William Whewell


English Philosopher

Author Quotes

In general, art has preceded science. Men have executed great, and curious, and beautiful works before they had a scientific insight into the principles on which the success of their labors was founded. There were good artificers in brass and iron before the principles of the chemistry of metals were known; there was wine among men before there was a philosophy of vinous fermentation; there were mighty masses raised into the air, cyclopean walls and cromlechs, obelisks and pyramids?probably gigantic Doric pillars and entablatures?before there was a theory of the mechanical powers. ? Art was the mother of Science.

The object of science is knowledge; the objects of art are works. In art, truth is the means to an end; in science, it is the only end. Hence the practical arts are not to be classed among the sciences

In order that the facts obtained by observation and experiment may be capable of being used in furtherance of our exact and solid knowledge, they must be apprehended and analysed according to some Conceptions which, applied for this purpose, give distinct and definite results, such as can be steadily taken hold of and reasoned from.

The question undoubtedly is, or soon will be, not whether or no we shall employ notation in chemistry, but whether we shall use a bad and incongruous, or a consistent and regular notation.

Intellectual education now, to be worthy of the time, ought to include in its compass elements contributed to it in every one of the great epochs of mental energy which the world has seen. In this respect, most especially, we are, if we know how to use our advantages, inheritors of the wealth of all the richest times; strong in the power of the giants of all ages; placed on the summit of an edifice which thirty centuries have been employed in building.

The spirit of commentation turns to questions of taste, of metaphysics, of morals, with far more avidity than to physics.

According to the technical language of old writers, a thing and its qualities are described as subject and attributes; and thus a man?s faculties and acts are attributes of which he is the subject. The mind is the subject in which ideas inhere. Moreover, the man?s faculties and acts are employed upon external objects; and from objects all his sensations arise. Hence the part of a man?s knowledge which belongs to his own mind, is subjective: that which flows in upon him from the world external to him, is objective.

It is a test of true theories not only to account for but to predict phenomena.

The system becomes more coherent as it is further extended. The elements which we require for explaining a new class of facts are already contained in our system. Different members of the theory run together, and we have thus a constant convergence to unity. In false theories, the contrary is the case.

And so no force however great can stretch a cord however fine into an horizontal line which is accurately straight.

It is far from being true, in the progress of knowledge, that after every failure we must recommence from the beginning. Every failure is a step to success; every detection of what is false directs us towards what is true; every trial exhausts some tempting form of error. Not only so; but scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of error is without some latent charm derived from truth.

There is a mask of theory over the whole face of nature.

And so no force, however great, Can stretch a cord, however fine, Into a horizontal line That shall be absolutely straight. Quoted as an example of accidental metre and rhyme.

Man is the interpreter of nature, science the right interpretation.

To discover a Conception of the mind which will justly represent a train of observed facts is, in some measure, a process of conjecture, ... and the business of conjecture is commonly conducted by calling up before our minds several suppositions, selecting that one which most agrees with what we know of the observed facts. Hence he who has to discover the laws of nature may have to invent many suppositions before he hits upon the right one; and among the endowments which lead to his success, we must reckon that fertility of invention which ministers to him such imaginary schemes, till at last he finds the one which conforms to the true order of nature.

As science means knowledge, conscience etymologically means self-knowledge?. But the English word implies a moral standard of action in the mind, as well as a consciousness of our own actions?. Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation.

Nobody since Newton has been able to use geometrical methods to the same extent for the like purposes; and as we read the Principia we feel as when we are in an ancient armoury where the weapons are of gigantic size; and as we look at them we marvel what manner of man he was who could use as a weapon what we can scarcely lift as a burden.

To discover the laws of operative power in material productions, whether formed by man or brought into being by Nature herself, is the work of a science, and is indeed what we more especially term Science.

Astronomy is? the only progressive Science which the ancient world produced.

Our assent to the hypothesis implies that it is held to be true of all particular instances. That these cases belong to past or to future times, that they have or have not already occurred, makes no difference in the applicability of the rule to them. Because the rule prevails, it includes all cases.

We cannot observe external things without some degree of Thought; nor can we reflect upon our Thoughts, without being influenced in the course of our reflection by the Things which we have observed.

But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this;-we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular ease, but by the establishment of general laws.

Prudence supposes the value of the end to be assumed, and refers only to the adaptation of the means. It is the relation of right means for given ends.

What it is our duty to do we must do because it is right, not because any one can demand it of us.

By speaking of space as an Idea, I intend to imply...that the apprehension of objects as existing in space, and of the relations of position, &c., prevailing among them, is not a consequence of experience, but a result of a peculiar constitution and activity of the mind, which is independent of all experience in its origin, though constantly combined with experience in its exercise.

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English Philosopher