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There is arguably nothing more important to the world than critical thought. It is critical thought that causes us to pause before doing what we are told. Without critical thinking we are mere pawns of our lower passions and the commands of authority. With critical thinking, we become our own masters.
What’s more, it is a lack of critical thinking that is responsible for a number of atrocities, both big and small. Few things in the world are more dangerous than a mass of men who have decided not to think for themselves. While we cannot control the actions of others, we can begin making the world a better place simply by thinking for ourselves and encouraging others to do the same.
This is why the powerful always seek to censor freedom of speech. Free access to free ideas is kryptonite to those who would be tyrants. It is important that we are confronted with ideas that make us uncomfortable, if only because it serves to make our own convictions more deeply held, more nuanced and more adaptable to new information.
An attack on freedom of speech is an attack on our facilities of critical thinking itself.
These are some of our favorite quotes on critical thinking and free speech from some of the greatest minds in history.
Quotes About Critical Thinking and the Lack of Critical Thinking
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”Aristotle
“You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.”Eric Hoffer
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”Voltaire
“…the relatively unconscious man driven by his natural impulses because, imprisoned in his familiar world, he clings to the commonplace, the obvious, the probable, the collectively valid, using for his motto: ‘Thinking is difficult. Therefore, let the herd pronounce judgement.'”Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East
“Do not trust governments more than governments trust their own people.”Andrei Sakharov
“I will listen to any hypothesis but on one condition – that you show me a method by which it can be tested.”August Wilhelm von Hofmann
“Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”General James Mattis
“The first duty of a man is to think for himself.”Jose Marti
“We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”Rod Serling
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”Unknown
“The majority of men… are not capable of thinking, but only of believing, and… are not accessible to reason, but only to authority.”Arthur Schopenhauer
“Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut.”Unknown, often misattributed to Winston Churchill
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”Winston Churchill
“It is the duty of everyman, so far as his ability allows, to detect and expose delusion and error.”Thomas Paine
“There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.”Niccolò Machiavelli
“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”Albert Camus
“The world is plagued by greater and greater division — within countries, political groups, families, even individuals. We are all in a state of total distraction and diffusion, hardly able to keep our minds in one direction before we are pulled in a thousand others.
The modern world’s level of conflict is higher than ever, and we have internalized it in our own lives. The solution is a form of retreat inside ourselves, to the past, to more concentrated forms of thought and action.
As Schopenhauer wrote, ‘Intellect is a magnitude of intensity, not a magnitude of extensity.’
Napoleon knew the value of concentrating your forces at the enemy’s weakest spot — it was the secret of his success on the battlefield. But his willpower and his mind were equally modeled on this notion. Single-mindedness of purpose, total concentration on the goal, and the use of these qualities against people less focused, people in a state of distraction—such an arrow will find its mark every time and overwhelm the enemy.”Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power
“We need to teach our children how to debate the major life issues. Debate strengthens their beliefs and enables them to defend themselves against ideologies that are going to come their way.”Jim Rohn, The Treasury of Quotes
“One of the great liberal documents of the world is the Declaration of Independence. One of the great conservative documents of the world is the Constitution of the United States. We need both documents to build a country. One to get it started – liberal. And the other to help maintain the structure over the years – conservative.”Jim Rohn
“Once you elevate the elimination of bias as your highest goal, there is no violation of liberty you cannot justify.”Helen Andrews
“Survival comes first, truth, understanding, and science later.”
“In other words, you do not need science to survive (we’ve survived for several hundred million years or more, depending on how you define the “we”), but you must survive to do science. As your grandmother would have said, better safe than sorry. Or as per the expression attributed to Hobbes: Primum vivere, deinde philosophari (First, live; then philosophize). This logical precedence is well understood by traders and people in the real world, as per the Warren Buffett truism “to make money you must first survive”—skin in the game again; those of us who take risks have their priorities firmer than vague textbook pseudo-rationalism.”Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
“What luck for rulers, that men do not think.”Adolf Hitler
Quotes About Free Speech and Censorship
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”Noam Chomsky
“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”Mark Twain
“Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice.“Lord Acton
“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”Voltaire
“I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism.”P.D. James
“Those who call for censorship in the name of the oppressed ought to recognize it is never the oppressed who determine the bounds of censorship.”Aryeh Neier
“Political correctness is a sinister device constructed by the left to cause the negative outcomes of left-wing ideology to never be subject to criticism.”Peter McGlouchlin, Easy Meat: Inside the British Grooming Gang Scandal
“We (as a society) have to be committed to defending free speech however impolitic, or unpopular, or even wrong because defending that is the only barrier to violence. That’s because the only way we can influence one another short of physical violence is thru speech, thru communicating ideas. The moment you say certain ideas can’t be communicated you create a circumstance where people have no alternative but to go hands on you.”Sam Harris, Making Sense with Sam Harris, #67 – Meaning and Chaos
“Why does the left hate free speech? Because they don’t know how to talk about the substantive merits when they are challenged. Having submerged themselves in disciplining each other by denouncing any heretics in their midst, they find themselves overwhelmed and outnumbered in America, where there is vibrant debate about all sorts of things they don’t know how to begin to talk about. They resort to stomping their feet and shouting ‘shut up’… when they aren’t prissily imploring everyone to be ‘civil.'”Ann Althouse
“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.”Ray Bradbury
“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”Winston Churchill
“Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”William F. Buckley
“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black
“It is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”Theodore Roosevelt
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”George Orwell, 1984
“The right to speak freely does not include the right to be taken seriously. And it certainly doesn’t include the obligation that others must supply you with a platform.”Johan Norberg
Stossel: “If somebody wants to be called Ze or Zir, why not?”
Peterson: “I don’t care what people want to be called, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean I should be compelled by law to call them that. The government has absolutely no business whatsoever ever governing the content of your voluntary speech.”
Stossel: “But if I personally said I’d like you to call me Ze or Zen?”
Peterson: “We could have a conversation about that. Just like I would if you asked me to use a nickname for example. But there’s a big difference between privately negotiated modes of address. And legislatively demanded compelled speech.”John Stossel and Jordan Peterson
“Political correctness is the moral posturing about sensitivity over truth.”Jordan Peterson
“Life is suffering.
Love is the desire to see unnecessary suffering ameliorated.
Truth is the handmaiden of love.
Dialogue is the pathway to truth.
Humility is recognition of personal insufficiency and the willingness to learn.
To learn is to die voluntarily and be born again, in great ways and small.
So speech must be untrammeled.
so that dialogue can take place.
so that we can all humbly learn.
so that truth can serve love.
so that suffering can be ameliorated.
so that we can all stumble forward to the Kingdom of God.”A poem by Jordan Peterson