Quotations about   intent

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War is one way of making decisions — but what’s decided may not be what anybody originally intended.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Added on 14-May-21 | Last updated 14-May-21
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Virtue consists, not in avoiding wrong-doing, but in having no wish thereto.

[Ἀγαθὸν οὐ τὸ μὴ ἀδικεῖν, ἀλλὰ τὸ μηδὲ ἐθέλειν.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 62 (Diels) [tr. Freeman (1948)]

Original Greek. Diels cites this as "62. ( 38 N.) DEMOKRATES. 27" ; collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium III, 9, 29. Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "To be good is not only not to do an injury, but not so much as to desire to do one." [tr. Clarke (1750), Democrates, "Ethica."]
  • "Good means not [merely] not to do wrong, but rather not to desire to do wrong.: [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
  • "To be good is not to refrain from wrongdoing but not even to want to commit it." [tr. Barnes (1987)]
  • "It is not good to not commit injustice, but rather to not desire to." [tr. @sententiq (2018), frag. 61]
  • "Virtue consists not in avoiding wrongdoing, but in having no desire for it." [Source]
Added on 9-Feb-21 | Last updated 23-Feb-21
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The mind sins, not the body; if there is no intention, there is no blame.

[Mentem peccare, non corpus, et unde consilium abfuerit, culpam abesse.]

Livy (59 BC-AD 17) Roman historian [Titus Livius]
Ab Urbe Condita [From the Founding of the City; The History of Rome], Book 1, ch. 58 (27-9 BC)

Reassurances given to Lucretia, wife of Collatinus, after her rape by Sextus Tarquin. She still kills herself.

Different sources use abfuerit or afuerit. Restated as a legal term, it's usually given as Mens peccat, non corpus, et unde consilium abfuit, culpa abest.

Alt. trans.:
  • "That it is the mind sins, not the body; and that where intention was wanting guilt could not be." [tr. Spillan (1896)]
  • "The mind sins, not the body, and there is no guilt when intent is absent." [tr. Luce]
  • "The mind sins, not the body; and where the power of judgment has been absent, guilt is absent." [Source]
  • "The mind alone was capable of sinning, not the body, and that where there was no such intention, there could be no guilt." [tr. Baker (1823)]
  • "It is the mind that sins, not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt." [tr. Roberts (1905)]
  • "It is the mind that sins, not the body; and that where purpose has been wanting there is no guilt." [tr. Foster (1919)]
  • "It is the will only that is capable of sinning, not the body; and where there is no intention, there can be no guilt." [Source]
Added on 12-Oct-20 | Last updated 12-Oct-20
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For laws are silent when arms are raised.

[Silent enim leges inter arma.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Pro Milone, ch. 4, sec. 11 [tr. Yonge (1891)]

In context, Cicero is asserting that self-defense is a valid defense for killing, even though that principle was not written into Roman law. It has been extended in legal terms to times of war being exempt from normal laws regarding killing.

Alt. trans.:
  • "For laws are silent among arms."
  • "In a time of war, the law falls silent."
  • "Laws are silent in time of war."
  • "The laws are silent in warfare."
  • "For among arms, the laws fall mute."
  • "The power of law is suspended during war."
Original Latin.
Added on 28-Sep-20 | Last updated 28-Sep-20
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A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.

Oliver Herford (1863–1935) Anglo-American writer, artist and illustrator

Widely attributed to Herford as early as 1915. Similar in construction to "A gentleman is a man who never gives offense unintentionally," "A gentleman is a person who never insults anyone unintentionally," etc., which go back to at least 1905, and in the late 1920s were attributed without citation to Oscar Wilde. See here for more discussion of the Wilde citation.

By possible coincidence, Herford was known at the time as the American Oscar Wilde.
Added on 2-Sep-20 | Last updated 2-Sep-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)

Reprinted in Responsibility and Judgment (2003).
Added on 18-Aug-20 | Last updated 18-Aug-20
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It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) American general
Speech, Republican National Convention, Chicago (7 Jul 1952)
Added on 23-Jul-20 | Last updated 23-Jul-20
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In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; a racist is consciously prejudiced and intends to be hurtful. Because this definition requires conscious intent, it exempts virtually all white people and functions beautifully to obscure and protect racism as a system in which we are all implicated.

Robin DiAngelo (b. 1956) American academic, lecturer, author
White Fragility, Introduction (2018)
Added on 11-Mar-20 | Last updated 12-Mar-20
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“Praying for particular things,” said I, “always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to assume that He knows best?”

“On the same principle,” said he, “I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.”

“That’s quite different,” I protested.

“I don’t see why,” said he. “The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way, I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
God in the Dock, Part 2, ch. 7 “Scraps,” #4 (1970)
Added on 5-Feb-20 | Last updated 5-Feb-20
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The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

[L’âme qui n’a point de but établi, elle se perd: car comme on dit, c;est n’ètre en aucun lieu que d’être partout.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
Essays, Book 1, ch. 8 “Of Idleness” (1580-88) [tr. Frame (1943)]

Alt. trans.: "The soul that has no established aim loses itself, for, as it is said, 'He who lives everywhere, lives nowhere.'" [tr. Cotton (1877)]

Alt. trans.: "When the soul is without a definite aim, she gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere you are nowhere." [tr. Screech (1987)]

The proverb referenced is Martial.
Added on 14-Jul-17 | Last updated 14-Jul-17
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Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) Austrian-American business consultant

Frequently attributed to Drucker, but not found in his writings. See here for more discussion.
Added on 8-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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YODA: No! Try not. Do — or do not. There is no try.

Lawrence Kasdan (b. 1949) American screenwriter, director, producer
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) [with George Lucas and Leigh Brackett]
Added on 5-Feb-16 | Last updated 5-Feb-16
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Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 6 (1891)
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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For it is in the person’s choice that wickedness and the commission of injustice are found.

[ἐν γὰρ τῇ προαιρέσει ἡ μοχθηρία καὶ τὸ ἀδικεῖν]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric [Ῥητορική; Ars Rhetorica], Book 1, ch. 13, sec. 10 (1.13.10) / 1374a.11 (350 BC) [tr. Bartlett (2019)]

Often given as "The intention makes the crime." (Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

For the criminality and injustice of the act stands essentially in the deliberate principle on which it is done.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]

For vice and wrong-doing depend on the moral purpose.
[tr. Jebb (1873)]

It is deliberate purpose that constitutes wickedness and criminal guilt.
[tr. Roberts (1924)]

For vice and wrongdoing consist in the moral purpose.
[tr. Freese (1926)]

For the immorality and wrongness of an act depend on intentional choice.
[tr. Waterfield (2018)]

Added on 3-Jun-09 | Last updated 28-Dec-21
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Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Letter to Isham Reavis (5 Nov 1855)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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