Will What You Want

Whilst researching a chapter on the notion of blame among hominids, I was chasing down a rabbit hole and I ended up finding Schopenhauer’s oft-quoted,

Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants

And that’s where the trouble started. Memory is fallible. Although I feel deceived, I don’t feel bad because many people have misattributed this quote to Schopenhauer, but if the Wikipedia footnote is steering me right, this was actually Einstein’s misquote—the Einstein; Albert Einstein of E = MC2 fame.

According to the citation, Albert said this:

„Der Mensch kann wohl tun, was er will,
aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will.”

— Albert Einstein, Mein Glaubensbekenntnis (August 1932)

It translates into the offending sentence.

‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.’

The full translated quote reads,

‘I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.’

Albert Einstein

What Schopenhauer actually said not only doesn’t resonate quite so well, it doesn’t even convey the same notion. His actual words were:

‘You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing.’

— Arthur Shopenhauer, On the Freedom of the Will, Ch. II.

In the original German read,

Du kannst tun was du willst: aber du kannst in jedem gegebenen Augenblick deines Lebens nur ein Bestimmtes wollen und schlechterdings nichts anderes als dieses eine.

— Arthur Shopenhauer, Ueber die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens
Arnold Schopenhauer, On the Freedom of the Will

In the spirit of misattributed quotes, here are a few things Einstein never said but are attributed to I’m anyway.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Not Albert Einstein

“I refuse to believe that God plays dice with the universe.”

Not Albert Einstein

Though to be fair, the last one at least directionally reflects something he did say,

“It seems hard to sneak a look at God’s cards. But that He plays dice and uses ‘telepathic’ methods… is something that I cannot believe for a single moment.”

Albert Einstein

Yet again, I am confused. I feel I’ve been living a lie.

One thought on “Will What You Want

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