Freedom of thought

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Freedom of thought (also called freedom of conscience or freedom of ideas) is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints.


  • La propagande de l'erreur est libre: liberté de pensée!
    • Henri Gheon, Saint Jean Bosco (Paris: E. Flammarion, 1935), p. 132.
    • The propaganda of error is free; freedom of thought will not have it otherwise. (As translated by F. J. Sheed in The Secret of St John Bosco. London: Sheed and Ward, 1935, p. 129)
  • If it is the drive of our time, after freedom of thought is won, to pursue it to that perfection through which it changes to freedom of the will in order to realize the latter as the principle of a new era.
    • Max Stirner, Das unwahre Prinzip unserer Erziehung, oder: Humanismus und Realismus [The False Principle of Our Education: Or, Humanism and Realism] (1842) as translated by Ralph Myles (1967), p. 21
  • But arms – instrumentalities, as President Wilson called them – are not sufficient by themselves. We must add to them the power of ideas. People say we ought not to allow ourselves to be drawn into a theoretical antagonism between Nazidom and democracy; but the antagonism is here now. It is this very conflict of spiritual and moral ideas which gives the free countries a great part of their strength. You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. On all sides they are guarded by masses of armed men, cannons, aeroplanes, fortifications, and the like – they boast and vaunt themselves before the world, yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts; words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home – all the more powerful because forbidden – terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic. They make frantic efforts to bar our thoughts and words; they are afraid of the workings of the human mind. Cannons, airplanes, they can manufacture in large quantities; but how are they to quell the natural promptings of human nature, which after all these centuries of trial and progress has inherited a whole armoury of potent and indestructible knowledge?
  • Liberty of conscience was the one great value which the common people had preserved from the Commonwealth. The countryside was ruled by the gentry, the towns by corrupt corporations, the nation by the corruptest corporation of all: but the chapel, the tavern and the home were their own. In the "unsteepled" places of worship there was room for a free intellectual life and for democratic experiments with "members unlimited". Against the background of London Dissent, with its fringe of deists and earnest mystics, William Blake seems no longer the cranky untutored genius that he must seem to those who know only the genteel culture of the time. On the contrary, he is the original yet authentic voice of a long popular tradition. If some of the London Jacobins were strangely unperturbed by the execution of Louis and Marie Antoinette it was because they remembered that their own forebears had once executed a king. No one with Bunyan in their bones could have found many of Blake's aphorisms strange: "The strongest poison ever known \ Game from Caesar's laurel crown."
    • E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963), pp. 51-52
  • Psychology is now able to tell us with reasonable assurance that the most influential obstacle to freedom of thought and to new ideas is fear; and fear which can with inimitable art disguise itself as caution or sanity or reasoned scepticism or on occasion even as courage.
    • Wilfred Trotter, "The Commemoration of Great Men" (15 February 1932), in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, F.R.S. (Oxford University Press, 1941), p. 30
  • The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
    • George Washington, From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790, National Archives and Records Administration.

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