Mohandas Gandhi? George Perry Graham? Louis Fischer? Henry Powell Spring? Martin Luther King?
Dear Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of non-violence was famously used during the campaign for independence in India. There is a well-known quotation that helps to express the rationale for this non-retaliatory philosophy:
An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.
I have read that Gandhi spoke this statement or something similar, but I haven’t yet found a precise citation for this. Could you find out when and where Gandhi said this?
Quote Investigator: One of the world’s top quotation experts, Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ), has examined this question. This is what the YBQ says [YQG]:
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered.
The YBQ notes that an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandhi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fischer used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy. QI thinks some readers may have been confused and may have decided to directly attribute the saying to Gandhi based on a misreading of Fischer’s works.
The epigram is a twist on a famous Biblical injunction in the Book of Exodus [21:24]: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. These words appear in the King James English translation. There is a more elaborate version of the clever maxim based on these two phrases:
An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.
QI has located relevant variants for this longer expression in 1914 and 1944. Below are selected citations in chronological order.