Quotations about:
    responsibility


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Political loyalty, military obedience are excellent things, but they neither require nor do they justify the commission of patently wicked acts. There comes a point where a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his conscience.

Hartley Shawcross
Hartley Shawcross (1902-2003) English barrister, politician, diplomat
Opening remarks, Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal (4 Dec 1945)
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Shawcross was Attorney General of the UK and Chief Prosecutor for the UK at the tribunal
 
Added on 31-Jan-23 | Last updated 31-Jan-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, 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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It may be prudent in me to act sometimes by other men’s reason; but I can think only by my own.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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Added on 9-Jan-23 | Last updated 9-Jan-23
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A belated discovery, one that causes considerable anguish, is that no one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be unlocked from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.

Marilyn Ferguson
Marilyn Ferguson (1938-2008) American author, editor, public speaker
The Aquarian Conspiracy, ch. 4 (1980)
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Added on 30-Sep-22 | Last updated 30-Sep-22
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When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us, “What did you do? What did you say?” For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.

John Lewis
John Lewis (1940-2020) American politician and civil rights leader
Speech, House of Representatives (18 Dec 2019)
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During the House vote to impeach Donald Trump.
 
Added on 9-Aug-22 | Last updated 9-Aug-22
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In pursuit of virtue, do not be afraid to overtake your teacher.

[當仁、不讓於師。]
[当仁不让于师]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 15, verse 36 (15.36) (6th C. BC – 3rd C. AD) [tr. Leys (1997)]
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(Source (Chinese) 1, 2). Modern numbering is 15.36; exceptions (mostly after Legge) noted below. Alternate translations:

Let every man consider virtue as what devolves on himself. He may not yield the performance of it even to his teacher.
[tr. Legge (1861), 15.35]

Rely upon good-nature. 'Twill not allow precedence (even) to a teacher.
[tr. Jennings (1895), 15.35]

When the question is one of morality, a man need not defer to his teacher.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898), 15.35]

He upon whom a Moral duty devolves should not give way even to his Master.
[tr. Soothill (1910), 15.35]

He who has undertaken the way of Virtue does not yield place to his Teacher.
[tr. Soothill (1910), 15.35, alternate]

Manhood’s one's own, not leavable to teacher.
[tr. Pound (1933), 15.35]

When it comes to Goodness one need not avoid competing with one's teacher.
[tr. Waley (1938), 15.35]

When faced with the opportunity to practice benevolence do not give precedence even to your teacher.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

When one is confronted by humaneness, one does not yield precedence to one's teacher.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

One should not decline modestly to one's teacher when one faces the benevolent thing.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), analect 420]

In striving to be authoritative in your conduct (ren), do not yield even to your teacher.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

With (ren), one need not defer to one's teacher.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

Abide in Humanity, and you need not defer to any teacher.
[tr. Hinton (1998)]

When it comes to being Good, defer to no one, not even your teacher.
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

In matters of humaneness, do not defer even to your teacher.
[tr. Watson (2007)]

When encountering matters that involve the question of humaneness, do not yield even to your teacher.
[tr. Annping Chin (2014)]

When confronted with a challenge of upholding Ren virtue or not, one should not yield -- not even to his own teacher.
[tr. Li (2020), 15.37]

 
Added on 1-Aug-22 | Last updated 1-Aug-22
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Cherish what you believe. Don’t job off one single value judgment because it swims upstream against what appears to be a majority. Respect your own logic, your own sense of morality. Death and taxes may be the only absolutes. It’s for you to conjure up the modus operandi of how you live, act, react and hammer out a code of ethics. Certainly listen to arguments; certainly ponder and respect the opinions of your peers. But there’s a point you compromise, and there’s a point all human beings draw a line and say, “Beyond this point it’s not right or just or honest, and beyond this point I don’t move.”

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Commencement Address, Ithaca College, New York (13 May 1972)
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Added on 14-Jun-22 | Last updated 14-Jun-22
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In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometimes fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils […] and on that Great Day of which the prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on the day the world is utterly cleansed of evil, then I too will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever … Until then, I will not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) American writer
The Guns of Avalon, ch. 3 (1972)
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Added on 13-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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Evil is not a political or scientific category. But, after Auschwitz, who could doubt that it exists, and that it manifested itself in the hate-driven genocide carried out by the Nazi regime?

However, noting this fact does not permit us to circumvent our responsibility by blaming everything on a demonic Hitler. The evil manifested in the Nazi ideology was not without its precursors. There was a tradition behind the rise of this brutal ideology and the accompanying loss of moral inhibition.

Above all, it needs to be said that the Nazi ideology was something that people supported at the time and that they took part in putting into effect.

Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard "Gerd" Schröder (b. 1944) German politician, Chancellor (1998-2005), lobbyist
Speech, Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, Berlin (25 Jan 2005)
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Added on 9-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility.

James - Knowledge always brings responsibility - wist.info quote

P. D. James (1920-2014) British mystery writer [Phyllis Dorothy James White]
Devices and Desires, Book 6, ch. 10 (1990)
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Added on 31-Mar-22 | Last updated 31-Mar-22
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Tolerance is a better guarantee of freedom than brotherly love; for a man may love his brother so much he feels himself thereby appointed his brother’s keeper.

Everett Dean Martin
Everett Dean Martin (1880-1941) American educator, minister, writer, lecturer
Liberty (1930)
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Added on 16-Feb-22 | Last updated 16-Feb-22
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The greatest danger to our future is apathy. We cannot expect those living in poverty and ignorance to worry about saving the world. For those of us able to read this magazine, it is different. We can do something to preserve our planet.

Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall (b. 1934) English primatologist and anthropologist
“The Power of One,” Time Magazine (26 Aug 2002)
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Added on 10-Feb-22 | Last updated 10-Feb-22
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And yet a majority vote is worthless as a proof of truths that are at all difficult to discover; for a single man is much more likely to hit upon them than a group of people. I was, then, unable to choose anyone whose opinions struck me as preferable to those of all others, and I found myself as it were forced to become my own guide.

[Et que néanmoins la pluralité des voix n’est pas une preuve qui vaille rien, pour les vérités un peu malaisées à découvrir, à cause qu’il est bien plus vraisemblable qu’un homme seul les ait rencontrées que tout un peuple; je ne pouvois choisir personne dont les opinions me semblassent devoir être préférées à celles des autres, et je me trouvai comme contraint d’entreprendre moi-même de me conduire.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 2 (1637) [tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Notwithstanding that plurality of voices is a proof of no validity, in those truths which are hard to be discovered; for that it’s much more likely for one man alone to have met with them, then a whole Nation; I could choose no Man whose opinion was to be preferr’d before anothers: And I found my self even constrain’d to undertake the conduct of my self.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

Although such be the ground of our opinions, I remarked that a plurality of suffrages is no guarantee of truth where it is at all of difficult discovery, as in such cases it is much more likely that it will be found by one than by many. I could, however, select from the crowd no one whose opinions seemed worthy of preference, and thus I found myself constrained, as it were, to use my own reason in the conduct of my life.
[tr. Veitch (1901)]

Yet in spite of this the voice of the majority does not afford a proof of any value in truths a little difficult to discover, because such truths are much more likely to have been discovered by one man than by a nation. I could not, however, put my finger on a single person whose opinions seemed preferable to those of others, and I found that I was, so to speak, constrained myself to undertake the direction of my procedure.
[tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]

 
Added on 1-Feb-22 | Last updated 4-Jun-22
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It is all very well to talk about being the captain of your soul. It is hard, and only a few heroes, saints, and geniuses have been the captains of their souls for any extended period of their lives. Most men, after a little freedom, have preferred authority with the consoling assurances and the economy of effort it brings.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
A Preface to Morals, ch. 1, sec. 3 (1929)
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Added on 18-Oct-21 | Last updated 18-Oct-21
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No man knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on the installment plan, and raised an adolescent.

No picture available
Marcelene Cox (1900-1998) American writer, columnist, aphorist
“Ask Any Woman” column, Ladies’ Home Journal (1955)
 
Added on 17-Sep-21 | Last updated 17-Aug-22
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Fear, born of that stern matron, Responsibility, sits on one’s shoulders like some heavy imp of darkness, and one is preoccupied and, possibly, cantankerous.

William McFee (1881-1966) English writer
“The Crusaders,” Atlantic (Sep 1919)
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Added on 2-Jul-21 | Last updated 2-Jul-21
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And I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people that don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell — or not getting eternal life, or whatever — and you think that, “Well, it’s not really worth tellin’ ’em this, because it would make it socially awkward.” And atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize, “Just leave me alone. Keep your religion to yourself.” How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I mean, if I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, that a truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you — and this is more important than that.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author
“A Gift of a Bible,” Penn Says, ep. 192 (9 Dec 2008)
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Added on 29-Apr-21 | Last updated 29-Apr-21
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My word, how mortals take the gods to task!
All their afflictions come from us, we hear.
And what of their own failings? Greed and folly
double the suffering in the lot of man.

[ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι· οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 1, l. 32ff (1.32) [Zeus] (c. 700 BC) [tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

O how falsely men
Accuse us Gods as authors of their ill!
When, by the bane their own bad lives instill,
They suffer all the mis’ries of their states,
Past our inflictions, and beyond their fates.
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

Ha! how dare mortals tax the Gods, and say,
Their harms do all proceed from our decree,
And by our setting; when by their crimes they
Against our wills make their own destiny?
[tr. Hobbes (1675), l. 37ff]

Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute degree;
All to the dooming gods their guilt translate,
And follies are miscall'd the crimes of fate.
[tr. Pope (1725)]

Alas! how prone are human-kind to blame
The Pow’rs of Heav’n! From us, they say, proceed
The ills which they endure, yet more than Fate
Herself inflicts, by their own crimes incur.
[tr. Cowper (1792), l. 41ff]

Mortals, ye Powers, upbraid us with their voice,
And brand us for the fount of all their ill,
Who, of their own acts, not of fate but choice,
Heap to themselves much toil and sorrow still.
[tr. Worsley (1861), st. 6]

Why! what reproach,
Ye gods! do mortals cast on deities!
To us all their calamities they trace,
While they, themselves, through their own senseless acts,
Feel pangs their destiny had ne'er decreed.
[tr. Musgrave (1869)]

Oh heavens! how mortals now to blame the gods!
From us they say spring ills! but they themselves
By their own folly bring unfated woes.
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]

Lo you now, how vainly mortal men do blame the gods! For of us they say comes evil, whereas they even of themselves, through the blindness of their own hearts, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

Lo, how men blame the gods! From us, they say, spring troubles. But through their own perversity and more than is their due they meet with sorrow.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

See now, how men lay blame upon us gods for what is after all nothing but their own folly.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Oh my, how mortals hold us gods responsible! For they say that their misfortunes come from us. But they get their sufferings, beyond what is fated, by way of their own acts of recklessness.
[tr. Butler (1898), rev. Kim/McCray/Nagy/Power (2018)]

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

It vexes me to see how mean are these creatures of a day towards us Gods, when they charge against us the evils (far beyond our worst dooming) which their own exceeding wantonness has heaped upon themselves.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own wickedness that brings them sufferings worse than any which Destiny allots them.
[tr. Rieu (1946)]

Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame upon us
gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather,
who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves -- in their depravity -- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1990)]

Ah how shameless -- the way these mortals blame the gods.
From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,
but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share.
[tr. Fagles (1996)]

Mortals! They are always blaming the gods
For their troubles, when their own witlessness
Causes them more than they were destined for!
[tr. Lombardo (2000), l. 37ff]

Strange to behold, what blame these mortals can bring against godhead! For their ills, they assert, are from us, when they themselves by their mad recklessness have pain far past what is fated.
[tr. Merrill (2002)]

What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own transgressions which bring them suffering that was not their destiny.
[tr. DCH Rieu (2002)]

This is not good! See how mortals find fault with us gods!
They say it is from us that all evil things come, yet it is by their
own recklessness that they suffer hardship beyond their destiny.
[tr. Verity (2016)]

This is absurd,
that mortals blame the gods! They say we cause
their suffering, but they themselves increase it
by folly.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

My oh my, the way mortals will fasten blame on the gods!
From us, they say, evils come, yet they themselves
through their own blind recklessness have ills beyond
their fated lot.
[tr. Green (2018)]

It’s disgraceful how humans blame the gods.
They say their tribulations come from us,
when they themselves, through their own foolishness,
bring hardships which are not decreed by Fate.
[tr. Johnston (2019), l. 41ff]

 
Added on 14-Apr-21 | Last updated 8-Dec-21
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Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 1, ch. 1 “Antisemitism as an Outrage to Common Sense” (1951)
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Added on 8-Apr-21 | Last updated 5-Jul-22
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When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“On Violence,” Crises of the Republic (1972)
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Added on 11-Mar-21 | Last updated 11-Mar-21
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In a courtroom there is no system on trial, no history or historical trend, no ism, anti-Semitism for instance, but a person, and if the defendant happens to be a functionary, he stands accused precisely because even a functionary is still a human being, and it is in this capacity that he stands trial.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” (1964)
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Added on 25-Feb-21 | Last updated 25-Feb-21
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We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our sacred human responsibility.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Interview with Algernon Black (Fall 1940) [Einstein Archives 54-834]
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Einstein forbade publication of the discussion.
 
Added on 19-Feb-21 | Last updated 19-Feb-21
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There is no such thing as collective guilt or collective innocence; guilt and innocence make sense only if applied to individuals.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” (1964)
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Added on 18-Feb-21 | Last updated 18-Feb-21
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Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life. But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed, the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel a man to unfold his powers. If he faces the truth without panic, he will recognize that there is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Man for Himself, ch. 3 (1947)
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Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Good Omens, “Saturday” [Adam] (1990) [with Neil Gaiman]
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Added on 1-Dec-20 | Last updated 15-Dec-22
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Our responsibility is not discharged by an announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons, that liberalism is our best and our only hope in the world today.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, Liberal Party Nomination, New York (14 Sep 1960)
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Added on 4-Nov-20 | Last updated 4-Nov-20
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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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If the more aged and experienced men who have filled the office of President of the United States even in the infancy of the Republic distrusted their ability to discharge the duties of that exalted station, what ought not to be the apprehensions of one so much younger and less endowed now that our domain extends from ocean to ocean, that our people have so greatly increased in numbers, and at a time when so great diversity of opinion prevails in regard to the principles and policy which should characterize the administration of our Government? Well may the boldest fear and the wisest tremble when incurring responsibilities on which may depend our country’s peace and prosperity, and in some degree the hopes and happiness of the whole human family.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1845)
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Added on 28-Oct-20 | Last updated 28-Oct-20
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Another point of disagreement is not factual but involves the ethical/moral principle […] sometimes referred to as the “politics of moral witness.” Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject LEV on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting — i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences. […] The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) American linguist and activist
“An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting)” (15 Jun 2016) [with John Halle]
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Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 21-Oct-20
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Political strategies and tactics are not jealous lovers. You don’t have to be monogamous. Direct Action will not feel betrayed if you also vote from time to time — you can be poly in your tactics. And I am. Of course I vote! If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or a person who doesn’t own property, or even a white male who doesn’t belong to the nobility, centuries of struggle and many deaths have bought you the right to vote. I vote to keep faith with peasant rebels and suffragist hunger strikers and civil rights workers braving the lynch mobs of the South, if for no other reason. But there is another reason — because who we vote for has an enormous impact on real peoples’ lives.

Starhawk (b. 1951) American writer, activist, feminist theologian [b. Miriam Simos]
“Pre-Election Day Thoughts,” blog post (7 Nov 2016)
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Added on 19-Oct-20 | Last updated 19-Oct-20
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How wonderful to have someone to blame! How wonderful to live with one’s nemesis! You may be miserable, but you feel forever in the right. You may be fragmented, but you feel absolved of all the blame for it. Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.

Eric Jong
Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
How To Save Your Own Life, “Intuition, extuition …” (1977)
 
Added on 8-Oct-20 | Last updated 8-Oct-20
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Our blunders mostly come from letting our wishes interpret our duties, or hide from us plain indications of unwelcome tasks.

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) Scots-English minister, homilist
The Secret of Power: And Other Sermons, Sermon 15 “Moses and Hobab” (1902)
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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).
 
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On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammeled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.

[At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio, cumque nihil impedit, quo minus id, quod maxime placeat, facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet, ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum [On the Ends of Good and Evil], Book 1, sec. 33 (ch. 10) (44 BC) [tr. Rackham (1914)]
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Alt. trans.:

  • "Then again we criticize and consider wholly deserving of our odium those who are so seduced and corrupted by the blandishments of immediate pleasure that they fail to foresee in their blind passion the pain and harm to come. Equally blameworthy are those who abandon their duties through mental weakness -- that is, through the avoidance of effort and pain. It is quite simple and straightforward to distinguish such cases. In our free time, when our choice is unconstrained and there is nothing to prevent us doing what most pleases us, every pleasure is to be tasted, every pain shunned. But in certain circumstances it will often happen that either the call of duty or some sort of crisis dictates that pleasures are to be repudiated and inconveniences accepted. And so the wise person will uphold the following method of selecting pleasures and pains: pleasures are rejected when this results in other greater pleasures; pains are selected when this avoids worse pains." [On Moral Ends, tr. Woolf (2001)]

  • "But in truth we do blame and deem most deserving of righteous hatred the men who, enervated and depraved by the fascination of momentary pleasures, do not foresee the pains and troubles which are sure to befall them, because they are blinded by desire, and in the same error are involved those who prove traitors to their duties through effeminacy of spirit, I mean because they shun exertions and trouble. Now it is easy and and simple to mark the difference between these cases. For at our seasons of ease, when we have untrammelled freedom of choice, and when nothing debars us from the power of following the course that pleases us best, then pleasure is wholly a matter for our selection and pain for our rejection. On certain occasions however either through the inevitable call of duty or through stress of circumstances, it will often come to pass that we must put pleasures from us and must make no protest against annoyance. So in such cases the principle of selection adopted by the wise man is that he should either by refusing cerftain pleasures attain to other and greater pleasures or by enduring pains should ward off pains still more severe." [tr. Reid (1883)]

  • "But we do accuse those men, and think them entirely worthy of the greatest hatred, who, being made effeminate and corrupted by the allurements of present pleasure, are so blinded by passion that they do not foresee what pains and annoyances they will hereafter be subject to; and who are equally guilty with those who, through weakness of mind, that is to say, from eagerness to avoid labour and pain, desert their duty. And the distinction between these things is quick and easy. For at a time when we are free, when the option of choice is in our own power, and when there is nothing to prevent our being able to do whatsoever we choose, then every pleasure may be enjoyed, and every pain repelled. But on particular occasions it will often happen, owing whether to the obligations of duty or the necessities of business, that pleasures must be declined and annoyances must not be shirked. Therefore the wise man holds to this principle of choice in those matters, that he rejects some pleasures, so as, by the rejection to obtain others which are greater, and encounters some pains, so as by that means to escape others which are more formidable." [On the Chief Good and Evil, tr. Yongue (1853)]
 
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The supposition is prevalent the world over that there would be no problems in production or service if only our production workers would do their jobs in the way that they were taught. Pleasant dreams. The workers are handicapped by the system, and the system belongs to the management.

W Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) American management consultant, educator
Out of the Crisis, ch. 3 (1982)
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The great appeal of fatalism, indeed, is as a refuge from the terror of responsibility.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) American historian, author, social critic
“The Decline of Greatness,” Saturday Evening Post (1 Nov 1958)
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The same phrase is used in the successor essay, "On Heroic Leadership," sec. 2. (1960)
 
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I have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me,
Can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it,
Didn’t choose it
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it
Give account if I abuse it
Just a tiny little minute
but eternity is in it.

(Other Authors and Sources)
“God’s Minute”

This poem, and variants of it, have a wide trail of misattribution. It was used frequently by Elijah Cummings, US Representative, including during his first floor speech, and is often connected with him. Cummings in turn said it was a favorite of Parren Mitchell, US Representative. It is most correctly attributed in turn to civil right leader Benjamin May, but May claimed it was from an anonymous source. It has also been attributed to Welcome McCullough, history teacher Saugus High School, MA, in the 1940s, though without primary citation that I can find.

The variant used by Cummings:
I only have a minute,
Sixty seconds in it,
Forced upon me,
I did not choose it,
But I know that I must use it,
Give account if I abuse it,
Suffer if I lose it.
Only a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.
 
Added on 22-Jan-20 | Last updated 22-Jan-20
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Because a body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
The Rights of Man (1791)
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In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Memorandum before the Battle of Trafalgar (9 Oct 1805)
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I have accustomed myself to receive with respect the opinions of others, but always take the responsibility of deciding for myself.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) American politician, general, US President (1829-1837)
(Attributed)

Quoted by John F. Kennedy in the foreword to T. Sorensen, Decision-Making in the White House: The Olive Branch or the Arrows (1963)
 
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Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They grow older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“Maya Angelou, The Art of Fiction No. 119,” Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review (Fall 1990)
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Angelou used the core section (credit cards, parking spaces) a number of times in different interviews.
 
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Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 4, sc. 1, l. 182ff [Henry] (1599)
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Eschewing responsibility for his soldiers dying, especially with unforgiven sins.
 
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Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
Letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge (1944)
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Alt. trans.: "It is not the thought but readiness to take responsibility that is the mainspring of action."
 
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Love responsibility. Say: “It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.” Love each man according to his contribution in the struggle. Do not seek friends; seek comrades-in-arms.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer and philosopher
The Saviors of God [Salvatores Dei], “The March: First Step: The Ego,” #15-16 (1923) [tr. Friar [1960])
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What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance and service to the community were obscured to the point of disappearing. Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business possessed of great wealth in which all citizens had a right to share. […] Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility. There could be only one result. […] If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) American educator, author, classicist
The Echo of Greece, ch. 2 “Athens’ Failure” (1957)
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The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“The Challenge of the Mass Media to the 20th Century Writer,” Speech, Library of Congress (15 Jan 1968)
 
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[W]hen we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom — freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)
 
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Nothing could be more grotesquely unjust than a code of morals, reinforced by laws, which relieves men from responsibility for irregular sexual acts, and for the same acts drives women to abortion, infanticide, prostitution, and self-destruction.

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
Concerning Women (1926)
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Certainly, otherworldly concerns have a deep and significant place in all religions worthy of the name. Any religion that is completely earthbound sells its birthright for a mess of naturalistic pottage. Religion at its best, deals not only with man’s preliminary concerns but with his inescapable ultimate concern. When religion overlooks this basic fact it is reduced to a mere ethical system in which eternity is absorbed into time and God is relegated to a sort of meaningless figment of the human imagination.

But a religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
Stride Toward Freedom, ch. 2 “Montgomery Before the Protest” (1958)
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Democ’acy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
The Bigalow Papers, Second Series, “Ef I a song or two could make,” l. 97 (1867)
 
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With great power there must also come — great responsibility!

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

Stan Lee
Stan Lee (1922-2018) American comic-book writer, publisher, media personality [b. Stanley Martin Lieber]
Amazing Fantasy (Aug 1962)

Used in the original Spider-Man story.
 
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Has it ever occurred to you … that parents are nothing but overgrown kids until their children drag them into adulthood? Usually kicking and screaming?

King - kicking and screaming - wist_info quote

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
Christine, Part 1, ch. 3 (1983)
 
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A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 “Introductory” (1859)
 
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In the crisis of this hour — as in all others that we have faced since our Nation began — there are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast. Most of them in the last analysis really come down to this: Deny your responsibilities.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Democratic Party Dinner, Washington (7 Oct 1967)
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Sometimes paraphrased "There are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast. Most of them come down to this: Deny your responsibility."
 
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SIR BEDEVERE: How do know so much about swallows?
KING ARTHUR: Well, you have to know these things when you’re a king, you know.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
 
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