William Whewell


English Philosopher

Author Quotes

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.

Since happiness is necessarily the supreme object of our desires, and duty the supreme rule of our actions, there can be no harmony in our being except our happiness coincides with our duty.

When any one acknowledges a moral government of the world; perceives that domestic and social relations are perpetually operating, and seem intended to operate, to retain and direct men in the path of duty; and feels that the voice of conscience, the peace of heart which results from a course of virtue, and the consolations of devotion, are ever ready to assume their office as our guides and aids in the conduct of all our actions; he will probably be willing to acknowledge also that the means of a moral government of each individual are not wanting; and will no longer be oppressed or disturbed by the apprehension that the superintendence of the world may be too difficult for its Ruler, and that any of His subjects and servants may be overlooked. He will no more fear that the moral than that the physical laws of God?s creation should be forgotten in any particular case: and as he knows that every sparrow which falls to the ground contains in its structure innumerable marks of the Divine care and kindness, he will be persuaded that every man, however apparently humble and insignificant, will have his moral being dealt with according to the laws of God?s wisdom and love; will be enlightened, supported, and raised, if he use the appointed means which God?s administration of the world of moral light and good offers to his use.

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.

That we ought to do an action, is of itself a sufficient and ultimate answer to the questions, Why we should do it??how we are obliged to do it? The conviction of duty implies the soundest reason, the strongest obligation, of which our nature is susceptible.

Every man has obligations which belong to his station. Duties extend beyond obligations, and direct the affections, desires, and intentions, as well as the actions.

The catastrophist constructs theories, the uniformitarian demolishes them.

Fundamental ideas are not a consequence of experience, but a result of the particular constitution and activity of the mind, which is independent of all experience in its origin, though constantly combined with experience in its exercise.

The commentator?s professed object is to explain, to enforce, to illustrate doctrines claimed as true.

Gold and iron at the present day, as in ancient times, are the rulers of the world; and the great events in the world of mineral art are not the discovery of new substances, but of new and rich localities of old ones.

The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.

Hence no force, however great, can stretch a cord, however fine, into a horizontal line which is accurately straight: there will always be a bending downwards.

The hypotheses which we accept ought to explain phenomena which we have observed. But they ought to do more than this; our hypotheses ought to foretell phenomena which have not yet been observed; ... because if the rule prevails, it includes all cases; and will determine them all, if we can only calculate its real consequences. Hence it will predict the results of new combinations, as well as explain the appearances which have occurred in old ones. And that it does this with certainty and correctness, is one mode in which the hypothesis is to be verified as right and useful.

In art, truth is a means to an end; in science, it is the only end.

The logic of induction consists in stating the facts and the inference in such a manner that the evidence of the inference is manifest; just as the logic of deduction consists in stating the premises and the conclusion in such a manner that the evidence of the conclusion is manifest.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

English Philosopher