Left to one’s own devices

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6 comments on this post.
  1. Rosie Perera:

    You’re overlooking the most common and straightforward meaning of the phrase “to leave someone to their own devices” — it is to leave them alone, without assistance, with only their own resources.

  2. John Villar:

    Although I haven’t found an official definition that supports my theory, I submit that the word “devices” in the phrase “left to his own devices” is actually a corruption of “devises.” The person has been left to whatever solution(s), procedure, etc. he can devise. Especially if the phrase originated in the 1800s, I would think it originally contemplated a much broader range of possibilities, beyond the use of devices.

  3. Luis Resendis:

    While word and phrase definitions change so much faster than the steady terms in Mathematics, for example, the key meaning of the phrase depends largely on the surrounding contents within which it is used. This can easily change from ‘mechanical’ like devises to ‘thoughtful’ devised/ ideas.

  4. Zeb:

    Well played.

  5. Jay Escobedo:

    I know it has been years since this post, but I found myself searching about this quote which has been stated in various forms, often omitting the response. The straight forward meaning is “To leave someone to do what he/she is able to without being controlled or aided by someone.” This is the non philosophical/religious definition. The philosophical quote I’ve read by various sources dating back to the 1866 is, Man, if left to his own devices, would eat himself to death. This being a reflection of man’s desire to put himself before others to survive. So in searching to enrich himself, he will consume until he is dead, without regard to the wellness of others. Therefore many writers develop further on this to say that man should be a means within himself and should treat others in kind. So to say, that man should be value for being man, not for any external value he may bring himself or others.

    The religious proverb is “They shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled with (left to) their own devices.” Which is widely accepted to mean that what one plots against others, he shall be faced with himself. AKA that seed which one sows, one shall reap.

    This phrase has been in my head for a while since I began studying economics and the history of these great American pioneers who created the capitalistic society we now live in and the moral that goes with such power. Is it right to seek to enrich oneself if the opportunity arises, and no law or regulation prevents it, or should we seek to maximize the good done to the country, society, world, etc., as a whole. I know this is off topic, but it is a very powerful phrase that is well worth researching and finding our own meaning to.

  6. David B. Sull8van:

    Loved your analysis!

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