"All theory is against freedom of the will;
all experience for it."
Dr. Samuel Johnson
(1709-1784) English author, poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer
in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1791
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Reader comments about this quote:
A parallel to "Many facts are against common sense. Common sense tells us the earth is flat and the sun goes around the earth."
 -- Terry Berg, Occidental, CA     
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    This is a FABULOUS quote. Unpopular with social engineers, churches, and other petty authorities.
     -- Joseph, New Hampshire     
  • 3
    Liberation is the escape from the bonds of illusion. No theory can liberate, only right action.
     -- Georgia Peach     
  • 3
    What we are 'taught' is theory; what we 'learn' is by experience. We would be condemned to theory should we be prevented to experience for ourselves.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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     -- John-Douglas, Nassau     
     -- Anonymous, Reston, VA US      
    Perfect, real world examples of this concise observation can be found in any social sciences department of almost any liberal arts college in the country. Academics tend to live in environments protected from the real world by tenure and unions. They dream up theories of human nature because they never have to interact with the real thing, then they try to impose their postulates on real world human beings who just want to be left alone. Unintended consequences always follow.
     -- Ken, Allyn, WA     
  • 1
    I can't imagine what old Samuel must have been drinking to come up with such nonsense. I have not read the biography referred to, and I hope the larger context reveals he were referring to some specific theories and not to ALL theory. For if it were to ALL theory, the quote would be as ridiculous, false, and arrogant as any I have ever read. Free will is not only self-evident, but also supported by ubiquitous theory.
     -- David L. Rosenthal, Hollywood     
    I think free will is an illusion. It derives from persons formed by genes and environment, neither of which they control. Self-evident truth is not always true. Decisions come from the interaction of forces and ideas formed in the past, and they are therfore beyond the individual's control at the time of choice. Richard Ruble, Siloam Springs, ARRichar
     -- Richard Ruble, Siloam Springs, AR     
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    Richard, I guess that is one theory ? I think Johnson’s here “theory” references a conjecture based on assumptions, limited information and a ‘would be if’. Such conjecture is a rationalized belief that guides actions at anti-natural law. In that case, Johnson is absolutely right and Georgia Peach, Archer and Ken nailed it. That aspect of “theory” that involves that which is devised to explain any set of interpreted events or phenomena (a systematic view of a branch of mathematics, certain scientific extrapolations, etc.) used as a functioning model, not known to be absolutely true or otherwise - not used as an enforcement on the being man, his actions, thoughts, etc. but only, to be left in that realm of a working abstract, does not fit the quote’s scope of intent.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
    Ken Allyn, very well said, very well.
     -- jim k, Austin, Tx     
    Let experience be our guide. As President Washington spoke of. Dokime, test, trustiness, the process of proving.
    experiment, the effect of proving. As builders we trust in our
    experience not theory. Fact not theory shall be our guide.
    Johnson was anti American, and did receive a pension from the king. Freewill is not subject to the law. Theory stands in doubt. Secular in nature given to doubtful disputations.
     -- watchman 13, USA     
    Depending on the example, the quote could display a degree accuracy or an extreme opposite. Certain theories don't conform to the limits of the quote's "All". The theory of relativity doesn't apply. The closer a theory gets to application, relationship, etc. of the laws of nature and of nature's God, the more accurate the theory. Experience within degenerating socialism or Keynesian economics does not rise to the level of freedom of the will.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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