William Whewell

William
Whewell
1794
1866

English Philosopher

Author Quotes

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.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
William
Last Name
Whewell
Birth Date
1794
Death Date
1866
Bio

English Philosopher