William Godwin


English Social Reformer, Philosopher, Journalist and Novelist

Author Quotes

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.

If there be such a thing as truth, it must infallibly be struck out by the collision of mind with mind.

Men are now feeble in their temper because they are not accustomed to hear the truth. They build their confidence in being personally treated with artificial delicacy, and expect us to abstain from repeating what we know to their disadvantage. But is this right? It has already appeared that plain dealing, truth, spoken with kindness, but spoken with sincerity, is the most wholesome of all disciplines.

Revolution is engendered by an indignation with tyranny, yet is itself pregnant with tyranny.

The only method according to which social improvements can be carried on, with sufficient prospect of an auspicious event, is when the improvement of our institutions advances in a just proportion to the illumination of the public understanding.

Under this view of the subject then it appears that revolutions, instead of being truly beneficial to mankind, answer no other purpose than that of marring the salutary and uninterrupted progress which might be expected to attend upon political truth and social improvement. They disturb the harmony of intellectual nature. They propose to give us something for which we are not prepared, and which we cannot effectually use. They suspend the wholesome advancement of science, and confound the process of nature and reason.

In a well-written book we are presented with the maturest reflections, or the happiest flights of a mind of uncommon excellence. It is impossible that we can be much accustomed to such companions without attaining some resemblance to them.

My thoughts will be taken up with the future or the past, with what is to come or what has been. Of the present there is necessarily no image.

Revolutions are the produce of passion, not of sober and tranquil reason.

The philosophy of the wisest man that ever existed is mainly derived from the act of introspection.

Virtue consists in actions, and not in words.

In cases where everything is understood, and measured, and reduced to rule, love is out of the question.

Neither philosophy, nor morality, nor politics will ever show like itself till man shall be acknowledged for what he really is, a being capable of rectitude, virtue and benevolence, and who needs not always be led to actions of general utility, by foreign and frivolous considerations.

Sincerity is, in an eminent degree, calculated to conduce to our intellectual improvement. If from timidity of disposition, or the danger that attends a disclosure, we suppress the reflections that occur to us, we shall neither add to, nor correct them. ... If [my thoughts] be received cordially by others, they derive from that circumstance a peculiar firmness and consistency. If they be received with opposition and distrust, I am induced to revise them. I detect their errors; or I strengthen my arguments, and add new truths to those which I had previously accumulated. ... It is in the nature of things impossible that the man who has determined never to utter the truths he may be acquainted with should be an intrepid and indefatigable thinker. The link which binds together the inward and the outward man is indissoluble; and he that is not bold in speech will never be ardent and unprejudiced in enquiry.

The pleasures of intellectual feeling, and the pleasures of self-approbation, together with the right cultivation of all our pleasures, are connected with soundness of understanding.

We cannot perform our tasks to the best of our power, unless we think well of our own capacity.

Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new occasions and temptations for the commission of it.

In proportion as men are made to understand their true interests, they will conduct themselves wisely.

Nor is it a valid objection to say "that, by such a rule, we are making every man a judge in his own case." In the courts of morality it cannot be otherwise; a pure and just system of thinking admits not of the existence of any infallible judge to whom we can appeal. It might indeed be further objected "that, by this rule, men will be called upon to judge in the moment of passion and partiality, instead of being referred to the past decisions of their cooler reason." But this also is an inconvenience inseparable from human affairs. We must and ought to keep our selves open, to the last moment, to the influence of such considerations as may appear worthy to influence us. To teach men that they must not trust their own understandings is not the best scheme for rendering them virtuous and consistent. On the contrary, to inure them to consult their understanding is the way to render it worthy of becoming their director and guide.

Strange that men, from age to age, should consent to hold their lives at the breath of another, merely that each in his turn may have a power of acting the tyrant according to the law! Oh, God! give me poverty! Shower upon me all the imaginary hardships of human life! I will receive them with all thankfulness. Turn me a prey to the wild beasts of the desert, so I be never again the victim of man, dressed in the gore-dripping robes of authority! Suffer me at least to call life, the pursuits of life, my own! Let me hold it at the mercy of the elements, of the hunger of the beasts, or the revenge of barbarians, but not of the cold-blooded prudence of monopolists and kings!

The primary, or earliest class of human pleasures, is the pleasures of the external senses.

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English Social Reformer, Philosopher, Journalist and Novelist