Quotations about   free will

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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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It is not murder which is forgiven but the killer, his person as it appears in circumstances and intentions. The trouble with the Nazi criminals was precisely that they renounced voluntarily all personal qualities, as if nobody were left to be either punished or forgiven. They protested time and again that they had never done anything out of their own initiative, that they had no intentions whatsoever, good or bad, and that they only obeyed orders.

To put it another way: the greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Some Questions of Moral Philosophy,” Lecture (1965-66)
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Reprinted in Responsibility and Judgment (2003).
Added on 18-Aug-20 | Last updated 18-Aug-20
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Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love.

Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy them, but now they call this free will.

At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Lullaby, ch. 3 (2002)
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Much of this is repeated in ch. 39.
Added on 11-Aug-20 | Last updated 11-Aug-20
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MORELLA: There is always choice. We say that there is no choice only to comfort ourselves with a decision we have already made.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×09 “Point of No Return” (26 Feb 1996)
Added on 23-Jul-20 | Last updated 23-Jul-20
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Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
The Measures of Man (1959)
Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 15-Apr-17
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There is a capacity of virtue in us, and there is a capacity of vice to make your blood creep.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1831)
Added on 9-Mar-16 | Last updated 9-Mar-16
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There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
A Hat Full of Sky (2004)
Added on 20-May-15 | Last updated 20-May-15
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The art of life isn’t controlling what happens, which is impossible; it’s using what happens.

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, journalist, activist
Moving Beyond Words, “Doing Sixty” (1994)
Added on 2-Apr-15 | Last updated 2-Apr-15
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Science is as yet in its infancy, and we can foretell little of the future save that the thing that has not been is the thing that shall be; that no beliefs, no values, no institutions are safe. So far from being an isolated phenomenon the late war is only an example of the disruptive result that we may constantly expect from the progress of science. The future will be no primrose path. It will have its own problems. Some will be the secular problems of the past, giant flowers of evil blossoming at last to their own destruction. Others will be wholly new. Whether in the end man will survive his ascensions of power we cannot tell. But the problem is no new one. It is the old paradox of freedom re-enacted with mankind for actor and the earth for stage.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Added on 5-Dec-14 | Last updated 5-Dec-14
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What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nichomachean Ethics, 3.5 [tr. Thomson (1953)]
Added on 14-Jan-14 | Last updated 14-Jan-14
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Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, ch. 1 (1852)
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Added on 14-Aug-12 | Last updated 14-Mar-16
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Practically, I am, nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being. I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime; nevertheless, I must protect myself from unpleasant contacts. I may consider him guiltless, but I prefer not to take tea with him.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What Life Means to Einstein,” Interview with G. Viereck, Saturday Evening Post (26 Oct 1929)
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Edited as "I am compelled to act as if free will existed, because if I wish to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly. I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime, but I prefer not to take tea with him," in Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
Added on 12-Nov-08 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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You don’t get to control any outcome, only every choice you make along the way.

Other Authors and Sources
Stephen C. Paul
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-May-14
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The brave man carves out his fortune, and every man is the son of his own works.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 1, Book 1, ch. 4 (1605)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-Jun-15
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One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty in finding someone to blame your troubles on. And when you do find someone, it’s remarkable how often their picture turns up on your driver’s license.

P.J. O'Rourke (b. 1947) American humorist, editor
Rolling Stone (30 Nov 1989)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Mar-16
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