William Godwin

William
Godwin
1756
1836

English Social Reformer, Philosopher, Journalist and Novelist

Author Quotes

I shall attempt to prove two things: first, that the actions and dispositions of mankind are the offspring of circumstances and events, and not of any original determination that they bring into the world; and, secondly, that the great stream of our voluntary actions essentially depends, not upon the direct and immediate impulses of sense, but upon the decisions of the understanding.

Let us suppose a man to be engaged in the progressive voluptuousness of the most sensual scene. Here, if ever, we may expect sensation to be triumphant. Passion is in this case in its full career. He impatiently shuts out every consideration that may disturb his enjoyment; moral views and dissuasives can no longer obtrude themselves into his mind; he resigns himself, without power of resistance, to his predominant idea. Alas, in this situation, nothing is so easy as to extinguish his sensuality! Tell him at this moment that his father is dead, that he has lost or gained a considerable sum of money, or even that his favorite horse is stolen from the meadow, and his whole passion shall be instantly annihilated: so vast is the power which a mere proposition possesses over the mind of man. So conscious are we of the precariousness of the fascination of the senses that upon such occasions we provide against the slightest interruption. If our little finger ached, we might probably immediately bid adieu to the empire of this supposed almighty power. It is said to be an experiment successfully made by sailors and persons in that class of society, to lay a wager with their comrades that the sexual intercourse shall not take place between them and their bedfellow the ensuing night, and to trust to their veracity for a confession of the event. The only means probably by which any man ever succeeds in indulging the pleasures of sense, in contradiction to the habitual persuasion of his judgment, is by contriving to forget everything that can be offered against them. If, notwithstanding all his endeavors, the unwished for idea intrudes, the indulgence instantly becomes impossible. Is it to be supposed that the power of sensual allurement, which must be carefully kept alive, and which the slightest accident overthrows, can be invincible only to the artillery of reason, and that the most irresistible considerations of justice, interest and happiness will never be able habitually to control it?

Perseverance is an active principle, and cannot continue to operate but under the influence of desire.

The great model of the affection of love in human beings is the sentiment which subsists between parents and children.

There is reverence that we owe to everything in human shape.

I thought with unspeakable loathing of those errors, in consequence of which every man is fated to be more or less the tyrant or the slave. I was astonished at the folly of my species, that they did not rise up as one man, and shake off chains so ignominious and misery so unsupportable. So far as related to myself I resolved, and this resolution has never been entirely forgotten by me, to hold myself disengaged from this odious scene, and never fill the part either of the oppressor or the sufferer.

Liberty is one of the best of all sublunary advantages. I would willingly therefore communicate knowledge, without infringing, or with as little possible violence to, the volition and individual judgment of the person to be instructed.

Philanthropy, as contradistinguished to justice, is rather an unreflecting feeling than a rational principle. It leads to an absurd indulgence, which is frequently more injurious than beneficial, even to the individual it proposes to favor.

The illustrious archbishop of Cambray was of more worth than his chambermaid, and there are few of us that would hesitate to pronounce, if his palace were in flames, and the life of only one of them could be preserved, which of the two ought to be preferred … Supposing the chambermaid had been my wife, my mother or my benefactor. This would not alter the truth of the proposition. The life of Fenelon would still be more valuable than that of the chambermaid; and justice, pure, unadulterated justice, would still have preferred that which was most valuable. Justice would have taught me to save the life of Fenelon at the expence of the other. What magic is there in the pronoun "my", to overturn the decisions of everlasting truth?

There must be room for the imagination to exercise its powers we must conceive and apprehend a thousand things which we do not actually witness.

If a thing be really good, it can be shown to be such.

Literature, taken in all its bearings, forms the grand line of demarcation between the human and the animal kingdoms.

Reason is not an independent principle, and has no tendency to excite us to action; in a practical view, it is merely a comparison and balancing of different feelings.

The lessons of their early youth regulated the conduct of their riper years.

They held it their duty to live but for their country.

If he who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because his argument is weak.

Make men wise, and by that very operation you make them free. Civil liberty follows as a consequence of this; no usurped power can stand against the artillery of opinion.

Reason, though it cannot excite us to action, is calculated to regulate our conduct, according to the comparative worth it ascribes to different excitements.

The most desirable condition of the human species, is a state of society.

To him it is an ocean, unfathomable, and without a shore.

If there be any truth more unquestionable than the rest, it is that every man is bound to the exertion of his faculties in the discovery of right, and to the carrying into effect all the right with which he is acquainted. It may be granted that an infallible standard, if it could be discovered, would be considerably beneficial. But this infallible standard itself would be of little use in human affairs, unless it had the property of reasoning as well as deciding, of enlightening the mind as well as constraining the body.

Man is the only creature we know, that, when the term of his natural life is ended, leaves the memory of himself behind him.

Remember that martyrs are suicides by the very signification of the term. They die for a testimony. But that would be impossible if their death were not to a certain degree a voluntary action. We must assume that it was possible for them to avoid this fate, before we can draw any conclusion from it in favor of the cause they espoused. They were determined to die, rather than reflect dishonor on that cause.

The most desirable mode of education… is that which is careful that all the acquisitions of the pupil shall be preceded and accompanied by desire… The boy, like the man, studies because he desires it. He proceeds upon a plan of is own invention, or by which, by adopting, he has made his own. Everything bespeaks independence and inequality.

Trust the student in a certain degree with himself. Suffer him in some instances to select his own course of reading. There is danger that there should be something to studied and monotonous in the selection we should make for him. Suffer him to wander through the wilds of literature.

Author Picture
First Name
William
Last Name
Godwin
Birth Date
1756
Death Date
1836
Bio

English Social Reformer, Philosopher, Journalist and Novelist