Quotations about:
    freedom of thought


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The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism,” New York Times Magazine (1951-12-16)
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Sometimes referred to as "The Liberal Decalogue." Later printed in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 3 (1969).
 
Added on 10-Jul-24 | Last updated 10-Jul-24
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The great misfortune, the root of all the evil to come, was the loss of faith in the value of personal opinions. People imagined that it was out of date to follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing the same tune in chorus, and live by other people’s notions, the notions which were being crammed down everybody’s throat.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator
Doctor Zhivago [До́ктор Жива́го], Part 2, ch. 13 “Opposite the House of Caryatids,” sec. 14 [Yury] (1955) [tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), UK ed.]
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Alternate translations:

The main misfortune, the root of all evil to come, was loss of the confidence in the value of one's own opinion. People imagined that it was out of date of follow their own moral sense, that they must all sing in chorus, and live by other people's notions, notions that were crammed down everybody's throat.
[tr. Hayward & Harari (1958), US ed.]

The main trouble, the root of the future evil, was loss of faith in the value of one’s own opinion. People imagined that the time when they followed the urgings of their moral sense was gone, that now they had to sing to the general tune and live by foreign notions imposed on everyone.
[tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky (2010)]

 
Added on 21-May-24 | Last updated 14-May-24
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However that may be, it is always disastrous when governments set to work to uphold opinions for their utility rather than for their truth. As soon as this is done it becomes necessary to have a censorship to suppress adverse arguments, and it is thought wise to discourage thinking among the young for fear of encouraging “dangerous thoughts.” When such mal-practices are employed against religion as they are in Soviet Russia, the theologians can see that they are bad, but they are still bad when employed in defence of what the theologians think good. Freedom of thought and the habit of giving weight to evidence are matters of far greater moral import than the belief in this or that theological dogma. On all these grounds it cannot be maintained that theological beliefs should be upheld for their usefulness without regard to their truth.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
“Is There a God?” (1952)
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Essay commissioned by Illustrated magazine in 1952, but never published there. First publication in Russell, Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-68 (1997) [ed. Slater/Köllner].
 
Added on 24-Apr-24 | Last updated 24-Apr-24
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Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.

Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramaturg, writer
(Attributed)

I cannot find an original source, but as early as 1847 this phrase (or this English translation) was connected with him, and the quote is mentioned in his biography Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: His Life and His Works (1878), by Helen Zimmern, who translated a number of his pieces.

Frequently misattributed to the modern English author Doris Lessing, perhaps because it is so misattributed on Wikiquote. There it is cited to an interview by Amanda Craig, "Grand dame of letters who's not going quietly," The Times of London (2003-11-23). The reference there is behind a paywall, so it's unclear if Lessing actually says it in the interview, or it is erroneously referenced by the author.

The quotation is also attributed to the Egyptian philosopher Hypatia.
 
Added on 23-Jan-24 | Last updated 23-Jan-24
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Since the earliest days, philosophers have dreamed of a country where the mind and spirit of man would be free; where there would be no limits to inquiry; where men would be free to explore the unknown and to challenge the most deeply rooted beliefs and principles. Our First Amendment was a bold effort to adopt this principle — to establish a country with no legal restrictions of any kind upon the subjects people could investigate, discuss, and deny.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
James Madison Lecture, NYU School of Law (1960-02-17)
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The inaugural Madison lecture. Reprinted as "The Bill of Rights," NYU Law Review, Vol. 35 (Apr 1960)
 
Added on 16-Mar-23 | Last updated 4-May-23
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If I valued fame, I should flatter received opinions, which have gathered strength by time, and will yet wear longer than any living works to the contrary. But, for the soul of me, I cannot and will not give the lie to my own thoughts and doubts, come what may. If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Journal (1813-11-27)
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Added on 16-Mar-23 | Last updated 27-Mar-23
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Our Constitution relies on our electorate’s complete ideological freedom to nourish independent and responsible intelligence and preserve our democracy from that submissiveness, timidity and herd-mindedness of the masses which would foster a tyranny of mediocrity.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 30-Jan-23 | Last updated 30-Jan-23
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You may force men, by interest or punishment, to say or swear they believe, and to act as if they believed; you can go no farther.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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Added on 17-Jan-23 | Last updated 17-Jan-23
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The interest of the people as a whole [lies] in being able to join organizations, advocate causes, and make political “mistakes” without later being subjected to governmental penalties for having dared to think for themselves.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, 144 (1959) [dissent]
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Added on 18-Aug-22 | Last updated 18-Aug-22
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The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 788 (1961) [dissenting]
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The case is frequently called "IAM v. Street" (International Association of Machinists).
 
Added on 28-Jul-22 | Last updated 28-Jul-22
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We cannot have a society half slave and half free; nor can we have thought half slave and half free. If we create an atmosphere in which men fear to think independently, inquire fearlessly, express themselves freely, we will in the end create the kind of society in which men no longer care to think independently or to inquire fearlessly.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“What Ideas Are Safe?” Saturday Review (5 Nov 1949)
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Reprinted in Freedom and Order (1966).
 
Added on 23-Mar-22 | Last updated 23-Mar-22
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Heresy is only another word for freedom of thought.

Graham Greene (1904-1991) English novelist [Henry Graham Greene]
“Freedom of Thought,” speech accepting the Jerusalem Prize (6 Apr 1981)
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Added on 28-Jul-21 | Last updated 28-Jul-21
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People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy; but the antagonism is here now. It is this very conflict of spiritual and moral ideas which gives the free countries a great part of their strength. You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. On all sides they are guarded by masses of armed men, cannons, aeroplanes, fortifications, and the like — they boast and vaunt themselves before the world, yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts; words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home — all the more powerful because forbidden — terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic. They make frantic efforts to bar our thoughts and words; they are afraid of the workings of the human mind. Cannons, airplanes, they can manufacture in large quantities; but how are they to quell the natural promptings of human nature, which after all these centuries of trial and progress has inherited a whole armoury of potent and indestructible knowledge?

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
“The Defence of Freedom and Peace (The Lights are Going Out),” radio broadcast (16 Oct 1938)
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Added on 22-Apr-21 | Last updated 22-Apr-21
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The time to assert rights is when they are denied; the men to assert them are those to whom they are denied. The community which dares not protect its humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
“Mobs and Education,” Speech, Twenty-Eighth Congregational Society, Boston (16 Dec 1860)
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As reported in the Liberator (21 Dec 1860).

Note: There is a synthetic quotation frequently attributed to Phillips that is a actually combination of this one, and these three others:

No matter whose lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. The community which dares not protect its humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves. If there is anything in the universe that can’t stand discussion, let it crack.

While Phillips often reused rhetorical elements (as most orators do), this particular combination appears to be combination not actually found in his speeches or writing.
 
Added on 24-Feb-21 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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“The right to think, to know and to utter,” as John Milton said, is the dearest of all liberties. Without this right, there can be no liberty to any people; with it, there can be no slavery.

John A. Andrew (1818-1867) American lawyer, politician, abolitionist
Letter (1860)
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Letter written after his election as Massachusetts governor. referencing Milton's Areopagitica. Quoted by Wendell Phillips in his "Mobs and Education" speech (16 Dec 1860), and often attributed to Phillips.
 
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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Errors and mistakes, however gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied, but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye, and there is neither jest nor guilt in a man’s losing his way in either case. Charity bids us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity, at the same time, forbids, either to punish or ridicule his misfortune.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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On religious tolerance.
 
Added on 28-Jan-21 | Last updated 12-Oct-22
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Every man’s reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion, as that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but God only knows who has found it. It is, therefore, as unjust to persecute as it is absurd to ridicule people for those several opinions which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of their reason.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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Speaking of religious beliefs.
 
Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 13-Oct-22
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The humanist has four leading characteristics — curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“George and Gide” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
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Added on 15-Apr-20 | Last updated 15-Apr-20
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Opinions are not to be learned by rote, like the letters of an alphabet, or the words of a dictionary. They are conclusions to be formed, and formed by each individual in the sacred and free citadel of the mind, and there enshrined beyond the arm of law to reach, or force to shake; ay! and beyond the right of impertinent curiosity to violate, or presumptuous arrogance to threaten.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Course of Popular Lectures, Lecture 6 “Formation of Opinions” (1829)
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Added on 30-Oct-19 | Last updated 30-Oct-19
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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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Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

Milton - above all liberties - wist_info quote

John Milton (1608-1674) English poet
Areopagitica: a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644)
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Added on 14-Jun-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the ideas that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny of every kind. In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) American lawyer, politician, statesman, US President (1933-1945)
“Message to American Booksellers Association” (23 Apr 1942)
 
Added on 18-Feb-16 | Last updated 18-Feb-16
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Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
A Room of One’s Own, ch. 4 (1929)
 
Added on 28-Jul-14 | Last updated 28-Jul-14
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I may stand alone,
But would not change my free thoughts for a throne.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 11, st. 90 (1823)
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Added on 13-May-14 | Last updated 26-Mar-24
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What an effort, my dear Sir, of bigotry in Politics & Religion have we gone through. The barbarians really flattered themselves they should even be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put every thing into the hands of power & priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise & encourage education, but it was to be vain the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards not forwards for improvement, the President himself declaring in one of his answers to addresses that we were never to expect to go beyond them in real science. This was the real ground of all the attacks on you: those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt, & well deserved fame.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Joseph Priestley (21 Mar 1801)
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Added on 1-Aug-13 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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To preserve the freedom of the human mind, then, and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to William Green Mumford (18 Jun 1799)
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Added on 11-Jul-13 | Last updated 3-Aug-22
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Whether we are New Dealer, Old Dealer, Liberty Leaguer or Red, whether we agree or not, we still have the right to think and speak how we feel.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech (1939-09-15), Chamber of Commerce Barbeque, Smithville, Texas
 
Added on 15-May-13 | Last updated 26-Apr-24
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Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. If you challenge your own, you won’t be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others. You’ll be a lot less likely to be caught up in bias or prejudice or be influenced by people who ask you to hand over your brains, your soul, or your money because they have everything all figured out for you.

Alan Alda (b. 1936) American actor [b. Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo]
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, ch. 2 “Lingering at the Door” (2007)
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Originally given at the commencement speech at Connecticut College in May, 1980, where his daughter Eve was graduating.
 
Added on 13-Dec-12 | Last updated 30-Oct-19
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The Christian religion when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have inveloped it, and brought to the original purity & simplicity of it’s benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, & the freest expansions of the human mind.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Moses Robinson (1801)
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Added on 8-Nov-12 | Last updated 17-Jul-22
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Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time ….

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” Preamble (1776-06-18; enacted 1786-01-16)
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During final debate around the bill's passage:
  • the first clause was struck, changing the beginning to "Whereas Almighty God ...."
  • the phrase "and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint" was struck.
  • the phrase "but to extend it by its influence on reason alone" was struck.
See Jefferson's discussion about a failed amendment to the preamble here.
 
Added on 26-Jul-12 | Last updated 1-Jul-24
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Gentlemen, you can never make me believe — no statute can ever convince me, that there is any infinite Being in this universe who hates an honest man. It is impossible to satisfy me that there is any God, or can be any God, who holds in abhorrence a soul that has the courage to express his thought. Neither can the whole world convince me that any man should be punished, either in this world or in the next, for being candid with his fellow-men. If you send men to the penitentiary for speaking their thoughts, for endeavoring to enlighten their fellows, then the penitentiary will become a place of honor, and the victim will step from it — not stained, not disgraced, but clad in robes of glory.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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And I believe, too, in the gospel of Liberty, in giving to others what we claim for ourselves. I believe there is room everywhere for thought, and the more liberty you give away, the more you will have. In liberty extravagance is economy. Let us be just. Let us be generous to each other.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“What Must We Do To Be Saved?” Sec. 11 (1880)
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Added on 23-Nov-11 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (11 Apr 1823)
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Added on 11-Jul-11 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, ch. 15 (1835)
 
Added on 31-Mar-11 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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The secret thoughts of a man run over all things holy, prophane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame, or blame.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) English philosopher
Leviathan, Part 1, ch. 8 (1651)
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Added on 23-Sep-10 | Last updated 6-Nov-20
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Goethe says that, if you plant an oak in a flower-vase, either the oak must wither or the vase crack; some men go for saving the vase. Too many nowadays have that anxiety; the Puritans would have let it crack. So say I. If there is anything that cannot bear free thought, let it crack.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
Speech, Pilgrim Society, Plymouth (21 Dec 1855)
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Added on 15-Sep-10 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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He who endeavors to control the mind by force is a tyrant, and he who submits is a slave.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
The Philosophy of Ingersoll, “Fragments” (1906) [ed. Goldthwaite]
 
Added on 13-Sep-10 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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When opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
The Age of Reason, Closing Words (1796)
 
Added on 19-Aug-10 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Conscience can’t be compelled.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English physician, preacher, aphorist, writer
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #1144 (1732)
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If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) American jurist, Supreme Court Justice
United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929) [Dissent]
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Added on 20-Jul-10 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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It is not to be supposed that the age-old readiness to try to convert minds by pressure or suppression, instead of reason and persuasion, is extinct. Our protection against all kinds of fanatics and extremists, none of whom can be trusted with unlimited power over others, lies not in their forbearance, but in the limitations of our Constitution.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 438-439 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 8-Apr-10 | Last updated 7-Mar-23
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But we must not forget that in our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous. Communists are not the only faction which would put us all in mental straitjackets.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 438 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 1-Apr-10 | Last updated 7-Mar-23
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More quotes by Jackson, Robert H.

Progress generally begins in skepticism about accepted truths. Intellectual freedom means the right to reexamine much that has been long taken for granted. A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert. The danger that citizens will think wrongly is serious, but less dangerous than atrophy from not thinking at all.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 2-Mar-10 | Last updated 2-Jan-23
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More quotes by Jackson, Robert H.

Our forefathers found the evils of free thinking more to be endured than the evils of inquest or suppression. They gave the status of almost absolute individual rights to the outward means of expressing belief. I cannot believe that they left open a way for legislation to embarrass or impede the mere intellectual processes by which those expressions of belief are examined and formulated. This is not only because individual thinking presents no danger to society, but because thoughtful, bold and independent minds are essential to wise and considered self-government.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 26-Feb-10 | Last updated 7-Mar-23
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Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty — so, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) American diplomat, statesman
Call to Greatness, ch. 3 “America’s Burden” (1954)
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Adapted from his "A Troubled World," Godkin Lectures, Harvard University (1954-03-17 - 1954-03-20)
 
Added on 26-Oct-09 | Last updated 28-Mar-24
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The first thing I want to teach is disloyalty. … This will beget independence — which is loyalty to one’s best self and principles, and this is often disloyalty to the general idols and fetishes.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
 
Added on 9-Oct-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

John Leland (1754-1841) American Baptist minister, civil libertarian
A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia (1845)
 
Added on 17-Jun-09 | Last updated 31-May-19
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No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
The Meaning of It All, “The Uncertainty of Values” (1999)
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Added on 17-Nov-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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Standing in the presence of the Unknown, all have the same right to think, and all are equally interested in the great question of origin and destiny. All I claim, all I plead for, is liberty of thought and expression. That is all.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child” (1877)
 
Added on 11-Sep-08 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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I believe that that community is already in process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we are not enter our convictions into the open list, to win or lose. Such fears as these are a solvent which can eat out the cement that binds the stones together; they may in the end subject us to a despotism as evil as any that we dread; and they can be allayed only in so far as we refuse to proceed on suspicion, and trust one another until we have tangible ground for misgiving,

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“A Plea for the Open Mind and Free Discussion,” speech, University of the State of New York, Albany (1952-10-24)
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There is surely no contradiction in saying that a certain section of the community may be quite competent to protect the persons and property of the rest, yet quite unfit to direct our opinions, or to superintend our private habits.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
Southey’s Colloquies on Society (1830)
 
Added on 24-Mar-08 | Last updated 16-Jan-20
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Now we have come to the conclusion that every man has a right to think. Would God give a bird wings and make it a crime to fly? Would he give me brains and make it a crime to think? Any God that would damn one of his children for the expression of his honest thought wouldn’t make a decent thief. When I read a book and don’t believe it, I ought to say so. I will do so and take the consequences like a man.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech on Religious Intolerance, Pittsburgh Opera House (14 Oct 1879)
 
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Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:

The right to criticize.
The right to hold unpopular beliefs.
The right to protest.
The right of independent thought.

The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood, nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
“Declaration of Conscience” (1950-06-01)
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Speech given in the US Senate.
 
Added on 27-Sep-07 | Last updated 4-Jul-23
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The last lesson a man ever learns is, that liberty of thought and speech is the right for all mankind; that the man who denies every article of our creed is to be allowed to preach just as often and just as loud as we ourselves. We have learned this, — been taught it by persecution on the question of slavery. No matter whose lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. Let us always remember that he does not really believe his own opinions, who dares not give free scope to his opponent. Persecution is really want of faith in our creed.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
“The Boston Mob,” speech, Antislavery Meeting, Boston (21 Oct 1855)
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"On the Twentieth Anniversary of the Mob of October 21, 1835."
 
Added on 8-Aug-07 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
“Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?” The Independent (22 Jan 2005)
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Added on 11-Feb-05 | Last updated 7-Mar-18
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