William Godwin (March 3 1756 – April 7 1836) was a leader of the English Jacobin movement, a political philosopher, educationalist, novelist, historian and biographer. He was the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, father of Mary Shelley and father-in-law of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.
- "Of Choice in Reading", The Enquirer (1797)
- It has an unhappy effect upon the human understanding and temper, for a man to be compelled in his gravest investigation of an argument, to consider, not what is true, but what is convenient. The lawyer never yet existed who has not boldly urged an objection which he knew to be fallacious, or endeavoured to pass off a weak reason for a strong one. Intellect is the greatest and most sacred of all endowments; and no man ever trifled with it, defending an action to-day which he had arraigned yesterday, or extenuating an offence on one occasion, which, soon after, he painted in the most atrocious colours, with absolute impunity. Above all, the poet, whose judgment should be clear, whose feelings should be uniform and sound, whose sense should be alive to every impression and hardened to none, who is the legislator of generations and the moral instructor of the world, ought never to have been a practising lawyer, or ought speedily to have quitted so dangerous an engagement.
- The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer vol. 1, p. 370 (1803)
- Full title: Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Modern Morals and Manners (1793)
- Perfectibility is one of the most unequivocal characteristics of the human species.
- Vol. 1, bk. 1, ch. 2
- If there be such a thing as truth, it must infallibly be struck out by the collision of mind with mind.
- Vol. 1, bk. 1, ch.4
- 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?
- Vol.1, bk. 2, ch. 2
- Whenever government assumes to deliver us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves, the only consequences it produces are those of torpor and imbecility.
- Vol. 2, bk. 6, ch. 1
- To conceive that compulsion and punishment are the proper means of reformation, is the sentiment of a barbarian; civilisation and science are calculated to explode so ferocious an idea. It was once universally admitted and approved; it is now necessarily upon the decline.
- Vol. 2, bk. 7, ch. 5
- The proper method for hastening the decay of error is not by brute force, or by regulation which is one of the classes of force, to endeavour to reduce men to intellectual uniformity; but on the contrary by teaching every man to think for himself.
- Vol. 2, bk. 8, ch. 6
- Let us here return to the sublime conjecture of Franklin, that “mind will one day become omnipotent over matter.” If over all other matter, why not over the matter of our own bodies? If over matter at ever so great a distance, why not over matter which, however ignorant we may be of the tie that connects it with the thinking principle, we always carry about with us, and which is in all cases the medium of communication between that principle and the external universe? In a word, why may not man be one day immortal?
The different cases in which thought modifies the external universe are obvious to all. It is modified by our voluntary thoughts or design. We desire to stretch out our hand, and it is stretched out. We perform a thousand operations of the same species every day, and their familiarity annihilates the wonder. They are not in themselves less wonderful than any of those modifications which we are least accustomed to conceive. — Mind modifies body involuntarily.
- Vol. 2, bk. 8, ch. 7
Caleb Williams (1794)
- Full title: Things as They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams
- 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.