Freethought or free thought is a philosophical stance which holds that opinions regarding any forms of truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and experience, rather than authority, tradition, or dogmatic doctrines. The application of freethought is known as "freethinking", and practitioners of freethought are known as "freethinkers".
- Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
A - F
- I say that I am an agnostic. People think that's pusillanimous and covering your bets. But it's not based on any belief or yearning for an afterlife but on the fact that we actually know so little about the cosmos. It is a tribute to the complexity and, at our present stage of development, the unknowability of the universe.
- Martin Amis, in "The New Amis" in The Telegraph (13 May 2000)
- He who feels that in his inmost being he cannot be compared with others, will be his own lawgiver. For one thing is needful: to give style to one’s character. This art is practised by him who, with an eye for the strong and weak sides of his nature, removes from it one quality and another, and then by daily practice and acquired habit replaces them by others which become second nature to him; in other words, he puts himself under restraint in order by degrees to bend his nature entirely to his own law.
- As the days went slowly by he came to see that Christianity and the denial of Christianity after all met as much as any other extremes do; it was a fight about names — not about things; practically the Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the freethinker have the same ideal standard and meet in the gentleman; for he is the most perfect saint who is the most perfect gentleman. Then he saw also that it matters little what profession, whether of religion or irreligion, a man may make, provided only he follows it out with charitable inconsistency, and without insisting on it to the bitter end. It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held and not in the dogma or want of dogma that the danger lies.
- Every notion that any man, dead, living, or unborn, might form as to the universe will necessarily prove wrong.
- Undoubtedly some men are more gifted than others, and are marked out for more studious lives. But the work of such men is not to do others' thinking for them, but to help them to think more vigorously and effectually. Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny, but to rouse them from lethargy, and to aid them to judge for themselves. The light and life which spring up in one soul are to be spread far and wide. Of all treasons against humanity, there is no one worse than his, who employs great intellectual force to keep down the intellect of his less-favoured brother.
- William Ellery Channing, "Lectures On The Elevation Of The Labouring Portion Of The Community: Lecture II", in The Works of William Ellery Channing, D.D. (1844) Vol. III, p. 81
- 'You don't understand, you fool' says Yegor, looking dreamily up at the sky. 'You've never understood what kind of person I am, nor will you in a million years. ... You just think I'm a mad person who has thrown his life away... Once the free spirit has taken hold of a man, there's no way of getting it out of him.
- One should not have the arrogance to declare that God does not exist.
- I do not believe in the God of the theologians; but that there is a Supreme Intelligence I do not doubt.
- Thomas Edison, in The Freethinker (1970), G.W. Foote & Company, Volume 90, p. 147
- The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive. However, I am also not a "Freethinker" in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as "laws of nature." It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Free-thinker mentality.
- Albert Einstein, in a letter to "Beatrice F___" (17 December 1952), in response to a question about whether he was a "free thinker", as quoted in Einstein and Religion : Physics and Theology (1999) by Max Jammer, p. 121-122
- As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson in: Fred Lewis Pattee Century Readings for a Course in American Literature, Century Company, 1919, p. 189
G - L
- Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul."
Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path."
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
- Khalil Gibran in “The Prophet” quoted in: Larry Chang Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing, Gnosophia Publishers, 2006, p.723
- The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has—from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness.
- Remember that it is 'free-thinking Jews,' not Jews as such, who are defined as the undesirables by T.S. Eliot in "After Strange Gods".
- Yet the ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Sit silently on their temple shelves
While the people
Yet the ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade Are only silly puppet gods
That people themselves
- Langston Hughes in: Dolan Hubbard The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: The poems, 1921-1940, University of Missouri Press, 2001, p. 156
- ...claiming my right to follow whethersoever science should lead... it is as respectable to be modified monkey as modified dirt.
- Thomas H. Huxley in: Adrian J. Desmond Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest, Addison-Wesley, 1994, p. 253
- Freedom and order are not incompatible... truth is strength... free discussion is the very life of truth.
- That depends on how you, the public, deal with science. Cherish her, venerate her, follow her methods faithfully and implicitly in their application to all branches of human thought and the future of this people will be greater than the past.
- Thomas H. Huxley in: Denis Alexander Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, Zondervan, 2001, p. 213.
- The ultimate court of appeal is observation and experiment ... not authority.
- No one who has lived in the world as long as you & I have, can entertain the pious delusion that it is engineered upon principles of benevolence... the cosmos remains always beautiful and profoundly interesting in every corner--and if I had as many lives as a cat I would leave no corner unexplored.
- Cinderella [Science] ... lights the fire, sweeps the house, and provides the dinner; and is rewarded by being told that she is a base creature, devoted to low and material interests. But in her garret she has fairy visions out of the ken of the pair of shrews [Theology and Philosophy] who are quarrelling downstairs. She sees the order which pervades the seeming disorder of the world; the great drama of evolution, with its full share of pity and terror, but also with abundant goodness and beauty... ; and she learns... that the foundation of morality is to [be] done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence."
- Thomas H. Huxley in: “Huxley: evolution's high priest, Volume 2”, p. 171.
- I am content with nothing, restless and ambitious... and I despise myself for the vanity, which formed half the stimulus to my exertions. Oh would that I were one of those plodding wise fools who having once set their hand to the plough go on nothing doubting."
- Thomas H. Huxley in: “Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest”, p. 84
- I do not say think as I think, but think in my way. Fear no shadows, least of all in that great spectre of personal unhappiness which binds half the world to orthodoxy.
- Thomas H. Huxley in: “Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest”, p. 169
- Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
- If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. There is not a truth existing which I fear ... or would wish unknown to the whole world.
- I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.
- Thomas Jefferson in: John F. Nash Christianity: the One, the Many: What Christianity Might Have Been and Could Still Become, Volume 1, Xlibris Corporation,14 February 2008, p. 11.
- Shake off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
- Thomas Jefferson in: Alan Dershowitz Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence, John Wiley & Sons, 4 June 2007, p. 16
- Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbst verschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Selbstverschuldet ist diese Unmündigkeit, wenn die Ursache derselben nicht am Mangel des Verstandes, sondern der Entschließung und des Mutes liegt, sich seiner ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen.
- Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.
- Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" (1784)
- Habe Mut dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen! ist also der Wahlspruch der Aufklärung.
- It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.
- Rational free spirits are the light brigade who go on ahead and reconnoitre the ground which the heavy brigade of the orthodox will eventually occupy.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, in Notebook H (1784-1788), aphorism 36
- With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, in Notebook L (1793-1796), aphorism 81
- Christianity is not my religion and the Bible is not my book. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of doctrine and dogma.
- Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man--this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in and inferior position. ... Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.
M - R
- Freethought was a basically anti-christian, anti-clerical movement, whose purpose was to make the individual politically and spiritually free to decide for himself on religious matters. A number of contributors to Liberty were prominent figures in both freethought and anarchism.
- Not by accident, you may be sure, do the Christian Scriptures make the father of knowledge a serpent--slimy, sneaking and abominable.
- H. L. Mencken in: Henry Louis Mencken, Mayo DuBasky The Gist of Mencken: Quotations from America's Critic, Scarecrow Press, 1990, p. 210
- Stupidity is much the same all the world over. A stupid person's notions and feelings may confidently be inferred from those which prevail in the circle by which the person is surrounded. Not so with those whose opinions and feelings are an emanation from their own nature and faculties.”
- John Stuart Mill in: Andrew Bailey, et al., The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume 2: The Twentieth Century and Beyond, Broadview Press, 12 September 2008, p. 970
- How many things we held yesterday as articles of faith which today we tell as fables.
- In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. ... Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.
- The man who does not wish to belong to the mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him: “Be your self! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.”
- There exists no more repulsive and desolate creature in the world than the man who has evaded his genius and who now looks furtively to left and right, behind him and all about him. ... He is wholly exterior, without kernel, a tattered, painted bag of clothes.
- About God and Religion:
Is man one of God's blunders? Or is God one of man's blunders?Faith: not wanting to know what is true.
The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad. God is a thought who makes crooked all that is straight.
- Friedrich Nietzsche in: The Very Best of Friedrich Nietzsche: Quotes from a Great Thinker, David Graham, 22 September 2014, p.4
- No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.
- It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.
S - Z
- It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
- Carl Sagan in: James A. Herrick The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition, InterVarsity Press, 2 December 2004, p. 109
- Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
- Carl Sagan in: Donald R. Prothero Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, Columbia University Press, 13 August 2013, p. 46
- I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
- Carl Sagan in: David E. Cortesi Secular Wholeness: A Skeptic's Paths to a Richer Life, Trafford Publishing, 1 February 2002, p. 13
- If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits? For me it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
- When you make the finding yourself--even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light--you never forget it.
- Carl Sagan in : Vincent J. Solimine Path of a Scholar: An Inspirational Exploration of Connections and Meaning, iUniverse, 2006, p. 5
- Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
- Carl Sagan in : Lee Crockett, et al., Literacy Is NOT Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age, Corwin Press, 28 October 2011, p. 79
- The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
- There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.
- Carl Sagan in : Donald R. Prothero Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, Columbia University Press, 22 November 2007, p. 3
- The problem with the evangelical homeschool movement was not their desire to educate their children at home, or in private religious schools, but the evangelical impulse to "protect" children from ideas that might lead them to "question" and to keep them cloistered in what amounted to a series of one-family gated communities.
- Truth that has been merely learned is like an artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose; at best, like a nose made out of another’s flesh; it adheres to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental difference between the thinker and the mere man of learning.
- Schopenhauer, “On Thinking for Oneself,” Parerga und Paralipomena, Vol. 2, § 260
- The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.
- Baruch Spinoza in: Edward Wayne Younkins Champions of a Free Society: Ideas of Capitalism's Philosophers and Economists, Lexington Books, 2008, p.83
- I'm sickened by all religions. Religion has divided people. I don't think there's any difference between the pope wearing a large hat and parading around with a smoking purse and an African painting his face white and praying to a rock.
- It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.
- Publius Cornelius Tacitus in “The Histories Book I” quoted in:The Complete Tacitus Anthology: The Histories, The Annals, Germania, Agricola, A Dialogue on Oratory, Bybliotech, 24 September 2012, p. 6
- If God made us in His image we have certainly returned the compliment.
- Voltaire in: Andy Zubko Treasury Of Spiritual Wisdom A Collection Of 10,000 Powerful Quotations For Transforming Your Life, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1 January 2000, p. 191
- About belief or lack of belief in an afterlife: Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort.
I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I'm dead. My German-American ancestors, the earliest of whom settled in our Middle West about the time of our Civil War, called themselves "Freethinkers," which is the same sort of thing. My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut wrote, for example, "If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?"
I myself have written, "If it weren't for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake."
- It's important to abolish the unconscious dogmatism that makes people think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything. If one can only see things according to one's own belief system, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind.
- Words to intrigue, inspire, examine, question, praise;
Words to help us appreciate our world, our selves, our games;
Words to dance]] our true soul fires gracefully free.
- Julia (Jay) Woodman, in Love & Life, Radiance-Solutions.
Emerson: The Mind on Fire
- Who is he that shall control me? Why may not I act and speak and write and think with entire freedom? What am I to the universe, or, the unvierse, what is it to me? Who hath forged the chains of wrong and right, of Opinion and Custom? And must I wear them?
- p. 51
- Life is wasted in the necessary preparation of finding what is the true way, and we die just as we enter it.
- p. 55
- The dead sleep in their moonless night. My business is with the living.
- p. 55
- All that can be done for you is nothing to what you can do for yourself.
- p. 69
- Whenever the average intellect of the clergy declines in the balance with the average intellect of the people] the churches will be shut up and a new order of things [will] begin.
- p. 77
- Is it not better to intimate our astonishment as we pass through this world if it be only for a moment ere we are swallowed up in the yeast of the abyss? I will lift up my hands and say Kosmos.
- p. 122
- I will not live out of me
I will not see with others' eyes
My good is good, my evil ill
I would be free.
- p. 126-27
- Religionists are clinging to little, positive, verbal, formal versions of the moral law... while the laws of the Law, the great circling truths whose only adequate symbol is the material laws, the astronomy etc. are all unobserved, and sneered at when spoken of.
- p. 151
- The end of being is to know; and if you say, the end of knowledge is action,--why, yes, but the end of that action again, is knowledge.
- p. 153
- Nature is a language and every new fact one learns is a new word; but it is not a language taken to pieces and dead in the dictionary, but the language put together into a most significant and universal sense. I wish to learn this language--not that I may know a new grammar, but that I may read the great book which is written in that tongue.
- p. 155
- The exercise of all the senses is as intense pleasure, as anyone will find, who recovers the use of one after being deprived of it.
- p. 155-56
- Natural science sharpens the discrimination. There is no false logic in nature. All its properties are permanent: the acids and metals never lie; their yea is yea, their nay, nay. They are newly discovered but not new.
- p. 170
- We are always getting ready to live, but never living... The wave moves onward but the particles of which it is composed do not... It cannot be but that at intervals throughout society there are real men intermixed . . . as the carpenter puts one iron bar in his bannister for every five or six wooden ones.
- p. 180
- As I walked in the woods I felt what I often feel, that nothing can befall me in life,... Standing on the bare ground, with my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into the infinite space, I become happy in my universal relations. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental. I am the heir of unaccustomed beauty and power.
- p. 199
- when the vain speaker has sat down, and the people say 'what a good speech,' it still takes an ounce to balance an ounce.
- p. 203
- I will no longer confer, differ, refer, defer, prefer, or suffer. I renounce the whole tribe of fero. I embrace absolute life.
- p. 205
- Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?
- p. 226
- Why should we grope among the dry bones of the past? The sun shines today also.
- p. 227
- We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner, that is, must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing.
- p. 258
- What is the end of human life? It is not, believe me, the chief end of man that he should make a fortune and beget children whose end is likewise to make a fortune, but it is, in few words, that he should explore himself.
- p. 261
- [Young persons] grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.
- p. 265
- I believe in Eternity--that is that I can find Greece and Palestine and Italy and England and the Islands--the genius and creative principle of each and all eras in my own mind.
- p. 317
- Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods.
- p. 342
- To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.
- p. 403
- The wise skeptic does not teach doubt but how to look for the permanent in the mutable and fleeting.
- p. 416
- The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.
- p. 438
- So far as a man thinks, he is free.
- p. 502
- The world exists, as I understand it, to teach the science of liberty.
- p. 503
- This day for all that is good and fair. It is too dear with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.
- p. 543