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The soul must accept guilt in order to destroy existing evil, lest it incur the greater guilt of idyllic withdrawal, of seeming to be good by putting up with wrong. ~ Ernst Bloch
Let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided. No personal consideration should stand in the way of performing a public duty. ~ Ulysses S. Grant

Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.


  • You know, I experimented with feeling guilty about the wholesome thing, but it seemed like too much work. I mean, I wasn’t even born then. I tried, I wallowed for a few months, and it just felt dumb.
    • Charlie Jane Anders, Suicide Drive (2008), reprinted in Rich Horton (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2009 (p. 260)
  • It is quite gratifying to feel guilty if you haven't done anything wrong: how noble! Whereas it is rather hard and certainly depressing to admit guilt and to repent. The youth of Germany is surrounded, on all sides and in all walks of life, by men in positions of authority and in public office who are very guilty indeed but who feel nothing of the sort. The normal reaction to this state of affairs should be indignation, but indignation would be quite risky—not a danger to life and limb but definitely a handicap in a career. Those young German men and women who every once in a while—on the occasion of all the Diary of Anne Frank hubbub and of the Eichmann trial—treat us to hysterical outbursts of guilt feelings are not staggering under the burden of the past, their fathers' guilt; rather they are trying to escape from the pressure of very present and actual problems into a cheap sentimentality.
  • [O]nly in a metaphorical sense can one say he feels guilty for what not he but his father or his people have done. (Morally speaking, it is hardly less wrong to feel guilty without having done something specific than it is to feel free of all guilt if one is actually guilty of something.)
    • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Postscript to the revised (1965) edition.
  • It is the older generation who foster in a child an early and most unnecessary sense of guilt, of sinfulness and of wrongdoing. So much emphasis is laid upon petty little things that are not really wrong, but are annoying to the parent or teacher, that a true sense of wrong (which is the recognition of failure to preserve right relations with the group) gets overlaid and is not recognized for what it is. The many small and petty sins, imposed upon the children by the constant reiteration of "No", by the use of the word "naughty", and based largely on parental failure to understand and occupy the child, are of no real moment. If these aspects of the child's life are rightly handled, then the truly wrong things, the infringements upon the rights of others, . . . the hurting or damaging of others in order to achieve personal gain, will emerge in right perspective and at the right time.
  • Capitalism is presumably the first case of a blaming, rather than a repenting cult. ... An enormous feeling of guilt not itself knowing how to repent, grasps at the cult, not in order to repent for this guilt, but to make it universal, to hammer it into consciousness and finally and above all to include God himself in this guilt.
    • Walter Benjamin, "Capitalism as Religion" (1921), Translated by Chad Kautzer in The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers (2005), p. 259
  • The soul must accept guilt in order to destroy existing evil, lest it incur the greater guilt of idyllic withdrawal, of seeming to be good by putting up with wrong.
    • Ernst Bloch, Man on His Own: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion (1959/1970), p. 36
  • Guilt. It's this mechanism we use to control people. It's an illusion. It's a kind of social control mechanism and it's very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our body.
    • Ted Bundy, quoted in Michaud, Stephen; Aynesworth, Hugh The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy (1999) pg. 320
  • Guilt has to be understood not only as a way of checking one’s own destructiveness, but as a mechanism for safeguarding the life of the other, one that emerges from our own need and dependency, from a sense that this life is not a life without another life. Indeed, when it turns into a safeguarding action, I am not sure it should still be called “guilt.” If we do still use that term, we could conclude that “guilt” is strangely generative or that its productive form is reparation.
  • In England a man is presoomed to be innocent till he's proved guilty an' they take it f 'r granted he's guilty. In this counthry a man is presoomed to be guilty ontil he's proved guilty an' afther that he's presoomed to be innocent.
  • No disease of the imagination is so difficult to cure, as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt: fancy and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so often shift their places, that the illusions of one are not distinguished from the dictates of the other.
  • He declares himself guilty who justifies himself before accusation.
  • That deed which in our guilt we today call weakness, will appear tomorrow as an essential link in the complete chain of Man.
    • Khalil Gibran, The Voice of the Master (trans. Anthony R. Ferris, 1958), p. 32.
  • To be judged by the state as an innocent, is to be guilty. It is to sanction, through passivity and obedience, the array of crimes carried out by the state.
    • Chris Hedges, “Happy as a Hangman,”, December 6, 2010.
  • They who feel guilty are afraid, and they who are afraid somehow feel guilty. To the onlooker, too, the fearful seem guilty.
  • Where guilt is, rage and courage both abound.
  • guilt itself, as a motivating factor, is rooted in a way of thinking which does not promote order to change you have to be willing to expose yourself-at least to yourself-and observe and examine and understand. This takes time, patience, and a respect for process. Guilt prompts a longing to purge all impure impulses quickly, get it over and done with once and for does any sane person react after a while to fear, guilt? Is this a way to build a movement?...Only recognition of a common goal, the possibilities and I want to say-the joys of solidarity will inspire women who don't feel guilty to join another struggle as their own.
    • Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz To Be a Radical Jew in the Late 20th Century in The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women's Anthology (1986)
  • It is said to have happened that a man who by his misdeeds became liable to punishment under the law returned to society a reformed man after having served his sentence. Then he went to a foreign country where he was unknown and where he became known for his upright conduct. All was forgotten; then came a fugitive who recognized the esteemed man as his peer back in those wretched days. To meet was an appalling recollection; to shudder at it in passing was a deadly anxiety. Even silent, it shouted with a loud voice, until it became vocal in that dastardly fugitive’s voice. Then despair suddenly seized the man who seemed redeemed, and it seized him just because repentance was forgotten, because this civically reformed man was still not surrendered to God in such a way that in the humility of repentance he remembered his former condition. In the temporal and sensuous and civic sense, repentance is still also something that comes and goes over the years, but in the eternal sense it is a quiet daily concern.
  • Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.
  • I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees.
  • These false pretexts and varnished colours failing,
    Rare in thy guilt how foul must thou appear.
  • Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt.
  • Friends and comrades! On that side [south] are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion, and death; on this side ease and pleasure. There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.
    • Francisco Pizarro. This English translation of a 1527 manuscript is in William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Peru (1848), vol. 1, p. 263.
  • Nothing is more wretched than a guilty conscience.
  • These instances are selected by the learned author as typical of the working of our national nostrum, 'Not Proven', as applied to nice and perplexing cases: a verdict which has been construed by the profane to mean 'Not Guilty, but don't do it again'.
  • And then it started like a guilty thing
    Upon a fearful summons.
  • Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal.
    • Robert South "On the Danger of Presumptuous Sins", in Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions (1727), Vol. 3, p. 291.
  • I don't like the word sin. It implies that I am being judged and found guilty. I can understand that. Over the centuries, many erroneous views and interpretations have accumulated around words such as sin, due to ignorance, misunderstanding, or a desire to control...Don't get stuck on the level of words.
  • A word is no more than a means to an end. Its an abstraction. Not unlike a signpost, it points beyond itself. The word honey isn't honey... You can talk or think about God continuously for the rest of your life, but does that mean you know or have even glimpsed the reality to which the word points? ... if a word doesn't work for you anymore, then drop it and replace it with one that does work. If you don't like the word sin, then call it unconsciousness or insanity. That may get you closer to the truth, the reality behind the word, than a long-misused word like sin, and leaves little room for guilt.
  • A land of levity is a land of guilt.
    • Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742-1745), Night VII. Preface.
  • No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.
  • He who flies proves himself guilty.
    • Danish proverb; reported in Robert Christy, Proverbs, Maxims and Phrases of All Ages (1888), vol. 1, p. 471. The Bible says, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth". Proverbs 28:1.
  • He declares himself guilty who justifies himself before accusation.
    • Proverb; reported in Robert Christy, Proverbs, Maxims and Phrases of All Ages (1888), p. 470, no. 12. Rev. F. P. Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 3d ed. (1970), p. 234, has "He who excuses himself, accuses himself". Shakespeare expressed it as, "And oftentimes excusing of a fault / Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse", King John, act IV, scene ii, lines 30–31.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 345-46.
  • In ipsa dubitatione facinus inest, etiamsi ad id non pervenerint.
    • Guilt is present in the very hesitation, even though the deed be not committed.
    • Cicero, De Officiis (44 B.C.), III. 8.
  • Let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided. No personal consideration should stand in the way of performing a public duty.
    • Ulysses S. Grant, indorsement of a letter relating to the Whiskey Ring (July 29, 1875).
  • What we call real estate—the solid ground to build a house on—is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.
  • How guilt once harbour'd in the conscious breast,
    Intimidates the brave, degrades the great.
  • The gods
    Grow angry with your patience. 'Tis their care,
    And must be yours, that guilty men escape not:
    As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself.
  • Exemplo quodcumque malo committitur, ipsi
    Displicet auctori. Prima est hæc ultio, quod se
    Judice nemo nocens absolvitur.
    • Whatever guilt is perpetrated by some evil prompting, is grievous to the author of the crime. This is the first punishment of guilt that no one who is guilty is acquitted at the judgment seat of his own conscience.
    • Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century), XIII. 1.
  • Ingenia humana sunt ad suam cuique levandam culpam nimio plus facunda.
    • Men's minds are too ingenious in palliating guilt in themselves.
    • Livy, Annales, XXVIII. 25.
  • Nulla manus belli, mutato judice, pura est.
  • Heu! quam difficile est crimen non prodere vultu.
    • Alas! how difficult it is to prevent the countenance from betraying guilt.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, II. 447.
  • Dum ne ob male facta peream, parvi æstimo.
    • I esteem death a trifle, if not caused by guilt.
    • Plautus, Captivi, III. 5. 24.
  • Nihil est miserius quam animus hominis conscius.
    • Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, Act III. 1. 13.
  • How glowing guilt exalts the keen delight!
  • Haste, holy Friar,
    Haste, ere the sinner shall expire!
    Of all his guilt let him be shriven,
    And smooth his path from earth to heaven!
    • Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Canto V, Stanza 22.
  • Haud est nocens, quicumque non sponte est nocens.
    • He is not guilty who is not guilty of his own free will.
    • Seneca the Younger, Hercules Œtæus, 886.
  • Multa trepidus solet
    Detegere vultus.
  • Fatetur facinus is qui judicium fugit.
    • He who flees from trial confesses his guilt.
    • Syrus, Maxims.
  • Let guilty men remember, their black deeds
    Do lean on crutches made of slender reeds.
    • John Webster, The White Devil; or, Vittoria Corombona, Act V, scene 6.

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