Some people do object to Catholic demands for an end to abortion, seeing it as a violation of the separation of church and state. And some others, while they have no compunction about invoking the authority of the Catholic bishops in regard to birth control and abortion, might reject out of hand their teaching on war and peace and social policy.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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Added on 11-May-15 | Last updated 11-May-15
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It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
“The Path of the Law,” Speech to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (8 Jan 1897)
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Added on 10-Apr-15 | Last updated 10-Apr-15
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Indeed I reply in a single word to the sentiments of the saints on these questions about nature; in theology, to be sure, the force of authorities is to be weighed, in philosophy, however, that of causes. Therefore, a saint is Lactantius, who denied the rotundity of the earth; a saint is Augustine, who, admitting the rotundity, yet denied the antipodes; worthy of sainthood is the dutiful performance of moderns who, admitting the meagreness of the earth, yet deny its motion. But truth is more saintly for me, who demonstrate by philosophy, without violating my due respect for the doctors of the church, that the earth is both round and inhabited at the antipodes, and of the most despicable size, and finally is moved among the stars.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
Astronomi Opera Omnia, Vol. 1 (1858) [ed. Frisch (1858), tr. Burtt (1925)]
Added on 25-Feb-15 | Last updated 25-Feb-15
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When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine [Introduction à l’Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale] (1865)
Added on 16-Jan-15 | Last updated 16-Jan-15
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People with real power never fear of losing it. People with control think of little else.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“Mom, He’s Doing It Again…”, Whedonesque.com (10 Nov 2007)
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Added on 15-Jan-15 | Last updated 15-Jan-15
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All lawful authority, legislative, and executive, originates from the people. Power in the people is like light in the sun: native, original, inherent, and unlimited by anything human. In governors it may be compared to the reflected light of the moon, for it is only borrowed, delegated, and limited by the intention of the people; whose it is, and to whom governors are to consider themselves as responsible, while the people are answerable only to God; — themselves being the losers, if they pursue a false scheme of politics.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 6-Nov-14 | Last updated 6-Nov-14
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The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of slavery — through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone God.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Individuality” (1873)
Added on 29-Oct-14 | Last updated 29-Oct-14
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The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984) American social psychologist
Obedience To Authority, ch. 1 (1974)
Added on 20-May-14 | Last updated 20-May-14
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He who is firmly seated in authority soon learns to think security, and not progress, the highest lesson of statecraft.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
New England Two Centuries Ago (1865)
Added on 29-Apr-14 | Last updated 29-Apr-14
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Mankind are apt to be strongly prejudiced in favor of whatever is countenanced by antiquity, enforced by authority, and recommended by custom. The pleasure of acquiescing in the decision of others is by most men so preferred to the toil and hazard of inquiry, and so few are either able or disposed to examine for themselves, that the voice of law will generally be taken for the dictates of justice.

Robert Hall (1764-1831) English Baptist minister
“Fragment on Village Preaching,” sec. 2
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Added on 22-Apr-14 | Last updated 22-Apr-14
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Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find critics subversive.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
Freedom and Order (1966)
Added on 15-Apr-14 | Last updated 15-Apr-14
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Rank without merit earns deference without respect.

Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
Maxims and Thoughts, ch. 1 (1796) [tr. Merwin (1984)]
Added on 9-Apr-14 | Last updated 9-Apr-14
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The actions of those who hold great power, and pass their lives in a lofty station, are known to all the world. So it comes to pass that in the highest position there is the least freedom of action.

Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) Roman general and statesman [Gaius Julius Caesar]
Speech, Roman Senate

In Sallust, The War with Catiline, 51.12 [tr. Rolfe (1921)]
Added on 31-Mar-14 | Last updated 31-Mar-14
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The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 23:2-7 (NIV)
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Alt trans:
  • "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men." [NRSV]
  • "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi." [KJV]
Added on 27-Nov-12 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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When religion becomes organzied, man ceases to be free. It is not God that is worshiped but the group or the authority that claims to speak in his name. Sin becomes disobedience to authority and not violation of integrity.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) Indian philosopher, statesman
East and West: Some Reflections, Preface (1955)
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Variants:
  • "It is not God that is worshiped but the authority that claims to speak in His name."
  • An expanded version in Religion, Science and Culture, ch. 3 "The World Communities of Ideals" (1965) includes an inserted second sentence: "If we think that it is a question of life or death -- what concept of God we accept -- then our hearts are filled with fury."
Added on 22-Dec-10 | Last updated 2-Aug-16
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The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Novum Organum, Book 1, Aphorism 46 (1620)
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Added on 20-Sep-10 | Last updated 16-May-16
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Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Resuscitatio, “Proposition Touching Amendment of Laws” (1657)
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It is an old habit with theologians to beat the living with the bones of the dead.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Reply to Archdeacon Farrar” (1890)
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Added on 30-Oct-09 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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Great virtues may draw attention from defects, they cannot sanctify them. A pebble surrounded by diamonds remains a common stone, and a diamond surrounded by pebbles is still a gem. No one should attempt to refute an argument by pronouncing the name of some man, unless he is willing to adopt all the ideas and beliefs of that man. It is better to give reasons and facts than names. An argument should not depend for its force upon the name of its author. Facts need no pedigree, logic has no heraldry, and the living should not awed by the mistakes of the dead.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Great Infidels” (1881)
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Added on 26-Jun-08 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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Anyone who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but his memory.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian artist, engineer, scientist
Notebooks (c. 1500) [tr. Richter]

Alt. trans.: "The one who relies on authority during a discussion does not use his mind but his memory."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Nov-18
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It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Buddha (c.563-483 BC) Indian mystic, philosopher [b. Siddharta Gautama]
The Kalama Sutta
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ANTONIO: Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul, producing holy witness,
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, scene 3, l. 97 (1596)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Sep-19
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